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Outi and Andrea in front of a store selling lamps for Ramadan
Gilded Serpent presents...
Cairo 2005
How to Eat, Drink, Sleep, and Breathe Raqs Sharqi
Part Three of Four:
Current Cairo Happenings
by Andrea

Last 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.

September 19, 2005

Marhaban Asdiqaa!  I've done so many exciting things since my last update that I don't even think I'll be able to write it all down.  On top of all I've learned and observed about the way of life here, I've gained momentum in my study of the dance as well.  You could say that Aleya and I are burning the candle at both ends and enjoying every moment!  Our priorities are three: take lessons, buy costumes, and watch shows.  We try to do two from that list every day (lesson and show, shopping and show, two lessons and a show etc.) and sometimes we can do three, which is no small feat.  When you go to buy costumes or take a lesson, you can't just go in, do your business, and leave.  First, you have to get to your destination.  If you're in a cab and there's traffic, you'll probably be late.  Much of the time, the drivers don't know the exact street to we're going.  Thank God that the taxi drivers in Egypt aren't afraid to stop and ask directions, or we'd never get to where we want to go!  Second, because we're always on the go we have to stop now and again for water, snacks, batteries, tissue paper, or just to recover from the heat.  Third, once you get there, there's always a period of chatting with the teacher or merchant; they offer you something to drink and make sure you are comfortable before proceeding.  Then, once the business is done, there's another period of visiting before you leave.  To get to the next destination, you have to hail a cab and start the process again!  I know that I mentioned in my previous letter I liked to use the subway, but oftentimes we need to take a cab to or from the station to our final destination, or we'll have stuff that we don't want to lug on the subway so we hail a cab.  With that.....  

Magdy, the Mobinil employee trying to get his car to start after it had stalled in the middle of the intersection.Non-dance related happenings
Two American women pushed a car across a busy intersection in Nasr City during rush hour.  Yup, that was Aleya and I!  We were going to a Mobinil store to have my mobile phone fixed with the Mobinil employee named Magdy, when suddenly his car came to a halt.  He fiddled with it for about half an hour while cars behind us honked, donkey and horse carts passed us, and opposing traffic swerved around us.  Finally, we realized we needed to get help; so we pushed Magdy's car to the curb.  Magdy fiddled more, replacing some filter, connecting and reconnecting cables, turning the key, doing Allah knows what with his tools and his engine, but all to no avail.  Finally, a taxi pulled over and the driver fixed the car with.............a piece of sand paper.   Honest!  An Egyptian told me that if one Egyptian causes you trouble, there will be 100 who will help you out.  That sums up the people here very well I think.  There may be a few shysters in Cairo, but most of the people are helpful and warm.

I'm in love with tent cloth.  I'm doing a mini photo essay on the tent cloth in Cairo.  You can see it in all kinds of different places.  It comes in many different colors, sizes, and patterns.  Often it's really dirty and covering up a building under construction, and itís also displayed where there is a wedding or funeral in the street, but it's always beautiful!

You may or may not know that Ramadan is approaching in October.  We're starting to see a little bit of how Cairo gets ready for it!  I'm no expert on Ramadan by any means, but I take any opportunity to ask someone when I see something about it.  First, you can see a lot of colorful brass lamps for sale on the street. There's one area in Islamic Cairo called "Under the lamp" (I can't remember the name in Arabic) where just about every shop has these beautiful, colorful, shiny lamps displayed on the street.  It was a nice sight and, of course, I snapped a picture.  In the supermarket, (they aren't common in Cairo, but there is one in Nasr City near the apartment) they are selling these cloth bags of oil, flour, tomato sauce, and other goods.  The clerk told us that people buy the bags and give them to the poor. Also, we see the beautiful tent cloth decorating shops, hung from the ceiling or wrapped around lampposts.  It reminds me of Christmas in the US.  At my last lesson with Aida Nour, she was preparing this sort of stew for Ramadan.  It had lemons, grated carrots, sesame seeds and other things.  She said they have it every night during Ramadan.  I'm sure Iím only scraping the surface of all of the traditions and the meanings behind them, but I'm truly fascinated and hoping to learn more.  If any of my Muslim friends want to tell me more about Ramadan, I'd be grateful.

Aleya and I have been so busy lately that I've had to make up a schedule. Erika joked that we have more of a social life than she does, even though she's been here longer!  Today we needed a day of rest.  No lessons, shopping, or shows, we just lazed around, and it was nice.  I felt exhausted, and I decided that I need to stop and recharge so that we could resume our busy schedule tomorrow!  Costume shopping until 2 a.m. can do that to a person. There have been a few times that I've felt nauseous, and I learned that I'm probably dehydrated.  This happened to me last year too, so now I make sure that I've always got water with me.   I'm taking no chances with my health this time around!  So, what the heck have we been busy with these days?   

