Bellydancing and pregnancy part 2

This bun is nearly baked.

In the last few weeks I’ve slowed things down, spending more time playing with fewer movements and choosing more relaxing music to dance to. Now the end is in sight I have complaining joints, tired legs and much less energy. Listening to my body has been my motto throughout this pregnancy and it is telling me in no uncertain terms to rest! So I’m putting dance on hold again apart from occasional movements to loosen up if I’ve been sitting down for too long. At a time when it’s an effort to put socks on it’s nice to find that a circle or horizontal eight still feels good.

Before stopping completely I decided to video myself so I’ve got a record of this time (and hey, maybe to encourage any other pregnant ladies out there!). Here it is:

Halloween Hafla

Americans are really into Halloween. There is a distressing* amount of plastic spider-based decoration, everything is pumpkin flavoured and my gym even has a special reduced schedule for the 31st so instructors can spend time with their families (OK, maybe that last one is for Dia de Muertos?). So I was excited to be able to go to a Halloween hafla to see how American bellydancers do it!

The answer is: with style :) I went to Thia’s Halloween Bash, which was held at the most amazing venue, a banqueting hall with a Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ. Not only does the organ still work, we were treated to silent moves with an organ accompaniment while we ate before the dancing started.

You can see some of the decoration there, try as I might I just couldn’t capture it in one photo, but here are a few details from our table decorations. Imagine a 200 person hall all decorated like this! As we walked in it was a riot of orange and black, with great attention to detail.

(Plastic rats don’t bother me. It’s just the spiders.)

The performances were most definitely non-traditional :) in fact I think I only heard two or three pieces of Arabic music the whole night, but I think that’s one thing Halloween haflas are about wherever you go – throwing the rule book out of the door and having fun. There were some really creative costumes from dancers (and audience members!), there were pirates, witches, a circus freak show, mermaids and – my personal favourite – a tree with a snake in it. Clearly everyone had had a lot of fun coming up with ideas and that came across in their dancing as well.

I’m sure there will be a lot of Halloween haflas coming up and I hope everyone going has just as much fun :)

* i.e. non-zero

New in town

So I guess everyone know by now that I’ve left the UK and am now living in America. I’ll be in Salt Lake City, Utah for the next three years and after that….we’ll see!

One of the things I’m really excited about is having the chance to learn from lots of new dancers. OK, so the first workshops I booked were Little Egypt’s weekend with Randa :) but I am learning from new people as well! Before I arrive in SLC I got in touch with local teacher Stephanie, who told me she was hosting Karim Nagi at the beginning of September, and she was also kind enough to invite me to be part of the Friday night show! I have to tell you how lovely it was to be welcomed like that. I’ve done the same for dancers who were new to Cambridge in the past, inviting them to perform at my haflas, and it felt so good to be on the receiving end this time! So I’d say to other new dancers, don’t be nervous and reach out and established teachers, your reply can mean more than you realise.

Having the show on the horizon was a great motivation to get back in practice, which I’d let slide during the last few weeks of packing. At the moment we only have a few piece of furniture (ours is still on a ship somewhere) but that’s not a bad thing! The empty basement is an excellent studio:

(Not the best photo, admittedly. You can just about see my cat by the computer)

I’ve also brought all my costumes, not wanting them to have to endure a sea journey. When I tried to pick up the costume suitcase it was so heavy that the handle broke off!

I was really interested to see the other dancers in the show, since my main exposure to American bellydance has been the Bellydance Superstars (and I don’t consider a lot of what they do to be bellydance anyway, but that is for another day…). First thing I have to say is what a high standard of dance there was! It looks like there is a strong Egyptian influence round here (apart from the Tribal of course) but with distinctly American touches. For instance, the use of floorwork (splits and a Turkish drop amongst other moves – wow!) and also the use of props. There were a lot of props, often more than one in a routine – I do love it when a dancer discard her veil and suddenly you see the sagat she’s been holding the whole time (and yes I do know sagat are an instrument and not a prop really). The sagat playing – wow again! Really exciting, worked beautifully with the music, so much better than most of what I’ve seen in the UK and I include myself in that.

