not with her mom but with her grandmom
First Mid-East Gig
by Yasmina Ramzy
story is told from the eyes of a 22 year old whose life up until
this point was very sheltered being brought up in the exclusively
WASP Rosedale neighborhood of Toronto and then spending the
teenage years in a Buddhist Monastery with celibate men.
had only been performing in Arabic nightclubs for a matter of
months and I was a terrible dancer. One day, the phone
rang. It was a call from Lebanon. On the other end was a
singer named Joseph Salama. I remembered him
vaguely as being a fair-haired Lebanese singer from Ottawa who
had performed once in the Toronto nightclub where I danced
called The Sheikh. Joseph said he was on his way to
Amman, Jordan, for a singing contract and wanted me as his warm-up
he was marketing himself as The Canadian Singer, thus I was
perfect for this gig, being Canadian, blonde and obviously not
of Middle Eastern descent.
this point, I had never thought about this belly dance thing becoming
a career but because of my deep interest in the mystical Middle
East, and in particular Egypt, I would give anything to have
the chance to visit, but I was afraid to go under these circumstances.
I didn't really know the singer, I hadn't been overseas since
I was two years old, I was a beginner dancer, and I could
be kidnapped or sold into slavery. So many things tossed and turned
in my head. Finally, I asked my spiritual teacher if I should
go. He said he would do a divination and get back to me. When
he did, he said I should definitely go, but on the condition I
took my mother with me. At the time, I had no idea the huge difference
having my mother, as “chaperone” would make, even on the future
of my career.
my mother got permission from her work and permission from
a grumbling singer and management of the hotel that housed
the night club I'd be working in, we waited for our plane tickets
to arrive. The management had booked us on Royal Jordanian
Air. Since my main impetus for this trip was
Jordan's proximity to Egypt, we changed our flights to leave a
week earlier and booked a connecting flight to Cairo.
quickly forgot all about the work I was supposed to do in
and eagerly waited to see the pyramids and the famous dancers Sohair
Zaki and Nagwa Fouad. It was late
in the evening when we left. Both my mother and I
were so excited and giddy, we could not stop giggling on the
board the plane. And then, in a moment of almost hysteria, we
both couldn't contain ourselves. The first half
of the long flight was quite uncomfortable. Thank God airplanes are
we landed in Amman, we were greeted on the tarmac by solid lines
of soldiers on both sides leading to the doorway of the
airport, machine guns pointed towards the passengers. I don't
recall ever seeing even one Canadian soldier in the flesh and
blood, let alone a gun, let alone so many big guns and pointed
at me. I don't think I blinked during that endless walk. We
were clearly not in Hawaii.
airport was like a huge Arabian palace of my fantasies. Everything
was in white marble with beautiful gold trimmed arches, clean
and extravagant. It was the newly built Queen Alia Airport. With
the desert just outside, the experience was otherworldly
and judging by the gaping stares, we must have looked as if we
had just landed from Mars. We were getting giggly and excited
again and quickly looked for a washroom so as not to repeat our
washroom was gorgeous with very shiny gold fixtures. We were
overcome by the beauty, richness and sophistication. After lifting my
jaw back up, I proceeded to open a stall door expecting a gold
toilet and there was NOTHING. "Maybe they were still renovating
and had not installed all the toilets yet." I looked down
to find a hole in the floor, a tap and a hose. Finally, my mother
opened a stall door as well. And that started the next giggle
session, which resulted in the second wetting of our pants.
Toilets or not, we didn't need them any more. We had to get
to our connecting flight to Cairo. Of course, I eventually learned
that this was the norm in toilets. Twenty-four years and
hundreds of flights later, I always have an extra pair
of pants in my carry-on luggage.
we showed up at the boarding counter, many worried looks and discussion
ensued and we were led to a small private room to wait.
The staff was very polite and friendly making sure we were
comfortable and offering us tea, coffee and sweets. Finally, it
was boarding time so we re-emerged and were led past a long line
up of men in what appeared to be full-length dusty nightgowns.
was much grumbling among the men and some even spat in our direction.
