Gilded Serpent presents...
Wa Sahlan Festival 2004
5: Shop-portunities and Whirling Dervishes
Travel Journal by Shira
June 26, 2004. The agenda for this day was shopping! Everyone
was excited, because it would be the first day our group was
unleashed at the Khan al-Khalili (bazaar) and Al-Wikala, Mahmoud's
infamous shop packed with 4 stories of dance costumes. It was
also our final full day at the Victoria Hotel, and therefore
our last opportunity to visit the little mall near our hotel
that catered to locals rather than tourists. Those members
of our group who wanted to purchase drums in Egypt were
going to be spending their afternoon at Mohammed Ali Street,
the district of musicians and dancers.
In the evening,
our group would be going to see the tannoura (whirling dervish)
show at the Citadel.
a four-story building packed from top to bottom with beads and
sequins. Now imagine a stampede of 40 belly dancers eager to
find terrific Egyptian costumes at affordable prices. It was
a feeding frenzy!
the close quarters, the intense heat, and the frustrations
people were having in finding items that fit well, the mood
was cheerful, friendly, and cooperative. People helped each
other fasten hooks, tug on zippers, and adjust fit. Seasoned
dancers helped students assess which costumes looked best on
After a while,
people realized that some of the best costumes weren't even
on the racks - they were lying or hanging in the dressing rooms. When
people rejected a piece, they tended to leave it in the dressing
room rather than return it to where they found it. So then
the dressing rooms experienced additional activity as people
looking for costumes dug through the piles that had accumulated
on counter tops and floors.
time I didn't actually buy anything myself. Because I was
in the process of relocating to a new home 2,000 miles away
from my former one, I kept thinking about how my existing collection
would be new in the eyes of my new dance community and therefore
I didn't really "need" anything more at this time. Also, I
had two costumes at home that I had never yet performed in
even once, and it seemed silly to buy yet another when I hadn't
yet used what I already had. But of course, I couldn't resist
looking through all the treasures just in case I found something
too wonderful to ignore. Nothing screamed "Buy me! Buy me!" though,
so I contented myself with guarding the dressing room door,
tugging on zippers, and advising.
costuming trend in Egypt favors
evening gown type dresses with cutouts (backed with beige fabric)
and bra/skirt sets where the top of the skirt is beaded to
match the bra. Long fringe is no longer in style. Some of
the bra/skirt sets and dresses have no fringe at all, relying
on the tight fit of spandex drawn across the body to showcase
the hip movements. The choices available at Mahmoud's are
consistent with this trend. The bra/belt sets aren't easy
to find, and the selection is limited. Still, several members
of our group were delighted to find bra/belt sets that were
exactly what they wanted.
of the costumes purchased this day at Mahmoud's were in the
$200 price range (U.S. dollars) each. This was true regardless
of whether they were evening gowns with accessories (headband,
ankle cuffs, gauntlets) or whether they were bra/belt/skirt
sets with accessories. Similar costumes sell in the U.S. for
Khan al Khalili
rest of the afternoon was free time for everyone to explore the
Khan al Khalili (bazaar). This series of small shops offers
typically Egyptian souvenirs: papyrus paintings, leather items
embossed with pharaoh themes, jewelry boxes and drums inlaid
with mother of pearl, perfume bottles, alabaster vases, cheap
and tacky-looking belly dance "costumes", T-shirts, embroidered
caftans, statues, jewelry shaped in Pharaonic designs, and much
more. I decided to wander around solo, taking my time to linger
at the places that offered specific items. Because I've been
there twice before, I no longer feel the hunger to bring home "souvenirs
from Egypt" for everyone
I know. I focused my search on perfume bottles for my collection.
purchasing my perfume bottles and a couple of T-shirts to use
as gifts, I made my way to Reda's shop. Reda
makes magnificently embroidered caftans, and I wanted to see
what type of merchandise he is currently offering. Plus, I
had come to know Reda my previous two visits to Egypt,
and I was looking forward to saying hello. He is a very warm
person, and always a pleasure to visit. When I arrived at
his shop, I discovered that Morocco, Tarik
Sultan, and Karen had already beat
me there. Reda found a chair for me, and I joined in the fun.