(I should probably stop calling them sagat and start calling them zills, right? I’m having enough trouble remembering the right names for my groceries but I do want people to understand me :) )

The props were also really well integrated into the performances. Often a performance can turn into “Look at me here with my isis wings” and the actual dancing gets rather left behind, but I didn’t see any of that. So those are my first impressions of what bellydance is like here, I’m sure my thoughts will change as I see more dancing and travel further.

The show was on Friday, then on Saturday and Sunday there were workshops with Karim Nagi. I don’t know if he’s been to the UK (he’s certainly travelled widely) but I don’t recall seeing his name at a festival before so it was great to be able to learn from someone new. Our first workshop was on maqamat and taqasim (hope I’ve spelt those acceptably!). With each maqam we would listen to it, sing it and talk about the emotions it evoked. With Western music I’m used to the ides that major scale = happy and minor scale = sad, but in Arabic music things are much more complicated and just one maqam can bring out a whole range of feelings, even just from a straightforward up and down the set of notes. It was the kind of workshop you could only get from a musician, we explored the music in much greater depth than I’ve done before but we were left in no doubt that really we’d only scratched the surface. Our second workshop was tahtib, and Stephanie had thoughtfully brought spares for everyone – I didn’t think I could get away with bringing my stick on the plane so I was very grateful! We began by just getting a feel for the music, Karim talked about how a man would use the assaya in everyday life, and how that was brough into the dance. Oh yes, we were doing the man’s style! This is something I’ve wanted to learn for a while. Many years ago I had a teacher who said that women shouldn’t do the “masculine” moves, I ignored that and carried on with my twirling. I’ve noticed more and more actual tahtib moves being done by dancers in Cairo though and I think it looks great, but I’ve lacked the knowledge – and the practice space! – to add it to my own dance. So even though  I was pretty bad at catching my assaya, especially in my left hand (Karim made us do everything on both sides!) I am determined to be able to do it.

It was a great day of workshops, held in a lovely studio (it belongs to another local teacher, Thia) which is just for bellydance. I would definitely go to more workshops with Karim and would recommend him highly as a teacher. I know a lot of people who would have loved that music workshop! From chatting to the other dancers I met it sounds like there is a lot going on locally and within the rest of the state so hopefully I will be sharing more adventures with you all soon :)

Egypt part 5 – the end

I’m home now and ready to get back to teaching, but there’s just a little more to tell you…

For our last night we had a party at Yasmina’s beautiful apartment (did you know you can stay there for your own dance holiday?) with a band and some very special guests including Hassan and Dandesh. Yes, THE Dandesh! She was ostensibly there as a guest but of course she got up to dance for us and it was some of the loveliest dancing I’ve ever seen her do. Yasmina danced for us as well – what am impressive array of dancers we saw and how lucky to see two stars up close! There were saidi and Nubian boys to entertain us as well as the always delightful Heba (OMG her street shaabi was amazing!). We ate delicious home cooked food and a giant cake to celebrate three birthdays, serenaded by the band at the same time. The band included the first female musician I think I’ve ever seen in Egypt, which was nice. She played the qanun.

It was an early night by Cairo standards almost all of us had flights at unsociable times on Sunday morning. It’s always sad to leave but as photos have been popping up on Facebook I’ve been reminded of all the amazing things we did. It’s hard to believe it was only one week…

Kay and I are already thinking about the next trip in 2015!

Egypt part 3

Well, we had a brilliant time watching Aziza last night! She was at the Sunset, near the Nile Pharon. We arrived at 1:00am to an almost empty club and were shown to a booth at the back of the room. It gradually filled up over the next few  hours with men and their *cough* female companions *cough* , most of them bringing in bottles of whiskey and wodges of cash. As expected people didn’t really know what to make of us, Western tourists are a very unusual sight in these places, but the staff looked after us very well, bringing drinks and fruit (on the traditional foil swan platters!), escorting us to the loo, encouraging us to get up and dance – not that we needed much encouragement! Once it had been established that we really liked the shaabi we weren’t allowed to sit out any of those songs, but since most of the songs were khaleegy we didn’t have to do too much.

Most of the guests in the nightclubs are from the Gulf, and the singers and dancers tailor their shows accordingly. These people are the real big spenders. Our group doesn’t spend a lot of money in the clubs although I like to think that we provide some entertainment :) but the other guests have serious amounts of cash to throw. A man who arrived shortly before we left had around five piles of notes on his table, each the size of a brick. I had hoped to see him in action, but no such luck.

