Ahlan wa Sahlan 2013

Aleya of Cairo has put together a fantastic compilation from the Ahlan wa Sahlan opening gala featuring Katia, Aziza, Soraya and Dina:

You should definitely watch the whole thing (especially Aziza who is just AMAZING). If you’re interested in seeing how Egyptian-style dancers do drum solos there are a few good examples here: Katia at 1:05, Aziza at 7:20 and Soraya at 10:06. When I was writing a post on drum solos it was quite hard to find decent videos so I was pleased to see this.

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.

I do more than just go to Egypt, honest…

…I just happen to have gone there a lot recently!

My second trip to Cairo this year was at the end of May. It was also centred around bellydancing, but in a very different way to my last holiday. I went for a week long dancing course given by Randa Kamel, who as all my students know is my greatest inspiration. When it was announce last year that she would be doing this I waited for all of one week before rushing to the bank to put my deposit down and make sure I had a place!

The course took place at the Barcelo Three Pyramids hotel on Haram Street in Giza. This is the main road that leads you to the famous pyramids, and you could get a lovely view of them from the bar at the top of the hotel. Other than that the location is fairly unremarkable, there was a small mall near the hotel and not much else. The nightclubs were all still boarded up. However, the hotel itself was lovely, clean and modern with very helpful staff. Here’s a photo of the pool and shisha bar:

The pool at night

The pool at night

I could happily have spent all day lounging on one of those beds, but I had dance classes to go to!

On our first night everyone on the course went to the Nile Maxim for a special show with Randa. We were met by a folklore group:

Band and dancers

Our escort to the boat

who played and danced for us before leading us to the boat. There was a small band and singers to entertain us as we ate, followed by the tannoura dancer (scroll down for a photo, he did the same set as last time I was there). Then…..Randa! I was far too entranced to take photos, but there are a few video clips on YouTube taken by one of the girls. Randa did two sets as usual, then the other guests left the boat and the course participants had a special extra performance! She did oriental, baladi, saidi, shaabi and for the first time, Alexandrian. It was the best show I have ever seen her do and as you know I’ve been to a fair few :)

Our classes started the next day. The timetable had 1 1/2 hours warm up, 1 1/2 hours technique, a break for lunch, then 3 hours choreography. As the week went on the choreography took over the technique class, we had 4 to learn, all between 5 and 8 minutes long so it’s not entirely surprising. It was so good to have the opportunity to train like this. Most workshops I’ve been to, even ones ostensibly for advanced dancers, end up having to cater for a mixed range of abilities and fitness levels. Here there was no dumbing down, no stopping for a 5 minute break which drags out to 10, 15 minutes…no cries of “We’re too tired! We can’t do it!”. Even when faced with a daunting looking combination from a choreography we could be confident that Randa would break it down for us and get us all doing it in the end. It was hard work but oh so worth it. My head is full of new ideas but I need time and practice to process them all, although a few have been creeping into my classes and performances already.

Workshop room

Our workshop room - how's that for inspiration, a giant poster of Randa with the caption "There are no limits to dance"

There were 47 people on the course and the room was big enough for all of us. Randa taught all the classes except the warm ups, although she would sometimes sit in and correct people.

The days were so busy most people were exhausted, but for those who still had energy there was a competition. The heats took two nights and the final was on the last night. It looked like a lot of hard work for everyone who took part, I admire them very much for that, but I’m glad I wasn’t taking part! The final was very exciting, almost all the dancers performed with the band which was a real challenge. Some were clearly more comfortable than others in this situation and the top three were outstanding. I have mixed feelings about competitions which I think I wil write about at another time.

We had a day off in the middle of the week when were taken out for a relaxing day by a pool at a holiday village called El Ezba. Bliss :)

The pool

The pool

 

Camel by the pool

You could ride a camel by the pool - and why not?

Five trips to Egypt and I still haven’t ridden a camel…I’ll just have to go back.

I snuck off with a group of die hards one night to catch Dina’s show at the Semiramis. The curfew was still in force from 2:00am until 5:00am, so it was a pretty safe bet we’d still be in the nightclub at 5:00am. The first few of us arrived at midnight to claim our table, and over the next hour the rest of the group arrived. Some had had a full day of classes, an excursion to the Khan El Khalili and were still up for the show! Dina came on at around 3:00am and gave us a good 45-50 minutes. She managed three lighting quick costume changes, I imagine her dressing room is like a formula one pit stop to get her in and out so quickly. I always enjoy watching Dina, and it’s true what everyone says, you don’t really appreciate her until you see her live. We left ever so slightly before curfew and managed to get back to our hotel without being arrested :) I don’t think the curfew was ever taken very seriously.

On the last night of the week there was the final of the competition and also the chance for course participants to dance with the band if they wanted (for a fee of course). I hadn’t known this would be an option so I hadn’t brought a costume with me, but Randa arranged for me to borrow one from her designer Hisham Osman. Initially she’d offered to lend me one of hers (!!!) but hadn’t had the time to send home for it, which was understandable. So after about 6 hours sleep in 48 hours and running on pure adrenaline I danced with Randa’s band and it was the most incredible feeling. You can see the result on my video page if you like.

Me and Randa's band

Dancing with a band in Cairo, it doesn't get better than this!

There are unconfirmed plans to run the course again next year along with a follow up course. I will be there – of course.