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Gilded Serpent presents...
Journey of Desire:
A Foreign Dancer in Cairo, 2006
Review by Catherine Barros

In association with Farida Dance, Yasmina has written and produced a full-length film documentary, featuring performances, directed by Sara Farouk.

"Why would a well-educated middle class western woman, living in comfort, surrounded by family and friends, choose to give up all that and become a dancer in Cairo… to become part of a profession that in the Middle East is not considered respectable, to live in an alien culture, to struggle through a maze of bureaucratic impediments, linguistic misunderstandings and physical and artistic challenges – just to perform on a Cairo nightclub stage?"--Yasmina

"Cairo is not for the faint hearted… It is not the place to live and work as a dancer if: you don't like noise and confusion, you hate crowds, you are on a low fat vegetarian diet, you like to mind your own business, you prefer not to be confronted with the visceral, or you are a nervous passenger. "

"Cairo is the Hollywood of Belly dance."

We, as dancers, are always curious about what it is like to be a working dancer in Cairo.   Yasmina's film, "Journey of Desire: A Foreign Dancer in Cairo" allows us to live a bit vicariously through her experiences, because the possibility of doing it ourselves is out of reach for many reasons.  After having reviewed the Farha Tour DVDs, I think it was only natural that I would be interested in seeing Yasmina's DVD.  An earlier documentary about Egyptian dancers, "The Bellydancers of Cairo", 2005, had already brought us a thoughtful view and discussion of working dancers in Cairo along with a bit of history.   I believe that  "Journey” is a good complement to "Bellydancers” since some of the same elements I liked are present in both—even though "Journey"  takes it to a more intimate level in showing us this dancer's personal journey. 

I had heard of Yasmina for years but never had the opportunity to see one of her dance performances.   The Farha Tour DVDs displayed a multi-faceted dancer who always seemed to have intriguing costumes.   I like to tell people about the "fish costume" that Yasmina wore during the performance of her Alexandrian tableau.   Most dancers will probably think that her performance piece is one of the highlights of "Journey”. I know that each time one of them appeared, I immediately switched to watching the dancing. 

The 6 dance performances blend in smoothly overall with the sections of the video, bringing us a bit of the flavor as well as a bit of the fantasy of Cairo:  

1.       The rooftop Baladi where Yasmina dances through her laundry. Her musicians play in the background—an Oriental Fantasy "Asal wa Sukkar".  Yasmina wears an unique costume of Assuit while the singer, Hibba, and the musicians contribute to the mysterious look and feel of the tableau in the café. (Don't we all want Yasmina's galabeya?)

2.       The fun sequence with the dancing boys in the auto repair shop. (Bint el Sultan and more) 

3.       A classical Oriental piece, danced as a duet, with Mohamed Kazafy.

4.       Saidi at the Pyramids with 4 back-up dancers. (Don't we all want to dance in front of the Pyramids with our own backup dancers?) 

5.       Finally, a low-key classical Taksim with Yasmina dancing a solo. 

Thus, we are presented with the many moods and styles of Yasmina.  I do not mean to ignore the remaining parts of the DVD, but I think the dance performances are the first contents that will attract our eyes—along with the colorful costumes!   While all the costumes were designed by Hallah Moustapha and well suited for Yasmina, I couldn't help but say to myself, "I want one!"

However, there is much more on this DVD to watch, and I continually picked out the bits and pieces over the several viewings that it took me to formulate my thoughts.  (I kept playing it while I was trying to write, which distracted me somewhat and meant that it took longer to write this review than I had anticipated.)

I enjoyed the footage that showed street scenes and various sights of Cairo: the good, the bad, the entertaining, and the sublime.  If one has never been to Cairo, then she will be sure to find a reason to go after seeing this documentary.  Having been to Cairo a few times, I feel a strong pull, not just for the things that I have seen and done, but for all the things that still remain or wait to be re-visited.   

Interspersed throughout the video is Caroleen's (Australia) description of the process for filing papers obtaining the license to dance/work permit/artist's union card.   At different times, these small snippets pop up: how she ended up working in Cairo,  her experiences with finding work and musicians, and what she went through to get her papers.  Anyone who has had any experience of the bureaucracy of the Egyptian government will totally appreciate what she explains.   All the trips back and forth to the various offices are all explained while she shows the various documents that are needed.  It makes for an entertaining story of a fairly tedious, time-wasting process.