Our guide tried to speed us up and placed us at the front of
the line. Then the grumbling turned to a loud roar and we were
pushed forward to board the plane.
sat alone in dead silence for a while on a large empty plane
in our center seats. Then suddenly, our dusty and fragrant
friends from the line-up rushed on board and were roaming
everywhere holding brand new toasters, blenders and microwave
ovens. This image really ruined my fantasy that they had just
dismounted camels in the desert. The electrical appliances
baffled me for years to come until I was told these men were
workers returning home from the Gulf States where these state-of-the-art items
could be purchased easily. The only other female on board was
the flight attendant carrying a big basket. She came
down the middle aisle yelling something in Arabic. As she
passed each row of seats, the restless men would obediently
sit down for which she then rewarded them by throwing a handful
of candies in their laps.
commuter flight was short but I soon found myself busy. Once everyone
was seated and we took off, the flight attendant handed out landing
cards to be filled out. I filled mine out and then the very
tall guy beside me indicated that he could not read and write
and asked if I could fill his form out. I was thrilled to have
a chance to help and possibly make a friend from the land of my
fascination. So with his passport in hand, I graciously did so.
Once I was finished I looked up and found there was a line-up.
Apparently, they all needed help. I was about to object when both
my mother and the flight attendant gave me a smile and I had sense
that peace would be kept if I obliged. My hand was very tired
by the time we landed in Cairo.
Cairo airport...all I remember was a blur of cats on broken counters,
Coca-Cola written in Arabic, minimal fluorescent light on unpainted,
broken cement walls, passports spewed out on the floor by security,
and amongst wall to wall people, three different porters asking
for "baksheesh" to carry our bags. We gave each of them
money but they just walked off. Finally, we carried the luggage
ourselves, found a cab and ended up at the Sheraton Heliopolis.
I couldn't sleep, I was in the land of Isis and Osiris and somewhere
out there, Sohair Zaki was dancing.
be continued...the performance
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
the Veil by Yasmina Ramzy
I excused myself first and then asked her “why
on earth would someone obviously not of Middle Eastern heritage
actually choose to wear the veil?”She smiled knowingly
and gave me an answer that still keeps me thinking today.
Summer School of Khaleegy Dance, Dance Style from the
Saudi Arabian Penninsula, by Yasmina Ramzy
police”and hotel security watched every move I made. All
my phone calls were monitored. I was not allowed to talk to or
get into an elevator with an Arab man.
Report on the First International Bellydance Conference
of Canada Part One- Lectures, Workshops, Panel Discussions by
Diane Adams Photos by Lynette
18-22, 2007 Toronto, Ontario. Hosted by Yasmina Ramzy of Arabesque
Academy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, this International Bellydance
Conference of Canada, the first ever on the Canadian dance scene,
proved to be one of the top dance experiences in this reviewer’s
Breaks Its Silence by Rachel Lazarus Soto
agreed that this was a good idea, and Schill volunteered to do
the paperwork, presumably on the behalf of MECDA.
Vendor's View by Artemis
need to respect their vendors, not just for fees that they have
given them, but because without the vendors lining the room,
where is the color (other than on the stage), and where is the “bazaar”atmosphere
of the event?
Devil's Details, Show
Ethics for Professionals Part
5 - Beauty by
new dancers, mastering the art of glamour can be daunting. But take heart,
while internal sensuality requires character work, external beauty is easier
In The Streets; A History of Collective Joy”Authored
by Barbara Ehrenreich, A Book Recommendation by
her book, Barbara Ehrenreich takes one back to the original motivations
of dance along a historic journey of how human impetus to dance,
has been repressed by societal hierarchy, and religious zealots.
with the Reda Troupe by Debbie Smith
the company in performance six times was truly a wonderful experience,
because each time I saw some new detail or subtlety in the movements,
the costuming, the structure of the dances, and in individual
performer’s presences on stage.
Streets Come Alive: Baladina Egyptian Dance Theater and
Sharia Mohamed Ali by Erin Crouch photos are by Adrian
13, 2007, Chicago, Illinois. A modern temptress steals a man away
from a traditional woman, who then finds a new man of her own. Perhaps
a necessity for a dance company composed of mostly women, men seemed
a hot commodity in the performance.
from " Hate the Game Not the Player" in Oakland,
California Photos by Liza Heider
day of dance by Bay Area's Award Winning Bellydancers Presented
by Shabnam and Mo on Saturday December 9th 2006