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Ubiquitous crate of aysh baladi (Egyptian style pita).

The author poses in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in Heliopolis.

Roof chicken: it's what's for dinner. or Some people keep chicken, pigeons, and other game at their homes. These were from my friend's roof.

Liza Laziza performed with her band in the Meridien Pyramid's outdoor restaurant.

This free tanoura show at the Citadel is a must-see!

Lucy performs at her club Parisiana. She put on a great 3-hour show even though she was under the weather.

This was the most impressive sight to me: a man riding a bicycle through thick Cairo traffic with a big tray of bread balanced on his head.

Author, Freiz & Aleya on the Marquese boat
Gilded Serpent presents...
Cairo 2005
How to Eat, Drink, Sleep, and Breathe Raqs Sharqi
Part Four of Four:
The End of the Trip
by Andrea

Last year I visited Cairo for the first time and attended the Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival, but decided that I could learn more if I took private dance lessons.  Being the intrepid traveler that I am, I returned on my own in 2005, in the month of September, to enjoy all that Cairo has to offer during more favorable weather.  Following are my experiences as I related them to my close friends and family.

October 1, 2005
Assalaam aleykum asdiqaa!  Since I last emailed y'all I saw and learned much.  I've taken many classes and seen a few shows and done more shopping since then.  Iíve had no time for touristy stuff at all, but that's OK because last year, I did a lot of sight-seeing and souvenir shopping.  I guess I'll just have to come back again to see the things I haven't seen yet in Cairo! Plus, I've learned how to be a more savvy traveler in Egypt.  I must come back and put this knowledge to work for me!

Every time I come to Egypt I have a wardrobe crisis. It's hard to find that balance of clothes that are comfortable yet cute yet cool for the hot weather. I end up sweating through everything or feeling androgynous. With the help of my friend Erika, I've discovered the perfect tourist wear: A long cotton tank top with a colorful cotton shawl over a pair of jeans--not low-rise jeans! The tank top soaks up the sweat and keeps you cool, the shawl adds color, chicness, and coverage, while the jeans do all of the above. You can buy all kinds of pretty shawls on the street in Cairo, and the draping possibilities are numerous. (see photo.)

I finally met up with my sweet Egyptian friend Hanaan. It's been difficult because I've been busy with classes, shows and shopping, while she's nursing a new-born baby. It was a joyous reunion! She made me lunch at her house: fried fish, rice, bread, and soda. I wish she hadn't gone through the trouble due to her being so busy with the newborn in addition to her two young boys. But when someone offers you home-cooked food in Egypt, you don't say no! It's just not an option! Hanaan is the most open-hearted person ever. When her husband grilled me about why I've chosen dance as a career, she defended me saying "It's art!." Love her! Later we sipped some lemon juice with soda water on her roof, with the company of her extended family and the pigeons and chickens they keep.

You've all heard the phrase "Egyptian time" I imagine. Well, I think it's only used in America because Egyptians in Egypt have been punctual in my experience! In fact, I've been the one who's always late. I've even been chastised by Egyptians for being late to a class or meeting! Just goes to show that you can't believe stereotypes.

Shows:  We saw the Tanoura (Egyptian Sufi musicians and dancers) at the Citadel.  The band is hauntingly good.  I wish I could have a drum section like that play for me.    We saw Liza Laziza (Persian and French), Shams (Russian), Camelia again, and Lucy.  We wanted to see Dina, but the night we finally made a reservation at Semiramis, she cancelled.  Lucy's show was noteworthy for several reasons.  First, she looked great!  I think she's in her '50s and she still is in excellent shape--even better than last year.  Second, she can still dance!  Of course, she did a lot of hob-nobbing with the audience, sang her pop songs, received a heckuva lot of tips, and treated us to a Khaleegy number (which she didn't do last year) probably because the house was packed with Gulf Arabs.  I talked to her on the phone a few times, before going to her show, to inquire about taking lessons, but she was quite busy; so, it never happened. She's filming a movie during the day, then dances at her club every night until 6 a.m. and has a 10-year old to take care of too.  Consequently, when she first came to our table, I told her "I am Andrea, the one who called you on the phone."  She remembered me, embraced me enthusiastically, and apologized for not being available for lessons.  She pulled Aleya and I up on stage and gave us a lesson.  It was thrilling!

I had wanted to take classes from Camelia, but she was not easy to contact.  Instead, I took classes from her teacher, Freiz.  Freiz was a soloist in the Kawmaya folk troupe and has also been a teacher at AWS.  (Not any more though.  She's now with the Nile Group.  More juicy intrigue involved around that!)  Her classes were priced higher than others, but she did teach well.  I learned a nice Shaabi choreography and got some great Beledi moves too.  I can't wait to use in a show what I learned from her!  Anyway, on top of all of that, she was also very nice. She said I was a good dancer and liked how I expressed my feelings. She also has an assistant like Raqia, but unlike Raqia, she actually danced with us for the majority of the class. After our last class with her she insisted Aleya and I stay for lunch.  She prepared for us a home cooked meal which turned out to be the best Egyptian food Iíve had:  Grilled chicken, rice, soup, aysh baladi (bread), and soda of course.  It was such a nice break from the greasy restaurant food Iíve been having, that I stuffed myself to the point of discomfort.  More on Freiz later...

