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Magnouna in Cairo

Author in Cairo
Author’s photo with the Tannoura dancer

aka, My Cairo Adventures in April 2008

Experienced and Written by Catherine Barros

April 15, 2009

It makes total sense to me that upon the cusp of another trip to Cairo, I am working on the write-up of my last trip, which was nearly 10 months ago.  Although each trip is a different adventure with different goals in mind and different outcomes (no matter how much I plan), I wanted my 6th adventure in Cairo to stand out. 

April 2008 was one of the most dance-filled trips yet (photos from the Dinashow at the Semiramis have already been posted on Gilded Serpent). The tally of dance shows for this trip was 3 Nile dinner cruises (Lorna Gow, Basima and Leila), the Tannoura show, Dina (at the Semiramis) and the Opening Gala at the Nile Group Festival (Dalia, Liza Laziza, Leila, Hayem, and Asmahan).  

To say that my days in Cairo were so chock-full of activities that it was like an "assault on Cairo" would only be a slight exaggeration- at least for the first part of the trip, when I joined up with Kay Taylor‘s group from the United Kingdom.  Kay escorts small groups of dancers around Cairo, who are usually coming for the first time. I decided to join with one of these groups in 2008, because I thought it would be an interesting change to be with a small group as opposed to venturing around Cairo on my own and, in particular, when attending dance shows (more fun when sharing).

 Kay’s been using the Grand Hotel in downtown Cairo for the past few years.  It makes for an inexpensive (3 Star) and centrally-located base of operations in a noisy bustling area, which isn’t too far from many places of interest.  This particular 5-day adventure had everyone arriving in Cairo and making their way to the hotel on April 3nd, after which Kay took charge of directing the action-packed days and nights 



This is the night time view from
my balcony at Grand Hotel,

night in cairo market

The are photos taken when walking around downtown the first morning.

across nile to C tower
A bridge across the Nile. See the Cairo tower on the other side?

approach to Semiramis

Approach to Semiramis

Egyptian Museum

The Egyptian Museum is the pink building in the background


boatDay 1- April 4th
The first day, April 4th,  Kay took everyone for a walk around the area to point out various sites, where to get money changed, ATMs, buying water, where to eat and basics of getting around.  After a nice leisurely lunch at Felfela, which wasn’t far from the hotel Kay talked to us about the schedule. There was a loose structure which allowed us to adapt our plans a bit, and how many dance shows to attend was left up to the group.   

Our first stop at a costumer’s atelier was to Hanan Mahmoud. The experience provided two firsts for me as I hadn’t been to Hanan’s before, and we went there by Metro!   At one Egyptian pound, this is one of the better bargains to be had in Cairo. 

We rode in the women’s car, which was an interesting experience.  With a big contrast between most of our group and the other occupants in the car we were the ones with our hair uncovered,  with a lot of lighter hair,  we came in for our fair share of staring. 

The stop at Hanan’s atelier was rather fun for all members of the group, as there was much to look at and try on.  Many of them decided on costumes from Hanan including me. I ended up with several galabeyyas which are really versatile and quite comfortable for dancing. 

The first night, we all opted to go on one of the Nile dinner cruises.  On the Nile Pharoah we saw Lorna Gow and the usual dinner show, which included a Tannoura dancer.  We managed to get some good tables in front of the dance area, which was great for taking photos and video.  It was such a great spot, that I had to keep asking people (other tourists) to keep down so we could see the show and take our own photos/video.  Everyone had a lot of fun and so most of us got up to dance for awhile when the band played for our pleasure.   The Tannoura dancer coming around to the tables had everyone taking photos with him,  I even bought one of me this time.  We  were back at the hotel at a reasonable hour to get some rest for the next full day of activities.  Well, at least I was getting some rest as I was on a separate floor from many in the group- the next day, I heard about how much later some of them stayed up talking in a communal area outside their rooms.


Entrance to the dock for boarding the Nile Pharoah


Front of boat


Lorna Gow with Saidi dncers


Drum solo


Costume change for Lorna. Could we get a few names of the musicians?


Kay Taylor with Tannoura dancer

Day 2- April 5th
Bright and early on Saturday the 5th>, our mini-bus arrived with our guide for the day, Nibal.  This guide is one that Kay has been using for a while, and we were in capable hands for our tour of the pyramids.  I’ve been to the pyramids on my own and with a guide, and having an experienced guide really can help to make it a more enjoyable experience as they can arrange all the entries, give you historical/background information about the site and point out many interesting things you might miss on your own. 

She was also excellent at rescuing wayward group members from the over-eager touts at the site.   

After a leisurely lunch at a branch of Felfela restaurant in the Giza area, we dropped by Aida Nour‘s costume atelier.   Getting the mini-bus down the very narrow dirt road that ran between the buildings in that area of Giza was an adventure in itself.   Even though I’d been there a couple of times before, I still had a bit of a problem spotting the building myself until we were nearly on top of it.  As several of the women looked through Aida’s costumes and made their selections, I chatted with Aida for a while about the expansion of her business into the flat below (where the costumes are now being constructed). 

After all the costume transactions were wrapped up, we headed to downtown Cairo.   Nibal took the rest of the group to the Egyptian Museum, while I went to the hotel on my own as I’ve been to the Museum before. That night, our evening plans included going to see the Tannoura (Whirling Dervish) show at the Al-Ghouri Caravansary.  This is located in the area of Khan el Khalili and Al Azhar Mosque, and is one of the best bargains in Cairo, a great free show with lots of music and dance. Naturally It is very popular so getting there early is important.  After the show, we headed to Al Azhar park to have dinner at the main restaurant, a relaxing end to the day. 

