Gilded Serpent presents...

A Month in Cairo-Report #4

Classes, Performing with Safaa Farid Band,
Closing Gala, Classes at AWS

Azza and Leyla, Click for enllargement
Leyla and Azza Sherif after class.
Click photo for enlargement

by Leyla Lanty
posted December 1, 2011

At the end of June, the work and play program of the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival began, with classes in the mornings and afternoons. Superstar and master classes were 3 hours long;  folkloric and beginner’s classes were 2 hours long.  If I seem to be name-dropping the superstars and famous musicians, it is because I want to show how most of them are easily approachable and how they appreciate us as students of the art of Raqs Sharqi.

Azza Sherif

Azza Sherif taught her 3-hour Superstar class by the traditional “I lead; you follow” method, keeping her eyes on the students and making corrections as needed.  I felt honored that she remembered me from last year and greeted me with a warm hug and kisses.

Her first choreography was an Oriental number in her classical style to a song by Warda.   It included sensuous,  internalized torso moves, followed by some sweeping moves with unusual turns, using the length and width of the stage, then back to more torso moves and level changes, expressing the meaning of the love song.  Secondly, she did a new (to me) take on “Alf Layla Wa Layla”, treating each of the many stops in the music with its own unique movement, changes in direction, focus, quick level changes, etc.  She continued the session by teaching a cute and playful Melaya Leff  which was much more appealing to me than the “come-on” (flirting) style I’ve seen done by many dancers.  She finished off the teaching part of the class with a cane dance filled with a variety of cane movements that were playful and fun.  At the end, she had a real treat for us: She performed a short Oriental number in her unique style for us to watch and enjoy.


In the photo: Leyla and Dandesh after class

Leyla and Dandesh after class

Super Star Dandesh’s class was a happy 3 hours of soaking up her sweet sauciness.  First she taught an Oriental number with her signature flat-footed landings on certain movements along with moves on upbeats (in addition to downbeats) and some of her other original dance accents.  She added some moves, reminiscent of Suheir Zaki, (to whom she is often compared) and even did some floor work with a few sassy hip moves.  Then she performed it for us.  Wow!–it was a mini show!  She has retired from performing so this was a rare occurrence that all of us enjoyed thoroughly.

Raqia Hassan

In the photo: Leyla and Raqia after class

Leyla and Raqia after class

Raqia’s Super Star class concentrated on a choreography to a popular song in Sha3abi (of the people, the street) style.  It was full of surprising weight changes, moves on upbeats rather than downbeats, many level changes (ball of foot to flat with knees bent).  In giving guidance to us, she said “Oriental is small moves. Folklore, including Sha3abi, is bigger moves.”  She gave examples of how a move would be done in both Oriental and Folk styles.  Her Sha3abi is crisp but subtle rather than flashy, balletic, or athletic.  The style is cheeky but not sleazy, teasing but not promising.  

Performing with Safaa Farid’s band

Photo by Denise Marino
“Call and Answer” with the drummer.
Safaa Farid is behind the accordion player.

Photo by Denise Marino

The fourth night of the festival was the night for which I had signed up to dance with the Safaa Farid Band, who play for Cairo dance star Leila Farid.  The first time I danced with them, at AWS in 2010, was a fantastic experience.; so I felt that this time would be even more fantastic.  Before the show, when signing-in for my performance, I talked with Debbie Smith about adding a short drum solo with a “call and answer” with the drummer.  Later, after consulting the lead drummer, she told me he asked, “Was she here last year, and she did Saidi?”  When Debbie said yes, he said, “Definitely okay.”  When I danced, it was apparent that the other band members who played last year remembered me too.  It is flattering to be remembered by the musicians! My show started with a long keyboard taqsim introduction and was incredibly fun for me.  It was a “Saidi Cocktail” (a medley) plus drum solo with call and answer.  I received compliments afterward from several of the Egyptian teachers.  Three little Egyptian girls who had watched me said they liked it too. (Could it have been because, unlike many other dancers, I directed some of my dancing toward them?)  What beautiful memories these are!

Closing Gala

The Closing Gala, held at Abu Nawas, the Mena House Nightclub, was a fine way to end the festival!  There were several dancers, including some of the AWS teachers and stars from all over the world, all of whom did unforgettable performances.  I shared a table with an adequate view with Elisa from Australia, Rosadela from Spain (one of the AWS teachers) and her daughter and friend.  All performers danced with Safaa’s band and then Leila Farid did her whole set with them.  The bandleader, Safaa Farid, is her husband, and she regularly performs with them in Cairo.  After that, Jillina did a 3-costume show with another local band that was excellent.  Safaa’s band had 12 pieces plus 2 singers; the other had 15 pieces plus a singer.

Singer Ahmaed el Khatiib

Last, an up and coming star, Ahmed el Khatiib, sang, accompanied by his own band, and we all danced.  I left at 2:30 a.m., but I’m sure the party continued at least until 3:00 in the morning.

In the photo: Ahmed el Khatiib “rak-ed” the house for us!

Ahmed el Khatiib “rak-ed” the house for us!


Although somewhat scaled down this year, Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2011 was a roaring success and an inspirational experience.

Up next: back to reality–weddings, shopping, and more…

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  1. Terry

    Dec 10, 2011 - 10:12:30

    luv!! Thanks Leyla.

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