Keeping busy

A quick lunchtime update. I have completely lost track of what day it is! Two days ago we were learning baladi with a relatively simple choreography so we could really get the feeling of it. We’ve been given translations to all the songs we’re using and it’s good to see how the moves relate to the words. After snatching a few hours of sleep most people headed out to the Tivoli, a cabaret, to see the dancers.These weren’t famous dancers lie the ones who travel and teach, these were ordinary working dancers. There was a little bit of false advertising going on though:

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That’s Asmahan on the poster and I bet she’s never danced there! We saw two dancers and two singers. The dancers were quite reserved, almost shy, but then how would you be if you knew Randa was sitting in your audience? The first dancer invited her up and when Randa got going her face dropped but she rallied and carried on. Randa danced “El Eh Besalowni” and “Inta Omri” for us which was really special. I have video of her brother Fady giving her a money shower which I’ll try and put up when I get back. I learned a thing about money showers, I didn’t realise that they were essentially toy money. You might have a stack of £1000 but really it’s play money that you paid £100 for. Knowing that didn’t detract from the fun of seeing the men toss the bills around.

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This was a really late night and we left just as things were getting going – 4am! Fortunately yesterday was our day off, spent by a swimming pool followed by lunch and a folklore show with endearingly ropey dancers.  There’s always one or two who know the steps and the others are desperately following along. The bellydancer was good though and of course we all had a dance too.

I left early with a small group who were going to another show. We had all of 15 minutes at the hotel to make ourselves presentable then it was off to the Nile Maxim again to see Asmahan. I hadn’t been too sure about going back but when I heard Asmahan was dancing that was it, I HAD to go. I saw her in London last year and loved her but I’ve never seen her dance in Cairo. It wasn’t her full show with boy dancers and a grand entrance but it was still incredible. Asmahan is so powerful and her presence just fills the room, but she has a great sense of humour that goes with it. I think she appreciated two tables of excitable bellydancers, we were certainly the loudest people in the room. She got her band to play “Batwannes Beek” for us which was lovely. I had such a nice time.

Right, better leave it there because I need to head back down to find out when I’m dancing in the competition! Eeek!

Drum Solos

Drum solos are for show offs, and I mean this in a good way. Dancers use them to show off their technique and personality. As a very broad rule of thumb, dancers in the West tend to put more emphasis on the technique, whilst Egyptian dancers put more emphasis on the personality.

The sharp beats of the drum invite crisp, precise technique, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything you do must be percussive and staccato. Give the audience some breathing space with some softer moves, or even some stillness. Try not to overcomplicate things. Daria Miskevich has incredible technique and energy but watch her closely and you’ll see that actually she isn’t dancing at a million miles an hour and throwing in layer after layer of moves. She is varying her pace and using those showstopper moves sparingly for maximum effect.

At the other end of the showing off spectrum, where it’s all about personality, here is Camelia. Camelia is wild on stage, a complete free spirit. She gets away with things that noone else could! She is definitely one of those dancers who divide opinions. She reminds me of a little girl, hyped up on sugar, desperate to be the centre of attention! I love watching her. The drum solo starts at 4:55.

EDIT: This video has been made private :( if I find another Camelia drum solo I’ll update this post.

The eyebrow wiggle! 6:25 if you missed it :) I’m sure the whole performance is not to everyone’s taste, but she is clearly just up there having fun and I admire that.

The rhythms and patterns in drum solos are easy for the average audience to listen to and understand, so it’s nice to be able to play with those patterns in unexpected ways. Personally, I like a dancer who can surprise me and make me laugh. There is no obvious emotion in the music so you need to bring something of yourself to your dance. I’ve seen dancers who perform their (technically admirable) drum solos with just one expression on their face and it just bores me. Most dancers manage to find their own balance between technique and personality. Some of my favourites are Aziza and Asmahan.

Aziza’s drum solo choreographies are always creative and fun:

Asmahan having fun with her musicians. Just watch :) :

You can have too much of a good thing….I have a love/hate relationship with drum solos. The fact that they are so good for showing off the very best you can do in an audience-friendly way means that they get done an awful lot. At some shows it can feel like every second dance is a drum solo, sometimes because it is and sometimes because dancers insist on sticking one on to the end of their music (competitions are particularly bad for this). You’ve just enjoyed some lovely soulful tarab and then you hear the tell tale “tak, tak…” that means a drum solo is about to be committed. After the first couple I’m not thinking “Oh good, a drum solo!” but “Here we go again…is the bar still open?”. It’s a shame when you’ve got lots of very good dancers, but when everyone is doing the same thing it’s just too much. I very rarely dance drum solos at events for dancers for this reason.

But I still like them :) I decided to teach my improvers class about Arabic rhythms this term, which I thought would go nicely with a drum solo choreography, and once I started working on it I found myself enjoying it. I might just have to choreograph a new one for myself. So I’m definitely back in the “love” phase!