by Leila of Cairo
a month after I arrived in Egypt, I met an Englishwoman, Kay
Taylor, who would be my flat mate for my first summer
in Cairo. Kay was already a Cairo veteran, having bought
costumes there for many years, and now as a fledgling tour operator,
she was spending the summer in Cairo taking dance classes and
Arabic courses that would allow her to better serve her guests.
Kay became an instant friend and out of interest came along with
me to some of my first auditions, rehearsals and interviews and
in turn she introduced me to many of the costumers she’d worked
with for years.
Kay seemed a bit older and wiser to the ways of Cairo, many people
assumed she was my manager. They would address their questions
about my fee or my experience to Kay. I remember sitting
in our sweltering Harem apartment in August, laughing about encounters
with nightclub managers who would try and negotiate my new career
Arabic at the time consisted of only a few sentences but she carried
such an air of authority, she seemed the likely boss. It
has been great to watch Kay as her dance souk, classes, and workshops
in the United Kingdom have expanded enough to let her leave her
long-time job at British Telecom and concentrate completely on
dance. Her dance tours, which she leads to Egypt and now
Turkey, keep her traveling four to five times a year. With
the Farha Tours, she has become the largest promoter
of shows involving Egyptian dancers and live Egyptian orchestras
in the UK. This summer, she will sponsor the first festival in
England to feature a live Egyptian orchestra. Last time
Kay was in Cairo, I sat down with her to pick her brain about
the current British Belly Dance scene, her impressions of dance
in Turkey and Egypt, and to explore her motivations for bringing
dancers and musicians from Egypt to tour the UK.
is your dance background?
dancing for about 20 years and started learning in the UK.
My biggest influence was Josephine
Wise. I went on to successfully complete my
Josephine Wise Academy of Arabic Dance (JWAAD) teaching diploma
and am now head of the teacher training course in the UK.
I started traveling to Egypt in 1996 then Cairo in 1998.
I moved to Cairo for 3 months (and met Leila),
I studied with top Egyptian dance teachers and really felt my
dance developed and changed at this point.
I have no
other background in dance – other than the dubious honour of being
thrown out of ballet classes as a 5 year old for being completely
uncoordinated! Obviously my coordination has improved.
your impression the first time you saw an Egyptian dancer dancing
My first dancer
was on a Nile Cruise between Luxor & Aswan. I wasn’t
very impressed. When the boat crew saw I knew something
of Egyptian dance, they would get me up dancing whenever I went
into the bar. I even got to dance at a wedding. What
an experience! It was, such a confidence builder!
I felt like a pop star. It must have been the novelty factor
as, back then, I wasn’t particularly good!
dancer I saw in Cairo was Lucy.
A completely different experience! I found her style very
understated and precise but with an unpredictability that keeps
you riveted! I still take groups to see her even though
her show doesn’t start till 3am.
dancers in Egypt much different than the dancers you had seen
and studied with in England?
The style I learnt in the UK was influenced by Fifi Abdou
who was a big favorite.
and umphy - and that suited my personality. I found the
modern Cairo style much more intricate with tiny little moves
and complex combinations.
very few dancers in the UK that earn their living through this
dance as there are limited performance opportunities. To
see the professional dancers in Cairo was just fabulous.
Now, there are lots of UK teachers up to date with the modern
part of what motivated you to start leading dance tours to Egypt?
I was going over to Cairo regularly to buy inventory and made
lots of friends, contacts and got to know the layout of Cairo
as well as places to go. I went with Maggie Caffrey,
another dance teacher, and took her around. ‘Why don’t you
lead tours?’ she asked. I had never considered it. I saw
it could be a means of me getting to Cairo more regularly and
I would get to do what I loved: Introduce people to a place
I love. Cairo can be very overpowering, but if you go with
someone who knows the ropes and takes the time to help you find
your feet, it can be a completely magical place.
your first tour like? Any mishaps?
My first one
was a complete nightmare. We were based in a hotel in Zamalak
(this is an island) and we had to get taxis and buses everywhere
and the logistics were really difficult. On arrival, there
was a mix-up with the hotel and they weren’t expecting us, but
fit us in. This was before I had an Egyptian mobile phone.
Trying to coordinate everyone was difficult. I lost two people
and spent a fortune on British mobile charges before I tracked
them down. I now have an Egyptian phone and it makes the
organizing so much easier.
Now we are
based in downtown Cairo which is so much more accessible.
It can’t have been so bad because I keep doing it.
you think the most important thing foreigners learn from studying
with and watching dancers in Egypt?
