Gilded Serpent presents...

A Dance Challenge in an Ancient Land

Farha Festival 2012 in Luxor, Egypt


by Catherine Barros
Photos by author, Kay, and others
posted August 27, 2012

Farha Festival, May 16-23rd, 2012 – Organized by Kay Taylor and Sara Farouk
Featuring the orchestra, Layali el Helwa led by Ahmed Mahrous>
Workshops taught by Eman Zaki, Mohamed Kazafy and Dandash

There are a lot of items on my ever-expanding list of travel and dance that I constantly peruse for future adventures.  Luxor is a place that I visited in March 2005 and had been wanting to make a return visit.  But travelling to Upper Egypt past a certain point in Spring just didn’t appeal to me due to the heat.  Even though I live in Texas where we experience some very hot summers, nothing in Texas compares to the baking you get in Luxor.  Needless to say, I looked longingly at Kay’s Farha Tour in a previous year and decided “Too hot!” without allowing myself to be swayed by the opportunity of performing with Egyptian musicians.  But this year was different because I had a friend going.  Well, the upshot was that I committed myself and she wasn’t able to join me due to other obligations.  But I didn’t let that impact my decision. 

Besides, I needed a personal challenge this year and dancing an improvisation solo for the final night performance with the musicians seemed to fit the bill for me.

another roomateI knew based on prior experiences with Kay Taylor’s group adventures in Cairo (see my Gilded Serpent article from 2008 ) that I would soon make friends with other participants.  I even met another Luxor-bound dancer (Stine Olsen) in Cairo when I stopped over at Yasmina’s dancer Bed & Breakfast in Giza (I highly recommend the B&B).  We both managed to put pre-Luxor dents in our pocketbooks when we teamed up for shopping (costumes and otherwise)  and 2 Nile Dinner Cruise shows on the Nile Maxim (Randa Kamel and Mona Ghazi).  It is amazing what can be done in 2 short days in Cairo all while trying to adjust to the time change and jet lag.

After my 3-nights and 2-days of Cairo, I flew off to Luxor where I was met at the Luxor International Airport by Sherif, Sara’s husband.  It was rather weird to find the airport so deserted as my Egypt Air flight was the only one arriving at that time.  Tourism is down all over Egypt and many charter flights had been cancelled.  In fact, our Luxor sojourn had to be shifted one day as one of the main charter flights coming from the United Kingdom had its Tuesday departure cancelled.  This impacted about half of the participants who were mainly from the U.K. but everything worked out eventually.

Luxor itself was almost a ghost town compared to its former self; we stayed at the Sofitel Karnak, a resort hotel, which is a little ways outside of Luxor. 

Our group of 28 plus organizers and teachers brought a small amount of needed business but the premises weren’t teaming by any means.  How slow things are in Luxor was brought home when we went in to another hotel in Luxor to see a dance show and visit the souk.  

Pool at hotel
View of the swimming pool at Sofitel Karnak

The first night of arrival, we all gathered in the Sundowner Bar overlooking the Nile for a get-acquainted session with drinks and snacks.  The schedule was handed out and details about the upcoming days of classes and activities were explained along with several optional activities available for an extra fee (West Bank, Valley of the Kings, Hatshetsup’s Temple, Habu Temple, Karnak Sound and Light Show, felluca ride, balloon ride).  After that, the next day we hit the ground running and didn’t stop until we all departed on the 23rd of May.  

For 4 days, we had 2-hour classes in the morning and the afternoon (alternating between the squash court and the party tent).  Our group was split in half roughly based on which participants would do solo performances and which were going to be in the Reda Style Nubian group choreography taught by Mohamed Kazafy

Kazafy class

Kazafy class

Day One

We alternated a Reda style Saidi taught by Kazafy with an Eman Zaki class “Dancing to Leila Murad”, totally different styles of dance and music.  I’ve had classes with Kazafy before so I knew what to expect.  His style is a bit more technically challenging than some but he never made it so hard that you didn’t learn the choreography.   Eman Zaki was an unknown to me as a teacher, having only heard about her costumes for several years.  So, it was with interest that I attended her class.  

She used to be a dancer before she started making costumes for other dancers full-time.  She has an older softer style that was reflected in her workshop topics

I enjoyed what she taught us and found a person that was a delight to get to know for the first time.   After the classes broke for the day, we had an audience with Eman where she told us some of her story and people got to ask her any questions.  At this point, I wished I was a “Lynette” with camera and recording devices at the ready.  It was nice to just be able to listen to someone tell their story in a relaxed atmosphere.  The evening’s after-dinner activity was an opportunity to listen to some Saidi music in the Theatre on the grounds of the hotel.  The Nile Group was the featured band and, at first, we mostly sat to listen to them play.  But eventually, people were encouraged to get up and dance, which they did with much enthusiasm.

