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Ahmed, Raqia, and Dee Dee

Gilded Serpent presents...
Raqia's Response
by Dee Dee Asad

I’d like to accept this opportunity that Gilded Serpent has offered Raqia to address several points brought up in Zeina’s article regarding The Nile Group & Raqia Hassan because there are always two sides to every story! 

The Nile Group was, and is now, spearheaded by Mohamed Abou Shebika. The group was his idea and his creation; the organizer of the Stockholm Belly Dance Festival is also Mohamed Abou Shebika.

Although the Nile Group is supposedly comprised of other dance instructors, one might easily conclude that the Nile Group and The Stockholm Belly Dance Festival were synonymous. (Just for the record, the first AWS was in June 2000 also.)

Raqia went on a tour that lasted almost a month in which she went from Singapore to Japan to Los Angeles teaching workshops. She left Los Angeles on April 28, 2005 and went back home to Cairo. The Stockholm festival was a few days after, on May 5-8, 2005. As soon as Raqia returned home, (as often happens to flight passengers these days) she became very ill. 

Her illness worsened, and she went to the hospital. I visited her in the Masr el Dawly Hospital, near where Raqia lives in el Dokki, the next week.  Raqia was unable to travel to Sweden while sick! 

Therefore, stating that “She stood us up just a few days before the festival” could only be true if Raqia had intentionally waited until the last minute and not show up purposefully, but she was not in any condition to travel! We dancers have very little control over illnesses even though we make plans that do not include them...

Raqia had nothing to do with the fact that Soraya could not travel to Sweden. A few months before the Stockholm festival, Soraya taught and performed in Sweden.  However, too many absences forced the Sheraton-Gizera to tell Soraya that if she left again, she would no longer be a Sheraton-Gizera employee; a single performance and workshop outside of Cairo would trigger her dismissal!

Stating that Raqia was using Soraya to get back at Abou Shebika would be a baseless assumption. Raqia does not have control over Soraya’s actions, nor does she tell Soraya or any other dancers where they can (or cannot) dance!

Since 2003, we, at Little Egypt, have been bringing Egyptian teachers to the states for workshops and performances. The person that stood behind us and helped as no one else was Raqia Hassan. She was the first instructor we sponsored (Dallas ‘03) and since then, she has assisted us to contact other teachers. Raqia introduced us to Dina, Aida Nour, Magdy el-Leisy, Lubna, Freiz, Faten Salama, Mona el Said, Dandash, and many others. If Raqia were a greedy person, taking work and opportunities from colleagues, she would not have helped us in our efforts.  I know that Raqia would gladly help anyone interested in sponsoring workshops with these renowned performers and instructors.

I was shocked to read “many of the teachers in Egypt are unhappy with the fact that Raqia is controlling them in this way, both inside and outside of Egypt. When dancers around the world start asking about these teachers, they are told these teachers are not allowed to work except once a year at her festival.” I would like to know the name of just one instructor who can say such a case has happened to him or her!

I have met many instructors through Raqia and through the Ahlan wa Sahlan festival. Personally, I have not heard a single person complain about her. I can tell you about ten names of dancers that attended last year’s AWS festival and left the hotel several times to attend the other festival that was literally held down the street. Was the only hotel available the one almost next door to Mena House? Cairo has so many hotels to choose from I doubt that all hotels in Cairo were booked on the dates of Ahlan wa Sahlan.

The fact that several dancers went to both festivals negates the claim that “Raqia’s assistants were guarding the hotel doors”. I scoffed when I read this claim! Obviously, no one has the authority to stand at the doors and question people as to where they are going! Many people who come to Cairo do not just come for dance lessons; they go out, see the Nile, the pyramids, shop in Khan el Khalili, etc. 

I know dancers who performed at the other festival and as well as in one of the nightly shows in AWS. Raqia was aware of this as well as I. The whole concept of appointing guards at the doors not allowing people to leave or asking people where they are going is absurdly false. The whole idea that Raqia called Lubna Emam and forced her to choose which festival she wanted to teach at is also false; Raqia never made such a call to Lubna.

If one side of the story is out in the public eye, so should the other, so I am glad for the opportunity to write about a few items on Raqia’s side.

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Ready for more?
9-14-05 Behind The Nile Group Workshops in Cairo by Zeina
How absurd it sounds! How could we, in a small country that a lot of people couldn’t even locate on a world map, compete with her enormous festival in Cairo?

9-16-05 Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2005, Cairo a review and diary by Leyla Lanty
On Monday night, the opening gala was a great success in all senses of the word! It was one of the best large scale events I've attended.

8-19-05 Interview with Mahmoud Reda Part 2: The Troupe by Morocco
So what I call my choreography is not folkloric. It’s inspired by the folkloric.

9-30-05 My Experience With Amani’s Oriental Festival by Beverley Joffe
Lebanon, June 14-19, 2005.
Amani placed strong emphasis on the folklore and identity of Oriental Dance when compiling the program and offered touring to assist in blending technique with emotion.

6-20-05 The 2005 Eilat Festival, My Fete in Israel by Orit
This was the first professional festival of its kind in Israel. Despite its being overwhelmingly exhausting and loaded with material, the celebrating continued in the lobby, well into the night, with endless conversations and the exchange of tales.

10-1-05 Interview with Maya Gaorry of Italy, Talks about Size, Fat, and American dancers, by Lucy Lipschitz
Before there was no rule on how big dancers should be, and now it’s changing. Changing everywhere.

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