A more in depth
feel for the music, understanding the words of songs and an effortlessness
which is a joy to watch. The interaction between dancer, musicians
dancers do not get to work with live music, yet it is the unique
interaction between dance & music that makes this dance form
so special. Working with CD’s means you get to hear the
music and dance to it – but you do not feel the connection as
you would with live music. Nor will it ever change, whereas
in a live situation the interaction is constantly open to change.
been coming to Cairo, at least three times a year for the last
7 years, to watch belly dancers. How has the dance scene
changed in that time?
have come and gone in this time. The constant has been Dina.
The scene has changed and there are now less places to go to see
dance shows than there used to be. Night clubs close and
re-open then close again. Nothing stays the same.
your feelings about the state of belly dance in Cairo today?
At the moment
it seems like there are good dancers around. There was a
very thin period around three years ago when they banned the foreign
dancers. It was hard to find someone to see. The good Egyptian
dancers are fabulous but there are only a few. There seem to be
many other mediocre Egyptians who are okay but nothing special.
For a foreigner to get a job in Cairo they have to be pretty good
dancers so you are more likely to be guaranteed a good show than
when you just go see any Egyptian.
dance scene is richer when the foreigners are here.
you think are the main difference between the foreign dancers
in Cairo and the Egyptians?
often perform tableaux; for instance, a tableau with a shisha
or with the tabla player. Egyptian dancers currently do
this less so. Randa
just dances. As does Dina. Doa
has a folklore element in her show but doesn’t do tableaux. Lucy
on the other hand has lots of elements in her show. I think
that audiences find tableaux interesting and entertaining and
foreigners make good use of them.
dance tours of Egypt differ from those in Turkey?
more westernized. It is a more relaxing place to take people
main places to see dancing in Istanbul are tourist venues that
are full of tourists and not Turks. It’s almost as if belly
dance in Turkey has been separated out from real life. Whereas
when you go
to see a dancer you will get equal number or more Egyptians than
you would get foreign tourists at the shows. In Cairo, the
dancers have their own orchestra, but in Istanbul, it is either
recorded music or a small tahkt and the shows consist
of a lot more folklore than raks sharki. Folklore seems
to be the strength of Turkish dance shows. As a dancer to
go and see dancing, Cairo is by far the better place but Istanbul
offers more relaxation, a different range of costume shopping
and some fabulous sightseeing.
you compare Turkish and Egyptian belly dancing?
I would say
Turkish dance is more gypsy or gymnast based. The girls
use far more floor work and are more overtly sexy. I find
it more showy – it has a feel of its own which I find very different
to Egyptian dance. I find Egyptian dance is more sensual than
sexual. Both are skillful but the Turkish style relies on more
razamataz whereas the Egyptian style relies on the technical skill
and interpretation of the individual. Saying this, I am not an
expert on Turkish dance but this is the feel I get. I love
the Turkish folk dance from the different regions – but that is
about the dance scene in the UK. For years it seemed to
follow in the footsteps of America. Do you think it is finding
it’s own voice?
have never felt it followed in the American footsteps.
none of my teachers in the UK were influenced by Americans, they
were all influenced by the Egyptians: Samia Gamal, Naima
Akef, Nagwa Fouad, Fifi Abdou and Soheir Zeki.
These were the videos we had access to.
brought the Bellydance Superstars to the UK, they have
had a much bigger influence. Of course, some people love
them, others hate them. I think they are all incredibly
hard working dancers who do American style Bellydance.
What they do bears very little resemblance to anything I have
see in Cairo. That doesn’t make it bad, just not the Egyptian
style. Miles himself said that they were not going for authentisism
but presenting entertainment to a wider audience. The Tarab
Dance Company (of which I am a principal dancer) were invited
to perform at the BDSS festival last year in the UK. We
did an interactive folklore set with Desiree,
the only Egyptian pantomime horse currently resident in the UK.
We heard after that Miles was interested in signing her up.
Not us, just the horse … ah well!! I wait with interest
to see if the next BDSS show incorporates a horse.
describe the Farha tours and tell us how the idea came about?
In 2005 and
2006 I brought famous Egyptian dancers, two folklore singers and
a live Egyptian orchestra to the UK for a four-city tour. I had
the idea when I started traveling to Cairo. What inspired
me and made me passionate about the dance was the connection between
the dancer and the live music. In the UK there is very little
access to Arabic live music. Working with a CD is not the
same. Lots of people learn in isolation and never travel
to Cairo. They don’t understand this connection. There is
also some confusion about standards. Most people come into belly
dance for the socializing and it‘s about the costume and having
fun and building confidence, but the professional performance
side of belly dance is limited in England. I wanted to bring
a show that combined the music and dance at a professional level
for people to see in England who wouldn’t have the chance to travel
kind of challenges did you face organizing tours of that size
and scale? Did anything unexpected happen on either tour?
never promoted anything on this scale before, it was a huge learning
experience and that is an understatement. The costs associated
with it where huge and quickly spiraled out of control.
around the UK was a logistical nightmare and on the first tour
I made the mistake of going from the North of England to the South
and then back to the middle. But for 2006 I made sure to
do the cities in order of placement on the map.
