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.

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!

Call of Arabia

Oh how I envy dancers who work with a band all the time!

Tomorrow night (Saturday 29th October) I’m taking part in “The Call of Arabia”, a new show being produced by The Arab Quarter http://www.thebloomsbury.com/event/run/1576 go buy a ticket if you haven’t already :)

On Wednesday I had rehearsals with the band, along with Melanie Norman and Anne White. It was just great being able to work with Hassan (tabla, vocals) and George (keyboards), deciding which parts of each song to do, which bits should be longer or shorter, how the introduction should sound, what rhythms to use…in short, to totally customise the song. Rather tricky to get such a good result from a CD without access to an editing suite and a sound engineer. When Emile (violin) and Bashir (ney) arrived the sound just filled the studio, it was glorious. I will do my best to make my dancing live up to their music :) I’m really looking forward to tomorrow night.

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.

Music

In Egypt the norm is for dancers to perform to live music. Their orchestras can range from the equivalent of a fancy surround sound speaker system to a battered old CD player that skips if you look at it the wrong way, but the music is still live. In the UK CDs are the norm. Some parts of the country are lucky enough to have thriving communities of Arabic musicians, such as the Nile Band in Manchester, so dancers there have the opportunity to enjoy social dancing and performance with live music.

Cambridge is not one of those areas! If anyone knows differently I’d love to hear from you… *dreams of own orchestra*…back to reality. I’ve been bringing artists to Cambridge for the past three years to share the joy and magic of dancing with a band, we’ve had Brothers of the Baladi here twice and I’ve just arranged for the Arab Quarter to make a return visit (put 26th March in your diary now and check back in the New Year for tickets!). Last week I went to Caroline’s hafla in Huntingdon where Sheikh Taha, Tim Garside and Dave Murray entertained us with their music. As part of the show a few dancers performed (improvised!) with them and I was delighted to be one of them. With that musical line up there was no way I was doing anything other than some lovely, lovely baladi, so I asked for “Aminti Billah”.  There’s just nothing like dancing to live music, the excitement of not knowing quite what will happen and where the music will take you, the fact that the musicians respond to your dancing so your performance becomes a true collaboration, the wonderful moments when you’re all perfectly in synch in mind and body. Of course it’s different again if you’re a dancer in Egypt and can sack your band if they play a wrong note!