Saturday, April 21, 2012

Zeina's surprise

Yesterday’s workshop at the Nile Group festival was Zeina. She is a Swedish dancer who used to work here in Cairo and I love the way she teaches.

Most teachers when giving a choreography workshop will start with the 1st steps of the routine. Fair enough. What Zeina did though was to start with technique, although she didn’t explain why (which was the best bit for me!). She had us drilling moves and then building those moves up into little 2 and 3 step combinations. She drilled each combination many many times, so that we were doing the moves without thinking before she moved on..  Then she taught us the 1st few steps of the routine and put the music on to try it.

That is when we got our surprise. We danced those initial steps.... but then the music kept playing and she kept dancing and we were all following easily because all those little combinations, even from within the warm up, were put together to form the choreography! We had learned at least a minute of it without knowing we were!! I loved that!

Those of you who know me well know I hate choreography. I never ever dance it, always choosing to improvise instead. I seldom teach it. I seldom choose to take workshops if they are choreographies. I do however encourage students to learn them since I do see the benefit of them for learning how other people combine steps and also how they hear the music. This workshop for me though was perfect. I loved the technique being so thoroughly rehearsed that by the time we added the music all the mental energy could be involved in enjoying the music fully. I actually felt I was actually dancing a lot of this class... rather than just parroting someone else’s steps.

Thank you Zeina. You may have converted me to choreography workshops. If only they were all taught in the way you did!!

 If you have the chance to attend the Nile group festival (or the dance festival she puts on in Sweden) then I really recommend her class. She may not be Egyptian, but she really can help a dancer understand Egyptian style perhaps more effectively than many local dancers could!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mercedes and Camelia

Today I was lucky enough to attend two workshops at the Nile Group Festival.

The first was with Mercedes, a very talented dancer from Hungary. She has a dynamic, move packed style and I guessed before going to her workshop that I would probably have a hard time keeping up. I have been a solo dancer and teacher for so many years now, that my skill for following other dancers is not strong anymore. I was right! She is a very good teacher and explained everything incredibly well. Breaking every move down and explaining why it follows the last one and what feeling you are aiming for and everything. She was giving so much information throughout the entire 3 hours that my head was hurting a long time before my body was! I mean that in a positive way! I hate doing choreography workshops normally, but she mentioned lots of ways you could adapt parts of the routine to suit your own style and was encouraging you do so even at the same time as learning it. It meant I could relax and dance the way I wanted to with the moves she was giving me which means that I am much more likely to immediately incorporate some of the stuff from today into my own dance. I would happily attend a lot more workshops with her. I felt she had a lot to give and was generous with it. Also her background in different dance styles means that she has a very good dance vocabulary so makes you think about aspects of the dance in a new way.

Camelia’s workshop needed more energy from me than I was able to give, being  5 minutes after the end of Mercedes one! She was doing a Shaabi choreography which was a song based on a woman teasing a man saying ‘come and get it’, then ‘no, you can’t have it’, but resulting in ‘yes, ok I am yours’. It is always a good idea to check out the lyrics in a shaabi song before you perform to it, was the main lesson reinforced in that class! The truth? I think I am too much of a prude to fully make use of what I learned in that workshop. As it was I was adapting a lot of moves so I didn’t have my crotch so far forward or was gyrating quite so wildly.  It was very much Camelia style. She was teaching the way she would dance. Which is great, it’s just not me! I did like the way she twisted normal oriental dances moves and made them shaabi (took them to street level). That was very useful and I am really glad I took the workshop. She was working really hard to help us understand the true nature of Egyptian shaabi and everyone was exhausted by the end of the 3 hours!

It was a good, useful and fun day. Now I am going out to a best of British Music night as sung by my flatmate, Ellie of London! Talk about a culture contrast! I wonder if any shaabi moves will come out on the dance floor tonight!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

‘As Ma Han’, or Asmahan if you are not singing it!!

I was surprised to see in the Nile group festival only 3 classes on the program that were not teaching a choreography. It is always useful to learn someone else’s dance. That way you learn how they hear the music and gives you an idea of how to put steps together in a different way. However, I much prefer classes where you learn technique and information about how to interpret the music so you can make up your own dance.

This is what Asmahan was teaching this morning in her workshop. She gave (in English and Spanish) very clear guidelines on how to do technique and where the moves should come from and also one to one attention to check everyone had it right. She had fun music, blend of Arabic with salsa and with rap and had us do very simple routines to practise the technique she was going over. After all these years I didn’t think I could learn new things about even basics like the hip drop, but I did and feel inspired from it.