Christine with dreads biting Julie!
We did have
a few mishaps. On the 2005 five tours after one of the shows the
performers were loading on the bus and I was finalizing things
with the theater and imagine the panic I felt when I saw the bus
pulling away with Aida Noor behind the wheel. In
the 2006 tour Randa Kamel requested a hair dresser
for each show and unfortunately for one show the hairdresser cancelled
and I rang one of my students who looked like she might know how
to fix hair nicely and sent her to the hotel. She rang me
to say that Randa was refusing to have her hair done. After
a very confusing few minutes we realized that my student had been
trying to style the singer, Heba’s hair, thinking
it was Randa. On the first tour, Dandesh missed
her flight to the UK and my father volunteered to drive her the
seven hours up to New Castle for out first show. He was
full of cold and she was chain smoking but by the time they arrived
he had learned the Arabic words “habibi” and “wahstini.” They
were both relieved to have arrived.
many rave reviews of the tours but I also read a review, “Lost
in Translation” that criticized the show as not crossing over
culturally to reach the British audience. Do you think Westerners
audiences may need more Westernized belly dance shows to bridge
This review was
written after the 2005 show and we published it in NADA
(A UK dance publication). I was very pleased it was
published as it generated a huge amount of responses mainly along
the lines of ‘What a load of rubbish’! It was an interesting
point of view expressed in the article but I think the more popular
consensus was that the show translated really well. Yasmina
(British dancer based in Cairo) focused on various tableaux which
were very accessible to the audience, the whirling dervish received
a standing ovation at each show & our Egyptian stars, Dandesh
& Aida had some audience members in tears.
In 2006, Randa Kamel was just spectacular.
Yasmina & Mohamed Kazafy did
some fabulous tongue in cheek tableaux along with funny man Sayed
Tura, our sagat player.
woman did say she ‘didn’t get the scruffy little fat man’.
That was Sayed Tura, sagat player extraordinaire. You cannot
please everyone all the time.
For me, this
gave UK dancers the opportunity to see professional dancers from
Cairo with live music – and it is what the dance is all about.
I think no performance in any art form is understood by every
person that sees it but I think the majority were thoroughly entertained.
fellow “Zombie” belly dancer Christine
recently traveled to America for the first time to attend the
dance fesitval in Richmond, California. How did you find
American belly dancers?
friendly. Christine was over the moon as she got to see
her favourite band, ‘Sisters of Mercy’ (death metal) in San Fransisco
while we were there. We had taken Desiree, her Egyptian
pantomime horse with us and she lined up Sisters of Mercy queued
with Christine for the Sister of Mercy concert – much to the amazement
of fellow fans. We persuaded someone to get inside her so
I could take some photos of Desiree amongst all these black clad
followers of the Sisters!
My love though
is the Egyptian style. And that is why I organized the Farha
Tour – and this year (27th – 29th July)
I am organizing the Farha Festival. A unique opportunity
for dancers to work with a professional band from Cairo.
Scary, but oh so much fun!
info on Kay's tours
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
I Dance; You Follow by Leila
As Westerners interested in an Eastern dance form, we might want
to ask ourselves if we are missing certain critical aspects of
Raqs Sharki because we are not open to Eastern teaching methods.
Interview with Safaa Farid by Leila
days there are times I feel I've seen everything an Egyptian dancer
can do in the first five minutes of her show. She doesn't change.
But foreigners study the dance very hard and they put much time
into their show so that is it interesting for a whole hour.
What Middle Eastern Audiences
Expect from a Belly Dancer by Leila
Audiences in the Middle East, especially Egyptians, see
bellydancing as something to be participated in, critiqued, and
loved (or hated) with gusto.
The Bou-Saada Bus by Yasmela
single one of us could play an instrument, sing, dance, run a
sound board, set a stage with backdrop, lights, monitors and microphones,
plug them in, and put them away. We made our own costumes and
our own drums and used duct tape in a thousand creative ways.
While we never made a living from it, it was our way of life.
Our experiences will bond us forever.
How to Charge What You
Are Worth by MIchelle Joyce
first step to becoming an effective negotiator is to emotionally
detach yourself from the outcome. If you can’t walk away
from the deal, you have already lost.
The Devil's Details, Show
Ethics for Professionals, Part 1- Booking a Party by Yasmin
When a dancer
looks good, she, or another, will get called back to perform again.
When she looks bad, customers might be turned off to our lovely
art form forever. Therefore, a bad dancer not only ruins things
for herself, but for all of us
How We Got our Video Groove
On by Zari
however, it seemed that getting a video is like getting a gig:
sometimes, you have to create your own opportunities.