Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The end of the year....

What can I say? For me, it's been a hell of a year.

Wonderful things that have happened for me for work: Two month-long UK tours going to many cities I've never been before. Two Mediterranean cruises- dancing my way round the med! Teaching in JoY festival and doing teaching training programs. Performed at numerous venues around Cairo as well as the usual Pharoahs boat, taught in Shanghai for a month and been invited back...

Horrific things that have happened for work: Two 'presidents' in Egypt due to a second 'revolution'. Crippling curfews. Bureaucratic nightmares. Zero tourists.

There have been a few points in the last year where I have severely lost hope. I have had some of my darkest days.

There have been a few points where I have felt ecstatic. I have had some of my brightest moments.

I suspect 2014 will be a continuation of this volatile roller coaster. As a bellydancer in Cairo, nothing ever seems to go along smoothly or as expected. Sometimes for the good, sometimes not. But we keep doing it because those bright moments burn out the darkness.

I have become very good over my many years of living here of being able to predict all the possible outcomes in any situation. Some may just say I have become cynical. My 'cynical' response to that is , "not cynical, just realistic". All to often my worst fears have been realised. It can be very depressing, Sometimes it all seems inevitable, like I'm an actor on stage performing a rewritten drama. A tragedy. Sometimes it feels like fate has already been decreed. That life is over and I have wasted it. These are my darkest days

My brightest days are;
-when I realise I have people around me who love me and believe in me, even when I don't. You know who you are, and I thank you because I would not be here today without you.
-When I see the lightbulbs ignite in my students eyes, that amazing eureka moment.
-When dance explodes in me, from me, a zen moment, flooding my world with emotion and energy. Linking my mind, body and soul with the music and the audience. Time stands still and nothing else matters.

My wishes for 2014 are;

-To be proved wrong more often.
-To be surprised with more good than bad.
-To regain some control over the run away roller coaster that is my life.
-To hang on to and appreciate those friends that have stubbornly stood by me so far.
-To make new friends who help on my downward slides and that I can help on theirs.
-To dance more
-To teach more
-To laugh more
-To thus live and love and be happy more

so goodbye to 2013..... 

..... and be kind to us 2014....

Monday, December 09, 2013

China day 26 - all about love

What an intense week it has been.

I have learned so much about so many things. I am even managing to pick up a few new Chinese words. The main thing however is that I have seen the different attitudes between countries to 'love'. 

This week we were largely focusing on Tarab. Which meant explaining the lyrics and well as the moves for many of the great songs by om khalsoum, Abdel halim hafiz and Warda. Songs that have become if you like the bellydancers' version of 'the great American songbook' , 'the songs every bellydancer should know'.

Tarab lyrics are almost always about love. Often complex love. You will often find fantastical memories of ecstatic times shared, mixed up with anguish of being torn apart, in one song. The lyrics may seem sad, but the music sometimes sounds happy. This is a hard enough thing to explain in the UK where I understand the language and the attitudes to relationships. Here in China, my students found it difficult to cope with the extreme emotions being voiced and seem to have a much more functional attitude towards love and relationships.

They felt that it was all too much and that they could never feel these emotions, never mind express them in dance. Some of the older ones nodded understandably to many of the issues, but being from a still very conservative society, many of the younger ones could not even begin to imagine why anyone would, or could, let their heart rule their head in this way. As one student said, but 'real love is like family love'. I tried to explain that there are many types of love. It was a difficult concept for many of them to grasp. How to get into the passion of the dance when the idea of your ideal partner is that you love each other in a 'family love' way, rather than a passionate way? I am not saying their way is wrong. Not at all. It seems much safer in so many ways. Longer lasting too I suspect. I think that sums it up well actually. I am generalizing obviously since I still know so little about the people and the culture, but it seems to me that logic and safety (security) are core values whereas emotions are considered as dangerous to those. A bit like Victorian Britain maybe? Wherever it comes from, it is most defiantly on the complete opposite side of the care/passion lovescale that inspires so much of the music in Egypt, in particular Tarab! 

The students have been joking 'from Lorna we learn Bellydance, English, Arabic and Love'.

One girl asked me near the end of the week what was wrong with her because she felt like crying when she danced to a certain song. I had to hug her. I told her she was doing exactly what she should be doing. She had opened not just her ears to the music but also her heart.

I split the class in two and had each side perform Enta Omri for the other half of the class. I had tears rolling down my face. The air was thick with emotion. In 3 weeks these dancers have come so far. Shy, giggly girls have allowed themselves to express passion in their dance. That is a such huge step.  

One of my girls wrote on wechat (China's answer to Facebook), "you made us enter the music and find ourselves deeply so we can put our emotion into the music and enjoy ourselves"

Love. Tick.

Well... The beginnings of it anyway.

Next task... To feel comfortable and confident showing their 'sexy side'. The giggles are still too frequent and very un-Egyptian (well un- Egyptian bellydancer anyway!).

Oh, and the great news is that I now have at least 8 of them who are planning to come to Egypt next year to visit in the summer. Knowing that will make the goodbyes at the end of this week a little less painful for me. We have shared a lot this course. Strong friendships have been formed. Oh dear, am welling up a little just thinking about it. 

Must be positive. I have a class to teach. 

Shaabi- 'sexy' is a must..........

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

China Day 17: More Dancing

Seemingly I have a professional photographer coming to shoot me while I am teaching and going around Shanghai. It's for the PR for the next time I come here. That is good news... There is going to be a next time! Guess they must be enjoying my workshops then. I thought that they are, but you never know for sure until you know if they want you back again or not! I know I haven't written much about the actual teaching side of things yet... But I will... In meantime you have to out up with reading all about my hectic social life!!! 

In Wednesday this week I had a 'disco nap' after class, then went to the Koala Bar to meet with its owner, a lovely student of mine, Jojo, and Mei. Jojo has an Australian husband, hence the bar's name and she is a lot of fun. Those cocktails have to be tried to be believed! I won't be trying them again the night before a class! Whilst there I got chatting with a drag queen, as one does. He is a history teacher in university during the day and a fashion designer in his spare time when he is not strutting the boards of the local gay club!  It was a scream, well it would be, wouldn't it?! 

We decided that a quiet drink in a bar was not going to be enough for a night such as this, so we went to Geisha; A chic club in town where all the ladies had free entrance and free champagne. I danced solidly from the time we arrived until we left. It was a great release. One club wasn't enough, oh no. After Geisha, we headed over to Hollywood, another club where all the rich and famous go, seemingly. And I don't think I sat down there once either. I got home by 6am! So a minimum of 6 hours dancing. I loved every second of it. 

