Gilded Serpent presents...

Creating Camp Negum


by Leila of Cairo
posted March 12, 2010

The idea came to us as we laid on the beach at Ras Sidr, a resort town near Suez on the west coast of the Sinai Peninsula. It was one of those rare times when my husband, Safaa Farid, and I could slip away from work for two days. We were watching the wind surfers and listening to Om Kalthoum on the clubhouse speakers when the question just popped out.

“Wouldn’t this be a great place for a dance event?” We had tossed around the vague idea of a live music festival for dancers before, but this was concrete. Belly dancing to live music on a Red Sea beach – sounded like fun to me.

We took things slowly. With the help of our violinist friend, George, who now owns a travel agency, we discovered all the reasons why the Sinai Penninsula, and Dahab in particular, was the perfect place to hold an Egyptian music and dance camp. As we researched hotels (a great excuse to go to the beach) it became obvious that Ras Sidr is known for wind surfing but not much else. I loved its unspoiled coastline and proximity to Cairo but, as George pointed out, not everyone likes deserted beaches.

The hotels were nice, but not what I was thinking. I wanted something rustic, like a camp. After I vetoed the fourth hotel, George gave up. “If it’s a camp you want, then you need to go to Dahab.”

Dahab is one of my favorite places on the Red Sea. It is the most laid back of Sinai’s beach resorts. Twenty years ago it was nothing but a few Bedouin tents pitched on the region’s magnificent gold sand (“dahab” is the Arabic word for gold). The only people living there were the Mozzina Bedouins, Israeli soldiers looking for R&R and hard core divers drawn to the region’s world-class dive spots. Just north of the Bedouin settlement of Asilah can be found some of the most pristine conditions and exotic species on the planet (particularly a place called The Blue Hole).

Dahab has grown since the 1980s, but it still retains its Bedouin feel. The Mozzina tribe migrated to the region over 800 years ago. In spite of 4-wheel-drives replacing camels for transportation, these ancient people have maintained many of their traditions – including their music and dances.

Another tribe only an hour away in the mountains is even older. The Jebeliya, who live around Mount Sinai and Saint Catherine’s monastery, are not considered Bedouins, however. They were originally Christian soldiers sent in the sixth century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian to protect his recently fortified monastery. Once Mohammed and his faith arrived a century later, these Greek and Slavic soldiers adopted Islam, married women from local tribes and created a tribe of their own. These former protectors of the Burning Bush and its well, have guided tourists and pilgrims around the area’s holiest sights since the Crusades.

Bedouine photo by Leila's sisterToday Dahab’s laid back, sixties style atmosphere has something for everyone. Veggie burger and brown rice places sit next to restaurants serving fresh gourmet fish. Most of the town’s businesses line the beach. Camps dot the coastline. They used to be tent villages, but to protect the reefs, they were replaced with permanent structures. Which one to choose? We tried Camp Miami at George’s suggestion. The minute I peered into the turquoise water with my snorkeling gear and saw the most amazing fish swimming in a foot of water, I knew I had come to the right spot. Dancers could persuade their husbands or friends to accompany them if diving, snorkeling or beach time activities were available while they attended class. History, culture, happy significant others and a Bedouin tent on the beach for workshops and evening shows – we had found our venue.

The easiest part of planning the camp was the live music. My husband’s orchestra has played all over the world and for years with the Nile Group Festival. We had also both been involved with Kay Taylor’s Farha Luxor tour, where classes were taught to live music.

That was the atmosphere we wanted for our camp; belly dance classes to live music plus music classes for musicians and dancers. It is rare that dancers can study with a 10 piece Egyptian Orchestra, or have tabla rhythms broken down for them by one of Egypt’s premier drummers.

As we planned the details, we put out feelers to the dance community. An inquiry to events sponsor Karima of Moscow had 30 people respond who wanted to attend. Eshta of Ukraine also received an enthusiastic reply from Eastern European dancers. There was interest from Mexico, Greece and the USA. Ok, we thought, let’s try it!

Leila, Safaa, and YousefThe next step was to choose the teachers. After a few false starts, we decided to bring teachers that were not readily available at the big Egyptian festivals. I asked a good friend, Yasmin of Washington DC (a tireless crusader for Egyptian dance and authentic music) and she suggested Shoo Shoo Amin, a dancer she had worked with in the 1980s. “Who’s that?” I replied. But when I asked Safaa the same question, he sang her praises. “She was a great dancer, but no one has heard from her in 20 years.” Yasmin tracked her down with the help of the Henkish brothers, and she agreed to teach. At the same time, I talked to Sahra Saeeda, who was in Cairo leading a tour. Her experience performing in Egypt plus her amazing research (and the fact she is an incredibly nice person) made her an easy choice. Safaa suggested Rabeh Abu Talab, the long time assistant of Ibrahim Akef (Naima Akef and Fatma Akef ’s brother), who has been training Egyptian dancers for years. Rabeh agreed, as well as Yasmin of DC (who will give several lectures on the history of Egyptian dance and other racier topics). I would teach my favorite classes with live music, Safaa would teach a voice class, Mounir Abdle Aziz and Youssry Hefney would teach tabla and Saeda Lacky would teach sagat. The camp was coming together!

The most difficult part of planning was the website. It seemed to take forever to figure out how to register people over the internet. I hate computer things so maybe it just seemed to take longer. Finally was set up with all the information about the teachers, classes, location and registration.

It seems our brainstorm on the beach will become a reality. Camp Negum will be May 4-8, 2010 – 5 days and nights of music and dance classes (14 hours to live music), and an opportunity to perform with an Egyptian orchestra in a Bedouin tent on a golden beach in a biblical part of Egypt. I plan to enjoy every minute of it.

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