Saturday, May 21, 2016

Being the surprised tourist in Beijing..(Blog 2, May 2016 from China)

I have just had the good fortune to Beijing for 4 days and although I knew I'd like the city, I did have a few surprises along the way... These are all very tourist based. The dance version is for my next blog entry (I thought I could combine them, but am surprised while writing them how many there are!!!!)

1. Blue sky! Yes, renowned for its horrific Beijing pulled out all the stops for me and I was lucky enough to have warm blue skies everyday! When the pollution in China is bad it swamps even the sandstorm days in Cairo, so I felt very relieved that you lungs were to get a break these days. Very unexpected!

2. Sunburn! Ok, so this is linked to number 1, but even living in Cairo for 10 rarely got sunburn just from walking about. Great to see the sun, and get a start on my summer colour, but strap lines- not so great when I am performing in 2 days time (in Changsha). Oops!

3. Tourists! I should have expected it. I know I should, but for some reason I didn't expect to see SO many chinese tourists in China. There were a few other foreigners too, but they too were jostled roughly by large groups of home crowd, all wearing matching Tshirts or caps!   

4. Forbidden city treasures! It surprised me that the forbidden city was just SO huge (and that my 'guides' thought we would get round it all in 1.5hrs!!!) and SO busy. The style of tourism is rush in, get to the front, photograph whatever it is, maybe stand there to post it onto wechat and block the view for all, or jostle your way back through the crowd again. Elbows and phones everywhere. I was therefore amazed that the entrance fee to the treasure hall seemed enough to deter the majority of the crowds, despise being only 10yuan (about £1). This area was exactly what I imagined the forbidden city to be like, area of calm, no throngs of people, the chances to imagine what life would have been like 500 years ago! I felt so lucky to have this time. I still don't feel I have seen half of it and am already looking forward to my return journey!

5. Spiders! So, not all the surprises were good!! One evening I was taken to a street in Beijing, set up for the tourists I believe and here there were selling all sorts of local delicacies, pork shawarma (worth a mention for my friends in Cairo!!), cheese coated fried banana (???), noodles and tofu of every shape, size and colour, deep fried crab and lobster, snake, sliced and whole intestines of every animal you can think of, yellow bean soup (which smelt like sewers, no, in fact it was worse than the sewer!!) and then there was the creepy crawlies. Maggots, huge centipedes, cockroaches, scorpions and one I wasn't expecting at all, huge black spiders which were the size of tarantulas. Put it this way, they looked too big to fit in one mouthful (if you can even contemplate that idea, I felt sick looking at them!). Thankfully we were NOT eating there! Instead we went to a restaurant that was famous for its 'sheep neck' which I have to admit to really not liking the idea of, however it was delicious, and infinitely preferable to the alternatives! Everything I travel  to China people say "oh no, the food is horrible!" And I am always stunned because I have always had amazing meals here. In fact, I usually have to work really hard not to put on weight in my travels here. Now, after seeing this street, I understand where this idea has come from! Oh. But it case you think it's all bad- you have to try 'Rose pancakes'. These wee things are manna from heaven!

******CAUTION*****- scroll down v quickly past next photo if spiders make you squeamish!!!!

6. Christmas songs! It is May but I have heard an annoying little girl sing 'jingle bells' repeatedly (Bingo drinks advertising) and a pack of dogs barking 'decks the halls' (not sure what that advert was for!!). Whatever next? I will tell you what. A cat food advert on tv based around a man baking Christmas cookies with a cigarette dangling from his lips, his ash falling into the dough. I kept waiting for it to be a health and safety ad but no. They ate the cookies with smiles on their faces. All except the cat. Clever cat. And then there was Nat King Cole sings Christmas- the album, being played in Starbucks. I really had to double check a few times this trip that is wasn't actually December!

7. Don't talk politics! So on my first night in Beijing I went for Peking Duck which was amazingly delicious. Later I was told why it's special, which shouldn't have been a surprise but I just hadn't really thought about it; how they contain and force feed the birds etc. Knowing that has put me off somewhat now! The duck restaurant was right next to T square. I don't know much Chinese history, but I do know about some of the stuff that happened here and when I asked my Chinese friends they would barely talk about it. At all. A couple of days later I asked again a question which related to when all the culture was destroyed, the wall broken down in Beijing and books burned, amongst other things. Again, no one would talk about it. So I figured it really was a closed country and perhaps people were scared to talk. So imagine my surprise when on the way to the airport the taxi driver talked the whole way saying he wants a revolution in China, because in his opinion, currently there are no human rights! It's all or nothing it would seem!

...... And that's quite enough surprises for one blog... Next one is all about Bellydance!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Rules and Systems in China, and in Bellydance! (Blog 1 from China 2016...)