This photo shows Reda with a couple of his creations hanging
on the wall behind him, while Tarik patiently waits for me
to finish taking the picture.
knew it was dangerous to set foot in Reda's shop. I spent
nearly $200 acquiring three of his latest beautiful garments
for myself. One was a full length rose-colored dress/jacket
set, and the other was a full-length burgundy hooded jacket
that would be lovely to use as a cover-up over a costume.
Mohammed Ali Street
members of our group wanted to purchase darabukkas (drums), so Morocco arranged
for a friend named Ahmed to escort them to Mohammed
Ali Street, which is the part of town that sells musical instruments. Ahmed
led them to the store with the best merchandise, and assisted
members of the group with price negotiations. I didn't go with
this group so I can't comment further on the experience.
At 5:00 p.m.
we reconvened on the bus and returned to our hotel to refresh
ourselves, catch a bit of supper, and get ready for the evening
outing of watching whirling dervishes.
several years, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture has been presenting
a show of whirling dervishes twice per week at the Citadel. Known
as tannoura, this show demonstrated the Sufi (mystic)
practice of whirling, Egyptian style.
began with a concert by the band. Featured soloists on drum,
mizmar, and sagat (finger cymbals) each took a turn playing
a set, then stepped back into line to allow someone else to
have a turn. The men were wearing traditional Egyptian gallibiyahs
(robes) and turbans.
The man playing
sagat was particularly popular with the crowd because of his
fun-loving, teasing personality. I had originally seen him
as part of this show in 1999. Back then, his charisma definitely
stood out, but he appeared merely as one of the ensemble (although
he did have a featured spot to play an instrumental solo). It
was interesting to see how his role has evolved from that of "generic
band member" in 1999 to "major cast member" in 2004.
the soloists, the spotters who would be watching the dervish
to ensure he didn't spin into harm came on stage holding frame
drums. Before taking their positions as spotters, they performed
a choreographed dance as a group.
played for tannoura is Sufi religious music. Instruments for
it typically include ney (flute), rebabas, and drums. A vocalist
sings religious lyrics.
last the featured soloist entered. I also saw him when I went
to Egypt in 1999 and
again in 2003, and I have never grown tired of watching him. Every
time I have seen him, he has appeared to go into a real trance
while whirling. In this photo, he was holding several colorful
frame drums on his arms as he spun. The spotters took their
places in a semicircle around him to keep a watchful eye on
ended with a second whirling performance, this one by a trio
of young men. It was very interesting to see the difference
between their theatrical whirling (complete with ballet-style
spotting) versus the first one who allowed himself to become
lost in the moment.
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more from Shira-
-04 Ahlan Wa Sahlan
Festival 2004-Intro Travel Journal by Shira
Middle Eastern dance artists and students from throughout the world attend this
event to immerse themselves in instruction by leading Egyptian instructors, shop
for costumes and other supplies offered by Egyptian vendors, and enjoy the gala
shows featuring top Egyptian dancers. Check back for regular updates!
3: First Look at Egyptian History
4: More Egyptian Monuments and First Dance Show
Day 5: Shop-portunities
and Whirling Dervishes POSTED 7-9-04 --you are here
Day 6: The Festival
Begins POSTED 7-17-04
Day 7: Classes
and Free Time POSTED 7-17-04
Day 8: Side Trips,
Part 1: Gayer Anderson Museum POSTED 7-25-04
Day 8: Side Trips,
Part 2: The Parisiana 7-26-04
9: The Evening Show posted 11-12-04
Day 10: Classes and
the Sphinx Speaks posted 11-22-04
Day 11: Camels, Class, & Competitions posted
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