Asmahan had such a relaxed gentle, yet commanding attitude while teaching that everyone loved her. She made everyone look at their dancing anew and talked about ‘us’ as bellydancers, what ‘we’ should do and how. It was lovely. Like being part of a team.

Mergance is the entrance piece for a dancer’s show and Asmahan talked about how  this is the only music actually composed for the dancer. She talked about the importance of not dancing everything in 4’s or 8’s rather to mix things up and make surprises for your audience. She had lots of fun, hard, ways to drill moves and i could feel how effective they were even though I had to run out half way through the workshop because I had a lunch sail on the Pharaoh.  I was very sorry to have to leave, but i did feel like I got a lot out of the class. I liked when she talked about attitude when you dance- but mispronounced it’ actitude’. I liked that- the idea of acting your way through it! Also she talked about ‘nefis’ (Arabic for  breath) being when a dancer is comfortable in her own skin and takes time within her dance to take a breath!

So much information generously given (I wish I’d been there for the whole 3 hours!). Well Done Asmahan. A very good teacher!

 (and a lovely person- she went out her way to introduce me to people as a professional dancer here in Cairo, which she didn’t need to mention at all)

Good news for people wanting to see her show is that Asmahan will be back performing on the Nile Maxim for this next month and then again in the summer.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Getting excited in Cairo.

Before you wonder- no, I am not about to start writing about anything rude! That’s not my style!

Before living in Egypt, when someone said something good was going to happen I was able to feel that excitement... yeah I have a great gig coming up, or yeah, they are going to write up an interview in the newspaper... or whatever it was. Even down to the yeah- I am meeting my friend ‘so and so’ for dinner tomorrow night..

Here, in Cairo I have learned that when someone tells you something is going to happen... you really have to hold back on your excitement until there is more proof to back it up. The number of times I have been bitterly disappointed since moving here 6 years ago has taught be that level of self control. My response to good news if often ‘Hanshuf’ (we’ll see) or ‘Inshallah’ (god willing), rather than the ‘hurray’ or ‘yippee’!

 It often gets called cynicism by people who haven’t lived in Egypt long, realism from those who have.

The anticipation and excitement about something adds to the pleasure of the event. That’s why advent calendars were invented!

I really miss that in my life.

I wish I could do what many Egyptians I meet do, which is get excited about stuff... and then if/when it doesn’t happen just shrug it off with an ‘oh well, it wasn’t meant to be’ type attitude.

Until I reach that level of emotional control, please forgive me if I ever come across as negative. It’s called self preservation!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Self Control within Islam

Last night I was dancing on the Pharaoh boat and was told by the staff that there was a VIP table in so to be careful.

This happens fairly often. I always reply in the same way, ‘all my audience are VIP to me’.

Then they explained, ‘no Lorna, I mean don’t  go  up close to them’ etc. It turns out they were the heads of Al Azhar. Not the sheiks themselves, but the men who sign the forms to allow people to be sheiks there. The ‘ministers’ of the ancient Islamic university that guides the majority of the middle east in it thinking of how to match what is said in the koran to modern day situations.

I can’t deny it, I was nervous going on stage knowing the tables directly in front of me were very likely to disapprove. Then i told myself that they still chose to come here knowing there would be a dancer, so if it didn’t put them off then i wasn’t going to allow myself to be put off either. Not an easy task when other audience members were walking over to their table and shaking hands with them and asking for their photo to be taken with them. I haven’t even seen that type of  reaction from the guests on the boat when we have had famous actors and singers come to the Pharaoh before.

At first they turned their backs as much as they could. Then, gradually, they relaxed. By the end of my show they were clapping along and filming my dance and asking me to have their photo taken with me! I was so impressed by them! They understood and acted on the true message within Islam which it comes to a man’s reaction to a woman.

That control needs to happen within a man’s mind. To be able to look at a woman, and not have ‘bad’ thoughts about her takes more strength and self control than ordering her to cover herself. The Koran actually says that a man should draw a veil across his eyes. These men showed self restraint and self control.  I don’t see this attitude enough. It is so sad. Even a well trained dog can be shown a bone and sit still until told it’s ok to ‘fetch’. Most men in Egypt haven’t even managed to train themselves this well when they see a bit of flesh (even just if it is a bit of arm!)

Well done those gentlemen.... I thank you.

You took responsibility for your own actions and didn’t care who saw that. 