I'm just back from 3 weeks teaching around China!

I actually arrived in uk yesterday morning. Switched on social media on arrival, mid transit, in Amsterdam, first thing I saw was breaking news about Egypt Air flight going missing. I instantly felt devastated and horrified and decided I couldn't face it all yet so switched off the iPad again. Wasn't easy stepping onto a plane minutes after it either.....

Today, I am incredibly sad for the victims and also for this compacting blow to Egypt's tourist economy. I can't imagine waiting at an airport for a plane that doesn't show. The horror for those family and friends. My thoughts and love goes out to all involved.

I have now had some sleep and am more or less back in uk time zone so I feel a little more able to reconnect with the world again and, I will be posting some blog articles I wrote while in China and didn't have access to post (damn the great firewall of China!).... hope you enjoy!

Blog 1 from China...Rules and Systems in China and in Bellydance.

I might be stating the obvious, or falling for stereotypes, but in my experience it does seem that the Chinese like rules. By like, I mean 'really' like them.

In Chongqing this week, going to cross a road, I am told "No No No! you must never cross the roads in Chongqing, you must use the bridges and tunnels, it's too dangerous". A little extreme I felt, given my 10 years experience of road crossing in Cairo, but ok, if that is a law here, I will do as I am told. However, with rules, of course, comes rule breakers. The following morning I am made fun of by another girl when I am insistent that we should take the long way in order to use the bridge! She got her way, and we crossed with ease and without repercussion (although the vast majority of people it should be said, were indeed using the bridges).

I am writing this in my first moment of (unexpected) free time since arriving in China one week ago. My flight from Chongqing was delayed. No one advised any of us of this delay. This was an occasion where a system that should work smoothly, failed. No announcements and no message on the departures board. The result; chaos. Almost all the passengers were thronged around the gate and the two 'rabbit in headlights' flight attendants who were manning it. They didn't look like they knew what was going on either. Obviously, since I don't speak Chinese, perhaps they were reassuring people and asking for patience, however, that wasn't the impression I was getting from the faces around me. I couldn't find a single person who spoke English and after asking a couple of people, both of whom looked mortally embarrassed when they couldn't reply, I decided that rather than embarrass anyone else, I would just sit it out.  Two hours later than expected we were permitted to board and at last told why the delay. A tyre needed changed. I'd never thought of a plane getting a flat tyre before. What a frightening thought!!!!

I can't help thinking how these two instances in attitudes to rules and systems relate to Bellydance. I can't help myself!

I remember early days of learning technique and indeed of teaching it. "You must put your arms like this, your feet like that, you must move to this part of the music in this particular way".

This is like "you must use the footbridge to cross the road".

This way will always fit. It is sensible and safe.

Only once you have enough experience behind you  should you break these initial rules (eg dealing with traffic in Cairo or in this analogy have mastered these basic moves and steps). Sometimes when you dance you will still choose to play it safe and that's ok, but sometimes you will take the riskier, more exciting (aka adrenaline producing) route.

Thankfully in dance as opposed to road crossing, the benefits of doing this are much greater (for the performer and the audience) and the risks potentially much lower! Do keep in mind though that some of these 'rules' a dance teacher will give you are there to protect you from injury, so only bend these rules when you know you have the strength and control to deal with the consequences! Breaking some of the rules in dance can make space in which to discover your own personal dance style and be more creative and exciting. Even the top Egyptian artists don't all perform or teach even a basic hip drop in the same way, so keep this in mind when learning and exploring for yourself different ways to do even the things you previously thought were written in stone.

My airport story made me think of the choreography v improvisation debate.

There is a recognized international system for boarding a plane. You have your gate number and boarding time on your boarding pass and if there are any changes they will be shown on the board. Chaos happened today because the board was not used as it should, the system failed!

This to me is like a choreography. There are steps, in a specific order and if all goes well then you will succeed in achieving what you set out to do. Things will run smoothly.

If however the choreography doesn't go to plan, you forget it, or the stage doesn't allow you do perform the moves you wanted, or someone gets in the way, you have the 'board of Improvisation' to fall back on. Assuming you have practiced free-styling then hopefully that will take away the fear and uncertainty you might feel at this point and see you through to the end of the show or at least until you can pick up your choreography again.

However, if you don't have improvisational skills, you have nothing to draw on, it is just like today when that board stayed blank for 2 hours; chaos!

So, even if right now you think you will always choose to perform choreography over improvisation, make sure that your improv skills are up to scratch anyway, just in case that 'flight is delayed'. Who knows, you may even end up preferring that method of performance eventually anyway!

I'm airborne now, heading to Beijing to teach guess what.... improvisation skills! You'd never have guessed it, would you?!

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Lorna's 2016 workshop schedule so far...

