How did you start?

Chatting with some teacher friends the other day I was struck by the different ways we all came to bellydance. Some people start bellydancing for fun, for fitness, to make friends, to connect with their heritage, to learn about a new culture, to gain confidence, to do something a bit unusual…this is my story.

I was drawn to bellydance because I’d heard the “a dance by women, for women” line, which resonated nicely with my proto-feminist self. I remember saving an article about bellydance from a Sunday newspaper and going back to read it time and time again. When I saw a poster for classes in a local alternative/hippy type shop I went along and never looked back. Here I am 15 years later :)

Of course I soon learned that “by women, for women” wasn’t really true. Seeing Khaled dance for the first time definitely knocked any traces of that out of my head :) and he has been on of my very favourite dancers and teachers ever since. I think a lot of people probably have ideas about bellydance when they start which aren’t true – sometimes wishtory, fantasy or outright misinformation – but what you learn in class to replace those ideas is hopefully far more interesting than the fantasy and is what will keep you bellydancing for a long time!

So if my initial idea about what bellydancing was turned out to be wrong, what kept me doing it? Simply, I fell in love with the music and this way of moving. I’ve always loved music, but I didn’t spend my childhood dancing. I did the obligatory little girl ballet classes, then found that swimming suited me more so that was that. I’d watch my friends at school discos, unable to do what they did. It felt wrong on me, so I perfected the nervous teenage shuffle instead. Then I found bellydance and it just felt RIGHT. I don’t have a body suited for ballet, or jazz, or contemporary dance but with bellydance it didn’t matter if I wasn’t thin as a whippet, or couldn’t do the splits. I could move my hips and that was all that was needed.

Of course there are other things that have kept me dancing and part of the dance community, principally the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, but it was that initial “Hey, I CAN do this!” that got me hooked.

Performances

My students have a lot of performances coming up, and they are all on the same weekend! Next Saturday I’m taking a group to a hafla in Huntingdon (hosted by Caroline with special guest star Kay Taylor) where we’ll be dancing a drum solo. It’s a dance I first taught a few years ago and the group seemed to like it, so we performed it quite a lot. When new people joined the class I taught it again, and again, and tried to resist the temptation to tweak it along the way :) I think I will have to choreograph a new drum solo for us so I can use all my new ideas! As well as the group dance three of my students will be performing solos. I love watching my students blossom and develop their own dances, although I turn into a Stage Mother, excited and nervous for them in equal parts. Far more so than for my own performances!

On Sunday a bigger group will be taking part in the Big Weekend on Parker’s Piece in Cambridge. This is a celebration of world music and dance and is a wonderful family day out. I love going to it and was delighted to be asked to be in it. This will be the third year my group has taken part. We’ve spent this term preparing enough dances for a 30 minute set, which is a lot of work. I like to have plenty of variety for such a long performance, and if you come to watch you’ll see modern Egyptian, saidi, pop, classical and a magency which includes oriental, baladi, saidi, khaleegy as well as different props – you see why this is such hard work! Everyone has pulled together to make the group dances really exciting. I’ll be doing some solos to give them a break and then we’ll all teach the audience some moves and get them up and dancing. Then it will be time for a well earned ice cream (or possibly beer) before heading off to enjoy the rest of the day. Look out for sparkly ladies in red, they’ll be the ones dancing right at the front :)

A week in Cairo after the revolution

Copied from Facebook.

Wikipedia tells me there are 79 million people in Egypt, so I’d guess there are 79 million opinions on what happened during the revolution and what can and should happen after it. I don’t need to add to that number. However, a fair number of people who have me listed as a friend have an interest in Egypt from a dance tourism perspective and I thought you might like to hear about my recent trip to Cairo.

This wasn’t some kind of intrepid post-revolutionary expedition. It was a dance holiday organised by Kay Taylor of Farida Adventures, arranged almost a year ago for me and a group of my students. We planned a week full of a mixture of sightseeing and dance activities, early mornings and late nights. After January 25th we all anxiously watched the news, swapped emails and discussed the latest developments and possibilities in class. The groups before us had to cancel or postpone their trips, but a week before ours Kay was receiving good reports from her friends in Cairo and most of our group decided to go ahead with the holiday. The FCO changed its travel advice the day before Kay and I flew out!

