Dancing into the ‘90s
by Najia Marlyz
posted January 15, 2013
Originally written for Caravan Magazine 1992 Vol.8 No.4
The one thing on which you depend about dance in Egypt from year to year is that everything slowly changes. I’ve returned to Cairo each year now for nine consecutive years, and last year my visit was just before the short war we had with Iraq in which Egypt was our US ally. Cairenes seemed sad last year, because Cairo had lost most of its income from tourism, and many Egyptian nationals were returning from Iraq and Kuwait, where they no longer had employment. I did not know what to expect this year, except the inevitable fact of surprising, yet subtle, change.
At first, it seemed that Egypt had return to normalcy; however, I found myself wondering if it was my imagination that there is, somehow, less of everything in 1991 — everything that he is, except people!
Perhaps many of the nightclubs reflect the state of the entire world economy. Many have disappeared and the few remaining do not seem to be presenting the grand shows they with which they had attracted tourists previously.
Dancers who once headlined at one five star hotel at 1:00 am and then in a nightclub miles away at 3am now is doing only one public gig, and that one starts around 3 am! I was shocked to learn that the Fifi Abdu had quit dancing sometime last year and now has become a movie producer and a part-time movie and television actress. I had noticed an upward spiral in her dance career in the past few years, and I had thought she would be the winner of the top position when Nagwa Fouad, and Soheir Zaki retire (again). I believe now that we’ll not be seeing that! I hope that Fifi will find an opportunity to present Egyptian dance in some of the movies she produces. We dancers can hope that she will use her knowledge and experience in dance to present it with better artistry than it has had in the past.
Our main costume liaison, Mahmoud El Ghafar, has also changed his venue. He now has a new shop in a new, fancier location, and he has taken his (soon-to-be wed) brother as his partner. The two of them have also begun to work with many sources of costume tailors, and there is much more variety in costuming than existed previously.
Many of the nightclubs are dark or are presenting fashion shows or Las Vegas/American style T&A dancers. There is some extremely poor dancing presented In floorshows on the Nile cruise dinner boat and in the lesser-known nightspots. Still, an oasis with a folklore show for tourists and high quality dancing is at the Ramses Hilton.
The current costuming seen on dancers in Cairo still include sequins and beads, with rhinestones becoming ever more popular, and the result ranges from glamorous and stunning to the worst costumes I have seen–ever. I would still give Dina a gold medal for innovation in both costuming and dance, however. She shares the Marriott nightclub with Iman Hamdi, who dances on Dina’s nights off. Iman is a good, if dull, dancer whose lack of stage personality caused me to enjoy, with perversity, the show put on by Sahar Hamdi over at the Meridien hotel’s top floor nightclub overlooking the city. Sahar has changed for the worse since I first saw her dance eight or nine years ago at the Sheraton.
Gone is the flirty ingénue with her sweet face; she toyed with musicians and mouthed the lyrics of the songs along with the singers in a disgusting manner. She looks unwell and dances in a tasteless way to a large and wonderful orchestra.
Her costumes were like sausage casings, and her once brown hair is dyed jet black — or perhaps it was a wig. In any case, it appears the woman has led a hard life since I first saw her and was enthralled with her quality of dahlah. After asking me “Where you from?” Sahar made a mistake and asked me over the microphone what I thought of her dancing, I gulped hard and said her dancing was “unbelievable–and so different from the last time I saw you.” I tried not to lie but was glad not to have been hooked up to a lie detector… Also, I was disappointed to see Dina’s dance at the Sheraton, after having been quite impressed with her last year. Nonetheless, if she can keep herself together long enough, stardom of the dance world in Cairo could belong to Dina — eventually.
That is all that I can report for now about the dance changes in Cairo that I have noted personally. Nevertheless, 1991 seems a significant harbinger of change for the Egyptian dance era that became so dear (and authoritative) to belly dancers world-wide in the decade of the ‘80s.
Ready for more?