Eman teaches

Day Two

Eman Zaki did “Oum Kalthoum Samia Style” and Kazafy taught Reda style combinations, twists and turns.  Once again, a day of contrasts but also very productive in different ways.  The afternoon’s audience was with Kazafy. 

Knowing that he came from the Reda troupe is one thing; to hear him tell about how he started with Reda and came up through the ranks then to came to the point where he started teaching was fascinating.

Once again, I wish I was Lynette.  I didn’t take any notes because I just wanted to listen.  That night we went to a belly dance and folkloric show in Luxor at another big hotel.  The quality of dancing was OK but it was nice to get out of the Sofitel for an evening.  After the show, we went on to the souk for some shopping.  I managed to limit myself to one scarf, which I didn’t really need, but was a beautiful red.

Day Three

… was our “free day”.  This meant we had a break from classes and could do whatever we wanted.  I signed up for the trip to the West Bank (a guided tour which left very early in the morning) and the Karnak Sound and Light Show in the evening.  In between, I took an optional class with Sara Farouk, which was a bit of her philosophy on how to approach dancing (feeling the music, breathing from an interesting space).  Sara is going to be a featured teacher at the next Farha Festival in August 2013 and this class was meant to be a bit of a teaser.  Unfortunately for me, I think being out in the heat all morning had sapped my energy and I was ready for a nap more than for dancing.  

Day Four

It was back to dance.  This time we had Dandash “Dancing to Dandash’s favorite music” and Kazafy diving into Nubian music – laying down the basics for the group choreography.   I love Nubian although it can be quite energetic and hard on the feet.  It was also a challenge because Kazafy started to break us up in to smaller groups, so you had to remember where you were in the big scheme of things more than when you do a solo.  After Kazafy’s class, I went for a massage.  Sometimes you just have to take advantage of what is available and Kay had organized a sign-up for the massages (getting us a good deal from the hotel). 

Dandash’s class was in the afternoon.  I’ve had a class with her before so I knew that we were going to do “follow the bouncing butt” method.  There is something that I wasn’t getting though and I kept feeling frustrated by the class.  Other’s raved about her but I find that I am not convinced about her teaching.  Now to watch her dance is another story!  That night was the Dandash show with dinner.  That was a real treat as Dandash danced to the Festival’s musicians.   It was a wonderful evening and so nice to have such a small group to share it with.

Class with Dandesh

Class with Dandesh

Dandesh show

Dandesh Show

Dandesh show

Dandesh show
Dandash dinner show

Day Five

Dandash was “feeling the music”.  I followed along as best as I could in trying to get that feeling of my own as it is difficult to copy another dancer’s feeling.  That afternoon, Kazafy continued to lay the groundwork for the Nubian group choreography.   By the time I got to the class with Kazafy, I was feeling like I should hang out and watch as I wanted to spare my feet more energetic pounding.  Kazafy had the male dancers come to the classes that day who were going to be part of the group number.  It was rather fun to watch and see how different the moves looked on the dancers who did it professionally.  The audience that afternoon was with Dandash.  As her English was not that good, Sherif (Sara’s husband) was recruited to help with translation. 

Unfortunately, sometimes I feel that a lot is lost in translation but we did get a good overview of how Dandash started dancing and came up in her career.

After the audience, many of us went off for a felluca ride then spent a relaxing evening.  It was disco night down in the theatre but I chose to have an early night.  By this time it had been a long 5 days in the heat and we still had a lot of work to do the next day for our rehearsals and performances.  Plus, we had to get up very early in the morning for the balloon ride on the West Bank.  And, by very early, I mean we had to be up for the drive to the water taxi in Luxor and then bus to the launch site so that we could be aloft by sunrise!

Felluca ride

Felluca ride
Stine is in black
, Ann in blue tank
Felluca ride
Felluca ride
Roseanne Pouw- Kyria dances

Felluca ride

Day Six

The dawn balloon ride over the West Bank and our big performance night!   The first item is the one thing I wanted to do the most as I haven’t been up in a balloon before (although performing solo baladi taxim improvisation with the musicians was a first too).  I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to convince anyone else to do it, but we ended up with enough people in the end.  Although we did get a few extra Egyptians to ride in the gondola with us for balance purposes I suspect.  There were a few other balloons that went up at the same time and I am sure that every one of them had a “captain” that boasted just like ours did. 

Once we were up, the view was great.  We were able to see the sun slowly rising but also spot all the various sites that we had visited on our bus tour on a previous day.  It was actually a very relaxing ride and I am glad I did it.

balloon ride

balloon ride

balloon ride

balloon ride

balloon ride

balloon ride

balloon ride

balloon ride

balloon ride

balloon ride

After returning to the hotel, I had breakfast before going back for a bit of a rest and mentally preparing myself for the rehearsal with the band.  I was nervous because I was wondering how I would approach it.  Each dancer got 15 minutes for their rehearsal.  Everyone had picked out the music they were going to use before they came to Luxor, so that the musicians would know what to prepare although most were fairly standard songs (just shorter versions).  When it came time for my rehearsal and for what I wanted to do with baladi, Kay explained to the musicians and they played around a bit to sort it out. 