Some of my upcoming workshop and performance details have not been confirmed yet... but so far, here are the 2016 ones that are! mainly UK, but China and Egypt too!

April 15-17- Shimmy by the Sea weekender ( www.shimmybythesea.com )
April 18- Hove- Tabla solo workshop ( www.nadiaundine.com/events-2/ )
April 22-24- Shimmy by the Sea weekender ( www.shimmybythesea.com )

April 27 -May 19 - China - Chongqing, Beijing, Changsha.

June 3- Manchester hafla (email: office@katycarmichael.co.uk
June 4- Manchester workshops (email: office@katycarmichael.co.uk)
June 5- Newcastle workshops ( Claire@bellydances.co.uk )

June 11- Glasgow workshops and Hafla ( www.glasgowfad.com )

June 25- Wales charity hafla ( elindiabellydance.webs.com/hothaflasfundraising.htm ) 
June 26- Wales workshops (Private event at the moment but contact me if interested and if spaces become available i will let you know!) 

July 2- Oxford workshops ( http://www.oxfordbellydanceclasses.org/bellydance-events-in-oxford/workshops-with-lorna-of-cairo/ )

July 8-10- Torquay Luxury Bellydance Spa break ( www.shonahagan.com/torquayholiday )

July 13- Cairo-  Nile Group festival workshop ( nilegroup.net )

September 10- Wolverhampton workshops and 'RaqsW6' Hafla ( www.shikidim.co.uk )

Sept 27-Oct 18 - China - Chengdu, Weihai, Wuxi

November 14-21- Cairo, Nile Group Festival - TBC 

Please contact me if you need more info re any of the above... or if you would like to host me in your area do let me know via email bellylorna@hotmail.com 

Apart from China and Egypt, most of these dates are in UK, however, there is talk of me coming to USA soon... so let me know if you are interested in that too as we are still at the drawing board stages!

Sunday, April 03, 2016

My BIG news....

I'm sitting with Star the cat on my lap, listening to Elissa on Nogoum fm radio, looking out at a grey sky, a church spire and the sound of church bells fill the air....

It's about time I tell you all my big news!

On 22nd March I celebrated 10 years living in Cairo.....

And on 25th March I packed up the last of my costumes and moved back to live again in Scotland! Yes, although I will always be 'Lorna of Cairo' I am no longer 'Lorna in Cairo'!

I have decided that I have at long last ticked the box that I went to Egypt to achieve. I have continually held down 3 major work contracts at Nile Pharaohs, Fairmont Nile City Hotel and Nile Maxim and worked with my own bands in each of them. I have danced at many weddings, parties, bars and clubs. I have learned enough Arabic to get by in most situations and Egyptian culture and habits now are so well mingled with my own that I still talk about 'us' and 'we' when discussing Egyptians, and I suspect I always will. I've 'lived the dream' as my auntie told me yesterday, which made me feel my life was over, but I reassured her that I was only transitioning into a different dream phase!

Of course I will be back so often to Cairo that some there may not even believe I am no longer based there! I want to keep myself up to date with everything there, the music the dance, the politics, the lifestyle. I believe I need that energy to inspire my dance, and I would miss it, and all the friends I have there, way to much otherwise. Who knows, I may even restart my group holidays to Cairo again if there is enough interest!

I am also looking forward to teaching there again in the next Nile Group festival, in July, which will be my next visit back. I still can't quite believe I have left. It's only been a week and I do feel that I should be getting on a plane and heading 'home' to Zamalek soon (I think the cold and rain in Edinburgh may be accelerating that desire!). I'm writing this blog post partially to keep my friends and supporters abreast of this major life change, but also to try and force the idea to sink into my own head that I have actually left!

As you know, I have been doing more and more workshops internationally recently and I have in particular enjoyed my many recent trips to China. My primary reason for returning to Scotland is on a personal level to be near family and friends here and on a professional level, to focus more on my international work. I love that through dance I have met so many lovely people all over the world and I feel it is now time to see a bit more of this wonderful world of ours!

So there you go! Apologies to those of you who had been planning a trip to come and see my show there, but who knows.... You may see me soon,  I will just have to come to you instead wherever you are!

On that note- if you are interested in hosting workshops with me do please contact me either via email bellylorna@hotmail.com or on Facebook! (I may also do a show or two when I visit Cairo too!)

I will share my upcoming world workshop schedule with you all as soon as I've got my feet under the table!

Apologies also to the very many people I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to in Cairo. I just couldn't. It was too emotional to leave even without all the farewells! I hope you understand and forgive me. We will party in July when I am back. It is not goodbye but rather, 'hashufku oriab!'  (See you all soon)

Thank you Egypt for all you have taught me, about the dance, but also about life and about myself. It's been a roller coaster of a ride, but any lows have always been more than made up with by the supreme highs! I will always look on my decade in your arms as the years that really formed who I am. I hope that in my future workshops and performances I can now take some of those lessons I've learned and share them around the world.