- 1-24-10 A Fan Speaks with Nagwa Fu’ad
Nagwa seems to have excelled in innovation and creativity with the new compositions. She dances with the old favorites, but shines with the new orchestras playing current pieces.
- 9-25-12 Sharpening Your Dancer’s Edge: Performing Without Choreography
The idea of dance governed by choreography is more a western notion that was not inherent originally a part of the Middle Eastern dance solo
- 6-3-12 Onstage In Search Of Our Dream: Historical American Dance Evolution
Nonetheless, sometimes, what gives me an inner pang of pain is our self-imposed “sin of omission” in honest reportage. Sometime what is not said is more important than what actually makes it into print or into the report.
- 4-30-12Teaching Down Under in 1988, A Bert Balladine Reminiscence: Australia & New Zealand
International seminars make you do more than you think you can when you see the dedication and sacrifices people make just to attend.
I have observed a cycle in which, periodically, emerging dancers who have obtained slightly more prominence in the craft begin to make recycled attempts to regulate it through instructional devices in order to control it to their own personal ends.
- 7-11-12 Living a Life Uncommon, A Mediterranean Tour with Rhea of Athens (picture of Mahmoud’s new shop)
Rhea is like Socrates incarnate. Completely true to herself and a wealth of insight, she loves engaging the people she meets in conversations on history, society, and human nature.
- 1-18-13 Fabulous Hip Drops in 30 Seconds or Less!
A principle is a single unifying and guiding idea that when we apply it to our alignment or movement, helps us move more effectively. An advantage of using a principles-based approach to dance or martial arts mastery is that it lets us use a single visualization or body sense to achieve a desired result, instead of having to remember lots of little details.
A vibrant dance community affords benefits to all of its members. In a healthy dance community, each and every person is relevant. For learning purposes or gathering a certain show cast, there is a large pool of talent from which to choose. Those with specialties and unique areas of expertise can share their knowledge, enriching the individual skill sets of everyone.
- 1-15-13 Diamonds in the Rough & Polished Perfection, 2012 Berlin SomerFestival-Thursday Competition,
Produced by Beata and Horacio Cifuentes, Held in September, 2012. The costumes were innovative and personalized with many of the competitors from the Ukraine, Russia, and Asia. Many of whom are also ballroom competitors. As a result, the costumes were visually striking and elegant. The trend in costuming is floral with tribal going towards more colorful stylized burlesque (ala Chicago musical).
- 1-14-13 A Journey to Fuse the World, Aubre Hill’s Second Asia Tour and Great China Visit
Aubre Hill earned respect for her teaching and dancing styles at the 2011 events in Taiwan. But when Kelli Li, the event sponsor, told me that she would sponsor Aubre Hill again in 2012 and with longer hours, I had my doubts about the feasibility of the project.
- 1-11-13 Whirling, Meditation in Motion or Spectacular Show?
A dance could not be any more contradictory. The Whirling dance lingers between spectacular showmanship and meditation in motion; it combines trance and technique. It is a surprising paradox, unified like lovers within the dance.
- 1-10-13 From Café Chantant to Casino Opera, Evolution of Theatrical Performance Space for Belly Dance,
Most students of Egyptian belly dance are aware of Badia Masabni and her famous nightclubs, and many believe Badia’s clubs to be the birthplace of theatrical belly dance, or raqs sharqi. However, fewer are aware that Badia’s clubs were neither the first nor the only venues of their kind.
- 1-2-2013 Halloween Treat, Silvia Salamanca & Haflaween,
There has been more interaction recently between the dancers in my current home of Augusta, Georgia, and in Columbia, the state capitol and largest city in South Carolina, which is approximately an hour and a half away. Some of the Columbia dancers have come down to dance with us at haflas and at our First Friday celebrations.
- 12-7-12 Memorial to Armando Mafufo, Drummer, Teacher, Friend
Armando Mafufo, known to most of us in the music and dance community as "Uncle Mafufo" was, as someone posted today, "a man everyone loved." He was a person who could light up the room with his smile and radiated love.