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!

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…

2011

New Year’s resolution: update this blog more often! There are so many exciting things going on this year, I must make the time to write about them.

For now,let me point you towards the latest issue of Nafoura magazine: http://www.nafouramagazine.com/NAFOURA_Magazine/e-Magazine.html

There’s a really interesting interview with Yasmina. She speaks candidly about working as a dancer in Cairo and how things have changed in her time there. For anyone who thinks the life of a dancer is a glamorous one, this will open your eyes!

Celebrating Dance

This weekend I went to Celebrating Dance, a bellydance festival held in Torquay and run by Afra Al Kahira. It’s the first time I’ve been, and I was delighted to be one of the guest teachers. I taught two choreography workshops. The first was to an unusual version of the classic “Inta Omri”, played by the rock band Khalas. I usually prefer to dance to classic versions of Oum Kalsoum’s music (see my videos page!) but this one has such power and drama that I just had to do something with it. Anyway, it’s become a firm favourite of mine and I’m glad to be able to share it with other people. I think the choreography was a bit of a shock to the system for some students in the workshop, but they all tried really hard and got through the whole thing in just two hours. Phew!

On Sunday I was using more conventional music – “Zeina”. I think this song is so beautiful and simple that it would be a shame to dance all over it. Not everything has to go at 100 miles an hour and have 5 different layers at all times! We were able to take our time and really listen to what was happening in the music and think about how that could be reflected in out dancing. For anyone who was in that workshop, here is the video of Samia Gamal dancing to “Zeina”:

Samia Gamal

There was a show on Saturday night featuring the guest teachers: Yasmina, Khalida, Artemisia, Vashti, Emma Pyke, Deborah, Covert Bling, Nikki Livermore, Sara Shrapnell and me! I was slightly disconcerted by the number of vampires in the audience :) but they were all very enthusiastic. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the show.

One of the lovely things about the festival was the fact that everything took place in the same venue, you were never more than 5 minutes away from anything. The hotel is part of a sprawling leisure complex with an old-fasioned air of English Riviera grandeur, very close to the sea – not that there was any time for playing on the beach (although I did sneak in a few lengths of the pool inbetween workshops)! Here’s a photo of the room where Yasmina taught some workshops:

The Arlington room

There was really nice food available, served in time to allow us all to get to the evening events. I’ve never been to a bellydance festival where you can have a three course meal with wine before the show! I could get used to this…. if only Torquay wasn’t so far from where I live!