The photo of me and Khamis was taken by El
Lialy Studio, Cairo.
2006 Ahlan Wa Sahlan Cairo Festival
July 3, 2006: "Today is the day!" was my first thought
when I woke up that day. Until then, teaching at Raqia
Ahlan Wa Sahlan Cairo festival was something about
which I could only dream. On that afternoon at 4:00, I was booked
to teach a two-hour class in playing finger cymbals (sagat, zills)
at the biggest raqs sharqi festival in the world. I'll tell more
about how this came to be, but first let's get to the experience.
though I'd seen and spoken to Raqia several times after arriving
in Cairo on June 12th, I didn't find out until the day I registered,
June 25th, that my class would be on the last day of the weeklong
festival at 4:00 in the afternoon.
over those two weeks had been answered "the schedule is not
set yet." I reminded myself over and over that in Egypt,
many plans are confirmed, if not made, at the last minute. Contrary
to what this may suggest, the festival week was especially well
organized in the logistics of registration and people moving.
There were three days for registration, making that process for
nearly 1,000 registrants go as smoothly as possible. There were
festival staff members at the doors of each classroom to check
people in and give directions to other classrooms. The
registration desk was open every day for attendees to make changes
or additions to their schedules and there was an information desk
in the main lobby outside the ballroom where
the largest classes took place. Raqia and her able crew
are to be congratulated on such a well-organized event.
registering for the classes I would attend, I signed up to dance
to live music on teachers' night, the first of the nightly parties.
Performing on teachers' night is a good way for new teachers
to attract more students to their classes. Many students sign
up for additional classes after seeing the teachers' performances.
day finally arrived, I was ready to teach, but at 3:00
p.m., the class location was not yet assigned. At 3:30, after
a soothing glass of tea, I checked again and found out that the
class would be on the dance floor in the Mena House's "Abu
Nawas" nightclub. It's hard to describe the excitement I
felt when I saw the official sign on the door "Leyla Lanty
Zelina in the Abu Nawas nightclub at AWS 2003 evening
party to show the nightclub where Leyla taught, because
Leyla forgot to ask someone to photograph her teaching there
at AWS 2006!
performance to live music on teachers' night, playing cymbals
with Khamis Henkesh on his drum solo, I'd been
stopped several times in the halls by festival attendees who asked
for my autograph or to have pictures taken of me with them, some
asking if I have an instructional DVD, CD, or book.This was a
bit weird at first, but I'd found it fun after a day or two. Now,
feeling the need to justify all that attention by teaching a really
good class, I felt a little like I was diving off the high board
at the Olympics!
I asked someone to go to the registration desk and get a door
person to check students' registration papers for the class. That
person arrived after only a couple of minutes, so he was only
a little late, not absent. Then I introduced myself to the two
Egyptian young men already in the room, one who was to operate
the CD player and the other who was to be my drummer, as Raqia
had promised when I arrived in Cairo.
At the beginning
of the class I counted 24 students, fewer than the 90 plus who
attended Morocco's class earlier in the week, but more than I
thought might attend during the last time slot on the last day.
The dance floor was lighted while the seating area around it was
in shadow. I could see that there were two or three observers,
but could not see who they were so I assumed they were festival
senior staff members. Two of them, Magda
Ibrahim and DeeDee
of Little Egypt had both said they would try to come see my class.
I quickly forgot about them when my watch told me it was 4:00
and time to start teaching. When I found out that evening that
one of those observers was Raqia, herself, I
realized what good thing it was that I couldn't see those observers!
in my class were from all over the world, including
several countries in Europe, Canada, the United States, Singapore,
Japan, and China. I was delighted to find that a large
number of them spoke English and helped their
classmates when they could. One of my main worries was the
potential difficulty communicating with such an international
drummer play the rhythms made the teaching process
much easier than using CDs. I had only to say "Maqsoum,
min fadlak" ("Maqsoum, please") and give the drummer
a tempo and we had live music for teaching and practicing.
After practice with the drummer for each rhythm and
cymbal combination, I asked the CD player operator to play
my CD with "whole band" music so the students would
to practice with melody instruments and drum together.
only challenging part of using the drummer was making him believe
that I really wanted him to play as slowly as I indicated. After
the first few minutes, though, he understood that while they
already knew how to dance, most of the students were beginners
in playing cymbals.
When I began
to focus on teaching and forget about where I was, the class became
a lot of fun. It was a pleasure to teach students who were so
serious about learning. I took care to switch people from the
front to the back and vice versa occasionally so that everyone
would have the opportunity to hear me talk and to see what I was
doing. My four-page
handout with advice on how to play with musicality along
with lists and diagrams of the rhythms and cymbal patterns
that go with them, was well received. There were only
a few questions and by the time I finished with each cymbal
and drum rhythm combination I could hear that everyone was
playing correctly. By the end of the class, everyone could
play the cymbal patterns and dance the simple choreography
inevitable discussions after the class, several people
told me they learned a lot and that they enjoyed it. My
dive off the high board at the Olympics was complete and I hadn't
evening at the Closing Gala, Raqia told me she had observed
the class, sitting in the shadows where I couldn't see her.