Aziza was the only dancer that night, I think she started at around 3:30am and we got a good long set. She had a lovely costume, a sparkly nude bodysuit with a white skirt and belt. A little like one Dina has worn…. :) She came out into the audience to dance for specific groups (ones throwing money!) and was kind enough to come and sit with us for photos. It was a bit difficult to see her at times because of people standing up in front of us, although Kay and the staff did their best to shoo them away to let us see. Aziza’s style has really developed a lot since I last saw her at Casino El Leil, she has a much stronger “voice” of her own and is more engaged with the audience. She finished with a lovely Enta Omri.

I think everyone enjoyed themselves although since I haven’t seen anyone else this morning I can’t say for sure! I’m really glad we all got to go to the club, not just because Aziza is one of my favourite dancers but also because it is the kind of experience you just won’t get anywhere else. I wouldn’t try and go to one of these places on my own, but going with Kay and Yasmina means there is always someone who knows what is going on and can make sure we have the best possible experience. It’s a side to the dance that we don’t see often but it’s an important (and fun!) side to see.

Egypt part 2

After a whole four hours sleep it was time for a dance class – no problem! My husband was excused the lesson and slept in until midday. Most of the rest of the group set out in the minibus to Sahar’s studio (no costumes on show sadly or perhaps fortunately since they would have proved a major distraction) where we met up with Hassan of the Hassan Hassan Folklore Show. For two hours he taught us different folklore styles: bedouin, bamboutiyya, Nubia and saidi. I could happily have spent the whole lesson on any one of those styles, particularly bamboutiyya as Hassan choreographed a tableau for us on the fly. If you get the chance to study with him go for it, he is a great choreographer and full of energy. He also gave us a lot of background information so we could understand and appreciate the different styles of dance. We’re going to see his show on Friday so hopefully it will all make sense to people for whom it was all new.

Once the lesson was over a few of us went off for a costume fitting with Eman while the rest explored the Khan el Khalili. Judging by the number of bags when I rejoined them they all did pretty well! Nibal noticed that we were all fading from hunger and took us to Fishawy where we refueled on felafel and aubergine sandwiches before going to the tannoura show. This show is on once a week and appears to be popular with Egyptians as well as tourists. It’s a great chance to hear traditional instruments like the rebab and mizmar and is of course very different to the bellydance shows we see the rest of the week. Of course if you’re not a tannoura fan it can be hard going, the first guy was spinning for around half an hour! He was followed by an impressive display from three more tannoura. I think everyone was amazed by what they saw. We also loved the sagat player who is a real character :)

The relatively early finish allowed me to have a lie in, but a lot of my students were up early to go to the Egyptian Museum with Nibal (and my husband was up even earlier to go to Alexandria for the day!). They reported that the museum was very busy, which is good news, the museum is right on Tahrir Square and we were worried it might be difficult to go there. Nibal excelled herself again, showing them lots of interesting artifacts and negotiating the way through the crowd. We all met up afterwards to go for a sail in a felucca, which is a wonderfully relaxing way to spend an hour on the river enjoying the sun and a gentle breeze.

Some people had to head off for fittings with Hanan afterwards, and the crazy traffic meant they only just got back in time for out Thursday night entertainment – the Nile Maxim with Randa! As ever the show started with a couple of singers, one of whom was the lovely Ellie of London. Then another tannoura, who is still using the same music as when I first when to the Maxim four years ago. Then – RANDA! As ever she was incredible, full of energy and with so much feeling. Lots of interesting new technique which I look forward to learning at Jewel of Yorkshire…. :) she got us all up to dance baladi with her at the end, and met us afterwards so we could have our photo taken.

It’s now 11:30pm but the night is not over – we’re going out to see Aziza!

