Believe it or not, Miami is more than crime and corruption: It is refreshing to see a New Times cover story that doesn't involve corruption, murder, or local political nastiness. And so I enjoyed Rebecca Wakefield's coverage of the belly-dance culture here in Miami ("In the Belly of the Best," December 4). I know a great deal about the "belly scene" as my wife "Bozenka" plays a big part in it locally and internationally.
We were both very impressed with Ms. Wakefield's storyline and the vast amount of information she provided regarding the history of this dance as it has become well established not only in Miami but all over the United States.
I am an artist myself, and as such I am very glad to see that New Times and its writers take the time to look for what is truly happening in our city's artistic world, and not always catering to what the mainstream tries to convince us is art. Thanks and let's see more of this kind of coverage.
Elsten Torres ("Fulano")
There's more to the belly-dance scene than El Clon: "In the Belly of the Best" gives an excellent view of what is happening in the local belly-dance scene, though a few important people were missing: Scheherezade, one of the early pioneers, who is still a gorgeous dancer and teacher; Myriam Eli, who is Shakira's drummer and one of her main teachers; and Samay, of the new generation, who has more students than anyone, as well as being a wonderful dancer. Also Ansuya is a nationally known dancer from L.A. and part of the Belly Dance Superstars, and she relocated to Miami last year.
About my move to Hong Kong, the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange actually got a new partner and administrative director, who will relocate from New York to start this summer. She has run many dance studios and a nonprofit corporation. I will be back and forth from Asia, living in both places and hoping to build an artistic bridge and cultural exchange between the local belly-dance community and that of Hong Kong and other parts of Asia. This partnership and exchange has much potential and is exciting for everyone, promising lots of growth and expansion.
Thanks so much to Rebecca Wakefield for giving Evelyn Hamsey the recognition she deserves, and showing a historical line through the generations from her to Jihan and me, and to the next generation. Now Miami knows that this is not just "el baile del Clon."
It's not a catfight, it's an art form: I was disappointed with Rebecca Wakefield's belly-dancing article. What could have been an insightful article exploring the beauty of this exotic art form and the inspiring work of the many wonderful women in our community who have made a career of educating others about it seemed more to be a dirty soap opera filled with "he said, she said" catfight-inciting antics, quips, and one-liners.
It was truly unsatisfying and disturbing to see this ancient art form that celebrates womanhood and femininity blatantly turned into a bitter battle of belly wars.
North Miami Beach
And by the way, I'm not your stereotypical cop: I read with great pleasure Celeste Fraser Delgado's November 27 article entitled "Jailhouse Crock." To begin with, I feel it's important to mention that I am a lieutenant with the Miami Police Department. I've been a cop for nearly nineteen years. During the FTAA, I worked as a commander of one of the Miami PD's Response Platoons.
I think it is just as important to mention that politically I am rather liberal, which is in itself an oddity for a cop. I am also an ACLU member, which is about as rare among cops as Yasser Arafat at a bar mitzvah. My usual duties are that of a tactical commander with the Crime Suppression Unit.
Now that I've shared a little something about me, let me emphasize the fact that just because I'm a firm believer in civil rights and fairness (which is not to say that most cops aren't), don't confuse that with my overwhelming drive to protect and serve the law-abiding citizenry of Miami. I may be liberal, but I ain't a bleeding-heart jackass with an ostrich complex!
My Response Platoon exhibited the highest levels of professionalism and kindness to a bunch of out-of-town thugs conveniently called Black Blocs. Our theory was to blind these people with kindness. We would attempt to talk to these misguided souls and offer our assistance in the way of garbage removal when it became apparent that they were collecting rocks and bottles "for a rainy" day, offer them directions if they seemed lost, and not harass them when they were illegally parked (all over the place). We spoke to them, not at them. Many times they would tell us we were "number one!" (At least that's what I thought they meant when they held up a finger toward us.)
In any case, on Thursday, November 20, they (not us) decided to up the ante. They attacked property, then the police, and were subsequently defeated -- plain and simple! Unless I was in some sort of Twilight Zone episode, it wasn't love beads that were hitting my troops and I as we walked north on NE Second Avenue approaching Miami Dade College at around 5:00 p.m. It wasn't Chanukah candles that were being lit in the middle of the road by out-of-town anarchists who were hell-bent on destroying this town. In fact I find it awfully ironic that these thugs tried to blend in with union workers, since these punks could not spell the word "job" if you spotted them the "j" and the "b."
In hindsight what I saw were tens of thousands of peaceful protesters who exercised their constitutional rights and did not go to jail. I saw many hard-working Miami store owners thanking the Lord that they did not lose all they have worked so hard for either in the downtown, Bayside, or Brickell areas. I saw a bunch of confused, troublemaking punks who could not get their acts together because of the hard training and commitment of South Florida law enforcement. Whatever strategies the anarchists had, they all went to hell in a hand basket. I saw very, very few journalists getting a hard time from the police. Could it be -- maybe, just maybe -- that Ms. Delgado represents a small minority just like the rest of the people who were arrested?
