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at Cairo Nights

Gilded Serpent presents...
Cairo 2005
How to Eat, Drink, Sleep, and Breathe Raqs Sharqi
Part Two of Four:
Dance Lessons in Cairo
by Andrea

AndreaLast year I visited Cairo for the first time and attended the Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival, but decided that I could learn more if I took private dance lessons.  Being the intrepid traveler that I am, I returned on my own in 2005, in the month of September, to enjoy all that Cairo has to offer during more favorable weather.  Following are my experiences as I related them to my close friends and family.

Ahlan family and friends!  I've much to report and muse upon since my last missive.  I'll try to stick to the most entertaining and interesting stuff.  First of all, thanks to all of you who sent me good health wishes via cyberspace.  I am feeling much much better, I'm left with only an intermittent cough, but I haven't let it stop me from getting down to business!  

Second, the subway rocks; I go everywhere I can by subway.  Even though from where I'm staying I have to cab it to the subway, I'd rather do that than take a taxi all the way into Cairo.  The subway is fast, cheap, and doesn't smell of exhaust.  I love Cairo’s subway, it's the way to go!  I wish I had discovered its wonders last year.

I'd like to start with a funny anecdote about the language barrier. I went to Groppi in Central Cairo with Erika and Outi to buy some chocolate.  Erika wanted to buy a mix of different chocolates for a friend.  The clerks did not speak English, so it was up to me with my limited Arabic, to facilitate the transaction.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  How much is the chocolate?
Clerk:   50 LE per kilo
Me:  possible half kilo?
Clerk: Yes.
Me: (Not knowing how to say mix in Arabic) Possible half kilo: little bit of this, little bit of this, little bit of this (pointing to what we wanted) in one box?
The female clerk, not understanding what I want, defers to the male clerk.
Male clerk: Alo.
Me: I want one box: half kilo, with little bit of this, little bit of this, little bit of this, little bit of this, please.
Male clerk:  Ah!   A mix!

Do you know what I love here?  I love the dramatic eye make-up.  In Egypt, if a woman is only going to wear one item of make-up, it will be black eyeliner.  I'll see a young woman with higaab (hijab) and baggy clothes that belie no human form, and she'll have black eyeliner around her eyes.  Even the maid who cleans the apartment comes with her lower rims lined.  It just gets more dramatic from there with thicker lines, smoky eye shadow all around the eye, and sometimes highlighter below the brow.  Some women wear lip-gloss or foundation, but here, if your eyes are done, you're set!  The women in the music videos go over the top wearing:  thick, black, smoky blended line around the eyes and dark shadow on the upper lids.  It really makes the eyes “pop out.”    I think I've found a way to blend in a bit more—I wear more eye make-up!

I was strolling around Korba, which is a swanky shopping area in Heliopolis, and was surprised to stumble upon a CD store!  I felt like I had found King Tut's treasure! The clerks must have thought I was crazy.  I heard one fellow say to the other incredulously, "She's American, but she speaks a little bit of Arabic.  She wants Arabic music!"  Because I've spent a significant amount of time watching music videos thanks to my cold, I knew which artists I liked.  I also asked the clerk which ones he'd recommend for dancing (No! I did not tell him I'm a ra-assah.  I gave him the impression that I wanted it for parties).   He played his selections, and I bought every one of them.  I bought 14 CDs, then went back the next day and bought nine more, and I am not nearly done with my CD purchases.

Camelia on the Marquise Boat
Finally, I saw a show last week with my Finnish dancer friend Outi, whom I met online.  We went to "Egyptian Nights" at the Cairo Marriott, which is their outdoor restaurant.  We saw a young dancer named Ibtisaam.  She was an actual Egyptian dancer, which is not very common to find in Egypt these days!  There are many foreign women dancing on the dinner cruises and in the hotels.  To my knowledge, the only Egyptian dancers of note that are performing are Dina, Randa, Dandash (though she's pregnant and taking a break), Lucy, of course, at her Club Parisiana, Wa'ad, Camelia, and Ibtisaam.  I'll keep investigating to see who else might be out there.  Before I describe what we saw, let me say that in no way am I judging her or saying that I can do better.  I'm only commenting my two cents which are worth, (Umm, 2 cents bus! “Bus” means “only” in Arabic).  I was just excited that she was a real Egyptian dancer!  For her first show, she danced to some of the standards: Sitt al Hosn and Sawah.  She had a small band, three members, I think. She wore a two-piece bedlah with a nude mesh stomach covering.  Though she was somewhat blasé and didn't dance with much power or passion, she still had that ease and musicality that Egyptian dancers have.  She barely broke a sweat.  For her second show, she came out in a turquoise dress.  She danced with the cane a bit and did a drum solo.  It was a rather nice drum solo.  I haven't seen Egyptian dancers doing drum solos very often, whereas, in the US, a drum solo is practically de rigueur.  I got it all on tape for y'all to see when I get back! 