Oh and Egypt.... In return for spreading the love of your dance, music and culture around the world, if you could send some sunshine to me in Scotland that would be just perfect!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Surprise Edinburgh workshop! Sun 7th Feb

Wasn't planning to come to UK for a holiday... But January is always a quiet month in the entertainment and I saw that the temperature in Cairo was similar to Edinburgh, so I decided to come home and visit family and friends for a couple of weeks! 

While I am here, any excuse to dance, right?! 

So...... Why not come along to my workshops?

Sunday 7th Feb
Times still TBC. (But in the afternoon!) 
Lothian Dance Academy, 2 Rosefield Avenue Lane, Portobello, EH15 1AX

Workshop 1-Lorna's Cairo Technique. Dance along to new tunes as well as classics and learn Lorna's latest top moves from Cairo. Technique, musicality, attitude- a bit of everything really, but mainly LOTS of dance! 

Workshop 2- One Tune, Four dance styles. Lorna will help us find 4 completely different ways of dancing to one piece of music. We will look at musical interpretation and Lorna will give lots of suggestions for improvisation. 

Open level (but not suitable for complete beginners!) 

Workshop 1 £30
Workshop 1&2 £50
(Apologies but it is not currently possible to book for only workshop 2!) 

To book your places please contact ElspethSwishandhips@hotmail.co.uk or by Facebook message. Payment will be made by BANK TRANSFER ONLY ! 

Thursday, January 07, 2016

A dancer's Typical work night in Cairo!


well just about got my breath back now...

Christmas and New Year are out the way.... only they are not, because today is Christmas day in Cairo!

Happy New year to you all, and Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it on the 7th Jan!

I haven't written here, because I've been writing for another blog!! (traitor to myself!!!!)

A fellow dancer who I knew when she lived in Scotland, lives now in Australia and has a blog. Yasmin asked me to write an article about a typical night of work for me... my answer ended up being a super long one... so, rather than repeats bits of it,  here is the link , so you can check it out direct at the source and also read other dancers replies to the same question! Interesting reading... Hope you enjoy it!

A Typical Night in Cairo, by Lorna of Cairo

Friday, December 04, 2015

The show must go on......!

Yesterday I published a post about continuing to work for the past 9 months despite severe pain. Some of you have expressed surprise as to how I was able to do that. To be honest, I am pretty surprised at myself too! 

If you are a professional dancer like me I am sure you will have nights where you just can't get in the mood, or you are suffering either physical or emotional pain. How do you manage to get up on that stage and go for it, when it's the last thing you want to do?! Here's some of what goes on in my head and helps me put those sequins on when all I really want to do is get into my PJs and curl up with a good book in bed! 

The main thing is professionalism. 

This breaks down into two intrinsic elements: Brand value and income protection. 

Brand value- I have to show that I can deliver what has been promised. I cannot bring myself to let people down and have them think ill of me. I need people to know when they book me, they can trust me to be there. If I cancel, even with a really good excuse, like a slipped disk, I'd run the risk of breaking that trust and losing that client. 

When you run your own business you really do need to put your best foot forward or face the consequences. If you cancel work in Cairo, you run the high risk of never being offered a gig at that venue, or with that person again. There are other dancers out there and if they are forced to use another, they may not ask you back. Competition is steep. Money is seldom the reason most dancers I know have chosen this challenging occupation, however of course, we still all have rent and bills to pay. You can't afford to give the work away, you need to protect your current and future income. 

photo credit: www.MicheleDillon.com

Sickness, injury, whatever reason you wish you weren't going to work that night, now because of professionalism you have steeled yourself up for it. So how do you manage to paint on enough of a smile that will show the world you are not only there doing your job, but happy to be? We need to make that effort because there is nothing worse than watching a dancer who looks like she doesn't want to be there. 

For me it is all about slipping my feet into the shoes of my audience. Not literally! 

'The show must go on' attitude has always been strong in me, no matter what, since the beginning of my performing career. I have always thought 'there will be at least one person in that audience who has never seen Bellydance before and it is my duty to make sure they go away with as favourable an opinion as possible'. Educate them, if you will. 

Of course, you could argue that everyone in Cairo has seen Bellydance at one point or another so the above reasoning doesn't really apply unless I am performing at the time for a boat load of tourists or outside of Egypt. 

In Cairo my thinking is more in relation to how the general public view belly dancers. 

The vast majority of them really do see us as only one step up from prostitution, mainly due to the way Bellydance has always been portrayed in media. The dancer in films is always the 'bad' influence. Sadly. So when I set foot on a Cairo stage, I do so with the attitude that I want to show 'it's not like that'. Yes, it is sexy, but it is not crude or vulgar. There is elegance and skill involved too. 