Free show at
the Al-Ghouri Caravansary



click to enlarge


Day 3- April 6th
Our third day started with a bit of a change in plans, as there were street demonstrations planned due to food shortages, so  Kay shifted our activities out of the downtown area to avoid possible traffic congestion and crowds. Our first stop was at Raqia Hassan‘s costume atelier for a quick look around, then we went to a dance space for our classes with Mohamed Khazafy followed after lunch by a class with Yasmina. That night we headed out to Dina’s late-night show at the Semiramis.   This is the second time that I have seen Dina, and it was well worth the very late start to the evening. During  dinner there were singers doing the usual Western and Arabic standards, which we all enjoyed him, but were really happy when Dina came on with her show.  She did the usual costume changes which caused everyone to exclaim "how does she manage to keep them from falling down?" etc.  I love to watch Dina dance as I feel that she puts everything she has into the dance.  The show moves along quickly with the changes between costumes and 3 different singers setting different moods. 


click photo for enlargement


Day 4- April 7th
Monday the 7th we had a late and leisurely start at around noon, with a felucca ride on the Nile, followed by the Khan el Khalili for shopping and lunch at the Naguib Mahfouz Cafe.  The shopping included a visit to Mahmoud Al-Ghaffar‘s – the many-storied Al-Wikalah that everyone must visit at least once. The day was rounded out by another Nile dinner cruise on the Nile Maxim boat.  That evening, the dancer was Basimah from Lebanon.   She did the typical tourist show with Oriental, Melaya and Saidi (plus a Tannoura dancer)  but with her own twist. 

She danced in shoes with high spiked heels and very pointy toes, and in one number she was dancing in high-heeled boots and did a "Turkish" drop to the floor.  She did a few things that many of us have been told not to do.

Basimah in Purple


basimah wingsbasimah floorwork
basimah floorwork
Basimah Meleya
dance style- "Meleya Lef”
Article coming soon on this style of dance!
Basimah Meleya


Day 5- April 8th
On our last day with the group in Cairo, it was back to Hanan and Aida Nour to pick up costumes and back to Khan el Khalili for more shopping. Our last evening in Cairo was a Party Night at Yasmina’s with Safaa Farid‘s Band and Nubian dancers.   There was a lot of home cooked food and opportunities to talk, dance, listen to the singers, enjoy the great music and generally relax in Yasmina’s very nice flat in Giza. I loved that I could go out onto her balcony or terrace and see the Pyramids all lit up.  The following day was departure day for most of the group.  Since I was staying over one more day in the hotel before moving on, myself and several other women did another dinner cruise on the Nile Pharoah so that we could see Leila‘s show.  That night, we had an extra treat as Leila’s Nubian dancers had been at the party the night before so we got pulled up to dance with them.   



leila w guys


Day 6 and onward
After this I was back to solo status for a short while.  In the morning, a friend of mine picked me up and we spent a few hours at Al Azhar Park walking around, taking photos, just chatting while we waited for dinner at his flat to be ready.  His wife made an enormous pot of stuffed grape leaves, which I thoroughly enjoyed eating.  I had some down time before going to the Nile Group Festival for 3 days then heading back to the States in time for a workshop with Fifi Abdou and Dr. Mo Geddawi. I went up to Alexandria where I had a chance to see some of the historical sites:  the Catacombs, Roman Ruins, Alexandrian Library, Montaza Palace/Park and Fort Qait-Bey. 

Alexandria LibraryInside
the Alexandria Library



Roman Ruins

Momtaza Palace

Momtaza Palace

Quait Bey

Quait Bey


I was a bit more rested when I checked in to the Pyramisa on Monday April 14th at the start of the Nile Group Festival.  That night was the Opening Gala, which  included a buffet dinner and lots of music and dancing.  It was a very late night, and Asmahan didn’t even go on until after 1am.   Before her were Dalia, Liza Laziza, Leila and Hayem. Every dancer was different and had great shows. At the festival I attended classes with Mahmoud Reda, Lubna Emam, Aida Nour and Ashraf Hosny. On April 17 I boarded my flight to the States and in Frankfurt, I met up with Dr. Mo on his way to Dallas for the weekend workshops.  We sat not too far from each other in Coach so we had an opportunity to chat a bit during the flight.  



liza liza
linked to larger.
who are the musicians?



Liza Laziza?

Asmahan by Catherine Barros
linked to larger photo


back of Asmahan's costume
back of costume


Just reading over the highlights of this trip again leaves me exhausted and wondering when I’ll have such an action-packed trip again.   My 2009 trip is going to be a bit more relaxed, with a bit of sightseeing (Sakkara/Memphis), visiting with family and friends, a few dance classes. But nothing like 2008, which turned out to be a trip to remember for many years. I can highly recommend Kay Taylor as a group organizer and guide around Cairo. and I also recommend the Nile Group Festival, as it is still small enough to enjoy the classes and the Opening Gala show, and it has some of my favorite teachers like Aida Nour and Lubna Emam along with Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy

view from my window!

Here’s a view from my window!    See Cairo Tower in the background?

Pyramisa and Sheraton

The Pyramisa as seen from the Cairo Tower 


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