Gilded Serpent presents...
Wa Sahlan Festival 2004
8: Side Trips
Part 2: The Parisiana
Travel Journal by Shira
Night, June 29, 2004. The Parisiana is a nightclub on Pyramid
Street in Giza which is owned by the famous Egyptian dancer Lucy and
her husband. If you're not familiar with Lucy, she was the
dancer who appeared in the National Geographic special titled Cairo
Unveiled, which was aired on public television around
1998 or so. She is one of the top dancers in Egypt.
that the Parisiana's show was scheduled to begin at midnight,
we asked our driver Yehiya to pick us up
at 11:30 p.m. to take us there. It takes about 15 minutes
to get to the Parisiana from the Mena House hotel. We decided
we wanted to get there early enough to see the full show,
rather than waiting until strategically later to just watch
Lucy. Glee and Saqra accompanied
me again for this evening's adventure, plus Della from
Omaha decided to join in the fun. Before we got in the car
with Yehiya, I made a second attempt to talk about the price
of his services for our evening adventure. And once again
he coyly told me we'd talk about it after the evening was
over, after we returned to the hotel.
at the Parisiana, Yehiya had us wait in the car a moment
while he went in first on our behalf. I'm not quite sure
what his purpose was. To confirm that they were indeed open
and ready for business? To confirm that
Lucy would indeed be dancing this night? To
ask them to arrange a good table for us? To do a
bit of relationship-building to demonstrate to them that
he, a local, brought in good customers? I really don't know. But
he did whatever he went in to do, and then he came back to
the car to tell us to head on in. He handed us over to the
host, and we made arrangements for me to phone him on his
cell in about 6 hours when we were ready to be picked up.
this photo, from left to right, you can see Della, Glee,
and Saqra. At the end of the table closest to the camera,
you can see a bowl of beautifully-scented fresh roses that
had been placed on our table.
a little blip when we were told that the evening cover charge
was 261 Egyptian pounds (about $45 U.S.) instead of the 180
Egyptian pounds ($30 U.S.) we had been quoted earlier in
the day. Yehiya confirmed that we had been told 180 pounds,
but the host showed us a promotional flyer with the 261 pound
price on it.
at 261 pounds, it's still a decent price
to pay for a 6-hour dinner show that includes a performance
by one of Egypt's
top Oriental dance stars. Heck, I own a video of Lucy performing
that cost me more than that. Once the discussion about
the cover charge was resolved, Yehiya wished us a good
I was delighted
when the host led us to a table directly in front of the
stage. There was no way any other table could be placed
in our line of sight - it was a perfect angle for me to take
excellent photos of the show! The serving staff didn't speak
English very well, but they were friendly and attentive. The
evening got off to a very promising start.
us what time we wanted to be served dinner. I invited input
from the others, and they all put me in charge of deciding. So
I decided to request that we be served immediately. My rational
was that this was the best way to ensure that our food would
be served hot and fresh. In Egypt,
restaurant food handling standards are not always as cautious
as in the U.S.,
nor are inspectors as rigorous as those in the U.S. Therefore,
food poisoning can occur. I have no idea whether my conjecture
was correct, but I imagined that the Parisiana probably prepares
all the food early in the evening, then leaves it sitting
out on the counter when done. My strategy was to eat as early
as possible to minimize the time our food would spend on
ordered our meals, the server suggested I try the mixed grill. It
sounded appetizing, so I went for it. Saqra then asked me
what I had ordered, so I told her. She told the waiter she
would have the same thing I was having. When I raised an
eyebrow, she informed me that I was the only person at the
table whose gut was still functioning normally, so obviously
I knew something about food choices in Egypt that
they didn't. Well, I'm not so sure I'm any sort of expert
on what to eat in Egypt,
but I couldn't dispute the fact that my body was still being
kind to me. I told her I was flattered by her confidence
but couldn't make any promises that my good luck would hold! (I'm
happy to report that my good luck did indeed hold.)
serving staff brought us glossy programs that showed what
the evening's entertainment line-up would be.
was highly entertaining, in a "so bad it's funny" kind of way. An
ensemble of five young women (whom I'm guessing were all Russian - from
the announcement I caught that one was named Olga and another
Katia, and they all looked Russian) did a troupe performance
that was sort of a blend of European burlesque with Egyptian
I was a
little surprised to notice they were performing to taped
music instead of a live band. In Egypt,
live bands are the norm. I should have realized that the
lack of a live band was a sign as to just what level of status
this particular act held in the eyes of their employers.