That is always part of my purpose and the thing that gives me that energy boost to get on stage and 'prove' them wrong or at least challenge their preconceived prejudices. 

The third factor involved in that impetus to "get the show on the road", is entertainment. Everyone has struggles within their own lives and when you go out to see a show you want to be distracted from that and given the opportunity to smile, relax and have fun. To be entertained. If I can help even just one person in front of me do that through my dance, then I have made their world a slightly better place, even if just for that short time and that is, I think, a noble aim. 

These driving thoughts have been the main reasons I 'soldiered' on through the pain and depression. 

I didn't quit. I didn't give up. I wanted to make a difference.

To give me a valid reason for being a bellydancer.  Perhaps even to give me a 'reason for being'.

If you still are finding it hard to push yourself when you really aren't in the mood to dance remember than you always get that natural chemical reward too. When you dance your body releases endorphins and these can be thought of as 'the happy hormones'. It is unlikely that the world will weigh as heavy on your shoulders at the end of the dance than it did at the beginning. I cannot count the number of times I have literally been in tears in changing rooms before a show, depressed about something going on in my own life, but then been able to smile and even laugh, genuinely, on stage. That's the high. 

Dance is my drug of choice. It never fails to help me cheer up when I am down! I always feel better when I am dancing, or have just danced. 

I hope that whatever the difficulties you face in your life, they can also always be lessened through dance. Whether you are a professional dancer, or not!

Happy dancing! 

Thursday, December 03, 2015

To be, or not to be?

One night last week I was called over to a table after my show. Regular customers (a mixed group, all Egyptians) who decided that they had to tell me that had renamed me 'Samia Gamal for this generation'. 

I was somewhat perplexed. I don't look like her (I wish!) and although she has always inspired me and I love her, there are many other dancers whose style I am more influenced by. So I asked why. They were all jumping over each other to explain it to me (which shows me that they had actually been analyzing and discussing it together as a group!)

I was told that I always came across as "classy, elegant and intelligent when I dance and  in the way I interact with everyone, on and off stage". They have no idea how much that compliment means to me. Not commenting on my steps, or my body, or my costumes, or even my 'feeling', but seeing past all that to on my overall demeanor as a person. The 'me' inside the dancer. 

I'm actually welling up thinking about it. All the battles I have fought to be a dancer in this country. To fight against so many things that are out of my hands, from revolutions to pain and so many things in between. All these felt like they had been leading up to this moment. 

If I could have imagined what my biggest achievement would be I might have previously answered, dancing on a large stage with a huge orchestra, or dancing in a movie or being booked for more weddings than I could handle. Of course, those would be great too, and if anyone wants to help arrange these I wouldn't say no ! Actually scrape that, I might say no, it always depends on the cost (and sadly in this industry, in this country that cost is often one I am not prepared to pay!). 

The truth though was there, in a bar in Mohandiseen, being told by a group of people that they saw, recognized, appreciated and liked 'the person inside the dancer' was the acceptance I think I have been striving for all these years. It really moved me. (I tried not to embarrass them, or myself, by showing that too much though!!!!) . I guess it was reaffirmation that I hadn't been wasting all these years after all! 

I always thought 'making it' would be that people thought I was Egyptian because of the way I dance. However,  people have told me that many times over my 10 years here and, although fabulous to hear, it did indeed boost me on low days, it didn't really make me feel I succeeded. Or perhaps it did, at the time, and I have just moved the goalposts. I do that I lot I have noticed. Good way to improve, bad way to ever feel content! 

So the moral of all this, if there needs to be one, is that the more I allow myself to dance honestly, as me, not 'trying to be Egyptian' but just 'being me', the more I am valued as a dancer in Cairo. 

So the answer to the title question- 'To Be!' 

Oh, and I just want to say a special thanks to those audience members for choosing Samia for all the reasons above but also for giving me such a good excuse to spend a morning poured photos and videos of her! 

The ostrich effect

I've been finding it really hard to write these days, because actually I've been finding these days really hard. 

When I say days, I actually mean months. Nearly 9 months in fact. 

I kinda lost my fire. There were glimpses, here and there. Hot spots, you might say. 
A show which which reignited the flame.
A night out where the music has flooded everything else out.
A class where I was overwhelmed and inspired by the energy of my students. 
Largely however, that fire has felt more like trying to light a match with a gale-force wind blowing in my face. I've felt I've been fighting things which were out with my control. Fighting and losing.

Pain: Such a little word for something that can change you and your life so much. 