Then there are the various dancers/ teachers, who are included, famous and not so famous, working in Cairo or around the world, that all speak about what the dance means to them.   Sometimes they speak of how they came to dance in Cairo, what inspired them to start dancing, what they love about Egypt, the state of the dance in Egypt, the future of dance in Egypt

  This is a wonderful opportunity to hear what so many have to say about a subject that is near and dear to them.  This list is by no means complete, but you can see what a range of people Yasmina was able to tap for comments:  Asmahan (Argentina), Outi/Dunya (Finland), Diana Tarkan (France), Dina, Cassandra (US), Morocco (US), Shareen el Safy (US), Raqia Hassan, Beata and Horatio Cifuentes (Germany) , Dr. Mo Geddawi (Germany), Dr. Nabil Mabrouk (teacher/Cairo), Tracey Gibbs (UK) , Dina Ghanem (dance student, Germany),  Katia (Russia), Nour (Russia), Jane Bollinowsky (Australia).    We also get to hear from some of the costumiers (Hallah Moustafa, Eman Zaki, Amera el Khattan) about the process of creating costumes and what inspires them. 

Foremost is the fact that this video was a personal telling of how Yasmina came to be dancing in the first place and how she ended up in Cairo.  She shows early publicity photos and advertisements.  She talks about how she started dancing in Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants in the 1980s, then, started working abroad.  In 1994, after having avoided Cairo for so long as being a bit daunting, Yasmina first came to Cairo and was immediately smitten by the Hollywood of belly dance.

  In the video, she talks to some of the people that were instrumental in helping her to get started as a dancer in Cairo.  We get a peek into her personal life and relationships; how she came to a better understanding of the music, the language and the people.   She talks about her relationship with her musicians and how this differs from the way that musicians are typically treated in Cairo.  Earlier, Asmahan makes a comment about how her musicians are part of her family and Yasmina appears to have this level of a relationship with her musicians, too.  We get to see many different perspectives on her life and journey.

I must mention that with some of the people whose comments were included, I was not clear on why they were included.  I tended to tune out many of the commentaries as a bit annoying after viewing them a few times, but I went back for a closer listen the last time before I decided to stop watching and write.   Someone that popped out for me during my last viewing was Jocelyn Saab (a Lebanese filmmaker).  She talks about how a young girl grows into an awareness of her femininity through dance, making many good points about dance, how it is viewed and the changing cultural clime.   As one of the few non-dancers involved in this DVD, I felt she made for a balanced perspective.   I have a feeling that when I watch this film once again, I'll find more of the oft-ignored commentaries will make sense to me.  It does take awhile to synthesize all the information!   It might even be a good idea to view "Journey of Desire" along with other dancers in order to get some discussion going about something other than the costumes.

I liked the overall flow of the DVD and for a low-budget production, as Yasmina states, it was well edited and the quality was fairly good.  What I did find a bit irritating was that the DVD didn't stop when it reached the end.   Silly me, I just got up from watching it the first time, turned off the TV and went to bed, thinking it would shut off when it reached the end.  However, I found it still playing the next morning!   This came in handy while I was just sitting and watching it over and over, but not what I normally experience when playing DVDs.   (Maybe this is a side effect of it not having chapters and a menu.)  Overall, it just flowed from beginning to end, but it would have been nice to have the menu and some additional chapters, which could have included the dance performances, and maybe, Caroleen's description of the paperwork process—in one go.

There is so much to enjoy on this DVD that I almost hesitated to tender any criticism.  I think the things that I did not enjoy were far outweighed by what I did enjoy!  

I believe that any dancer who has the desire to go to Cairo to work will benefit from the experiences of Yasmina and the other working dancers whom she asked to contribute. One will come away having a better understanding of the Arabic culture and how the dance is viewed within that culture.

Now, I think I will go turn on the DVD player and enjoy “Journey of Desire” without worrying about what I should write in my review.

This DVD is available directly from Yasmina, contact her here-

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