In Loving Memory of International Dance Artist Velerie Camille

by Katia of Boston

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Velerie Camille passed away on July 4th , 2017 in New York City. Her birthdate is unknown, as she preferred, but it should be said that she had a full life of dance with a career in Italy, France, and New York as a performer and choreographer on stage and screen. It is my hope that you will access the interview of Velerie linked to this article (see below) that I did for Arabesque Magazine, as it deals extensively with her illustrious career in the dance world.  

The first time I saw Velerie Camille on stage in NYC was as a guest artist with Bobby Farrah’s Near East Dance Group in the 70s. She was a tall redhead in a cat suit painted as the Egyptian goddess Nut. She was an incredible performer. Her performance of the Ghawazee dance in Bobby’s shows, as well as the possessed in his Zar for theater, had an amazing impact on the New York audience.

I met Velerie Camille during my first week-long seminar in Middle Eastern dance in 1978 taught by my mentor Bobby Farrah, when he asked Velerie to do warm-ups for the seminars and to observe and coach the dancers with details in his choreographies. She had an amazing eye for detail. I attended the teachers’ seminars annually until the mid-90s when Bobby stopped teaching them. Velerie was my dance coach who had helped me in my dance, and she was also a friend. We had such fun together dressing outrageously and going out to dinner in NYC. I loved to hear her stories of the dance world of the past and present. She taught me that our dance is very much connected to all dance. She had been a ballet dancer, a jazz dancer, a Moulin Rouge dancer, and a Near East Dancer. Velerie had spent much time in cabaret dancing as well as theater. With this experience, she was as much help to me and others with nightclub dancing as well as theater performances. Her willingness to share her technical knowledge and wisdom based on experience had a profound effect on our dance.

After Bobby died in 1998, many people who had known Velerie as a great coach went their own way in the dance, teaching and performing in their respective communities across the country. I kept in touch and visited Velerie often. She was teaching and coaching people in theater. She always talked about choreographing the “Dance of the 7 Veils”. I decided to make the commitment and asked her to create the dance for me. She wanted me to choose the music and I chose “Daret el Ayyam”. She wanted a drum solo added. Because of my commitments in life at that time, I had to ride the train for 3 ½ hours to NY for 2 hours of class in the afternoon and then return on the train the same day carrying all those veils back and forth. It took many months to complete, but the result was a dance we both were proud of. For me, it was what I learned about dance while building the choreography that would stay with me throughout my dance life. Her approach to performance technique was so inspiring to me for my own dance and for my teaching. Many times in my classes and retreats I quoted Velerie saying “How you think is how you dance”. It is important to have a story within you when you dance and project the vision of that and the music. Otherwise the audience just sees steps.

I included the “Dance of the 7 Veils” choreographed by Velerie on my video Dance, Katia, Dance. It was the first time I performed it and I figured I could always cut it from the video but wanted to see it recorded. Velerie saw it and said “I like it and you are that woman in a Persian Court, so keep it in." I performed the dance a couple of times after that, but that was the only time it was videoed. Later I used different versions of the opening movements in my teaching, and what I learned in that dance inspired many of my choreographies. She also choreographed a fan dance for me that was very dramatic, and later inspired me to choreograph a fan dance to upbeat Middle Eastern music. She always stressed that thedance should never be about the props. They are only used to bring out different personae of the dancer.

I continued to take an occasional class with my visits to her home studio until about 5 years ago. She would always impart a gem…something from her dance history that inspired me in my teaching. I have always stayed in touch with Velerie and talked to her last November when she had a smile in her voice and said she was just thinking of me. How wonderful!

Life is a dance. I am blessed to have known Velerie Camille. I will look for her in the sky of shining stars. 

Katia's interview with Velerie is reprinted from Arabesque Magazine with permission.