Egypt part 1

As expected this trip has been a whirlwind of activity, with hardly any time to draw breath, let alone blog! I’m writing this at around 23:40. We’ve just been out to see Luna on the Andrea boat and are waiting to go out again to see a new Egyptian dancer Sophia. She’ll probably be on at around 3:00 :)

Most of our group arrived late on Sunday night. We’re staying in Zamalek, which is quite green and quiet by Cairo standards – the incessant beeping of car horns is noticably fainter here – Kay showed us round on Monday but noone has explored further on their own than the local shops just yet! There is a rather fine shoe shop a bit further out so I’m sure we’ll start wandering a bit further eventually.  We stopped at a cafe to try koshary for our lunch, and ate at another local restaurant (Bram) for dinner. This place had been particularly recommended for their live music in the evening, a takt of oud and riq with a singer. They were happy to take requests, although they may have regretted this after some of us joined in with Akdeb Aleik an dMawood at the tops of our voices! They finished with a lovely version of Enta Omri as we left. This wasn’t the sort of place to get up and dance, but to listen and appreciate.

We also had to squeeze in a first round of costume shopping on our first day, visiting the designers Hanan and Eman to place initial orders so that we’ll have completed costumes by the end of the week (inshallah!). Hanan had some beautiful new silk designs, she pulled costume after costume out of the unprepossessing black bin bags, each eliciting louder and louder “Ooooh!”s from the watching dancers. Look out for them at a hafla in Cambridge or Edinburgh…We visited Eman at her workshop which was very interesting because we got to see all the people who tailor and embroider the costumes. I have ordered a dress which I am very excited about :) first fitting should be tomorrow.

Today most of the group went to the pyramids, which are still not very busy so they were able to go inside the Great Pyramid easily. There was quite a lot of hassle but their guide Nibal was able to fend off the touts.

Post club update – fantastic! The first dancer was nothing special but Sophia was very nice, even if was 4:00am and I could barely keep my eyes open. Quite surprising given how loud the music was, I swear each new band cranked the volume up a notch! We also saw around three singers inbetween dancers, but the best thing about going to these clubs is people watching. The big spenders with their bottles of whisky and wodges of £50 notes ready to throw, their younger female companions getting up on stage to demonstrate various degrees of dance skills…it’s fascinating. The table of funny foreigners attracted at least as much curious attention in return, we were quite an oddity. And that’s before we got up to dance :) I really hope the rest of the girls can make it to the next nightclub to see Aziza, I want them to have this experience!

Spirit of Egypt and Celebrating Dance

October was a busy month!

Early on this year I signed up for Spirit of Egypt, a show being produced by Yasmina of Cairo. The idea was that a small group of dancers would spend five days learning her choreographies, and then perform them in a show on Saturday night at Jewel of Yorkshire. When Kay of Farida Dance asked me if I would like to be part of this how could I possibly say no? So a few weeks ago I turned up at Victoria Hall in Saltaire with around 16 other dancers (including almost all of the Peacock Project!) to find out what we’d actually let ourselves in for. Our pre-course instructions had included requests to bring umbrellas, sun cream and jeans so it was all quite exciting!

We were going to perform four tracks from Yasmina’s latest album “Nawader”, which had been composed with the show in mind. A magency, an Oriental rumba, an Alexandrian beach tableau and a street tableau “Sharia el Fen” (the street of art) based on the idea of the famous Mohammed Ali street in Cairo where musicians and dancers lived.

Yasmina is a very creative and innovative choreographer and straight away we were into something I had never seen before – a wheel of veils! It took some practice to get used to spacing ourselves out and moving to see the wheel at its best without accidentally pulling it apart. It looked amazing in performance, the photos show all the glowing colours. The magency continued with more straightforward dancing, some saidi girls with sticks and a finale featuring all the dancers and props. The riot of colour and movment was followed by the more serene rumba, opening with a graceful solo by Natalie and some gorgeous partner dancing by three couples.

Then it was into the tableaus! The Alexandrian one was the one I had been most excited about after Zafirah told me about the sneak preview she had been given and we were shown our beach outfits. Cute tops and skirts all covered in polka dots! It was a shame to have to give them back. We entered the stage wrapped in brightly coloured melayas – dancers will know that there are two styles of melaya lef, from Cairo and Alexandria – which then became our beach towels! The middle section of the dance was a beautifully acted swimming scene followed by a dance with parasols. “Sharia el Fen” opened with a dance from the girls who lived there along with the local Ma’alima (boss lady – think Fifi Abdo!) played by Sandra, along with a pair of musicians who will have looked very familiar to anyone who has ever frequented the Farida stall… :) we had a short baladi interlude, a drum solo competition and finally everything was brought up to date with some shaabi.

