I had an amazing time on Friday. I was performing at a friend’s wedding at the stunning Mena House Hotel, quite possible the most beautiful location in Cairo.
It’s always more nerve wracking dancing for friends... and lots more fun of course too, but the pressure feels greater since I want to do a really good job. Especially on this occasion since I had set myself the task of learning to dance with a shamadan (a chandelier you wear on top of your head) for the zaffa.
I spent ages trying the one I had... but eventually, 2 weeks ago, I accepted that it was just the wrong fit completely for me (turns out I have a very small head!) and it would never work. So I set off to Mahmoud’s in the Khan to buy myself a new shamadan. I found a lovely sparkly gold one with coins hanging from it that fits.
Then came the task of practising with it. Two weeks... I felt I could do this. I thought I would start simply... balancing the shamadan on my head as I sat at the computer. Wow. What a difference to my posture, instantly!!! Day 2 with it I was doing the housework, hanging up washing etc, all was going well until... I tried to lift a suitcase onto the top of a wardrobe. Ok, now it sounds like a very stupid thing to do with a chandelier on the top of one’s head... but at the time I felt I was doing so well with it up there that I was trying to ‘be normal’ with it. It wobbled; I jerked my neck so it wouldn’t fall off. Bad idea. I managed to pinch a nerve in my neck which lead to dizzy and nausea bouts for the next two days. Each day I would wake up, test my neck... could I get the shamadan back on... no still too sore... this continued for two weeks. Each day I got more and more stressed since I really wanted to dance shamadan for them... but everyday it became less and less likely that I was going to be able to.
The last few days before the wedding I had to admit defeat. My neck had beaten me. No shamadan for me on this occasion. I tried. And I will try again... It’s not my favourite prop by a long way, but Egyptians do really appreciate it when you do it at a wedding... so it’s on my ‘to do list’ ! As is finding a good physio in Cairo to help my neck build some strength to cope with it!!!
Anyway... the wedding was a hit, even without shamadan. When I met the family just as we were about to start the zaffa, the bride’s parents said hello to me, then as I unwrapped my veil and they saw I was in costume, they said, ‘ah, you’re Lorna!’ and hugged me full of smiles, well the mother did... and the father said he’d like to hug me to but would refrain!! I can't explain how soothing for the soul of a dancer it is for an Egyptian family to accept you, welcome you in fact, because of your profession! Instead of a zaffa band they had chosen to enter with their favourite zaffa songs on cd, which was quieter and less energetic than the normal zaffa’s- but the bride’s glowing face singing along with all the lyrics of the songs made up for that. Such a joy to see someone so lost in love... with the music and with her husband!
Everyone was lovely, it was an incredibly supportive audience, and not just the ones who were friends (!) ... my band did really well and I had the folkloric ‘boys’ in the show with their saaidi sticks too. They tried to persuade me to dance with a skinny little silver stick.... and seemed dubious when I refused, but when they saw the stick I use (which is much more like the one usually used by men) they were most impressed by it. I hadn’t worked before with these two men, but they wowed me by how well they followed me. I can be unpredictable at times, as anyone who has followed me in a class situation knows, but they did a great job. It looked almost choreographed! Then afterwards speaking to them, turns out one of them is already a facebook friend and teaches at some of the dance festivals in Cairo, Ahmed Helmy.
The dance floor was squares laid out on an uneven lawn, so as soon as anyone danced on it, the floor started to break up. By the time I performed it was like dancing on ground that is being split by an earthquake. I never dance in shoes, but I had no choice... this floor would have ripped my feet to shreds otherwise. I was glad too that I chose to wear flat shoes, since heels would have got stuck between the squares. The other obstacle of the night was the lighting. Moving spotlights that came from waist height from behind where my band were set up, which meant that I couldn’t see the band at all, let along make eye contact with any of them, which made the tabla solo more pot luck than usual. It also meant that I was very aware that the audience could see me, but often only in silhouette so I was trying to think of ways to make sure people could see all the moves, especially the small pops and locks and shimmies. Let’s just say, my brain was working as hard as my body was.... but I was in my element; Dancing under the pyramids, for friends, with a fabulous band, with backing dancers.....
So despite the setbacks (lighting, dance floor and lack of shamadan) it was a fabulous event that I feel honoured to have been a part of. Thanks to R and T (the bride and groom) for making me a part of your special day. I hope you both enjoyed it as much as I did!
After my show finished, everyone got up to party and later, when I had changed back into ‘normal’ clothes I did too. It’s a whole different thing, performing a show and then dancing with people who perhaps don’t know how to do more than one or two bellydance moves, but who ooze with joy and feeling when they dance.
When someone says that foreigners can’t dance like Egyptians... THAT is what they are talking about, not the technique (the foreigners are usually better at that than the Egyptians!) and not even understanding of the words, it’s that powerful combination of joy, love, flirting, challenging fun with fantastic attitude and timing that seemed to be about you, the dancer, being another instrument in the music, adding to it rather than just following it.
I am always flattered when someone says I dance like an Egyptian, that I ‘feel it’, and many told me this at the wedding. But when I get a chance to party with Egyptians... and I am not talking about the professional dancers here, just your average Egyptian man or woman, then I really start learning how to dance, how to be free.
This dance is much more about your emotions than your motion!