Then they launched in to the music, I made my entrance and danced.  I danced once!  It went well, I felt good about it and I didn’t want to jinx it by over thinking it. 

I can’t even believe that I said I was fine and just left the stage.  After all that nervousness sitting around waiting and watching what other people were doing.  Well, I decided that even if I spent the full 15 minutes allotted that I probably wouldn’t  do much different and I should just “save” it for the evening. 

And with the approach of evening came another set of jitters naturally.   I had enough time for napping and getting prepared for the evening, but it always ends up at some point being a rush to get myself out the door and to the performance venue.  In this case, a short walk away.    Although it was mostly the festival attendees who were in the audience, there were some guests who had been invited to come to the performance.   Everyone looks so different with full makeup and costumes and I had no preconceived notions regarding which dancer was supposed to be the “best”.  And you can’t always tell by watching people in a dance class who will be a good performer.

It was a great show.  Almost all of the participants performed either as soloists or in the group Nubian choreography plus our 2 organizers, Sara and Kay, also performed.  The Nubian dancers were split into 2 groups so that we saw one group in the first half and the other group in the 2nd half.  In their bright costumes, they were a whirl of activity with each dancing girl paired with a dancing boy.  After we all performed, then we got a chance to just get up and dance to the music the DJ was spinning.

The end of our 6 days was drawing rapidly to an end and I felt like I needed another go at dancing with the musicians.  It was rather funny when I watched myself on a video that Stine took because I wondered (like I always do) “what was I doing?”. 

I can’t second guess myself regarding the rehearsals at this point.  Improvisation is truly supposed to be that.  I have my favorite moves and I understand the music, so that part I hadn’t worried about.

  I think my nervousness showed in the fact that I danced too fast; I didn’t take my time to relish the music.  I need to find myself my own band of baladi musicians and keep dancing.  Well, I’d like to at least have my own accordion player.  He was great.  All the musicians were great.  I wasn’t able to take advantage of the singer, Samir, and the violinist, Ahmed, but together, the whole group was wonderful.  

One thing I can take away from my performance is that as I walked from the stage after my performance, the riq player (who was sitting on the end) said “Bravo!”  (ok, can I say “yippeeeee!” very quietly with a smile on my face?)   I hold that very dearly to me.   I shall dream of another day when I can perform with the band.

Author performs to live music!

Nubian dance

After 6 days, I had to shove all my sweaty stuff back into my suitcase and return to where I came from (oh, Cairo, then Istanbul, then Cairo).  Kay and Sara gave us a nice send off the following day.  Everyone was transported back to the airport at various times of flight departures.  It was a bit of an anti-climactic end as we all went rushing off our separate ways.  Need I mention that I am already thinking about the next time?  The Farha Festival 2013 is already scheduled for August 21-28 with Khaled Mahmoud, Sara Farouk and Mohamed Kazafy. 

I don’t think I can wait that long for some good Egyptian music so I am considering joining a Cairo trip with a different slant: Discovering the Soul of Egyptian Music, Feb 17-23, 2013.  This trip promises to immerse one in the music of the golden era (the 40’s and 50’s).  Be still my heart! Maybe to round it out, I should stop over in Marrakech for a few days of relaxation with another Farida Adventures offering from Feb 26 – March 2, 2013. Now I am glancing at timetables, flight times and my pocketbook!!  Yes, once again, my wish list gets longer and I must work on making more of these a reality. I hope to see some of you out there somewhere soon!

Group photo of participants and teachers
click photo for enlargement

List of participants :
Catherine Barros(author), Ann Blagden, Joanne Bramley, Claire Cookson, Teresa Maria Garcia, Susan Geis, Natalie Gray, Ann Hall, Emma Hamilton, Kay Keddam, Angelica Khessib, Judy Linley, Valeria Lo Iacono, Sally McAllister, Mindy Meleyal, Anne Noble, Bente Petersen, Roseanne Pouw/Kyria, Suzan Pratt, Katharine Proud, Leigh Sherratt, Frances Starbuck, Sandra Thompson, Val Waldron, Jen Woodhead , Gwen Mitchell, Stine (Anne) Olsen

Nile Group- a Saidi band in Luxor

Everyone dancing to the Nile Group

One of the Nile Group band members dancing

Doing Kazafy’s Saidi choreography

Bellydance and folkloric show with audience participation.

The Temples in Luxor

doorway to temple

Author’s GS biopage


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  1. raksanna

    Aug 28, 2012 - 12:08:56

    Nice! i love Luxor and the experience sounds fantastic! Your performance with the band must have been spectacular. :

  2. Barbara Grant

    Aug 28, 2012 - 12:08:24

    I am absolutely awed by these pictures! It seems you saw “everything” and then some! Congratulations on an awesome story…

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