The 25th Anniversary

What was read on May 14th, 2005, for MEDA’s 25th anniversary:

A Brief History of MEDA:

First, the following is edited from the 2003-04 writings of Peg Swavely, (Zahara Kasmir), one of the original founding members, “who held every office over the years, some once, some twice, and sometimes more than one at a time.”:

MEDA (Middle Eastern Dance Artists) of Baton Rouge was founded in July 1980, by eight ladies who wanted to learn more about and promote the art of Middle Eastern Dance. We were incorporated later that year as a non-profit social club. Our goal was then, and is currently, to educate ourselves and the community, about this beautiful art of dance, as well as the fascinating culture. The organization consists of talented, caring women, and now men, as full and associate members, who have careers and families, and love this exciting form of exercise, and way of expressing their love for this dance.

We have been involved over the years in sponsoring seminars and producing shows. Our Mission Statement is: “To promote for ourselves and the community a dignified, quality expression of the art of Middle Eastern Dance.”

The founding members of the MEDA Dance Troupe were Sheila Eeds, Donna Harp, Karen Marshall, Lindsey Nuttall, Lynn Stephenson, Lisa Swavely, Peg Swavely and Karen Thomas. Dot Yates was there also.

Dot Yates, 1919-2005. The following is edited from Peg Swavely’s memorial:

I met Dot at a dance class over 25 years ago. Knowing her changed my life. Dot set an example that I’ve striven to live up to. She was the epitome of a lady – dignified, graceful, and classy. Yet, she wasn’t above having a good laugh, and participating in a bit of fun. She was someone I wanted to be just like, when I grew up.

In 1980, Dot became one of the founding members of the Middle Eastern Dance Artists of Baton Rouge (at age 60). She was the “angel” for our very first seminar. Dot generously loaned us the seed money for the event.

Although Dot was a few years older than any of her Middle Eastern dance friends, we were foremost sisters in dance, kindred spirits, and friends. Dot’s wise council to our fledgling dance group was appreciated and often needed. We all respected her, looked up to her, and loved her. She was an inspiration to beginning dancers–and still is–in that even with the pain of arthritis, she danced. She was a model of how beauty and aging could be together, something we had never envisioned. Her drum, given to Belita, still beats today as a legacy to her life, to the dance, and as an inspiration that will live on.

(Marlane, our current president, inserts here that Belita held MEDA together almost single-handedly for several years in the late 1990’s.)

Back to Peg’s memorial: Visiting Dot this January, we wore our red hats, laughed, ate cake and chocolate, drank a glass of wine, and remembered the “good times” together.

There are certain people who come into our lives for a time and then depart. They leave behind footprints on our hearts, and our lives are forever changed for the better. We are touched by their love, generosity, and caring, and are never quite the same again. Dot Yates was one of those wonderful, loving, and creative people who came into my life. She will be remembered by me with love, light, and laughter as I continue on my own life’s journey.

The words of Marlane Drake, President of MEDA, 2004-05:

I can think of no better way to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the non-profit incorporation of Middle Eastern Dance Artists (MEDA) than this previous brief history, and tribute to Dot Yates, both by Peg Swavely. Peg spoke of the motivating example Dot was to her.

There are many who admire Peg for her gentle, loving ways.  In my experience of MEDA, she was so often the rock and center. I nourish the part of her I hold in my heart, try to share it as she would, and hope it grows. Peg has been called away to Houston for the second time.

While she was away the first time, Belita kept MEDA going. I admired Belita’s efforts, so I began to attend the board meetings in Baton Rouge, driving up with Maria Celado, starting in 1999. Others later came to the board meetings from New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and with Peg returning, all those at the meetings shared in the planning and the responsibility of this large annual event, through our monthly meetings. Lately there has been a shift to holding MEDA’s large seminars in New Orleans, instead of Baton Rouge, and we have grown to become state-wide, and now hold our developmental meetings alternately in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette on each second Sunday from 2-4. We welcome your participation. Please join at an associate or full membership level, or make a donation. Applications and by-laws are in the back for anyone to take.

MEDA started and grew through its infancy as a Baton Rouge organization. I believe I’ve had the privilege and honor to have attended nearly every seminar MEDA has held over the years. Thirty-five events have warranted a video! My first teacher, Beverley Stadler, encouraged me to join when I was just new to this dance. I’ve gained so much from MEDA! Over the years there has been many a time when there were even two workshops in a year, or both a workshop and a hafla. Look in your program for the names of the stars MEDA has brought in for the instruction of dancers and the education of others. You will see the quality of this organization, and, believe me, that is what it continues to strive for. Hurray! There is no other organization in Louisiana with that track record! May MEDA be in service for another 25 yrs, 75yrs, and down through history for the joy of Middle Eastern Dance!