five dancers strutted onto the stage and my first reaction
was, "Oh my." Each wore a white bra with a design of colored
jewels spiraling into a bulls-eye with the center target
right at the nipple. On the bottom half, each wore a pair
of short-short white hiphugger hot pants. Over the top of
these hot pants, each wore a white G-string with a design
in colored jewels that echoed the design on the bra. Thin
white gauntlets covered their arms, running all the way from
the hand nearly up to the armpit, and from these gauntlets
dangled silly-looking feather streamers, sort of like the
marabou trim often seen on lingerie in the U.S. Each
had a brightly colored tuft of a plumper sort of feather
at the end.
their rears, they had "tails" of dangling feathers made of
the same material as the arm streamers, with brightly colored
plumper feather "tassels" on the ends. It gave me a whole
new perspective on the dancer Morocco's
use of the term "shaking one's tail feathers" to refer to
to each dancer's upper back was a crest of more feathers,
in the same bright colors as the tufts at the bottoms of
the "wings" and "tails".
memorable garb, the dancers performed a series of choreography
that seemed to be inspired by French burlesque. Which I
guess is a logical fit for a nightclub whose name is the
Parisiana. There admittedly weren't any high cancan kicks
or mooning, but there was a lot of strutting and such.
me assure you, that even though I have seen the "bra teamed
with hot pants, G-strings, and lots of feathers" look at
a club in Egypt, I have no intention of parading onto any
U.S. stage thusly garbed any time soon with claims of doing
an authentic Egyptian dance. That would be wrong on so many
levels, beginning with the "good taste" level.
(appetizers) arrived while this show was in progress. Saqra
looked to me for guidance on which to eat and which not. I
gave thumbs up to the hummous, baba ganouj, and dolma, but
thumbs down to the tabouli. I love tabouli, but it's made
from fresh parsley, which is washed in tap water. Tap water
contains. well, it contains things that make our guts rebellious,
and I wasn't in the mood to invite my gut to rebel.
But I digress. Back
to the colorful action on stage!
the "golden girls" slipped quietly offstage during the opening
number, so when the rest of the group finished the opening
production number, she was all changed into her costume for
the next piece and ready to re-emerge with it. She wore
a simple but attractive bedleh (bra/belt/skirt costume). The
skirt was quite sheer, with those white hot pants underneath.
her colleagues also re-emerged, each of them also in bedleh
costumes. Each of them was in a different color. Each costume
was attractive in its own right. All had front slits positioned
to exhibit maximum views of shapely legs, but were still
in good taste.
they now were in bedleh, these dancers now did choreography
that was based on more Oriental moves. There were some shimmies,
some hip work. Unfortunately, throughout their set, the Golden
Show dancers exhibited slumped posture, disinterested facial
expressions, and low energy. They made it appear as though
this job was drudge work rather than joyful artistic expression. Their
dance technique was not precise, and their synchronization
with each other was a bit sloppy. They were going through
the motions of dancing, but without the heart and soul that
makes dance such a lovely performing art.
by one, each of them exited the stage so they could begin
the costume changes required to prepare themselves for the
next set. The transitions from one piece to another throughout
this show were handled reasonably seamlessly, and it offers
a useful perspective on how to organize a varied troupe show
with costume changes. As each choreography drew
to a close, at least one person was typically ready in the
next costume for the next piece to come out and begin the
for the next set were black vinyl. Each dancer's costume
was subtly different. The common theme was black vinyl skimpy
tops and bottoms. The tops varied from bras to one-shoulder
tops to halter tops. The bottoms included miniskirts (some
with slits) and hot pants. I have to hand it to these women - although
I found their stage personalities to be rather uninspired,
they had beautiful bodies that (for the most part) looked
attractive in these skimpy costumes. They weren't model-thin
by U.S. standards,
but that was fine with me. I thought they looked healthy,
fit, and muscular.
my head when the next costume motif appeared on stage. I'm
sorry, but ruffled lime green miniskirts with wrist ruffles
are not an attractive look. Even on athletic, fit, pretty
young women like these.
did I know they were about to make me regret that thought. Their
next costumes were even worse.