The funny thing about Raqia Hassan is that you could be the best dancer in the world, but if you haven't trained with her, in her eyes, you're crap.  Conversely, you can be crap, but if youíve trained with her, sheíll sing your praises.

We went to see Shams because Raqia had recommended her show and again I was disappointed.  First, she danced to a CD!  That's practically haraam (a sin) in Cairo, especially at a 5-star hotel!  Second, her performance just wasn't up to snuff.  It was very apparent that she had trained with Raqia, but she wasn't worthy of a 5-star hotel in my opinion.  She didn't move me at all, was all over the place, and too bouncy and balletic.  Even by American standards, she was nos wa nos (so-so or half and half), actually more rub' wa rub' (quarter and quarter).  Ha ha!

Liza's show was rather entertaining.  She has a great band and dances with a lot of feeling.  She did an opening number, Khaleegy number, cane, and a drum solo.  I also took a class from her.  She's a patient teacher and has a nice apartment with a view of the Nile!

My last teacher was Mahmoud Reda.  Did you know that he's in his 70s, yet he still teaches, and dances all over the world?  Dancing is the fountain of youth; of this, I am convinced!  My Finnish friend, Outi, is on very good terms with Mahmoud, and she took us to his studio to meet him.  I asked him some questions about making "Love in Karnak" and the extent to which it reflected real life.  I asked about taking classes with him, and he cautioned me by saying that he does not work with beginners.  Some dancers who have been dancing for many years, he still considers beginners.† Aleya and I signed up anyway, although we felt intimidated and ended up enjoying the classes very much.  In the first class, we learned technique and combinations. 

He gave us the first class free of charge; so, we signed up for another.  In the second class, we learned an "Oriental" choreography.  He said I was very good and asked who my teachers were in the States. I gave credits to all of my teachers. 

Now that I've had classes with the person who invented a lot of the folklore dances, I know more the difference between real sharqi and folkore-influenced sharqi.  I don't know how much of Redaís repertoire I'll use in my dance, but it was good training for my feet, which tend to be lazy. (My teachers can attest to that!).

Our last day and a half, we devoted to our shopping.  We had to make sure the Crazy Move guys finished the work on my 7 costumes and Aleya's 20 costumes.  We had to buy gifts for our significant others.  We ended up making several trips to the legendary Khan al Khalili.  Once, we had to go by foot and that turned out to be quite an adventure!  We took the metro to Attaba station, then hailed a cab.  After going about 100 meters, the car got a flat tire.  We would've hailed another cab, but traffic was heinous.† I knew we weren't far from the bazaar; so, we walked up Shari' al Azhar in the thick of the stand-still traffic and the very thick pedestrian traffic as well.  Fortunately, it was not very hot that day.  People don't use the sidewalks very much in Cairo.  You'll eventually meet up with a car parked in the way, or a crowd of people, or a giant pothole, or rubbish; so, you might as well walk in the street!  We were hooted and hollered at countless times, passed an angry bunch of men arguing about Allah-knows-what, women with large bundles balanced on their heads, people in the stores and on the street trying to sell us stuff, but we were safe!  Egypt is safe; you will not be touched: you'll just be annoyed at people trying to sell you stuff and men hooting at you now and again.  We made it to Khan al Khalili safe and sound.

Whew!  I'm trying not to make this too long, so I'll conclude with our last night in Cairo.  We had to see Camelia again before leaving so we went with Erica to the Marquese boat where Camelia dances every night.  We had just enough time to catch the 8:00 cruise, then finish packing our stuff and be on the way to the airport at 1:00 a.m.  When we arrived on the boat, we bumped into Freiz!  We were very happy because she is so sweet.  We sat with her in the lobby, took some photos, hugged, and kissed each other on the cheek. 

Then--how cool is this--we got to hang out with Freiz and Camelia and Camelia's band and Camelia's husband (who used to be Dina's manager--surely her star will rise) before the show on the outside deck!  I felt so hip. 

Camelia had been ill with a cold (I think it's going around because other people in addition to myself got sick) but she still put on a good show.  She danced on my chair again and we got on stage with her again.  It was the perfect ending to my trip: friends, food, dance, and the Nile bidding me farewell and to come again, soon.

Next time it will be in the autumn or winter when the weather is more favorable. Who's coming with me?

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
9-28-04 A Subjective View of Raqia's Cash Cow The AWS Festival 2004, Part 1 by Andrea
First, she came out as a snake, then entered wearing a melaya, next, as a caged lion.  Her performance was very entertaining.

4-29-06 Interview with Magda Ibrahim by Debbie Lammam
That is very enjoyable, to see someone who didn’t know how to do something before and now they do, and I’m the one who helped them do it, regardless of whether they are Egyptian or foreign.

4-26-06 Much, Much More by Margo Abdo O'Dell
Please do not call me a belly dancer. Because for me, it is not just a flip of the hip, the wink of an eye.
It is not just the sparkle of jewels, the want of applause.

4-20-06 Photos of Saturday Workshop & Evening show from Aida Nour & Magdy El-Leisy Workshop 2006 Photos by Lynette Harris & staff sponsored by Little Egypt held on Feb 25, 2006 in Los Angeles, California- CASUALS- Show photos still coming!

4-14-06 Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 10-How to Avoid Being Eaten by Sharks by Mary Ellen Donald
Not so fortunate are those people who feel threatened most of the time, limping from one extreme response to another.

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