Teaching yesterday afterwards however was tough. Very tough. However, strangely enough it ended up being one of my favourite classes that I have taught yet. The students are really opening up and relaxing with me and with each other now. The atmosphere is very loving and supportive and I am enjoying getting to know these interesting and talented people. Many of the students are in the fitness industry, running gyms and yoga classes and the like. Two of the girls also have danced traditional Chinese dance to a high level. They have promised me they will dance for me after the workshop at some point....! Looking forward to that. 

At the end of the workshop I told them my story about how I got into Bellydance since they had shared their stories with everyone earlier in the week over a group lunch. They had so many questions about Egyptian culture and how the dance in particular fits into that. One man was disappointed because his dream was to be a professional bellydancer in Egypt and I had to break the news to him that it is not possible to get a work visa as a man as a bellydancer, only for women. But he consoled somewhat when I told him he could maybe be a folklorique dancer and would certainly benefit from spending some time in Cairo to learn from the dancers there and to understand the music and culture more. He is a stunning dancer and hopes to visit Egypt soon.

After class I went for a Chinese massage. They massage you with more pressure than I have ever been massaged before (one shoulder is swollen this morning!) and then they put this hot steam thing over you which puts Chinese medicine onto your body. The massage is to remove the bad energy and the medicine is to replace it with good energy. Overall a very good experience and one I would, despite the shoulder,  happily do again before I leave. Talking with the girl who had pulverised me afterwards, it turns out that she had intentionally used more pressure on me that she ever would normally because I was a foreigner and there is a belief that foreigners have more bad energy than Chinese!! I didn't really know what to make of that, but I know that if I go back she will take it easy on me, or so she promised!

Right, it's 10.30am here now and I have a melaya lef class to teach...

Monday, December 02, 2013

China Day 16: Half-Way Point

Time has changed. It is going so very fast. I just seem to blink and it's the next day! 

This past week , other than the teaching, which is every day, I have either been sleeping early which took up 3 evenings, and I mean early, like 5pm/ 7pm! I got to the point where I was silly tired from waking at 2am everyday, even if I slept at 11pm that I decided to stop trying to regulate my body clock and just sleep when I needed to. That decision was made last Friday when I went for a lovely walk round a local park with leon and some of the girls from the class then we went for food afterwards and I literally was falling asleep in my chair! I hate jet lag. I have since found out that drinking milk is supposed to help, and also so is drinking sodium with soda. I haven't tried either yet, it seems a little late now, and wish I had known these things when I arrived! 

After class Todd took me to the tailors market. A huge building, like a mall, with nothing but tailors shops! I had thought to get a winter coat made, since I had been told it was very cheap to have things made for you, it wasn't. Shanghai prices actually seem to be very expensive, unfortunately. I did however buy a few meters of different fabrics with which to make costumes with when I get back to Cairo! 

On the Saturday night I went with Mei to a hafla. 'Lets shimmy'. A hafla in Shanghai seems to be fairly similar to one in UK; Lots of bellydancers all dressed up sparkly, but the venue was too swanky for words. It was in a Thai style club in the area called the Bund which is really stunning and all the buildings are super luxurious. Two days before I had been in a jazz bar in a 1920's Art Deco style hotel with live band and the place was to die for (as were the prices!) . At the hafla there was only 3 performances all night with the rest of the time free to dance to the drums, there were 3 tabla players there, and the music, of which the same 5 songs kept repeating. Very strange. The performances were varied. No Egyptian style unfortunately. One male dancer doing tribal style, followed by a group of what I can only describe as 'oriental fantasy', you know, with the little chiffon half face veils in colours to match the costumes, and then a tribal sword dance to end the night. Everything was a little slow.. And we were thinking to leave early, but the a group of my students arrived and I hit the dancefloor with them and we ended up having a ball of a time, with a impromptu photoshoot in the lobby of the building afterwards.

The next day I went to the botanical gardens. It has been cold weather here since I arrived, getting colder everyday (down to zero degrees today) but on Sunday that was the only day we have had rain. Typical on the one day I really want the sunshine because we don't have class. Ah well... The gardens were stunning despite the rain. I loved the tropical greenhouses too. I used up all my camera battery yet again.

At night I went to the cinema to see gravity. I don't recommend it as a film at all, however, I went to see it in the IMAX cinema and that was my first IMAX experience, which I loved. The cinema was in a beautiful new designer shopping mall. I have never admired the decor in a mall before. Now I have! Oh, I also ate curry for dinner. Curry in china. My life seems very bizarre right now, even to me!

Mondays plan was to have an evening in my hotel room, doing some class planning and blog writing, but I crashed at 5pm! So the planning was instead done in the middle of the night when I was obviously, frustratingly, wide awake! At least I got my 7 hours sleep, even if it was at a strange time! Did manage a wee trip to H&M first though, and bought myself a long sleeved Tshirt dress in the colour of the moment, green. Everything I am gravitating to these days seems to be dark green and lime green. No idea why! 

Hope you are enjoying reading my shanghai stories.... I am writing them so I don't forget things I have seen and done but unless I write daily I am sure I am forgetting so much. No wonder my body doesn't want to sleep, everything is so new and different and interesting that my brain just doesn't let my body rest!

Sunday, December 01, 2013

China Day 10: Food - A Cultural Comparison

Where did days 6-9 go I  hear you wonder. I wonder myself! The time has gone by so very fast that I haven't even had a spare hour to myself to even think about what I have been doing, never mind write about it! 

I have noticed a few things about Chinese culture that I couldn't help but compare to British, or Egyptian culture. Overall, how different it is to UK, but how similar it is to Egypt, mainly due to the collective ness of society. People do things in groups.

One of these things is Food. 

You may have noticed already, in fact one of my friends has already pointed out to me, that in the 6 blog entries prior to this, food features heavily! 

This is partly due to the fact that I love Chinese food, how could I not mention all the pork and duck and goose, but also due to the fact that Chinese show they love you through food. Every day one student or another will have brought me something new to try.  From ginger tea, to strawberries, to local sweets, to the largest orange I have ever seen! In fact I though the orange was a grapefruit, but no, it was sweet, a Citrus Maximus, according to the Chinese translator! 

Like in Egypt meal times is social time. Very social. Eight of us went for cake after class one day and everyone ordered, but then I could believe that without asking everyone was diving their forks into everyone else's cake to try, even before the person themselves had taken a bite. This shocked my British sensibilities, I have I admit perhaps on overgrown sense of 'mine' and 'yours', but china has very similar attitudes as Egypt. People don't bring a packed lunch to class, they bring a picnic, enough to share. The past couple of days I have chosen not to go to a restaurant for lunch so that I don't eat before having to dance ( I did one day and the pork and rice was sitting very heavy afterwards). However, if I sit in the dance studio, I end up being 'strongly encouraged' shall we say, to sample everyone's food, so I end up eating almost as much as if I had gone out for lunch! I am sure I have already put on about 5 KGB in the last week. I dread to think what size I will be when I get back to Egypt! 