Dance stuff! 
I've been calling people and finding out who's dancing where and who's teaching and getting people's phone numbers too.  I've written out all the information regarding hotels and boats and teachers that I've amassed.  Currently the working Egyptian dancers that I've learned of are Lucy, Dina, Randa, Camelia, Sherine, Hanadi, Wa'ad, and Ibtisaam.  Non-Egyptians are Soraya, Katia, Liza Laziza (who's been very helpful in getting us numbers), Katia, Asmahan, Outi, Shams, and Marina.  There are probably more, but this is what I've learned so far.   Author posing with Camelia

I had 2 more lessons with Aida Nour.  I think that I have redeemed myself after the last lesson.  I took some pictures with her, and I bought some costumes from her as well.  That's right, Aida makes costumes now too.  They're very nice though not as fabulous as Eman Zaki's designs, and very reasonably priced.  They all have lycra skirts because that is the style now!  Every costumer we've visited has more lycra than chiffon. 

I also had a lesson with Raqia Hassan.  It was my first class with her, and I have to admit that I was disappointed.  The choreography was nice, and she can still dance, but check this out--she had her assistant teach the class.  For a 2-hour lesson, she was in the studio for only half an hour.  Should I have specified that I wanted her to teach it?  Should I have offered more money?  I don't know.  The best part of the lesson was during the break when we talked about the dance scene in Egypt and in general.  She gave us her frank opinion about the people dancing in Cairo now. Oh yes! It was juicy! But no, I will not commit it to writing!  I heard that the dance scene in Egypt is as catty as it is in the US, and let' s just say that my experience thus far has confirmed this.  I know you're dying to know the details, but I will not put anything in writing; you'll have to pry it out of me when I return home.  There may be even more intrigue in Cairo than in the US...........then, again, maybe not.  

A rising star! 
Aleya and I were floored and delighted by Camelia's show at the Marquese boat!  She's my new favorite.  She's relatively new on the scene, but she's accomplished much for her 23 or 25 years of age and Iíve decided that she's destined for greatness.  Her show was energetic, crazy, fun, and she has good moves too.   I was only able to video a little bit, then the waiter said it was forbidden.  She danced, towering over me, while I was sitting in my chair!  She pulled Aleya and I up onto the stage and let us dance around with her for quite a while.  She showed us some Khaleegy moves, threw us each a cane to dance with, and then had us take a bow with her.  She stirred our blood so much that we'll probably see her again.  Even if it means enduring the awful dinner cruise food, we'll see her again.  (Note about the cruise food:  it looks really good, but it tastes bad.)  She danced with a shamadan too; I think that and Khaleegy are her trademarks along with some wild hair tossing that I plan on appropriating!   We also saw Soraya's show at the Marriott.  She's also a great dancer who dances very much like Dina.  Personally, I like Soraya better.  I like her emoting and sharp accents, and I thought she had a larger repertoire than Dina.  Many people may disagree, but I stand by my opinion.  Who knows; maybe I'll see Dina and start singing a different song!  I did get some of Soraya's show on video.  She had some cute costumes too!  One thing about great dancers in Egypt is that they just dance.  They don't have to rely on gimmicks like sword or veil or flaming anything to put on a good show.  I think this is the sign of a great dancer:  when she does a show without any tricks and I'm utterly captivated.  Camelia and Soraya both hit the mark in my book! 

Last night we were costume shopping until 2 a.m.† Yes, 2 AM!   We went out by City of the Dead to see what Crazy Move had to offer this year.   Their designs have improved since last year, and of course, they mainly use lycra like everyone else.  It took a couple of hours to try items on. Then we had to discuss the work we wanted done to the costumes; then we had to discuss prices.  Plus we had to catch up with these fellows with whom we bonded somewhat last year. We were there for 5 hours or so.  I bought 7 fabulous numbers from them because they gave me a good deal to make up for their shortcomings in our dealings last year.   Shiny fabrics, bold cut outs, colorful beading, and unique colors are what I picked out.  These costumes are not for the weak!    Workers at Crazy Move

I had better get to sleep so that I can be ready for tomorrow's big schedule:  Class with Freiz at 11 a.m. (I am shocked that someone actually teaches dance in the morning.), shopping for costumes and music with Liza Laziza in Khan al Khalili, then we'll see her show in Giza.   Wish I had more than 10 days left in Cairo!

Part One
Part Two
Coming soon!
Part Four- 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.

3-17-06 Photos of Friday Evening show from Aida Nour & Magdy El-Leisy Workshop 2006 Photos by Lynette Harris & staff sponsored by Little Egypt held on Feb 24, 2006 in Los Angeles, California,

3-16-06 Giza Awards 2005, A Cultural Odyssey, by Rebecca Firestone
Can it be that the West has been so involved in learning technique and choreography that the very soul of the dance has been left to those in the Middle East who are desperately struggling to keep their art alive?

3-16-06 Fahteim in Vegas by Neferteri
The Las Vegas 2006 belly dance season is off to a phenomenon beginning!

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