The show was around 25 minutes long and I think we did really well to learn it! Of course it would have been nice to have a little more time to iron out the changeovers – things were  little frantic backstage at times – but I don’t think we had any major disasters. The missing umbrella came close :) but was found in time. It was hard work and sometimes we had to push on even though everyone was tired and not thinking straight in order to get through everything. Then in the evenings there was practice in our apartments and sewing to be getting on with. Kay and Yasmina had loaned us costumes but they all had to have minor alterations. It was a very useful experience for me and I’m glad I got to be part of such an exciting project. I hope that when Yasmina takes the show on tour the other groups who take part enjoy it just as much.

Two weeks after Jewel of Yorkshire I was off again, this time to Torquay for my second visit to Celebrating Dance run by Afra Al Kahira. Quite a few delegates remembered me from last time which was nice! Celebrating Dance is a very civilised festival. We all stay in the hotel, all the workshops and shows are there and we get breakfast and a three course meal each night. Meals are very important on a dance weekend! Everything kicked off on Friday night with a showcase by local dancers. It wasn’t a very late night because workshops started at nine the next morning and ran all day. I taught two workshops. The first was a choreography to “Ya Msafer Wahdak” which has little touches of flamenco. I was really pleased by how well the dancers picked it up, we learned the whole dance and even had time to do a little skirt work at the end. My second workshop was on Sunday morning and I had promised it would be nice and easy, all about moving slowly and taking your time but of course dancing is never that simple and actually there was a lot to think about! When I teach a new group I’m always nervous about asking them to improvise because it is a skill which still isn’t taught as widely or as well as it should be, but happily that was not a problem and they all took on board the ideas I gave them. In fact a lot of the dancers said how much they enjoyed it and they felt much more confident at the end.

There was a teachers showcase on Saturday night featuring (in alphabetical order for fairness!) Artemisia, Khalida, Kitty Kohl, Queenie, Sophie Armoza, Vashti and Zafirah. Sadly Nikki was unable to perform so I stepped in to open the first half in a costume which Vashti had very kindly let me borrow. It was lovely to be part of such a high quality show and see dancers in real life who I normally only see online. I rather lowered the tone with my shaabi, but you’ll all be used to that by now… :)

Jewel of Yorkshire and Celebrating Dance are two excellent events which I thoroughly recommend. Next year JoY will be featuring Randa Kamel amongst others but you’ll have to act quickly, at the time of writing one of her workshops has already sold out and the others are very close. There will be plenty of other high quality teachers to learn from.

Review: Shimmy in the City

As you know, my weekend started with the competition. I must say how well it was run this year, the team was very efficient and kept everything moving so we were finished in time for the open stage to start (or to go and find some food before the hafla!). The Peacock Project was an unofficial third in the group competition – “unofficial” because only first and second place were announced at the hafla but when we spoke to Orit later in the weekend she told us we were ranked third. Not bad going!

The hafla was in the same room at the Fairfield Halls in the evening, and there was a band! They played lots of classics and the dancefloor was soon full. We didn’t really get any impromptu performances although Orit went round the tables getting people up and the other stars got up and joined us all on the dancefloor. It’s pretty awesome to be dancing away and then realise Aziza is dancing next to you! It would have been nice to have some party music playing when the band were taking their breaks, but the quiet music did allow for chatting with friends. So much chatting that Nikki, Candi and I were the last ones there and had to be thrown out!

Last ones standing

Go Home!

I had booked myself onto all of Dina’s workshops because I have been wanting to learn from her FOREVER. She did not disappoint. She is an excellent teacher and it was so interesting to learn about her style of dancing, it’s very different to what I’m used to. Her technique workshop went at a cracking pace. The two choreography workshops (shaabi and Oum Kalsoum) were also pretty challenging, with lots of Dina’s characteristic footwork which looks so easy when she does it but is actually very complicated! We got so muddled up at one point that she had to simplify the step pattern for us. Predictably, the workshops were a scrum, although there was space for everyone and Dina was on a stage so she was easier to see. She was also very good at making everyone sit down while she demonstrated. I highly recommend taking a workshop with her if you have the chance. I also popped in to Orit’s shaabi workshop, just because I thought it would be fun, and it was! I felt like we finished a little early, but maybe everyone was a bit tired by then and didn’t want to do much more.