Talking size, the Chinese are again similar to Egyptians in that they are not shy to tell you about yourself. The good and the bad. One day whilst shopping after class will some of the girls, I picked up some trousers I wanted to try and was told, no no, that is too small for you, you need XL !!! I was heartbroken, but took the XL (and L and M) into the changing room, in case maybe the size systems we're so very different from UK. Nope. The M fitted just fine thank you. So I obviously seem to be fat here even if I am not. Either that or they are confused because I am tall, so they are giving me extra leg length! I will try to console myself that the later is the case, because the alternative is depressing. Maybe of course they can tell the future, and they were choosing something that will actually still fit by the time I leave this country after the month of pigging out! 

Hotpot was one of the things I read about before coming to China and I have been lucky enough to be taken out to do this twice already in my first week. Think of it as a savoury fondou almost. Everyone sits around a table with a large hot pot in the centre of it. 

Half the pot has a spicy juice in it, and half has water. You order lots of foodstuffs and then put it yourself into the pot, whichever side you prefer. When you deem it to be finished cooking, you fish it out again with your chopsticks. You cannot be squeamish about double dipping in this country! Everything went in there! Ducks blood congealed into a jelly cube, tofu ( in various forms) lamb, pork, mushrooms, crabs, green leafy things, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, noodles, I would tell you more, but I don't even know the names for most of the things! Even after two shots at this, I still haven't suss did the etiquette, if there is any. Seems you choose what you want individually, but then you fish out anything at all you like from the pot, so you end up eating each other's choices anyway! 

Each experience was fantastic, but very different and in very different venues, one was a more local place, which was fun and relaxed. The other was also fun, but in a massive restaurant and we had a private room just for us, with our own personal waitress, and bottles of rice wine to drink down shot style with the meal. There was even a kung-fu style noodle dancer who threw some dough around himself in a extremely skilled manner. He moved so fast I didn't even get a clear shot of him doing his thing. 

It is quite common for people to be sick after a hotpot meal, often because they have taken out something that wasn't cooked through, and I can understand why this happens because if someone else puts something in, and you didn't see them you think it's the thing you put in ages ago and it bound to be ready. One girl was off class the next day after our first hotpot with a bad tummy, poor thing, thankfully I was ok! People also get a bad stomach from the high chilli content in the dish. I have to admit to not finding it overhot at all. Tingly, but not burning. The rice 'wine' however did burn. I say wine, but this stuff was 38%vol! 

Anyway, that's enough about food for now, off you go and cook yourself something!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

China day 5: The Buddha

Sunday. My day off from teaching. Strange to have a end of week after only 2 days of classes, however, due to my horrific sleeping pattern, a day off was indeed required. It wasn't exactly a restful calm day though! 

It started with a miscommunication, a Chinese whisper if you like... Where I was still in bed when Leon came to collect me! However, In half an hour I managed to wash, dress, pack up my room and move to a different room (mine was noisy and had no washing machine, yes that's right, you read correctly, I now have a washing machine in my hotel room!). We then walked to where a group of the students were waiting for me. Not for a class, but because , like me, this was their first visit to Shanghai and they wanted to do the tourists sights too! It was lovely to have their company for the day and for us all to be tourists together. Our first stop off the subway was Jinan temple. The huge gold lions were obvious form the second we got out of the subway station and this prompt the first of our many photo opportunity stops! 

I didn't know very much about Buddhism, but I learned a lot this day. All of us were continually frustrated by the lack of a common language, but we managed. I tried to throw a coin into the giant urn in the centre of the temple, if it goes in its good luck. And you will get rich. I failed. Then I burned incense and bowed to the 4 Buddhas , one in each of the four long temples which made up the temple complex. That seemingly will grant me my wish. Next I rubbed the stone hands and feet beside the symbol of two intertwined fish. That seemingly will bring me happiness (fu). One of the few Chinese words I can remember because I do want to be 'fu' of happiness!!! 

Listening to Leon and the girls describe their faith to me,  the faith that the government has tried to get rid of from the country, I saw two main things. The idea that the responsibility is on you, to try to become a better person, and also that if you get good luck you will wish for money! The first I find admirable. The second really became rather irritating, everything seemed to be about 'getting rich' to the point of obsessiveness. Or maybe I just understood it wrong. 

I did feel a little lucky, the day we visited the temple was a special day, so there was no entrance fee (money!) and also one of the rooms in the temple that wasn't normally open had been pined for the first time in seven years. That truly is lucky. We got to see three Buddha statues that normally cannot be seen! I was unlucky because my camera ran out of space half way round the temple, but even that turned into a good thing because all the girls took photos for me and with me and connected with me on wechat so they could send them to me. So something not great turned into something lovely! 

Since I had missed breakfast, leon and I decided to do luck while the girls went shopping. We had a very special lunch, a traditional shanghai meal of pork belly that is cooked in a sweet sauce. Not to mention the dates stuffed with sweet sticky rice, and the  cream cakes too. Fattening? I couldn't have been more so! But it also couldn't have been tastier! 

After lunch we walked down one of the main shopping streets of Shanghai. Every designer name you can think of has a massive flagship store here. I didn't go in. I have been amazed by the prices of things even in shops in consider inexpensive, like H&M and Zara due to the high tax placed on these goods by the government, so I cannot even imagine the prices in Prada and Gucci ! I did like though that on one stretch of the road there was some building work going on, so they had out up a chipboard 'wall' around it. But instead of leaving it blank, or using it for advertising, they had covered the whole thing with plants. It was a living wall. Beautiful and good for the environment. I couldn't ever imagine This happening in Egypt where the outsides of buildings often aren't even painted, never mind covered in plants! 

I can however imagine this happening in Egypt, a stunning piece of architecture, covered completely by a massive billboard! 

The weather is cold. Colder than I expected. I had thick tights on, but I had to go into a shop to buy some leggings to wear on top! We also bought some traditional Taiwanese tea to warm us up, made from ginger, dates and dragons eye fruit! The shopping street is pedestrianised, so they have little toy trains that take tourists and shoppers up and down the length of it. I suspect we could have walked it faster, but it was a fun thing to do and we were able to pass by the musicians in the streets, how similar are these to The Egyptian instruments, Quanoon and Rababa?! 

And the hip hop dancers, and saw madam taussards too!

We dragged the girls away from the shops and met with Leon's sister Mai. Except that I found out she is not really his sister, but his cousin. Because in China they are only allowed to have one child per family, first cousins often call each other brother and sister. My heart did a wee flip at this story. How beautiful is that? 