guess these costumes looked fine from the neck up. (Mostly because from the neck up there were no costume pieces, just
the pretty faces and hair styles of the dancers.) But
the rest of the garb made me shake my head. Day-glo
colors that were made even more vivid by the black lights
in the club. I'll try to describe the key
components of this garb starting at the feet and working
my way upward:
silver high heels.
from the arches of the foot all the way up to just above
colored ruffles running from the knee down to the ankle. Fishnet
stockings in matching day-glo colors covering the upper
hot pants that allowed their butt cheeks to dangle freely
out the bottom.
colors of thongs worn over the top of those hot pants. In
the front, these thongs are decorated with fine upholstery
trim thread tassels.
chiffon loincloths over the thongs in the rear.
- More upholstery
tassels slapped haphazardly on the cups of the bras.
running from fingers to above the elbow in colors to match
running up the arms from wrist to elbow to echo the look
of the lower legs.
you have it. Ghastly, really. So I did what any self-respecting audience
member would do when confronted with such a spectacle. I laughed. I
took pictures. I felt sorry for these poor dancers, being required
to wear such things in public. I began to understand why their
demeanors seemed unenthusiastic throughout the earlier part
of the show - I wouldn't look enthusiastic either if I knew
I was doomed to be such a fashion victim later in the show.
that people desperate for a job will go to desperate measures
such as wearing these garments. I cringed at the idea
of a U.S. dancer
seeing this in Cairo and concluding it would therefore be
to wear something similar for a show at their local New York
restaurant all in the name of dressing just exactly like
the dancers they saw in Cairo. I imagined how I would react if
I saw this on stage at a Rakkasah festival.
I was so
distracted by this spectacle that I really didn't even notice
what the dancing was like for this piece.
The Golden Show ended with the dancers clad in black and red
costumes that were actually cute. I liked the clean, elegant
lines of their wrap skirts over hot pants with coordinating
bras and sleeves. It cleansed the palate of my poor brain
that had been stunned by the previous display. These black
and red costumes came across as flattering for pretty much
everybody in the ensemble, and they finished their set leaving
a pleasant aftertaste.
The First Singer
The Golden Show ended, it was time for the first singer of the
evening to perform. We had a bit of down time while her band
enjoyed this singer. Her stage personality was cute and spunky. Her
dress was really cute, and flattered her figure well. (Unfortunately,
the color red sometimes adds the illusion of extra pounds in
photos, but trust me when I tell you that in person she looked
great in it.)
during the instrumental interludes in her songs she shimmied
or otherwise moved her hips just a bit. Always
ladylike, always cute. The tone of her performance
was that of someone who was enjoying the music so much she
just couldn't quite stand still.
plucked a rose out of our bowl of fresh roses and handed it
to Della. We persuaded Della to tuck it behind one ear. The
singer noticed and enjoyed it. She favored Della with additional
special attention throughout the rest of her performance.
across the stage from us was a table of Arab men. One of them
seemed to be gazing at one of my companions, particularly after
the singer had lured her up on stage to dance just a little
bit. (Other audience members also took brief turns boogying
with this singer.) That Arab man's gaze kept boring into my
friend, making her uncomfortable. Eventually, she and I decided
to trade places, so that I would block the guy's ability to
catch her attention. That seemed to ward off his unwelcome
staring and he turned back to minding his own business.
The Second Singer
second singer had a nice enough voice, but to my thinking she
didn't seem to have as much charisma as the earlier one. Instead
of behaving like someone who loves her music, she behaved like
someone who was there to walk on stage, do her set, collect her
pay, and get out of there.
But I loved
her fascinating dress with its revealing cutouts. She had
the body to look fabulous in it, too!
it was after 3:00 a.m. That afternoon, we had been told Lucy
would dance around 2:00 a.m. Well, 2:00 had come and gone,
and Lucy hadn't appeared yet. My companions were getting restless. I
wasn't too worried yet, because I knew that when I came to
Parisiana in 2003 Lucy hadn't come on until around 3:00 a.m.,
so I figured we were still in good shape. When one travels
to Egypt, one must
expect that all times are approximations with rounding errors. Sometimes
generous rounding errors.