I know my body well. I've been a dancer for 20+ years and I see this as a professional requirement. I know how relaxed or tight each muscle is. I know when I am somewhat out of alignment, and I usually know exactly needs moving to get me back up and running. I know when my stomach needs to avoid food for a while, and I'm not talking about weight issues here. In fact, I know my body so well that I could tell you where to look to find a pimple on my back that I hadn't seen or been told was there! I can 'sense' it. 

This complete body awareness is, I think, what has given me an edge in dance all these years. It is what allows my body to respond to sounds without consciously having to process the information in my brain. It's what allows me to lose myself in the music. It frees me up from the thoughts of 'what to do' so that I can be fully present in my interactions with my audience. 

I have been so lucky. 

The unlikely thing was that I didn't realise nor appreciate it. They say "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone". This is not the case here. For these past months I have wished it was gone! The downside of such intense awareness is that, if I can feel a small pimple.. Image what happens when I get an injury! 

All dancers get injuries. You use your body for any job, day in day out, and it will have repercussions. I've had a constantly recurring neck and shoulder pain from a slipped disc my neck, caused by wildly swinging a saidi stick above my head every evening in my show. Then I realised it was actually just too heavy for me and a switched to a lighter one (which had the added benefit of helping me completely change my style of saidi dance and has actually been one of the best things I ever did!). The pain lingers though, despite my belated understanding and change of behaviour. It's amazing how long the body will bear a grudge, or perhaps I should be amazed at how forgiving it has actually been all these years!!!! 

With that particular injury, I've always been able to fix it, or ignore it, or at least dance through it. The adrenaline from dance has always been enough to block the worst of the pain while performing. I saw dance as a miracle drug- able to remove pain for as long as I kept dancing! 

Then, 9 months ago, doing I don't know what, I manage to slip a disk in the very base of my back (L5-C1). I didn't know that's what I had done and I did all my usual fail safes for fixing myself. I threw ibuprofen pills down my neck like they were sweeties. I went for massages. I went to my osteopath. I stretched. I rested. I tried strengthening exercises. I had a few weeks where I didn't dance at all.  I did all the things I 'knew' that the doctor would say, and (wrongly) assumed the pain would just eventually go away. 

When I was on my recent trip to China I went for numerous massages hoping someone would be able to just 'pop' it into place. The thing was that the pain was registering inside my hip joint... And pins and needles and pain all down my leg. So I stupidly (in hindsight) thought it was hip related not back related. I did have one massage that managed to pop something back into place and as I danced to a baladi song in class 20mins later I actually had tears running down my face because of joy for the moment mixed with sadness for all those lost dances. That first pain free dance in 9 months was an incredibly emotional experience!  Sadly the 'fix' didn't last. Within a hour the pain was back. Just as bad as before. I really didn't think there was anything that could be done. After all, I'd been taking drugs and they weren't working. I trusted my own ability to heal myself too much. 

I learned to struggle on and live with it when I didn't have to. Trying all the things that usually work, getting more and more depressed when they didn't . In fact, I got so down this year that I actually decided to quit dance. What was the point, when the joy was gone? What would I have left as a dancer if all I had left was the theory and the mechanics (even they were limited) and no passion? I was distraught. 

When I came back I knew that I had to see a doctor and go for an MRI scan just to rule that out. It was that or accept the end of my dance career. 

In Cairo I went to a dr friend of mine. He prescribed me some heavy duty pain killers, and sent me off for a scan. This is only the 2nd MRI I have had in my life, and this time, as it had the first time, a power cut happened MIDSCAN. How unlucky am I?! Stuck in a freezing cold room in this machine until the generator kicked in and we had to restart the scan! 
however, by the next day.... Yes, I was able to get my result that quickly, a huge plus side to getting these things checked out in Cairo rather than in UK!, I knew what was wrong.  Not only that , but to my intense surprise, the new painkillers were actually doing their job! They worked where other antiinflammatories and painkillers hadn't. I've got physio exercises too. 

That weekend, I was able to dance relatively pain free. I couldn't believe it. These pills worked where all the brufen in the world hadn't! I felt so relieved and so stupid all at the same time. 

Why did it take me so long when it involved maybe even losing the thing I loved most?!!! Why hadn't I gone to the doctor sooner? I will tell you why- I was so scared I would be told I had to quit dance altogether. That's why. The pain got me down and the thought of what I might 'have' to do, or stop doing, got me down even more. I was ostriching, not wanting to face the fear and making myself worse in the process. 

Now, my head is out the sand and the pain is gone. I am able to get back into the music and things are looking brighter again. I am realizing that my body has been compensating for such a long time that I am having to retrain certain muscles and movements. Not surprising I'm sure, but weird for me. These are moves which have been 'natural' to me for so long that having to teach myself again is very peculiar. Wonderful, because now I can do them without pain. And I am so much more appreciative of what my body can do, now that I am fully aware of all the things it couldn't for so long. 