The Bund is the corniche, or promenade in Shanghai and is the area that used to be a British colony. All the buildings looked incredibly familiar. I felt I was in Edinburgh, or London. They way they were lit at night was stunning too. On the other side of the river is the crazy skyscraper area ( my name rather than official place name!) . This place 20 years ago was completely flat land. Now it has some of the highest buildings in the world, and we went to the top floor of one of them in their amazing high speed lift that counts up the height as you ascend, and has a sound and flashing light things going on to make it even more exciting. As if you need more excitement when you know you are going up 100 floors in 66 seconds! Our ears were popping! Coming from Egypt, a land where the lifts are often not even working properly, the concept of this was mind boggling! So were the views from the top! 

Chi means luck in Chinese. And today we had Fu Chi since there was a free open air show in front of the tallest building, the one that looks like a bottle opener! The show was images of shanghai with lovely music. One song I swear was a Scottish song but with Chinese singing over it! Would love to know the history of that piece! 

It was such a mind opening and fun day playing tourist with my students. It was also a long day and we had left it too late even to buy dinner, so we ended up, I am ashamed to say, in Macdonalds! It is always interesting though going to Macdonalds in another county because there is usually a slight concession to the local food. In this case they had rice wraps, and bubble tea! 

I returned to my hotel to unpack and settle into my new room with an aching face, from all that smiling. A good day. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

China day 4 part 2: Alf Leyla we Leyla

Blog day 4 part 2,,,!    1001

1001, alf Leyla we Leyla, or one thousand and one as they call it here. I can't help but call Shanghai's main Arabic restaurant by its Arabic name, it just feels wrong in English. 

As you approach the entrance you see the large wooden engraved doors, that are just a little intimidating to open when you don't yet know what's on the other side. As it opened them however, I left instantly at home. Every face I could see was middle eastern, except the waiting staff. I felt like I had been lifted out of China and straight back into Egypt! (Dr Who tardis style!) The decor, the smell of sheesha wafting through the air mixing with the smell of kebab and the sound of om khalsoum mixing with a cacophony of Arabic dialects around the room. 

My friend, student, and the bellydancer for the evening, DouDou, had reserved me a table but was stuck in traffic (which is not quite as bad as Cairo, but not great either) so I was taken to my table to sit alone right at the front of the restaurant by the stage. I realised that I would feel very uncomfortable in Egypt sitting alone in a restaurant like this, but in China no one blinked. It did still take me a few minutes to relax and process that though. The owner came over to introduce himself and quiz me in Arabic about where I was from etc. It was all very pleasant and welcoming. I fancied a drink, a wine or a beer or something, but it took me a while to get over the social stigma that I have obviously learned in Cairo about the impression that would give. A woman sitting alone drinking alcohol! It's only in these sort of situations I realised just how much my thinking has been influenced by Egypt, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not! 

DouDou arrived, and as she said, it was like a dream. Last time I saw her was in Cairo, at my birthday party at the end of June when she had been attending the ahlan we sahlan dance festival. To be sitting in her workplace, an Arabic restaurant in the heart of Shanghai, just felt unreal! Almost as though the entire last 5 days had been a dream, I had never been to china and we were in reality somewhere in Cairo! 

1001 has two dancers, seven nights a week. The system of the dancers there seemed very strange to me. They each dance 2 songs, with 30 minutes break between each dancer. Compared to a one half hour, or even hour set like I am used to seeing in Egypt this felt very different! I saw how it must feel for the dancer too... You get all your adrenaline pumped up to perform... Then you sit for an hour as the adrenaline crashes... Then you have to psych yourself up again for another 2 songs, then another hour sitting. For 4 hours! Exhausting even though you are physically only performing for 6-8 songs, so maybe 45/50 minutes in total. Give me an hour long set any day!  Despite that set up, both girls did incredibly well!

I can't remember the other dancers name I'm afraid. I am finding the Chinese names very difficult to remember. If they have an English name as well, then that really helps! She was elegant, but a little distant and I kept getting distracted by this horrible red curtain around the outside edge of the stage though. In my imagination it was as though the dancer was some prized exotic bird behind her cage. It reminded me of the alicia keys song 'caged bird'! I asked DouDou about it, thinking she would be annoyed by it, as I was. I saw it as a barrier between the dancer and the audience. She however liked it. She said that many Chinese dancers are shy, so they like having it there! 

When DouDou danced she blew me away! I knew she was technically talented however, I wasn't expecting so much sass and cheek and sexiness and power. She captivated the audience in such a way that the air was heavy from all the words and unfinished sentences hanging in it. Her style totally Egyptian. When I taught her, she had only been dancing literally a matter of months. I could see at that time that there was huge potential there, but I hadn't actually envisioned it being not just reached but surpassed. She was very sweet and told me how important I had been to her dance development, that I had opened her eyes to the important things in the dance, in particular the communication with your audience. As her first ever non Chinese teacher she sees me as being very important. It was all very ego boosting indeed. If I have helped this fabulous dancer in even just a little way, never mind to the extent she described, then I am very proud! If you ever come to Shanghai, she dances at 1001 every Monday and Saturday. Go! 

Doudou had other girls join us, her student, and her student's students! So 4 generations of dance tutorage around one table. The Chinese are very respectful to teachers and the teacher's teacher is called your 'teacher mummy'. That made me 'teacher grandmother'!  Not sure I am ready to be a granny! A charming group of girls. We all had fun, photographing everything to add to weshe as they call the app wechat which is used in china like Facebook is in most other countries where it is not banned. You add photos for your friends to see and comment on as well as messaging and sending instant voice messages though it. I have already become addicted! If anyone reading this wants instant updates on my experiences in China, just upload wechat and it's all there!!!! 

Anyway, by the end of the night my jet lag, which had behaved itself well was tapping my shoulder. Actually it was sitting like a lead weight on my eyelids to be honest, never mind a tap! I suddenly understood why those hundreds of Chinese, Japanese and Korean tourists who had come to my show in Cairo at the Nile Pharoah over the years were all sitting with their heads in their arms. I had always been a little upset that they couldn't make the effort to watch my dance, thinking they didn't enjoy my show. Now I know what jet lag is and I realise that I could have been dancing naked and they would have barely registered the fact! 

Doudou saw me home in a taxi and we talked all the way about dance and music and Egypt. It's so lovely to come to the other side of the world and connect with people so well. So interesting to see all the differences, and to note the similarities. I feel honoured that I have this opportunity. That sounds 'awfully proper' when I read it back to myself, but it is true, I feel honoured. 