The Broom Dancer
time had come for the second singer's band to tear down and the
next band to set up. This was the largest band yet of the evening,
which boded well. The bigger the star, the
larger the band. Who says size doesn't matter?
the "broom dancer" came out to sweep the stage, while the band
was setting up I knew the moment we had come for was drawing
near: Lucy's performance! He was very meticulous, paying
careful attention to detail, another sign that he was probably
preparing the stage for Lucy herself.
last, approximately 3:30 a.m., the band started to play an energetic
song, and Lucy strode proudly onto the stage.
to the current style in Cairo, Lucy wore a bra/skirt set rather
than the traditional draped-in-fringe bra/belt set with skirt. On
her arms, Lucy wore detached sleeves to match the bra/skirt
set, and ankle jewelry completed the look. The black and silver
color looked flattering on her, and a slit up the front of
her straight skirt showed off one leg to top advantage. Her
feet were bare.
entered, she seemed distracted. After an initial turn around
the stage, she paused on one side, reached down to the floor,
and adjusted a brace on one foot. Suddenly the reason for
her distraction became clear - she was having some kind of
foot pain, and the brace she was wearing to control it was
not proving effective. The adjustment appeared to have helped
the situation. Her facial expression brightened up, and suddenly
the charisma I remembered from 2003 was there in full force.
dance style began somewhat simply, and
gradually built in complexity as her show progressed. I enjoyed
her opening set very much. Eventually, she left the stage
for her first costume change.
returned to the stage, she was wearing a vivid orange outfit
of costume bra with skin-tight spandex bellbottoms. To make
the bellbottoms even more risqué, there were cutouts with beige
insets to give the illusion of bare skin.
didn't have a problem with the amount of skin that this costume
exposed, but I didn't think the overall effect of this garb
was particularly flattering to her figure. If she wanted to
be bold and daring, she certainly achieved that.
set of Lucy's show was more singing-oriented than dancing. Lucy
is a multi-talented performer who both sings and dances. She
has a pleasant singing voice.
on stage was another singer, a man wearing a suit with a silly-looking
bright red tarboosh with a black tassel on his head. They
sang an extended-length duet. I didn't recognize the song,
but judging from the way they postured and gestured, it came
across as a lovers' quarrel. At times, they mimed him swatting
her with his Saidi stick.
this time the memory
card in my digital camera filled up and I was not able to take
any more photos. I hadn't thought to bring another one with
me. I had believed I had inserted a one-gigabyte memory card
into my camera before leaving the hotel, but instead I had
mistakenly grabbed the 256-megabyte one. And because I believed
I had a gigabyte of storage to work with, I hadn't believed
it necessary to bring a spare.
have to use your imagination with me as I describe the rest
of the evening.
orange bell bottoms, Lucy had two other costume changes. One
was folkloric, the other another Oriental.
At one point
during her show, Lucy asked all four of us from our table to
come up on stage with her. Glee chose to stay in her seat
and watch, but Saqra, Della, and I all accepted the invitation. We
had great fun dancing on stage with Lucy. Some Arab guys sitting
off to the side of the stage (a different table from the one
I mentioned before) tried to get up and come on stage with
us, but Lucy made them stay in their seats. I appreciated
that. She made me feel like I was under her protection. We
had fun looking at which moves she was doing and trying to
end of Lucy's show, Della thought it would be nice to tip her. Several
other patrons had already tossed money showers over Lucy, so
Della went up on stage and did the same. Every time a money
shower occurred, a young man immediately scurried over to the
fallen bills and collected them for her.
After Lucy's Performance
the evening drew to a close. Lucy's performance ended around
5:30 a.m. We wearily paid our drink tab, tipped the servers,
and battled the rude, ugly, obnoxious pig of a professional photographer
who had snapped pictures of us earlier in the evening. He was
trying to extort 40 pounds (about $7 U.S.)
from each of us, trying to force us to buy the pictures he had
made. The jackass hadn't even shown us the pictures yet, so
we didn't even know whether we liked the way we looked in them
or not. The last straw came when this greedy jerk grabbed some
money I had placed on the table for the servers and tried to
claim it for himself. I immediately
reached out to grab it from his fat, grubby paw, and we had a
tug of war over the money. I won.
of us retreated as a group to the women's room to talk about
the whole photographer situation. I recommended that we insist
he show us the pictures. If we liked them, we could buy them. If
we didn't, well, I didn't see any need to line the pockets
of that disgusting creature with my hard-earned money.