It's great to feel free again! 

The moral of the story: I'm a dancer. Not a doctor. 

So in future I plan to try and respond  quicker to aches and pains by getting them checked out properly by someone who is actually trained to do that! 

I hope this hasn't come across as too whinging of a post. I have not been feeling like myself for the majority of this year, and wanted to explain why! Thanks for getting through to the end of this! 

If you are also a dancer and in pain.... I hope you seek, and get the professional help getting through it that you need because nothing is worse that losing that exquisite joy of dance! 

Friday, November 20, 2015

When the student becomes the teacher....

In my recent China tour I met numerous talented and dedicated dancers all over the country. This was my 3rd trip there and I visited 6 cities and everywhere it was the same, the students wowed me. Their spongelike ability to learn and unparalleled motivation to improve themselves means that China really is progressing fast as one of the top countries to be looking to in the future for great dancers.

The thing I hate though, is the copies.  Everyone knows that China is no.1 in the world for copies. In fact, I just have to say this and mention 'handbags' for all my students there to laugh and agree proudly!

Copying other people's dance, their style and their choreographies, will get a student so far and certainly will speed up their learning in the beginning. However, in my opinion, this should only be viewed as part of the learning process- not as the end goal!

To me, dance is art. 'Tracing' and 'colouring in' can certainly look pretty and can have elements of creativity in it, however I am not sure I would call it art. A print of a painting is fabulous is you don't have access, or funds, for the original canvas, but I think everyone would agree- it's not the same! Especially if people then pass this off as their own work!

Sadly I still meet many dancers, many of them teachers, who only every perform (and teach), step for step, other people's choreographies rather than improvising, or creating their own. 

My aim with the work I do in China (and elsewhere around the world) is to try to show my dancers how to think for themselves (something the culture there does not really encourage) . How to listen to the music and think about what sort of experience they want to create for their audience and for themselves. To examine their reasons for making dance such a huge part of their lives and to recognise what they need to put into it (physically and emotionally) in order to get the most out of it and to give the most to their audiences. 

Without fail, at the end of each course I have taught, I've been bursting with pride at the mental and emotional effort the students have made and how they have opened up to the music and dance. 

Not everyone will become a professional dancer, but that is not everyone's aim anyway. I just really want people to feel good about what they are doing and be aware how they can improve themselves. 

I feel honored to have to opportunity to tour such an amazing interesting country and teach such thirsty students. They don't realise it, but they teach me so much. 

I can't help but be a little intimidated by the hours, expense and effort that these dancers in China will spend in order to improve themselves. Never too proud to be the student. Skipping sleep in order to work, learn and raise families. All at the same time. Even the way they learn is different. Setting aside an entire week to learn for 5 hours a day with one teacher. It's quite a commitment. Many of them also attend classes in order to learn other skills to help them improve their own dance, from yoga to pole dance to ballet. 

How much are you committed to improving yourself? I know I cannot even begin to hold a candle to the majority of my students efforts and they have inspired me, yet again, to take a more active role in my own life. I have found in nearly 10 years in Cairo that it is too easy to sit back and let it all just happen to you. I've become lazy.

Thank you to all my students, especially those all over China, who have shown me how much you can improve yourself if you set your mind to it. I will endeavor to be less complacent in the future and push myself harder. The teacher has become the student! 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Camels across China... A Shimmying Scot abroad (again!)

... The dance move that is.... Not the humped 4 legged version! 

Today is the last day of my 5 week Bellydance tour of China, and the first chance I have had to even think of writing a blog entry! It's been non-stop work/fun/sleep/ travel - repeat. 

I flew from Cairo to Shanghai. Qatar airlines are very comfy, but the luggage allowance is more generous on Egypt Air- an issue which has stressed me out for the entire trip as I saw so many things I wished I could buy, but couldn't, due to my already heavy bags! 

The trip itinerary was as follows:

Shanghai - (2 nights) this time was officially to sleep off jet lag - but ended up doing so many varied and fun things;

taking part in a make up class, 

Chloe's table here, when not being used for make overs usually holds the Lorna shrine:

(Felt very weird.... Especially with the lilies there!) 

a  'FlyYoga' class,

(This Photo was taken later in the trip in Gaochun studio... No evidence of my first FlyYoga attempts- thankfully!!!) 

....got my nails done,  went to an art installation with giant ants;

And wine coolers made from scooter helmets;

Admired pink painted poodles....

and later went clubbing all night instead- 

oops so much for sorting the jet lag but hey ho. ... Love Shanghai and all my friends there!!! 