In fact, I just had a wee laugh to myself at the idea of how the young girl that I was, would have reacted to the news that one day she would fly from her home in Egypt (!) to teach Bellydance(!) to the Chinese in Shanghai (!) ! My young brain could never ever have imagined such a thing. I don't think I could have told you where Shanghai was in the world, or even what Bellydance was for that matter either. Growing up in Inverness, Scotland I don't even recall having a single Chinese child in our school. An amazing life story and I'm only half way though (or at least I hope I am!!) 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Day 3 - Teaching Belly Dance in China

Originally written Friday 15th November:

Today was the first of my classes, so also the first time to meet my new students. The studio is a 5 minute walk from the hotel, which is perfect, so no stress about getting there and back. The dance studio has 2 medium sized studios and one larger one. We were in the larger one today, but not sure if we will be there everyday or not. It's a lovely place with areas outside the studios with cushions on the floor etc to relax between class. 

The only thing that is weird, or weird for me anyway, is the toilet. It's the 'put your feet here and squat over this hole' type of thing... I chose to teach an hour of camels with a full bladder rather than use it today! Those of you reading this who dance will know just how uncomfortable that is, not to mention unbecoming.... It is bad enough that everyone in the class, and I mean everyone, has a super flat tummy so I look obese standing next to them, but with a full bladder too?!!!! One girl was asking advice on her belly roll, and kindly said,or at least I think she meant it kindly,  "but you have big belly, so it looks very good, my belly is too flat, no?!". What can you say to that exactly?! Ah the honesty of the Chinese! 

That however is my only complaint so far. Which is pretty good I think! 

It is interesting working with a translator. Everything takes not twice as long, but nearly that. As my goal is to get the dancers to think for themselves about how to make up their own combinations etc a lot of my class is talking to explain what to do and how to, rather than demonstrating.  I am sure as the weeks progress we will speed up in understanding of each other... And I am sure they are going to learn more Arabic than I will learn Chinese! It's is hard also remembering names, and I am not even at the point of asking names yet since I know my brain won't retain them! 

So far my Chinese has progressed from hello, to hello and thank you. A word a day, not even that actually is this is day3. Not exactly the top linguist! In my defense, I do now recognize a lot of typical food dishes that I didn't know before. A more important survival skill I think!

The dancers are very quick to learn though and patient too. I was worried that advanced dancers would feel bored, or worried they were wasting their money since we started with 4 hours of the basics today, figures of 8's and circles etc... But they were all ok. They all really took on board what I was teaching about the different ways to do these basics, and the silence from all that concentration in one room was deafening! 

I have been sampling lots of the local foods. Too much in fact. It is strange having a full meal for breakfast... Then being taken out for both lunch and dinner! I am a one meal a day type of girl usually! The food is gorgeous, and Leon and Mai have been trying to get me to try all the local meals... So, try as I might, a 'light' meal ends up being meat, rice, veg, and lots of fried stuff. This is not a complaint, I am loving the food, but a little too much!

Now for the sweets! Even the sweets are made with tofu and rice (with lots of fruit and sugar and jelly added) I have been amazed to learn that Chinese never seem to use chocolate in their desserts! We went to a restaurant that was 100% desserts! and not a single mention of chocolate on the huge menu at all! They pulverize rice grains and make dumpling type things with the flour, it is everywhere, for every meal. Sweet and savoury. Today I got to try the weird looking fruit that looks like a prickly coconut, a dorian ( or dorain maybe!?). Seemingly these fruit have such a strong smell that in Malaysia, it is actually illegal to take them onto public transport and planes according to Mai! She said they confiscate your luggage if they discover it! It was wrapped in a green sticky rice blanket and stuffed with fresh cream. Wow. 

The Chinese also use beans in places I would never think to, as a dessert. Mai today has a pudding which looked like chocolate, but that disappointed was a brown bean curd, with a black sesame paste and a tofu paste on top. All with some sugar, but not a lot. It was as strange tasting as you can imagine. Foul (ful) as a dessert essentially! 

I am going to be huge by the time I get back! I already warned them that tomorrow I will not have lunch at all, maybe only a banana! I cannot dance straight after all of this! Tonight I am skipping dinner too, just having fruit and lots of herbal tea and just a couple of the peanut butter filled sticky rice dumplings in ginger sauce that Leon gave me to take to hotel because he was worried I would starve without dinner! Which of course I have to try, to be polite. But mainly I am trying to help repair a little damage my diet has already done to me!!! I bought some unsweetened chilled jasmine tea, thinking that would be good for me too... But it's like taking medicine! Yuck! Think I will buy myself some flowers tomorrow... The sell all the teas in their whole form so you can buy little rose buds, or chamomile flowers that you just steep as is. They are very pretty , although I don't know yet what they will taste like! I bought the licorice root to do that with, but the taste is very bitter... Need to buy some sugar (or lift some at breakfast!) which kinda defeats the health incentive! 

Oh... At breakfast, they play all the karaoke favourites ... And on my first morning I couldn't believe it when I heard, and I kid you not, " ye banks and braes" .... Really! I felt like it was fate, welcoming the Scots lass to her new home for the month! I came over all emotional! That will be the jet lag! 

Tonight I was in bed by 5.30pm. Woke at 9.30pm and now awake until I don't know...it's is not linked, but at least though I am finally online! I now have a device you plug into the wall which gives me unlimited wifi! Yippee!!! So I am writing all these blog posts and emailing them to Ellie (of London, in Cairo!) to post on my blog for me since I have hotmail, but that is about it. Facebook, twitter and blogger are all unavailable, and I know you can get round this with a VPN, but I have only just managed in 3 days to get online at all... So this will have to do. The frustrating thing is that my notifications from both twitter and Facebook flash up on my iPad... So I can see I have 104 notifications, but I cannot access them! That is worse than nothing at all! I have to say though. I suspect a month off Facebook isn't such a bad thing for my mental health ! Although I do miss being able to contact my friends regularly! 

Talking of friends, tomorrow I am hopefully seeing one of 'my' Chinese girls, the ones who came to stay with me in Cairo in the 1st revolution. The girls who all call me 'mummy Lorna!' because I looked after them while they were in Egypt. Now it is her turn, 'Dou Dou' ( dance name Corrine) can play at mummy instead! She is dancing at a restaurant called 1001... I am hoping we can go see her show. That would be mad. Going to an Arabic restaurant in Shanghai to see a professional bellydancer that I have trained, perform! Hope the jet lag allows me!!! 

I think it's interesting how most of the Chinese people I have met all have nicknames, like dou dou, which is not their given name, as well as their 'non Chinese' name, Todd, Leon, Corrine, Sophie to name but a few so far! One of my students' name is 'Sisi'. I told her I would never forget her name because it was the name of the most important man in Egypt just now! She was very pleased at this idea (the being linked to a top man in Egypt, although perhaps at me remembering her name too!)

