photos by Lynette taken at the IBCC in 2007
by Yasmina of Cairo
Over the last few
years, the name Randa Kamel has spread world-wide
among the oriental dance community, and her star has risen
For many foreigners she is now the number one draw on the dance
scene in Cairo – topping even Dina in terms of what she offers
on stage. Her electrifying mix of dynamic moves, strong technique,
drama and sheer passion has audience after audience enthralled,
and her personal style has begun to permeate the language of
the dance itself, as more and more students attempt to infuse
their own movement with her unique interpretation. This is
no easy task, since behind Randa's performance lies not only
a lifetime of training, but also a command over her own liberated
sexuality beyond the dreams of most dancers. To be this powerful
and magnetic on stage, you must first know how to release all
that's blocking the flow in yourself.
For the Egyptian audience
in Cairo, this is sometimes all a bit much. The dancer is a
powerful figure on stage, but she is still, in this society,
expected to flirt with and tease the audience. Randa isn't
exactly the soft, flirty type, so for some Egyptians her dramatic
style is a bit challenging. For real connoisseurs though, she
has become one important way forward for those looking at the
future of the dance, and her impact in those terms can't be
I first became aware
of Randa back in the late 1990's, when she made quite a big
splash initially, starting with a summer season at the Cairo
Meridien. She shared the week with Fifi
Abdou – not a bad beginning
for a first-timer on the scene. She had some money behind her,
and it turned out that it was her husband who was doing the
spending. Several large billboards of her appeared in the centre
of town (an expense that even well-known stars balk at forking
out of their own pockets for) – an attempt to get noticed which,
she now says, failed to pay off. Sheraton closed
its nightclub and she moved (with a much smaller orchestra)
Maxime, where she worked for a while and then
disappeared altogether. Rumors were confirmed: she was pregnant
enough did not re-emerge onto the market until some months
after her son was born. Those of us who had seen her dance
were glad to hear that she was back. Raqia
Hassan went to watch
her, and filled with praise, put her on the programme for that
summer’s Ahlan wa Sahlan Dance Festival,
at which she performed twice.
girl has more feeling and natural understanding of oriental
dance than any new dancer I’ve seen for a long long time,”
Raqia said at the time.
For Randa, a whole
new world was opened up to her, as she began to be seen and
truly appreciated by an international audience of dancers.
“I’ve had many foreigners
come to see me,” Randa said then, “and I notice that they sit
transfixed, watching every movement. If only Egyptian audiences
were so enthralled! Sometimes I feel that foreigners understand
the dance better. If I come on stage and I’m not in the mood
to dance, they put me in the mood.”
In fact, Randa had
already had first hand experience of foreign audiences outside
Egypt, though not as an oriental dancer.
“I began dancing as
a small child, and learned local folkloric dance when I was
still at school. We used to perform on national holidays and
at celebrations. At aged fifteen, I then went on to become
a member of the Reda Troupe, and stayed with them several years.
With the troupe I travelled all over the world – and of course
learned to dance every kind of folkloric style.”
This is an important
factor in Randa’s training as a dancer. That strong folkloric
base has endowed her with a good knowledge of how to use the
stage space to the best advantage. But it’s also given her
a legacy of discipline. “I have a bar at home for doing ballet
and other dance exercises, and I use it every day,” she said. “Being
in the Reda Troupe also taught me to always know how to use
my arms and hands in relation to steps; basic rules about movement,
and balance,” she added. “Plus when I use folkloric tableaus
in my show – Saeedi, Nubian or whatever, I already have all
the steps, and I do the choreographies myself.”
With success within
the troupe as a soloist, it became clear – not least to Randa
herself – that she might well succeed in a new solo career
as an oriental dancer. She had already experimented with this
during a dance festival in Sweden in 1996, where she represented
Egypt performing oriental, rather than folkloric style. Her
bid to hit the Cairo market big-time was backed up by a confidence
in her own abilities, and careful preparation.
“When it comes to
oriental, I’ve never had a trainer; everything I do comes
from inside me. But of course all my life I’ve loved to watch
and videos with old dancers performing and I studied them.
I loved Suhair Zaki for her amazing hips; Mona
Said for her
beautiful arms, Fifi Abdou for her commanding presence, and
Nagua Fouad for her way of putting a show together.”
When you watch Randa,
you’re aware of the care she takes in her presentation; her
choreographies are precise and well-thought-out, without seeming
too contrived. There’s a natural flow. Certain physical characteristics
make Randa’s dance stand out.
well built, with a strong body that emphasizes the very strong
accents she insists on. Each movement is definite, clear
and, somehow, sincere, and delivered with passion.
These days, that’s a rare combination.
Her arms, the patterns
she makes with them, and particular way of holding them, are
uniquely Randa. And she has incorporated certain modern and
ballet steps – straight leg kicks and pointed toes – that are
her own stylistic signatures. To top it all, she has one of
the strongest shimmies you’ve ever seen on a dancer. When she
uses it her whole body, from the tips of her feet to the top
of her forehead, vibrates with high energy.
What you won’t
see, perhaps, is much softness.
“We’re always hoping
she’ll be a bit more ‘delaa’”, says Samir Husseini,
the chief of her orchestra. (In other words, soft, teasing
and coquettish). She works in several cabaret venues where
the main task for the dancer is to make tips, and the normal
way of doing this is to forgo excessive dancing in favour of
‘table work’ – chatting to customers and concentrating on certain
individuals likely to throw money.