So what did we find?

As I stepped out of the car outside out hotel in downtown Cairo I was struck by the fact that nothing had apparently changed since I was last there in December. It was 11:00pm and the pavements were crowded with shoppers and stalls, the shops and takeaways blazing with light and noise.

Cairo traffic

Traffic outside the Khal El Khalili at around 7:00pm. It's always rush hour in Cairo!

After some time changes became apparent, the stallholders were doing a roaring trade in patriotic merchandise (flags of all sizes, T-shirts, car stickers) and there were more soldiers and tanks than I remembered. To a westerner such a pronounced military presence can be alarming, but then you notice that most soliders are distinctly at ease (with a cigarette dangling from one hand) and many tanks are being used as props for a photo opportunity. Yes, we did have a photo taken with our “local” tank!

Demonstration

Demonstrators in Tahrir Square

Tourist sites were open. The Pyramids at Giza were almost deserted, the usual hordes of tourists at the foot of the great pyramid replaced by horse and camel owners desperate for business. Entrance to the great pyramid is usually limited to 300 people per day, meaning you have to be quick if you want a ticket, but there was no problem getting tickets and there were only 15 people inside. Likewise the queues at the Egyptian Museum to see the Tutankhamun exhibition, notoriously lengthy, were apparently non-existant. When we chartered a felucca we were practically the only ones on the river. The Khan El Khalili was open but not as bustling as usual, and shops started to shut early because of the midnight curfew. A lot of the jewellery shops had empty windows. The huge drop in the number of tourists is clearly having a devastating effect on the tourism industry in Cairo.

The Great Pyramid at Giza

Note the distinct lack of tourists

The costumiers have been working hard throughout the revolution. How many of us dancers realise quite how many people depend on our lust for costumes to make their living? I bought costumes from Eman Zaki and Sahar Okasha, who both have new collections just waiting to be worn…and as an aside, for goodness sake pay for your costume. I was shocked by some of the stories I heard. There were also visits to Hanan, Pharonics and Aziz.

Lots of costumes all over the place!

Hanan's atelier after we had finished

For anyone wanting to watch some dancing the Nile dinner cruise boats are sailing, the Nile Pharon is apparently sailing every day and was almost full on our cruise- there were three wedding parties there! The Nile Maxim wasn’t quite so busy, but we were treated to Randa’s first show in a month and had the additional bonus of a dance from Asmahan who was in the audience. The clubs on Haram Street are boarded up and charred, a very sad sight. The seedy nightclub near our hotel appeared to be open for business but we didn’t investigate! Dina was not dancing at the Semiramis, maybe she will be back in time for another group to enjoy her show in the near future. As with all Kay’s trips we had a party night graciously hosted by Yasmina with entertainment from her adorable niece, some amazing Nubian dancers and the wonderful Dandesh, who had been coaxed into dancing for us!

Magda in a pink costume

Magda on the Nile Pharon

 

Tannoura

The tannoura dancer on the Nile Maxim

As far as personal safety is concerned I think we all felt safe and welcomed by the people we met. Walking back to the hotel to beat the curfew (which isn’t exactly strictly observed!) felt safer than walking in London. Yes, there are still demonstrations happening on Fridays but these are mostly confined to Tahrir Square which is a very small part of Cairo. It’s advisable to avoid it just because the demonstrations make the traffic even worse!

Sign saying "Egypt Land of Peace"

The young Egyptians we met were very keen to reassure us that we were welcome and safe

If you’re thinking of a holiday in Egypt, do it. Everything is in your favour: flight prices, exchange rate, lack of crowds, plus you will be making a big difference to people who depend on tourism to put food on their table. It’s an amazing country which has a tough road ahead of it. Even better, go on a Farida Adventure! What I’ve written here barely covers half of what we did. This was my third trip with Kay and I hope there will be many more to come, inshallah…

Oops!

I’ve just realised that I didn’t have some email settings quite right, and discovered a whole bunch of messages I didn’t know I had. So if you’ve emailed me in the past three weeks and haven’t had a reply I do apologise, I wasn’t ignoring you, honest! Everything should be working now *crosses fingers, touches wood, looks around for a black cat*