Enough. I hope my waffling on about all this is of interest to you! Please do feel free to make comments. Although I can't see the actual blog, I get an email for every comment notification, so at least I can read those there!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Day 2 - Part 2

Originally written Thursday 14th November:

Leon and I 'did' Shanghai this afternoon. He drove me into the main city centre and took me to a mall, since I had said I wanted to shop while I was here. However, this was designer brand mall, and not the fake stuff either... So no shopping for me! Instead we bought big Chou pastry buns that are piped full of fresh cream, hailed a taxi and at my request went somewhere 'other foreigners' liked.

We ended up in the old part of Shanghai, little two stores buildings, in narrow alleyways with every sort of souvenir shops below that you can think of, silk scarves, to pocket watches, to hello kitty glasses to local food stuffs. Basically, the Shanghai version of Khan el Khalili, without the hassle! 

I ate a soup which had pork dumplings floating about in it. Nicer than it sounds. It also had duck skin floating in it, but I couldn't bring myself to eat that. We didn't however eat or drink in the toilet restaurant. All seats made out of loo seats and urinals hanging from the walls. Mad!

Nor did we go into the cat cafe. You have your coffee in there and the cats sit on your table while you do. Purr therapy or some such thing. I have never seen drugged cats before but that's what these surely were. They hardly moved, even when a kid was yanking a tail, and they were dressed up in pet costumes... I felt really sorry for them. It reminded me of the first time I ever went to sharia haram to a cabaret and, before and after the dancer performed, they had a line of girls come onto stage and just stand there, basically advertise their wares. The glassed over eyes were the same.

We talked about the course, seemingly 23 students every day and a few who are only coming for a few days... So a good core of 23, which I am happy about and looking forward to meeting them tomorrow! After the 'SH Khan' (as I will from now on refer to that area unless I discover it's actual name!) we went round the food market where I was able to get Leon to identify some of those fruit and veg I hadn't recognized earlier in the day when I was in the supermarket, I also managed to get some nice pics too since I felt less intimidated by having a local by my side. 

We took the subway, which has 22 lines and is clean and fast and cheap, to another massive 'city stars style' mall (they are all starting to blur into one in my head now !) to meet with his sister for a dumpling dinner. Pork and vegetable dumplings dipped in vinegar with ginger. Yummy! I feel I have done nothing but eat continually since I arrived. That is not a complaint though, Classes start tomorrow and I suspect these students will make me work it all off! 

Over dinner I was able to quiz the sis on various cultural norms, checking if there were any taboo subjects or manners points I should note... And warning her what we will be doing in class since tomorrow she is doing the translation for me, which is good. I like her and she 'gets' the whole Egypt thing after her time living in Kuwait. We had a great chat about the comparisons between China and Egypt with regards women's rights, attitudes towards sex, marriage, dance, teaching etc etc. it was v interesting. She is not my permanent translator, but I think it will be fun working with her while I can. 

Home (via subway again) and into PJs by 6pm!!!! Me? Jet lagged? Whatever gave you that idea? Night night for now... 

Ps- it is now 6am, I've been awake since 2.30. Wide awake- Working on music playlist for the day's class and listening to more culture of China podcasts (this time attitudes towards sex and in particular the idea that a happy work force is a productive one- wonder if that could be useful information for Egypt to take on board?!) 

So I am wide awake at exactly the times I would be sleeping in Cairo! I suspect though the waking up, as well as being due to jet lag, has something to do with the loud generator noise which I can hear constantly and which sounds like a massive AC unit (not mine since mine is switched off!) I have never been very good with white noise. Ear plugs to be purchased tomorrow! Inshallah.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Day 2 - Everything is so new!

Originally written Thursday 14th November:

I was so happy to sleep last night that I thought I would be lucky to wake for breakfast. Yeah right. Slept about 1am. Wide awake at 4am! Listened to two podcasts all about 'humour in china' and the 'Egyptian revolution and it's effects in china', read to the end of book 'the Beijing office' and then it was at last time for breakfast, my social research at least complete before the day starts even if the sleep is sorely lacking!

Breakfast was steamed sweet Chinese buns which are far too yummy, pork sausage, cabbage leaves, egg fried rice, a dumpling thing with meat inside, and a yoghurt. All of which I am my proud to say I ate with chopsticks, except for the yoghurt of course! I left the sweet corn because I wasn't sure how to eat that with the chopsticks, but on my way out a spied a local eating that, so I now know how to go about that for breakfast tomorrow!

Heading out I discovered that despite what all the guide books had said, my hotel couldn't in fact change money, but 'no problem there is a bank downstairs'. The bank however told me to go to a different bank because if I was to change my dollars there they would have to change me an exchange fee, but the bank of china doesn't. Seemingly. Was amazed at this advice and thanked the man in the bank who gave it. Later on, I found another bank, still not the right one, and the man there could not tell me the exchange rate at all, so I suspect that maybe only the bank of china is allowed to change dollars, rather than just doing it without an exchange fee! 

So I wandered round my local shaping mall (which is bigger than city stars, for those in Egypt who know that!) without knowing how much money I actually had in my pocket! To get to the supermarket, carrefoure, I had to go through H&M. It's a hard life! 

Wow what a supermarket!

Duck and chicken skinned and flattened hanging from hooks, numerous types of seaweed, live crabs, not to mention all the fruit and vegetables that I hadn't even ever seen before! I spent easily an hour in there gauping at it all. Was tempted to lift my camera out my bag to photograph the weird stuff... But couldn't bring myself to, will try that tomorrow! I know I stand out. I was the only foreigner I saw all morning, but I wasn't quite prepared to single myself out as the tourist too, not quite yet anyway. 

I feel like I have had a cultural and senses overload already and I was only out and about for 2 hours! This afternoon Leon is taking me around town, but that may need a 2nd blog entry !! 

Oh, and the pollution, and traffic and tooting horns is easily rival to Cairo. Nice it should try to make me feel at home, well, until I got rained on anyway!

What I have learned so far today;
- that Chinese don't tend to use irony in humour
- that democracy isn't what the Chinese crave (why would they, they are a successful country in the world for now!) and that freedom of speech is still an issue, but that there isn't a country anywhere that has freedom of speech in a dictatorship, and that many Chinese believe that they already love in a democracy.
- that China has the highest suicide rating in the world, down to high pressure to 'succeed' and also the idea that if you talk about your problems you lose 'face' so people bottle things up until, well, until they don't. Train jumping is the most common method.
- that jet lag is not what I expected.
- that I can only change money at the Bank of China, but that the mall across the road has a working ATM (not to mention H&M and carrefoure)
- that despite being the foreigner, and people looked, they did so cautiously , not wanting to offend. Unlike in Egypt where you are lucky if all they do is stare! Often in shops they would approach me assuming I spoke Chinese. I wish I did.
- that I won't starve just because I have to use chopsticks
- that there is a large group of Australian nurses staying at the same hotel... So may have to befriend them at some point
- that salted peach slices actually are super spicy (and rather nice!) 

