When I was back in UK over Ramadan this summer, I was very happy to receive emails and messages on facebook from friends back in Cairo, telling me that they had seen me on TV!
It was Ahmed Refaat who had given me that particular opportunity. Ahmed is a folkloric dancer here in Cairo and has on occasion rented out my dance studio to teach in. He was asked to do some choreography work for a TV series, and they also asked if he could supply a good, foreign bellydancer, someone with the correct work papers to perform in Egypt. He thought of me straight away and within a few days I was heading out to Haram early one morning, taking Ellie along as my chaperone, dresser and moral support!
The scene was set in a fabulous old nightclub, next to the Movenpick hotel in Haram (the area in Cairo right beside the Pyramids of Giza). When we arrived I still had no idea what I was going to be asked to do... I didn’t know if it was just me dancing, or if there were a few of us. There were certainly other girls around, mostly Egyptian, a few Russian.
I had been asked to bring a small selection of costumes with me, but no red ones (since the backdrop was all red). A woman came over and introduced herself as the costumes manager, and she chose the same costume out of my selection as I had. A turquoise blue and gold Eman Zaki creation which I really love and is very comfortable to wear. Eman had recreated it for me out of an old costume she had previously made for me which had a gold skirt rather than blue, but since metallic material always gets sweat ruined when I wear it night after night for performances it had eventually become unusable. Now it was transformed it a stunning ‘new’ costume;
from this costume:
to this one:
Photo credit: Maani Vadgama
So, after costume selection was hair and makeup. The makeup artist was a boy whose fingers reeked of cigarettes and who was surrounded by other boys smoking and an older woman, and not sure how to write this politely, but from the look of them I have to admit, I was slightly concerned how I would end up looking! My fears were unfounded. They were very talented indeed. The makeup was not so different from how I would have done it myself... but somehow, I’m still not sure how, made me look very Egyptian!
The hairdresser, also male, spent a long time ‘ironing’ my hair and hair piece (the one my normal hairdresser had made fun of saying it wasn’t real hair, so she couldn’t do anything with it... that proved her wrong!!) and he spent a long time attaching the ‘prestige’ as they call it here, so there was no risk of it falling out! I had long straight luscious locks!
Then to dress, in the nightclub toilet with a bunch of Egyptian girls who looked, well... to put it bluntly, rough. At this point I was still unsure what we’d be filming, and I was rather concerned that if these girls were dancing up alongside me, it wasn’t going to be a very classy show!
I worried for nothing.
The girls were the ‘waitresses’. That is to say, in low class nightclubs they hire girls to stand around the tables and encourage the men to drink more.
The beer bottles were filled with pineapple juice; seemingly just the right fizz and colour!
There were men dressed up as gulf Arabs, with some of the Russian girls sitting at tables too.
On stage, the band was all set up. Turns out there were the musicians from the Mena house hotel. They were good. Well, good at their job anyway. When the director called action they first time, the poor men didn’t really know what to do, so they started the introduction to a song..... ‘no no no, cried the director, we need to go straight into the middle of the music’, ok, they said... but they still missed their ‘action’ cue again. From then on, the director called equivalent of ‘lights, camera, musiqa’ so that the band started on time! It was obviously the first time for them to do something like this too!
I was told to stand in the centre on the stage, a fabulous catwalk style stage so I had tables all around me, and ‘just dance’. I didn’t get to request the song, or even know what it was going to be before I started... ‘Just dance’.
Thank God I am not a choreography type of dancer! I only ever improvise in any of my performance although then of course I know the music because I have chosen it! However, I am always up for this sort of a challenge!
We did maybe only four takes in total, with different camera angles. The actors, both famous, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you their names, other than one is the son of the most famous actor in Egypt, Adel Emam, had to come up onto stage and throw (pretend) money over my head. It was a strange experience for me, because although this is the custom in cabarets in Egypt, in the years I have worked here I have never worked in a place like that! Should I look at the actors, at the camera, at the ‘audience’, I had no idea and no one gave me any direction. When I asked.. I was told, don’t look at the camera, and just do what you are doing, it’s perfect!
Certainly when they were all looking at the playback on the monitors they were lots of lovely comments from them about me (they hadn’t realised that Ellie and I could understand what they were saying about me, but thankfully it was all positive, about how good I looked, very Egyptian, and danced and how perfect it all was!). When I had a look on the screen I got excited too- it looked so professional, with all the lights and camera angles! I had caught the bug- I loved doing this- it was so much fun!!!
In fact, when Ahmed came to me and said, ok you can change now, they are finished, i was most upset! I wanted to stay more and dance more!
At the time I didn’t know any of the story line or even the name of the production or whether it was going to be in cinemas or TV! They wouldn’t tell me any of it!
I never knew what a huge thing it actually was... maybe that was just as well!
It was part of a TV drama, ‘Fer2et Nagy Atallah’, due to be run throughout Ramadan and starred Adel Emam and his son amongst others. It was shown on every channel in Egypt and I played the part of a dancer in Syria, seemingly!
One of the channels, channel 1, took out the dance scene, since seemingly that channel is owned by the Muslim brotherhood? Not sure whether that is correct, but that is what I was told!
They used my dance scene the night before as the taster for the next day’s episode, so I was on everywhere,over those two days, so I am told. It was very exciting, both filming it and then receiving all the messages from people in Cairo who were watching it. I spent the day going around Edinburgh telling people- I am on TV today in Cairo... I was so chuffed! I managed to get someone in Cairo to record it and send it to me so i could see what they had edited in and out... and it looked good. They kept in a lot more veil work that i had actually done, they obviously really liked that stuff! The ending was really sharp too. Granted it doesn’t show off a lot of my dancing, but enough so you feel i really do know what i am doing. I did post it up onto youtube, but it was unfortunately blocked due to copy right within a few hours! i am uploading it here... hope this doesn't get blocked too and you get to view it!
One of my Cairo dreams was to have a dance role in Egyptian film. Tick!
Except now it has whetted my appetite for more......
Anyone out there need a bellydancer for their tv/film...?!!!