“Randa insists on
just dancing – she doesn’t really vary the type of show she
does, just because it’s cabaret.” Randa nods at this, saying,
“that’s just the way I am. When I hear the music I have to
dance. But I compromise by bringing customers up on stage to
Back in those days,
while watching her, I couldn’t help observing several classic
Dina steps – the walk with weight falling on a straight leg
to jerk the body back, for example. At the end of the interview
she asked me what I thought were the defects in her dance (not
a question you’d receive from the likes of Lucy or Dina!),
said I couldn’t pinpoint any but mentioned the Dina steps
as being a new thing. She immediately frowned and said she’d
think about removing them. Having her own unique style is
clearly important to her, and over subsequent years she has
definitely achieved that.
Putting a show together
is of course more than just a question of steps. There are
many choices to be made in terms of music, costuming and so
on. In musical choices, Randa remains an old-fashioned girl.
She’s found, like most dancers performing nowadays, that it’s
the old songs that work best. Indeed, you’ll rarely find dancers
on Cairo stages using versions of songs by Amr Diab,
Mohamed Fouad or Ehab Toufiq, unless specifically requested. New songs
usually lack the soul and changing ryhthms that make a piece
of music worth dancing to.
“My three favourite
singers to dance to (in terms of their music) are Um
Kulthoum, Farid el Attrash and Abdel
Halim Hafez. If I had to choose
favourite songs of each, I’d say ‘Inta Omri’, ‘Gamil Gamal’,
and just about anything by Abdel Halim. New music just doesn’t
give me the same feeling.”
Feeling is an important
part of what it’s all about for Randa. Her interpretations
of songs come complete with full incorporation of the lyrics
into her movements and gestures. For foreigners, watching her
can be a good lesson in how important it is for an Egyptian
audience to feel that the dancer is really understanding and
‘living’ the music.
Since the days when
I did my first interview with Randa, her life has opened up
in many ways in terms of the dance. She has traveled to far
flung corners of the globe – Chile, Argentina, South Korea,
Singapore, Moscow, The United States, all over Europe – the
list grows every month. Exhilarating, but also demanding.
'I know that people
have appreciated me,' she says, 'and the travelling has really
shown me that. It's been a lesson – and it's been very hard
of the dreams I've had at which I feel I've succeeded is
in becoming a teacher. That's very important to me, because
it enables me to pass on my passion for the dance to others.'
A workshop with Randa
gives dancers a taste of what it really means to discipline
your body, to bring out of yourself strength you didn't know
you had. But as well as demanding, she is also patient and
full of humour. As well as knowing her professionally here
in Cairo, I have had the privilege to go on tour with her,
and get to know her on a more personal level, when we performed
five shows around the United Kingdom in November 2006. Exacting
in her professional persona, she is also fun – and my son Azz (four
at the time) fell in love with her completely. As well as watching
her avidly on stage, he also rushed backstage to 'help' as
she changed costumes between sets, abandoned me on the tour
bus, preferring to cuddle up with her instead – and then, the
final straw, deserted me to sleep in her hotel room at night!
What can I say, other than he was only one of many, both male
and female, who succumbed to her charisma.
Abroad Randa may be
in total demand, but back home in Cairo, things haven't always
gone as smoothly for her on the night-club circuit. Not only
is there a dearth of decent venues for a performer of her caliber,
she also has to contend with the notorious pitfalls of the
The ways and means
of landing star jobs in this town are subject to the same casting-couch
now as ever they were.
Just as Randa refuses
to play the role of the cabaret tease, she also unequivocally
her own merits as a dancer – and that's a tough road to
follow, when not everyone else sticks to those principles.
unfortunately, whereas once dancers could become household
names by appearing
in movies and on TV, over the past couple of decades those
opportunities have dwindled, with oriental dance all but
disappeared from cinema and TV screens. I am bound to ask her, several
years since our first interview, does she still feel unappreciated
by Egyptians, and what steps would it be necessary to take
for her to get more exposure in Egypt?
'Actually, I do feel
more appreciated lately by Egyptians,' she says. 'Here on the
Nile Maxime people come up to me afterwards and compliment
me, saying they never realized that oriental dance could look
like that! And in the past few years, I have received offers
to appear in movies several times. But I've turned them down,
for two reasons. First of all, because of my son, Karim. He
is growing up (he's now 8) and I don't ever want him to have
to listen to people talking about his mother in a derogatory
way, because I'm a dancer.
the film roles that I've been offered have unfortunately
been frivolous, or portrayed the dancer in the stereotypical
way they always do. The cinema has done enough to spoil the
reputation of dancers, without me adding to it by taking
such a role.
'Now if I was offered
a part as a dancer in which she is respected, and the dance
is respected – that would be different. Also, my real dream
is to dance in a theatre, and produce a real stage show with
oriental dance in it. Such an opportunity has been offered
to me before, but it involved investing a lot of my own money
– and I didn't feel quite ready to do that yet. Insh'allah
Despite the disappointments
that continue to check her success in Cairo, Randa admits she
feels best when dancing here on stage with her own orchestra.
great from the teaching point of view, but obviously I don't
get the same feeling dancing abroad with a CD as I do with
live music. It's the power of the musicians playing live that
gives me the true feeling to dance.'
At home, and off stage,
Randa is a mother, and a wife, and juggles all those elements
of life that women do everywhere. She has bought a new home
in a less crowded area of town, and enjoys spending time with
her family. The future for her is bright. How can it not be
for a person of such talent, passion and integrity?
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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
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