I have a very open mind, and I certainly respect Ms. Delgado's opinion. But it seems that so many "bleeding hearts" are trying to drum up something where nothing exists. It almost seems like the old adage: "Light the fire so you can be the hero and put it out." Why don't those malcontents ask the citizenry of Miami (and South Florida in general) their opinion of our law-enforcement efforts? Trust me, there are many times when we are criticized (and perhaps rightfully so), but this isn't one of those times. Get over it, will ya?!
And Here's What I Saw at the FTAA Demonstrations
Call it the first step on the road to tyranny: Sometimes I wonder if Miami city officials operate under the belief that bad publicity is better than no publicity. It seems Miami always finds a way to stay in the spotlight, whether it be a five-year-old Cuban boy, or adding "hanging chads" to our vocabulary, or getting the distinction of being the poorest metropolis in the U.S.
The FTAA meetings, however, brought us a new low with a rampant abuse of power. The tactics used by the local government were even more frightening than the trade talks themselves, as I witnessed our civil liberties being taken away in preparation for the police state that followed. You see, for weeks we'd been hearing about the 60,000 to 100,000 demonstrators who were going to descend on Miami and attempt to disrupt the trade negotiations with the destructive tactics seen in Seattle. The fear ran deep and resulted in $8 million of the $87 billion federal defense package being allocated for law enforcement's use. It also convinced the city commission to pass an ordinance banning almost anything that could be used as a weapon. Downtown Miami was literally shut down in preparation for the anticipated destruction: Schools were closed, cruise ships rerouted, stores boarded up, and churches threatened for offering space for demonstrators to stay.
What I personally saw was a large group of concerned citizens who wanted a chance to be heard by using their rights to assembly. Eight college students from Ohio State stayed at my house, and they were all intelligent, compassionate young people -- not the least bit interested in violent activity but also recognizing the danger they faced in standing up to the police. There were steelworkers from Pittsburgh, retirees, environmental groups, animal-rights groups, Green Party members, faith-based groups -- all coming together on this issue of the FTAA.
The union march around Miami lasted a couple of hours and ended where it started, at Bayfront Park. Since there wasn't much going on afterward, some people began to leave and some found a place to rest either in the grass or on Biscayne Boulevard. Our small group decided to visit the amphitheater, but there wasn't much activity there either. Soon after that, from our vantage point in the amphitheater, we could tell that some commotion had taken place on the street -- no doubt some people intent on causing trouble.
What I witnessed after that was a complete overreaction from the police, who used tear gas to force the crowd back, which worked very well. What I don't understand is why I saw dozens of rubber bullets fired into the crowd, one of which hit a middle-age woman in front of me (well away from any disturbance). What I saw being thrown at the police were smoke canisters and plastic water bottles, but the protesters were at least ten yards away, so the objects weren't very effective against the Robo Cops.
At that point the police line decided not to just hold the line they had established for the entire day, but decided to move into the crowd. They marched up Biscayne Boulevard, continuing to use tear gas and the rubber bullets (my daughter has a large welt and bruise on the back of her calf as a souvenir). The result was that the vast majority of the crowd, which had no violent intentions, was caught up in the disturbance, with people leaving Biscayne Boulevard because there were police both north and south of us. We exited along Third Street with the taste of tear gas in the air to head back to the Metrorail station. There were many others doing the same thing, but I don't know where the thousands went who were in front of Bayfront Park just a few minutes earlier.
We made it to the station a few blocks away only to realize that the trains were ordered not to stop at the downtown station. In fact the police had set up a perimeter around the Government Center station and all of us waiting for the Metrorail were ordered to leave the platform, including some people trying to get home from work who couldn't figure out what was going on. It seems there was concern about who would be getting off the train and therefore we weren't allowed to get on. After about an hour delay we did make it home, only to find that my bicycle at the South Miami station had been stolen.
The danger I see is that, following 9/11, fear is being used to take away our civil rights. The rhetoric of homeland security has blurred the difference between civil disobedience and terrorism, between peaceful protesters and violent criminals. As we inch toward a police state, I wonder what's next.
But there are exceptions, Seth Gordon being one: I would like to respond to Seth Gordon's letter to the editor in the December 4 issue of New Times. As a demonstrator during the "hippie" days he described, I would like to ask on what planet was he demonstrating? I and everyone I knew who was demonstrating then thought we could make a difference -- and we did. None of us was trying to provoke the police, contrary to Mr. Gordon's assertion. By dismissing honest dissent as a "tired old trick," Mr. Gordon has sullied the memory of the students who died at Kent State.
Just because he was such a lawless young person doesn't mean he can or should associate today's demonstrators with him and his thug friends from an earlier generation. I wonder if he is still a cynical thug surrounded by hooligans. I do know he is accusing well-meaning people of being gullible and making them out to be tools of troublemakers like himself.
By making fun of good people who are exercising their constitutional rights, Mr. Gordon is missing out on a lot. But at the least he should not throw stones at us, because back at you, fella.
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As part of our coverage of Art Basel in last week's issue, we illustrated John Anderson's article "Video Eye For Basel" with a picture from Motohiko Odani's video Rompers. Unfortunately we neglected to include information about where Rompers is being screened. It can be seen as part of the "Petting Zoo" exhibit, running through December 15, at the Buena Vista Building, second floor, 180 NE 39th St., in Miami's Design District.