Chengdu- (12 nights) I flew on the much celebrated 'moon festival' where everyone gathers with family and eats moon cake; 

(Super tasty moon cake!) 

and was awakened by my fellow passengers mid air snooze because the air stewards had pulled my seat number in a lottery and awarded me with a beautiful Chinese tea set which I had to walk up to the front of the plane to collect. I had to speak over the microphone to all the other passengers. It was the most surreal moment of my life! 

I was lucky as so well looked after my entire trip and everyone went out their way to make sure I sampled all the local foods and saw all the sights. 
(Hot Pot- it just has to be done!!!) 

Chengdu is the home of the panda and I was taken on my last day to see them, and I can't actually tell you how many baby pandas I saw! Super cute!

The pandas in Edinburgh Zoo actually come from this centre, so it was great to see where they had been born! 

The enclosures were a lot better than I imagined they would be too. although its not too obvious from these photos....

It was only a shame we got there so late and missed the red pandas too! 
We had gone for some lunch ...

, via a temple, (I've lost those photos sadly) but of course all that took longer than expected
Then it was direct to the airport..... 

Changsha- (3 nights) here I ended up being in a TV documentary with my student and host,Cici, all about Bellydance in China. I'll add the link to the program if I can find it (although be warned- it's all in Chinese- part from when I am talking of course!!!) There is footage from the classes and also from the show. 

Jinan- (7 nights)- where I tried to only eat one meal each day to reduce the size of my every growing belly. Why does the food in China have to taste SO good ? (And how do the Chinese manage overall to stay so skinny when they eat so much?!) 

(I have to say, I was actually on cloud nine when I tasted this delicious hot and sour soup!) 

And this city had me feeling all angelic...! 

Jinan is famous for the fresh springs there and I was amazed to find this amazing park in the very centre of the saw seals and fish and so much beauty. 

Also, I found a man I want to take with me all over the world- I went for a massage and this talented Doctor managed to completely take away the severe nerve pain I have been suffering with my hip for the past 8 months. After 3 nights it was back- but at least now I have hope that it is something fixable at least (which up until now I had fact- I went for a massage in nearly every city I went to and was very impressed with the the price and quality of the work, even in the shops that are open onto the street! 

Shanghai - (6 nights) where my iPhone 6 was stolen out my handbag in a bar. This has been the only bad thing to ever happen to me in China. Sadly it means I have lost a great many of the took during this month and although my students have been able to supply me with some, and I had thankfully uploaded a lot onto wechat, I have lost most of the ones I took especially for the blog!!! 

However, on the plus , I did get to hang out for a few evenings with the beautiful and fun Valerick from Miami who was also here to teach 

(Before our performances at one of the coolest nightclubs in town that we had taken over for the evening to celebrate AM studios 3rd anniversary. ) 

(Heading down under the Bund to cross the river, underwater to go up the tallest building and see the view!) 

and I also had the pleasure to meet another famous (and charming) dancer from the states, Tamalyn.

So much fun.....

Nanjing - (3 nights) my first time on a high speed train (which we nearly missed - no pun intended ) from Nanjing we travelled to  Gaochun, a small town an hour away from there. I went horse riding and even tried (and failed at) pole dancing. I did a little shopping and inspired by the fashion of few of my hosts this trip, bought some lovely Chinese style clothes.....

(Photo taken at the west lake in f me in my new chinese top!) 

Oh, and I met a pirate who has decided that he will be my Chinese husband. Hmmm.  

Hangzhou - (2 nights) where we went on a boat on the famous West Lake and I cried at the beauty of the place. I saw fishes jumping and was told this was very good luck (must remember to take any Chinese friends to the salmon ladder in Scotland if they come to visit me there!!) 

The last night here found me watching an old fashion picture show in the street, 

......fending off donkey meat, shopping for scarves (no one can have too many scarves) and then drinking a margarita in a pirate ship whilst listening to KTV- Chinese karaoke. 

Shanghai - (1 night) - a beautifully relaxing evening with a friend going for a massage where all the therapists are disabled. What a wonderful idea. a blind man has to feel his way.... and i had the second best massage, possibly of my life!! on my last day, after shuffling around all my luggage so as to bring back as much as possible but also allow for a little extra shopping... I went with a friend to the Shanghai Museum in Peoples square.

It was much better than either of us had anticipated, and she found it very interesting and would encourage all her friends to go there too! oh and bonus- it was free to get in too!

 I will do a whole blog entry on the museum, because I took so many photos there!! Oh... And underneath the entire square is an underground shopping mall... With fish, and streets and ... Oh, just fabulousness..... Loved it! A great last day in China!

All this, (and I haven't even mentioned a fraction of the things I got up to!!)  and not one mention yet of Bellydance..... Because there is too much for one blog entry. So the dance enthusiasts amongst my readers will have to wait for a future blog entry for that stuff!!!!!