Aziza of Cairo (again!)

Here’s a fab video of Aziza. If you’re one of those dancers who can’t bear Shik Shak Shok give it a go and see if she can rehabilitate it for you. Also noteworthy for having a drum solo at the end, typically understated Egyptian style but WOW that shimmy just blows you away!

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 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!

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.

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.

Drum Solos

Drum solos are for show offs, and I mean this in a good way. Dancers use them to show off their technique and personality. As a very broad rule of thumb, dancers in the West tend to put more emphasis on the technique, whilst Egyptian dancers put more emphasis on the personality.

The sharp beats of the drum invite crisp, precise technique, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything you do must be percussive and staccato. Give the audience some breathing space with some softer moves, or even some stillness. Try not to overcomplicate things. Daria Miskevich has incredible technique and energy but watch her closely and you’ll see that actually she isn’t dancing at a million miles an hour and throwing in layer after layer of moves. She is varying her pace and using those showstopper moves sparingly for maximum effect.

At the other end of the showing off spectrum, where it’s all about personality, here is Camelia. Camelia is wild on stage, a complete free spirit. She gets away with things that noone else could! She is definitely one of those dancers who divide opinions. She reminds me of a little girl, hyped up on sugar, desperate to be the centre of attention! I love watching her. The drum solo starts at 4:55.

EDIT: This video has been made private 🙁 if I find another Camelia drum solo I’ll update this post.

The eyebrow wiggle! 6:25 if you missed it 🙂 I’m sure the whole performance is not to everyone’s taste, but she is clearly just up there having fun and I admire that.

The rhythms and patterns in drum solos are easy for the average audience to listen to and understand, so it’s nice to be able to play with those patterns in unexpected ways. Personally, I like a dancer who can surprise me and make me laugh. There is no obvious emotion in the music so you need to bring something of yourself to your dance. I’ve seen dancers who perform their (technically admirable) drum solos with just one expression on their face and it just bores me. Most dancers manage to find their own balance between technique and personality. Some of my favourites are Aziza and Asmahan.

Aziza’s drum solo choreographies are always creative and fun:

Asmahan having fun with her musicians. Just watch 🙂 :

You can have too much of a good thing….I have a love/hate relationship with drum solos. The fact that they are so good for showing off the very best you can do in an audience-friendly way means that they get done an awful lot. At some shows it can feel like every second dance is a drum solo, sometimes because it is and sometimes because dancers insist on sticking one on to the end of their music (competitions are particularly bad for this). You’ve just enjoyed some lovely soulful tarab and then you hear the tell tale “tak, tak…” that means a drum solo is about to be committed. After the first couple I’m not thinking “Oh good, a drum solo!” but “Here we go again…is the bar still open?”. It’s a shame when you’ve got lots of very good dancers, but when everyone is doing the same thing it’s just too much. I very rarely dance drum solos at events for dancers for this reason.

But I still like them 🙂 I decided to teach my improvers class about Arabic rhythms this term, which I thought would go nicely with a drum solo choreography, and once I started working on it I found myself enjoying it. I might just have to choreograph a new one for myself. So I’m definitely back in the “love” phase!