This weekend I flew down to Wales to perform and teach there in Swansea. I have been to Wales as a kid... but not since, and i can’t really remember much about it, so I consider this my first trip there.
I loved it.
The people were all so lovely and friendly to me. I have so many interesting conversations and lots of people asking about the politics of Egypt just now and where bellydance stand in the middle of all of that. I told them my hopes, fears and prayers and we are all just waiting to see what will happen in that, and everything, since Morsi has become president. ‘Hanshuf’ (we will see)
Sophie was the host for the whole weekend. I hadn’t seen her for years but had met again in Cairo and she used to come to my dance classes at Edinburgh University, long before I moved to Cairo. On Friday, I was collected at Cardiff airport by Sophie’s other half, Aram, who is Kurdish. I am totally ignorant of the Kurdish language, music and dance and we talked about lots of interesting things on the journey to Swansea. It was like home (Egypt) watching the way he interacted with his friends... driving into a carwash owned by other Kurds and just getting out the car, helping them wash some cars, in return they helped him wash his, then we drove away. We also were given the best chicken shawerma, free through his connections! A friendship barter service, filtering into professional and personal lives. It was lovely and friendly and although I see it often in interactions between Moroccans, Iraqis, Egyptians etc living in UK, it is not something that the Brits tend to do.
It is not that we don’t help our friends, of course we do, but we usually wait to be asked for help, not wanting to offend someone by suggesting that they can’t handle something on their own., Or we offer help but seldom just roll up our sleeves and do things. We usually keep ourselves to ourselves. For instance, if I was having a problem financially, I would go to the bank to get a loan, which would then cost me even more, since I would have to pay interest; however that would still be preferable in my eyes and culture than going to my friends or even my parents and asking to borrow from them. My thinking would be, ‘It is my problem, and I need to get myself out of it’. When I have discussed this idea with Egyptians they are shocked, especially at the idea that I wouldn’t go first to my family. For them, it is normal, if you have money in your pocket to happily give it to friends, because you know eventually when you are having issues, you can go to them and they will help you. It is not even a, borrow now and pay back a week on Friday type arrangement, it is more than often an open ended loan! I can’t help feeling that in this in many ways, assuming no one takes advantage and everyone acts with a high moral code, that this is the ideal way to be, since then the money is in the place it is most needed all the time rather than sitting building up in one place and not helping anyone. Of course, that is the crux of the matter isn’t it- the assumption that everyone will act in a ‘good’ way.
Anyway- I digress.... belly dancing in Wales...
The hafla on the Friday night was extremely enjoyable. I saw some lovely dancing and met a lot of very friendly interesting people. There was even a man there who had recently taken up tabla, and at the end of my show I had everyone clapping a beat for me to continue dancing to, and persuaded him to get out his drum and join in, he was nervous but did it. I have to say- I was very impressed when I learned he had only been doing it for 6 weeks!!! We had a wonderful night and although numbers could have been better, we were aware we were competing with the rare Welsh sunshine and also the opening night of the Olympics. So all in all- I would class the night as a huge success.
One woman, bless her, was in tears after my dance and took me aside to thank me for reminding her how much she loved dance. She had been involved in the UK bellydance scene and then given up dancing because she had felt she had been up against people who all took things too much to heart, that is was becoming bitchy and that had spoilt her enjoyment of the dance itself. She told me that my dancing had reminded her what it was all about, and supposed to be about, and that she was going to start dancing again. I was sad to hear her reasons to quit in the first place- but very happy to be part of her returning since she has a lot of talent and would be a shame to waste it especially when she loved it so much.
I wish everyone involved in dance, wherever they are in the world, could remember, that even when it is our job, our profession, and even when there is competition for jobs, that by putting other people down, or spreading gossip about other dancers, all you do is create a ‘them and us’ type atmosphere which is excluding to many people and means no one gets to experience the pure joy that dance can and should bring! Be nice ladies!!! Soapbox moment over....
The workshops were a huge hit. The largest number turnout on the tour so far and it was like standing in front of a room of sponges... they took everything I threw at them. It was impressive to see a difference in people’s dance even just after the first two hours! I was asked more than once if I would please move to Wales and people were only pacified when I agreed to come back soon! One woman told me that in her training as a teacher, she had always been told that a good teacher does not actually teach, but rather guides people into learning and discovering for themselves. She said that this in particular was what she loved most about my workshops, that I was generous and it had been obvious to her that I wasn’t holding back anything from them, but i also wasn’t spoon-feeding them. I agree a lot of what I cover in my workshops works the brain as much as the body!
I really love dancing in Egypt. It is my dream come true. My own band, Egyptian audiences, being part of the culture. Sometimes however I really miss these human connections and sense of appreciation I feel when I dance outside of Egypt and also reward when I help people progress in their own dance. In Egypt people there are impressed at the foreigner who dances like an Egyptian. In this UK tour so far I have felt that people are impressed that one of their own dances like an Egyptian- but also can teach it in their own language, with cultural references that help them understand how they too can dance like an Egyptian. Anyway- what I am saying is... I love both!
On Saturday night my friends took me to a sheesha club. Because smoking indoors is illegal in UK, private clubs have formed where, for amembership fee, you can go and join other likeminded people for a puff on a sheesha pipe. It was ‘another world’ type experience. One minute I was in a French restaurant, eating frogs legs (as one does) and next I was in a street in Swansea and then I was in a Bedouin tent surrounded by Turks and Kurds and various Arabs all of us watching Arabic TV and smoking sheesha and largely speaking in Arabic. After that we were in what seemed to be a gay club dancing to funk and disco! All of those cultures and experiences in one evening! It was fantastic!
All in all, I loved my weekend in Wales and am really looking forward to organising another one as soon as we can! Thank you to all, especially Sophie and her family, for making me so welcome and showing me how lovely Swansea and the people there can be!