Now off to explore some more....

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Day 1 - Arriving at Shanghai

Originally written Wednesday 13th November:

What a journey! I am so glad I thought to take some cold medicine at start of the flight, it helped me to sleep through most of the first flight at least! It was sad to see such an empty plane coming from Egypt, 170 empty seats, however it meant that everyone was able to stretch out to sleep! 

The Chinese air hostesses in Egypt air did not smile once and it worried me! Are all women in china going to be like this? Thankfully, On my china air flight from Beijing to Shanghai I found the opposite to be true, everyone was very smiley and welcoming. Phew!

What struck me most coming in to land in Beijing was the pollution. I live in Cairo. I am used to pollution, but this stuff was dense. The sky was yellowish, like a really heavy sandstorm in Cairo, but worse. As soon as we landed, before the doors were even opened my sinuses started complaining! I am really glad I am not in Beijing for the month, that's for sure! My heart goes out to the millions who have to breathe that stuff on a daily basis! 

At Beijing airport, the domestic flights area was less interesting than I had hoped. I wandered about for the 5 hours, people-watching and trying (and failing) to work the free airport wifi! I figured I could pass time by trying some dumpling or noodles or something, they smelt good, except that I had no Chinese money with me and the only ATM in the place was out of order. Ah well, saved me some pennies I guess. The food on the plane though was lovely, better than any Chinese restaurant in Egypt! I have been eating Egyptair food for so many years that I forget that other airlines do different things, although granted I did have to stifle a laugh because the choice was still chicken or beef! 

On arrival in Shanghai, I was praying that Leon, the course organiser, was going to be at arrivals when I got there since my phone doesn't seem to be working at all here. Will look into that tomorrow! He was not only waiting at arrivals but had his sister, a photographer and his wife there too. A whole welcoming party, which included the paparazzi!!! His sister speaks fluent English and had lived in Kuwait for 2 years, so it was really interesting meeting her and comparing experiences.  I've been stressed about this trip for weeks, but as soon as I had actually met these guys I could feel myself relaxing instantly. I think I will be happy here.

After I had checked in to the hotel that will be home for a month, Leon and Mai (his sister) and I went for food. A restaurant a stone's throw from the hotel served us duck, goose, noodles, veg, and lotus root (which was v sweet and quite tasty).  I didn't want to risk drinking the tap water just yet... Don't want to start the course with a dodgy tummy, so I ordered coke, with a difference: it was served in a tea cup, hot , with ginger and lemon in it. A surprisingly very enjoyable drink! I even managed to eat the meal with chopsticks and didn't disgrace myself too badly with them, another phew! Leon took photos of me doing so too, which I believe are circling around Chinese social media somewhere already!!! 

My hotel room is like a mini studio apartment, complete with kitchen. Seemingly I'll move in a few days to a different room that has a washing machine in it too!!!! I am on floor 30, and looking forward to seeing the view from my huge windows in the daylight! The skyscrapers are huge. Seriously huge. But that's enough for now.. The past 23hours since I left cairo have taken their toll, Mr Sandman here I come...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

At the airport, again!

I feel like I have been living in airports these past few months. That's not a complaint I hasten to add... Just an observation! This time I am on my way to China. 

I am about to teach an intensive Egyptian style Bellydance course, 4 hours per day, 6 days per week, for 4 weeks. Some of the 'beginners' in the group have seemingly been teaching for 5/6 years! I am excited and nervous in possibly equal measures. Apart from the regular weekly classes that I taught for years in Scotland before moving to Cairo 8 years ago, I have never had the privilege of teaching the same group of students over this many hours, and have never ever done something like this before. We will be covering everything, from the different styles of dance and music and rhythms, to technique and how to improvise and performance skills. We, my 20 odd students ( as in around. 20.... Not. That they will be 'odd' - I hope!!) and I will be putting on a show on the last night. That, I am really excited about! 

Of course the timing is just very unfortunate. For the past 3 months there has been a curfew on at night in Egypt. Which means that there has been very little work, given that there has been no tourists at all. So I have been waiting.... And now that the curfew is to be lifted this week... , yes this. Week! And the work queries are flooding in, now, I have to refuse them all because I will be out the country for a month. Bah humbug! Typical! Anyway... 

I am excited about meeting my students. I am looking forward to Chinese food. I am me very excited about shopping. I am hoping to be able to see at least on my way home, my school friend Alicia and her family who live in Beijing (and her new baby due tomorrow!)  I am interested to know what it will be like to work intensively with the same group of students... 4 hours a day, every day. I can see myself getting really involved in it all.... I just hope the translator can keep up with me! 

My main focus will be on trying to create 20 ( or however many there are in the class) completely different, individual styled dancers. Here's to individualism and creativity! My biggest nightmare would be 20 Lorna clones,  and considering how well the Chinese copy... I suspect this will be my biggest struggle over the next month. 

That and going without Facebook and twitter for a month!

Yes, I admit it, I am an addict! The idea of a month without social media scares the hell out of me! I am hoping to be able to at least keep the blog entries happening by emailing entires to a friend to post for me...

 So if you usually follow me on Facebook... Don't panic... I haven't fallen off the end of the world (or at least I hope I won't!) but just make sure you subscribe to this blog to find out about my experiences of teaching Bellydance to the Chinese and fingers crossed I will be able to check in at some point over the month! Please do send messages, just in case I do manage to check in! 

I have lots of books and podcasts downloaded, not to mention about 40 YouTube dance videos to watch, Study and learn from... So in between teaching, shopping, eating, sightseeing and socializing I will have plenty to do. I Suspect I will be praying for some space and peace though, despite my fear just now that I will be lonely too much of the time!!! 

Off to the gate... China.... Here I come. How exciting! 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fancy a cuppa?

So, in case you can't keep track of where I am these days ( I wouldn't blame you , I can't either!) I'm home, in Cairo and last week I did a Bellydance performance that was very different to performing on the boats, my usual work in Egypt.

 I have always stayed away from performing in bars, seeing it as a 'lower' or 'seedy' venue to perform. Frightened of the hassle, or of the stigma. However, I was very wrong to worry. I had an amazing night last week. Everyone who came was just there because they love Bellydance. On the Pharoah, people would be there to do the cruise on the Nile, to celebrate a wedding, to show off part of Egypt's heritage, and occasionally for the bellydancing. On Thursday, 100% of my audience appreciated dance and was there to enjoy it.