She told me she had really liked my class material, my handout,
how I conducted the class and communicated with the students.
I felt as if I'd won a gold medal!!
Hassan, Randa Kamel, Leyla Lanty
at an evening party at AWS
now the back story on how I was invited to teach and how I prepared
In Cairo in
June, 2005, I visited Raqia for our annual luncheon get-together,
a tradition that started in the 1990s when I'd studied privately
with her. After lunch and during a long conversation about the
state of dance in Egypt and elsewhere, she asked me if I would
be interested in teaching at the 2006 festival. After I picked
my chin up off my chest, I blurted out "Are you serious?!"
She laughed and said "Of course!" I said I would be
honored and would love to do it. We agreed that I would call and
confirm in January or February. So began
seven long months of keeping a big secret because I
wanted to wait until it was confirmed before telling anyone about
February, I called Raqia. To my question whether I would
teach at the 2006 festival, she replied "Yes, if you like."
accepted and in my excitement forgot to ask what she
wanted me to teach! In early March, I called her again to find
out and "Cymbals" was her immediate reply. I said "Yes
do that", but inside I was screaming "YIKES! Morocco
the only teacher of cymbals at A.W.S. ever!!" I asked Raqia
and she confirmed that Morocco would also be teaching a cymbal
class and a dance class as well.
decided to call Morocco to let her know and to ask for some
advice. She was happy to hear that I would be teaching a second
cymbals class. We talked for a long time about her teaching
experiences at the festival and how things "work".
I'm grateful for her advice which I found extremely helpful.
At the end of the conversation I said, "I still can't believe
it!" Morocco replied, "Believe it!" I took her
advice and announced my good fortune to my friends the next
two months of intense preparation, devoting almost all of my spare
time to doing research, writing, making a syllabus handout, choosing
music, worrying... By the end of May, I had a class plan and
rough handout, and I asked some friends for feedback. Zelina,
Masouma Rose, and Zemira, all dancers
in the San Francisco Bay Area, volunteered for a trial run at
Zelina's house. All three gave me valuable feedback that I used
in my final class plan and the handout. By
doing the trial run, I found out how much I could REALLY teach
in 2 hours and it was certainly not as much as I 'd THOUGHT I
On June 13,
the day after I arrived in Cairo, I went to see Raqia
to discuss my class plan over lunch. To my great relief,
I found out that I'd be teaching what she had in mind,
a simple choreography of basic movements while playing the
cymbals, with emphasis on the musical aspects, that is how
to play with the music, not against it or in spite of it. She
was very pleased with my class plans and especially liked the
handout and all the musical information it contained.
she asked me if I wanted a drummer. Wow! I never thought of
that! I quickly realized what a good thing that would be and
immediately said "Yes, I want a drummer, please."
I didn't know previously that she would have five drummers "on
duty" for the teachers at all class times.
In our discussion,
Raqia said that she added a second cymbal class
because she considers it important that dancers know how
to play cymbals. She also told me that the great choreographer,
Ibrahim Akef, who passed away early in 2006,
was the last of the good Egyptian cymbal teachers for dancers.
I felt honored to be following in such big footsteps, but thought
to myself "...no pressure...no pressure..." My
dream came true at Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2006.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2005,
Cairo a review and diary by Leyla Lanty
Monday night, the opening gala was a great success in all senses
of the word! It was one of the best large scale events I've attended.
9-24-00 Cairo's Costume Disasters by
and Surprising Costumes Worn by Cairo's Stars of Oriental Dance
Belly Dance in Israel
by Orit Maftsir
dancers are the hottest trend at the moment, unlike the totally
frozen attitudes towards the Arab culture in Israel.
My Moment with Nagwa by Ahava
While dancing I kept eye contact with the judges and
guests of honor. I still remember their mannerisms and what I
perceived to be their glares. Randa and Dr. Mo were conversing
and smiling contently, Faten and Zahra were clapping. Also, there
sat Nagwa Fouad, “Queen of Cairo!”
Queen of the Bay Bellydance show
and Competition June 17, 2006 Photos by Michael Baxter,
Event Sponsored by Shabnam and Maurice in Oakland, California.
Back to Basics by Najia Marlyz
Belly Dance is most meaningful when we define it as a
communication of mutually held emotional response and truths between
“The Bellydancers of Cairo”
An interview with filmmaker Natasha Senkovich by Betsey Flood
As a maid you can find yourself in compromising positions—not
good situations for a woman to be in—but in Egypt, it is
considered so much better than being a dancer.