ended up deciding that she would like to have copies, so she
bought a set. None of the rest of us wanted to patronize the
guy after his horrid behavior. If he hadn't been such a colossal
toad, I probably would have bought photos for myself. But
I didn't want to reward such turdliness.
had paid off our tab and tipped the servers. We had eaten
well, and enjoyed a marathon show of 5 1/2 hours. I pulled
out my cell phone, found Yehiya's business card, and called
him to tell him we were ready for our ride back to the hotel. We
had originally stepped outside to check whether he might already
be there waiting for us (when he dropped us off, there was
some discussion that he might come back on his own around 6:00
a.m. to meet us), but he wasn't. That was okay, I wasn't really
expecting to see him just yet.
When I reached
him, Yehiya instructed me that we should all go back inside
the club and wait indoors. He said he would come inside to
find us when he arrived. This was excellent advice. In Egypt,
respectable women don't loiter on public sidewalks. I herded
my companions back to some comfortable couches in the entry
hallway and we waited comfortably. Glee drifted into a sort
of waking doze, while Della, Saqra, and I commiserated about
what a detestable lump of lard that horrid photographer had
were waiting for Yehiya, we had a chance to talk about how
much money to offer him, given that I had not been able to
coax him to quote a fee. The others each really wanted to
chip in $5 U.S. each,
for a total of $20 U.S. I
told them that was really much higher
than it should be for the amount of work/time involved, but
they felt guilty about making him get up so early in the morning
to retrieve us, so I relented.
showed up and came inside to claim us. We gratefully piled
into his car and he took us back to our hotel. Once we actually
arrived at the hotel, Saqra informed me she had thrown in an
extra $5 because she had liked his services so much. Well,
I agreed he had taken good care of us, and had been courteous,
accommodating, and pleasant. I allowed myself to be overruled,
even though I knew in my heart we were paying much more than
the going rate. Somehow, I ended up with the fistful of money
and the duty of negotiating payment. So I asked him one more
time what we owed him, and he teasingly told me it was up to
me to decide. I asked him how he'd feel about $25 U.S.,
and he beamed as he accepted it.
As I mentioned
at the end of my description of the Gayer Anderson museum,
if you are traveling to Egypt soon
and interested in hiring a driver, drop me a private e-mail
and I'll tell you how to contact Yehiya. I felt good about
the service we had from him, and I'm happy to recommend him
sleepily into my hotel room, ready to get horizontal as swiftly
as possible. My roommate Alexandra woke up when I came in,
and informed me that I needed to have my CD for my performance
that evening in Morocco's
hands by 9:30 a.m. that morning. Eeek! I hadn't burned it
yet! I hadn't even yet finalized what song I was going to
use! But that's a story for Day 9. Stay tuned for my next
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more from Shira-
-04 Ahlan Wa Sahlan
Festival 2004-Intro Travel Journal by Shira
Middle Eastern dance artists and students from throughout the world attend this
event to immerse themselves in instruction by leading Egyptian instructors, shop
for costumes and other supplies offered by Egyptian vendors, and enjoy the gala
shows featuring top Egyptian dancers. Check back for regular updates!
3: First Look at Egyptian History
4: More Egyptian Monuments and First Dance Show
Day 5: Shop-portunities
and Whirling Dervishes POSTED 7-9-04
Day 6: The Festival
Begins POSTED 7-17-04
Day 7: Classes
and Free Time POSTED 7-17-04
Day 8: Side Trips,
Part 1: Gayer Anderson Museum POSTED 7-25-04
Day 8: Side Trips,
Part 2: The Parisiana 7-26-04 you
9: The Evening Show posted 11-12-04
Day 10: Classes and
the Sphinx Speaks posted 11-22-04
Day 11: Camels, Class, & Competitions posted
Contests by Yasmela
being who they are, and dance and art and America being what
they are, there will always be the competitive urge, the attitude
that success is defined by the amount of your income, the number
of your trophies.
26-04 Dance Festival or Shop-a-thon? by
can you hear me now?
Darkly: The Phenomenon of Gothic Belly Dance by Laura
may come as a shock to many, but Gothic Belly Dance isn’t
really a new phenomenon, and it’s not just centered in
California. First of all, it’s simply a merger of two entities
that go well together, like peanut butter and chocolate.