Thus far, I've had three dance lessons. Yay!  I've had two with Nagwa Sultan.  She deserves some kudos though she is relatively unknown.  She really is a good teacher, and she can still dance, too!  She also possesses ease, power, and musicality that has me in hot pursuit.  (I videoed her, dancing to Tamra Henna, so y'all can see for yourselves.)  What I like about her is that she is PURE SHARQI, no folklore in her style.  Hers is the style of the old greats: Taheyya Carioka, Na'ima Akef, Suhair Zaki, Samia Gamal.  Sure, the folklore school has produced many talented and famous dancers, but in my opinion we need more teachers of pure sharqi style out there to balance out our perspective and education.  On a side note, I learned that she actually taught in Raqia's festival this year, although last year, she debunked it.  I don't blame her.  She probably made lots of money from it!  I still stand by my opinion that one-on-one private lessons are better than taking classes at the festival.  Just be prepared to have your technique and style meticulously scrutinized, because you will get all of the teacher’s attention, but then, what better way to tighten those screws?  For instance, she told me that Americans (myself included) and Europeans tend to hurry through their dancing.  Her young son Ahmed accompanies the lessons on his drum.  All of you going to Egypt should look up Nagwa Sultan.  In spite of her eccentricities, she's fun.  We have a tentative date this week to go to a casino, smoke sheesha, and watch the dancer at 3 a.m.  I can't wait!  Also, she taught me my new favorite phrase “chic aowie” (very chic).

My third lesson was with Aida Nour.  She speaks good English and has an air-conditioned studio in Giza.  At one point, she got mad at me for not doing her choreography exactly as she told me.  Hey, I wasn't changing things, I just had to turn around because I ran out of space!  She was not pleased, so I made sure that happened only once. (In Nagwa's class, if you do something different from what she showed you, she'll not have a cow as long as it goes with the music.)   In the end, the class was good, the price was nice, the choreography was beautiful, and Aida was pretty patient and responsive to my questions.  She also said that I can shimmy well.  I'll go back tomorrow and not mess up this time!  I'll do everything exactly as she teaches it.  I feel like I have to redeem myself.  Oh, by the way she is one of the Nile Group festival organizers.  When I asked her about AWS, she gave me the impression that she didn't agree with it or with its organizer.   That's all I'll say about it!

Part One

Coming soon!
Part Three- Current Cairo Happenings
Part Fout- The End of the Trip

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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
9-28-04 A Subjective View of Raqia's Cash Cow The AWS Festival 2004, Part 1 by Andrea
First, she came out as a snake, then entered wearing a melaya, next, as a caged lion.  Her performance was very entertaining.

5-5-05 Initiating Dance Dialogue: Current Trends, The Panel Discussion at Carnivals of Stars Festival, transcribed from video by Andrea, Panel members included: Heather as moderator, Monica Berini, Shira, Barbara Bolan, Amina Goodyear, Debbie Lammam.

2-11-06 What Kind of Snakes are Good for Dancing? by Neferteri
“So many snakes, so little time.” What is a girl to do? I am often asked what is a good snake to dance with. Well, that depends on two things.

2-9-06 Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 9, Can't We All Get Along? Dancers and Musicians by Mary Ellen Donald
First, you don’t have to be afraid of working with live music.

2-6-06 The Peace Belt comes to Tucson by Lucy Lipschitz
But it matters more, I think, that this dance can be used to stimulate thinking and discussion, and even to help feed and clothe other human beings.

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