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 4

Everyone managed to drag themselves out of bed in time to go to the Hassan Hassan show at Felfela village. I had to stop off for a fitting at Eman’s so I missed the excitement of the tuk tuk rides and the earlier acts on the bill (including a comedian who went down like a lead balloon at the English speaking table, unsurprisingly). I and the other two arrived just in time to see the show. It’s a selection of folklore dances with a very loose storyline and lots of knockabout humour which everyone can appreciate. The troupe consists of three men and three women, plus Hassan, who sings and dances his way through every single number – he has incredible energy! We saw haggala, tannoura (“Oh good, more tannoura. We haven’t seen enough of those this week.”), saidi (including a cameo from my husband!) and a sketch with soldiers (and their newest recruit, Moyra!). In fact only one of the styles we studied in our lesson in the end :) so I will just have to find some videos for my students to watch!

It’s the end of the week and with everything we’ve crammed in people are starting to get tired so it was a quiet evening after that, although a small group squeezed in a singing lesson with Emad. I hope we’ll be hearing the results at the party night :) Dinner was at Abu Sid, a gorgeous restaurant nearby with lovely food and a particularly special cocktail – asab (sugar cane juice) and tequila. This proved very popular with the group, so much so that we drank them out of asab! Three of us went on to Outside, a bar at the Nile Maxim, to hear Ellie of London sing at their Friday night party. This was something different again, a chance to see how young Egyptians and expats let their hair down and party. It was lots of fun, great atmosphere and a nice international mix of music which got everyone up and dancing, but we called it a night at 1:00am so as not to be too tired for our final day.

That day began with something new to me – camel riding! Yes, despite my many trips to Egypt I have never ridden a camel before and I’m sorry I put it off so long because it is great fun. I never knew what an extraordinary range of noises they make. Yasmina took us to the stable she uses, so we knew the animals there were well looked after, and we spent an hour riding around with a few stops for photos with the pyramids in the background. Camel riding will be compulsory for everyone on the next trip!

Most people have gone off to the Moroccan spa to have the camel dirt and smell scrubbed off them before going back to Yasmina’s for our final night party. I’m heading off for a little more shopping (can’t quite believe I haven’t bought any shoes yet!) but don’t worry, I’ll shower before the party…

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!

First day of the course

As I may have mentioned, once or twice, I’m in Egypt again doing Randa Kamel’s week long course. I arrived late on Tuesday night (well,technically it was early on Wednesday morning) then had a relaxing morning getting to meet some of the new girls and catching up with returning students. I’m not the only one who thinks the course is worth doing again, in fact I think most people here have done it once (or even twice!) before. Randa has that sort of effect on you :) it’s a fantastic atmosphere, it’s like being at a family reunion. We all live so far away but dance has brought us together.

Last night was the opening show at the Nile Maxim. We were met off the coach by a group of saidi dancers. Wow, mizmars are loud! They played and danced and sang for us, of course we danced as well, especially when the pantomime horse came out! I do love a pantomime horse. They were followed by a tannoura set and then finally we were allowed on the boat itself.

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I’m going to have to apologise to you because I took almost no photos of the show! I don’t like watching from behind a camera and I know that out official photographer Tracey Gibbs will have some spectacular pictures so I decided not to bother. It was a FANTASTIC show. Randa danced oriental, saidi, Alexandrian, shaabi and baladi. She is incredible and I think the love and cheers and clapping from all around the room lifted her even higher. Some of us may have had a few tears in our eyes :) when I watch Randa I just think “YES. THIS is what it’s about, this is why I dance!”

I will share one photo, and this one I took especially for Candi to show that all the best people stand on chairs!

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We also had some bamboutiyya and saidi from Bedru, who is teaching our warm ups and folklore this time. I think he was at a bit of a disadvantage coming on after Randa and her band. As a special treat we also had the singer Rico and his band, who had us all up dancing, and finally a fashion show with a rather incongruous soundtrack of 80s cheese! I think some of the Egyptians were slightly baffled by our YMCA conga but they joined in anyway :)

It was a brilliant was to start the week but there were some tired faces at breakfast this morning. Randa went easy on us with some gentle technique, looking at ways to get on stage with different rhythms. I learned some new rhythms, which was good, and new ways for thinking about an entrance. We continued this afternoon by thinking about choreography but everything descended into chaos when two delicious cakes arrived for two birthday girls. You can’t keep dancers away from cake for too long.

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One last photo for you:  this is the new poster in the ballroom to inspire us as we dance. Imagine my delight when I realised that not only were there lovely pictures of Randa, but also the silhouette of that dancer! You’ll have to look quite carefully but I promise you that she’s there.

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Cairo Aziza

As opposed to Portland Aziza, the film Aziza, the piece of music Aziza or any other dancers called Aziza!

Aziza from Cairo is one of the hottest Egyptian dancers at the moment. She teaches at Ahlan Wa Sahlan and travels round the world to teach at other festivals – I hear a rumour that the UK might be on her list for next year…She also models for Sahar Okasha, and I am deeply jealous of her for this :) I first saw Aziza in 2010 when our group went to Casino El Leyl on the Pyramids Road. We’d been tipped off about the fantastic new dancer they had and we certainly weren’t disappointed! She had clear influences from Dina and Randa at that time but I think that now she has a definite style all of her own. There’s an old-fashioned quality to her, the large, soft hip and arm movements, but she also has a lot of strength and drama which is totally modern Cairo style.

Let’s have some videos!
Some Dina influence in the costume here! A video from April 2010.

A more recent video, filmed by Caroline Afifi in November last year. I think Aziza looks a lot more powerful here. Also worh watching for the amount of money which is being thrown!

One more, from December’s Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival. I think most dancers make an extra effort when they’re performing for other dancers.