at Cairo Nights
to Eat, Drink, Sleep, and Breathe Raqs Sharqi
Part Two of Four:
Dance Lessons in Cairo
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
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.
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?
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: 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!
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.
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
Camelia on the Marquise Boat
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).
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 Three- Current Cairo Happenings
Part Fout- The End of the Trip
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
A Subjective View of Raqia's
Cash Cow The AWS Festival 2004, Part 1 by Andrea
she came out as a snake, then entered
wearing a melaya, next, as a caged lion. Her performance
was very entertaining.
Initiating Dance Dialogue:
Current Trends, The Panel Discussion at Carnivals of Stars Festival,
from video by Andrea, Panel
members included: Heather as moderator, Monica Berini, Shira,
Barbara Bolan, Amina Goodyear, Debbie Lammam.
What Kind of Snakes are Good for Dancing?
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.
and Reason Series, Article 9, Can't
We All Get Along? Dancers and Musicians by
Mary Ellen Donald
you don’t have to be afraid of working with live music.
The Peace Belt comes to Tucson
by Lucy Lipschitz
it matters more, I think, that this dance can be used to stimulate
thinking and discussion, and even to help feed and clothe other