What can I say about the show…..FANTASTIC. What a line up! In fact I don’t need to say anything because you can just watch the DVD trailer:

 

Two sets of really high quality performances and then a full show from Dina! Time just flies when Dina performs, an hour goes by in a flash.

So there you go, despite what happened at the competition I had a super weekend and I’m sure I’ll be back next year.

The Peacock Project

It all started almost a year ago, after the Shimmy in the City competition. A couple of people independently had the same idea: could a group of solo dancers come together and learn a dance well enough to perform in a competition? Forming a dance troupe is nothing new, but forming a dance troupe whose members live in Cambridge, Edinburgh, Exeter and London is pretty ambitious.


View Peacock geography in a larger map

Geography was not in our favour, but we thought we could work round that with regular emails, phone meetings and video sharing. What was in our favour was the fact that we were all friends already and had similar styles of dance. Caroline, Elspeth, Hannah, Moyra and Zafirah all knew each other from their time in Edinburgh together, Zafirah and I go way back and I met the others because we kept on seeing each other at Randa’s UK workshops :) so we knew we could get on as a group.

We needed a name though…at first we just referred to what were doing as “The Project”, with the understanding that we’d think of a proper name later. That turned out to be a bit harder than we thought, weeks went by and still noone had any ideas. It wasn’t until we were discussing costumes that inspiration hit. We were discussing colours, Zafirah suggested peacock colours and there was a collective “Oooooooooh!” on the line. It was a short step from there to “The Peacock Project”. There was some discussion of translating it into Arabic, but having heard Arabic names mangled by many MCs over the years it seemed that English was preferable.

The first step of the project to choose our music. A magency was the obvious choice, it’s a good piece of music for a competition anyway and the structure would allow different people to choreograph sections without the difference in style being too jarring. After a bit of editing to bring our music in under the time limit we all chose sections and got to work on our own. We wrote notes and made multiple videos – after all it’s hard to demonstrate the parts for six dancers on your own! The fluffy chicks were a particular highlight.

We had a deadline to work to: our first weekend rehearsal together in Edinburgh. This weekend was focussed on teaching our sections, learning the other sections and seeing if our grand visions could play out in real life. By the end of the weekend we’d learned the whole choreography and had our formation changes mapped out. With videos to help us we went our separate ways to practice, practice and practice some more.

Our second weekend rehearsal was also in Edinburgh, but this time the pressure was on because we were going to perform our dance at the Edinburgh Big Dance on the Sunday afternoon. Elspeth was also taking part in other Big Dance activities, performing with her students and coordinating a bellydance flash mob at the museum. If that wasn’t pressure enough our Friday night rehearsal was much shorter than planned after torrential rain caused landslides which left Zafirah and I stranded on trains for hours, so we had even more to do on Saturday! We remembered a large amount of the group work, and started hammering out the rest of the details, asking questions about issues that had arisen in our solo practice, making decisions on what worked and what didn’t and finding our style as a group. It all worked out in the end and we did our performance on a very gusty stage to an enthusiastic crowd of shoppers.

Our third (and final!) rehearsal was an afternoon in London and sadly one of our flock couldn’t be there due to prior commitments. This was our chance to really dig deep into the details of the choreography and tighten up our formations ready for the competition at Shimmy in the City this Friday. It was also our dress rehearsal, in costumes made by the talented Celia of Edinburgh as well as our in house peacock designer Hannah.

Let me spell it out: we’ve been planning for a year but we’re doing this after five days of dancing all together, and not everyone was there for all of those days. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved together. Everyone has contributed in different ways, whether it’s choreographing, teaching, finding rehearsal space, organising travel, editing music, making videos, making costumes or feeding hungry peacocks. I get really tired of people characterising bellydancers as catty divas, this project has shown just how well a group of solo dancers can work together. We’ve formed a cohesive group but you still get a sense of our individual personalities when we dance. As a choreographer it’s been liberating to be able to write choreography for a group of dancers where I know exactly how many people are dancing (ask anyone who has tried to choreograph for a class performance why this matters!) with no restrictions on what I can ask them to do. As a teacher it’s been educational to learn how other people hear and interpret the same piece of music, and be reminded of the different ways we have of learning and remembering. As a dancer it’s been amazing to work with people who love this dance as much as I do. The Peacock journey will not end on Friday!