You have given me a ray of hope that even if the government becomes more ‘islamic’ then perhaps things don’t have to change for the worse in this colourful country I have adopted as my own. I hope more people can be educated to such a level and only then will there be hope for the women in Egypt!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Mallish v's Asif

Today I only just made it to the boat in time. Traffic was bad. Ok, so this is a normal occurance in Cairo and one of the biggest annoyances of Cairo so nothing new there. The problem today however was caused by the mile long double lane queue at the petrol station at giza, near the Pharaohs boats.

I saw in the news that petrol shortages were happening in UK too. However, before I knew about them, when I asked about the reason for current situation in Cairo a friend told me that the petrol companies owed the government money, which they were refusing to pay until the electricity company (government owned) which owed them money paid up. The truth of this story i cannot verify but I found the whole thing so typically frustratingly true to many aspects of life in Cairo that part of me believes it. Of course, it could be caused by world increases in prices... that would seem sensible and in fitting with the rest of the world. However, the culture here is when anything goes wrong is blame someone else.
Always someone else.

To the point that the word ‘mallish’ is used when the word ‘asif’ would be the correct response. By that I mean that people shrug off things by saying ‘don’t worry about it’ when they should be taking responsibility and apologising, saying 'sorry',  for it instead.

Yes, unfortunately so. Egyptian society seems to have developed, if developed is the right word for it, into a blame the underdogs society. Everyone comes down very heavy on those they consider beneath them. The manager blames his staff, rather than accepting that if they are doing something wrong then his job is to re-educate them. I presume this is caused from having a military dictatorship for so many years which blamed everyone else for any failings and never ever (even when people were protesting in the streets last febuary) accepted that perhaps they could have done things better themselves. A child learns from his parents. The country learns from its government.

I don’t want this blog entry to come across as angry. I have been made angry by the many many times. Now I am like many in Egypt, understanding and passive. It’s not right, but its the way it is. I haven’t a clue how it can be improved. My vote is start at the top. I hope that the new president when he (there is no point in me writing here he/she, as THAT would never happen!) so, when he messes up... which he will. That he can take a little of the blame and show people that it is stronger to admit failure and learn from it than it is to throw the blame on someone else.
Good luck Egypt. 

Monday, April 02, 2012

Blog on Blogging.

I started out writing this blog nearly 6 years ago. That was when I moved to Cairo for my 6 months stint (so much for that plan!).  The idea of the blog initially was to keep all my friends, family and students informed of all that was going on but also became a record so that I wouldn’t forget all the things I was experiencing here in my new life. I have a dreadful memory. I was frightened it would all vanish if I didn’t write it down. I guess what has happened though that as life here becomes more ‘normal’ to me that I seem to write less of it down. Cairo really is my home now.

That and of course the advent of Facebook in my life, and more recently, Twitter. The one line status updates and tweets which I now record there, once would have been my starting lines for a long blog entry. I love facebook and twitter, since they allow me to be involved in other people’s lives and help make the distance between friends disappear, however I also miss the twists and turns my brain used to take when writing my blog entries! I am resolved to try to write more blog entries. You have been warned!

I have been back from UK for about 10 days now, after a months’ holiday and workshop tour there. The weather has improved in Cairo and the tourist situation seems to have improved too. Once again I am seeing people from all over the world in my audiences on the Nile Pharaoh boat. This morning, a group from Germany. Last night a big school trip from Sudan. Last week a boat full of Brits. I never realised how relieved I would feel to see so many ‘foreign’ faces in town!

It has been a very difficult year in many ways. Living in a country as it goes through a revolution.

 Even now, although the streets are peaceful, there is still unease about the city. Everyone is scared about the upcoming presidential elections. There is a fear that the army may succeed in getting in ‘one of their boys’ to replace Mubarak and then things would be just as they were, or worse than before. The other big fear is that the Muslim Brotherhood will get their man in and that things would become more and more fundamentalist. That may potentially mean more restrictions on people and their day to day lives. This is the big fear for us dancers and all who work in the entertainment and tourism industry. I cannot predict what will happen.

People joke about it on a daily basis. “What’s your plan B when dancing is banned in Egypt?” my answer is “I can’t hear you....lalalalalalalala “(obviously just in my head!)

Truth is I really don’t know what I would do. I can’t imagine Cairo without Belly dance. I can’t imagine my life anywhere else than here. I hate to think about it and I am, like all the other thousands of people in this industry, just hoping and praying it won’t go that way.

If you are thinking to come to Cairo for dance purposes, Come now. Just in case.

Let’s hope we all look back at these scary uncertain days and laugh about how stupid we were to think that Egypt could ever be without the music and dance that we love so much!

See you here soon!