In UK, I have often performed for audiences who are just there for the dance, but they are usually all dancers... Watching you to learn from you or judge you, but always evaluating, studying. I always enjoy the performance, and thankfully they do too. But as every dancer will agree, dancing for dancers is very different than dancing for 'normal' people. And no, us dancers are not normal!!!

This audience I really felt was there because like the dancers I usually perform for, they too love Egyptian music and dance. Some came because they knew me, but had never seen me dance. Others because they couldn't believe a Scottish girl could dance, and others came because they had seen me before and brought friends along with them this time to 'show me off', "The Scottish girl who dances like an Egyptian".So yes, there was an element of evaluating, however, the majority had come because they knew there was to be a Bellydance show and they wanted to see.

 Within minutes, no, in fact,  within seconds of me starting to perform I felt they were just 'with me'. Not even just watching me, but actually part of the whole thing. My dance fed off them, and their enjoyment fed off me and the whole thing just felt alive. One could not exist without the other. I don't really know even how to explain that feeling. I will try, with a very British example;

For a cup of tea to be a 'perfect' cup of tea, you need good tea, the 'right' water at the right temperature, milk and or sugar to be added or not at the 'right' levels, but you need something else. You need to be in the mood for a cup of tea. You have to really want it to get that 'ahhh, now that's a perfect cup of tea' feeling. The dancer and all her skills and attributes are the cup of tea. The tea drinker with all their experience of past cuppas and current mood is the audience. One is nothing without the other. You get me? Or is that too British an example?!

A friend who has seen me dance many times before, said that she told a girl who was seeing me for the first time, one of the few non Egyptians in the room, not just to look at my dance, but instead to watch me and the audience and how we interacted together. When I brought the dance down into a stillness the room hushed, when I sped up the room erupted, even to the extent that When I lifted my arms up , they did too!

That's why I dance.

That amazing feeling of being part of something that is so much bigger than the sum of its parts. A room of people who become linked by a common experience. I feel lucky to experience that. Even luckier to be instrumental in creating that.

That's why, whatever happens I want to stay dancing in Cairo, to be eternally chasing that 'perfect cup of tea'.

costume by Pharaonix of Egypt

Here's some photos taken at the above gig. Sorry I don't have many with the audience in them... But you will just have to take my word for it that they were there and they were with me!

Costume by Eman Zaki Golden Lotus

Costume by Sagaat Bellydance

NB- my 'witty aside' to the above is that while writing this blog entry, my actual cup of tea that I had been making went cold. Now I have to microwave it. It's never the same after that is it? Ah well, kettle on again!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The joy of Bellydance

When I was in UK to teach at the JTA meeting in Newcastle, I also taught and performed at the Bellydance festival Jewel of Yorkshire (JoY for short!) . It is held twice a year in the north of England, in Saltaire, a little town near Leeds.

I taught 4 workshops, and I think my personal favourite was dancing baladi, with a stick. Wow. There was some energy flowing around that room by the time be finished! I love that although I am the teacher, I often come out of the class knowing so much more about the dance than when I went into it. An empowering workshops for me, and if I may be so bold as to say it for this students who attended too!

In the show I performed a saaidi dance. It was a lot of fun up there but the time was too short! By the time I finished I felt like I was just warming up. I have gotten so used to the half hour/ hour shows of Egypt, that the 6 mins slots in a hafla setting in UK just whizz by in a blink and leave me very unsatisfied!

I did have some wonderful photographers in the crowd though who where about to grab these fun shots of my show. Massive thanks to Sarah Selwood and Ian cartlidge, the official JoY photographers, and also to Mark Hurd, for all these joyful moments caputured;

We all shimmy together

I'm still alive! I think, to do my best blogging, I need to ban myself from both twitter and Facebook! Those I seem to manage to comment in ever day... And my poor blog gets left behind!

Here on my blog, you get a more in-depth Lorna, but if you want a little bit of Lorna daily then I recommend you follow me there, if you are not already!

Home for a few days now, full of a stinking cold. The problem with the pollution in Cairo, is that once you get sick, it always seems to take so much longer to get well again without the oxygen to help you! But hey ho, I will live. As my mum always says, 'oh Lorna, buck up, it's JUST a cold'! But a cold can really bring you down can't it?!

So I am staying home, trying to catch up on all the preparation I want to do before I head to china in two weeks time. For those of you who know me well, you will know that the word preparation and Lorna don't really fit together. I am a 'fly by the seat of my pants' kinda girl. I like the excitement and the freedom and the creativity that is involved in improvising. Whether that is improvising a performance or a workshop. I love living in the moment, connecting to what my audience and/or students are feeling and responding to and taking it form there. It's the interaction that I love more than anything. So the idea of having to come up with a month of lesson plans gives me a mental block, but I am trying. Wish me luck.

A couple of weeks ago I was in UK teaching and performing in Newcastle, UK.

It was my first time teaching in Newcastle, and I loved meeting the dancers there. I was honoured to be asked to teach the JTA, which is a group of bellydance teachers who wanted to meet together at regular intervals to share information and support each other. Such a noble and worthy cause! So I was asked along to teach the teachers, and what a lovely group they were too.

Often once dancers start teaching they become isolated. Despite standing in front of up to hundreds of women every week in class, I remember when I was teaching full time, how lonely I felt and that I had no one I could turn to for advice about problems with students, advertising, how to teach mixed level classes etc etc the list is endless. I struggled alone, and didn't see any other option at the time. These women are doing it right. Seeing each other not as competition but as colleagues, supporting each other and therefore the UK dance scene as a whole. If you haven't heard of it, and want to get and give support as a UK teacher I recommend you contact them about how to join!

Www.theJTA.org  is their website, which is still under reconstruction, however you can get info via a link on there. You need to have done a JWAAD safety course to join, but you do not have to be a JWAAD qualified teacher (which is the bit most dancers don't realize!). I recommend it, to all Bellydance teachers. Whatever 'style' you teach or 'school' you are from. Let's unite and help each other to build Bellydance in the UK rather than all feeling we have to do it alone!

Now, what I would like is an organization to link all the professional bellydancers in Cairo together, to share and help each other. To stand together against unfair treatment and pay. That's what we need now. A Cairo bellydancers union. A pipe dream, unfortunately. It would take a stronger woman than me to set it up, that's for sure!

Here's a pic of me performing in Newcastle. A relaxed fun very enjoyable evening. I look forward to returning to Newcastle as soon as I can!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Note for all future cruise 'Taste of Cairo' bellydancers

This is an entry just for dancers about to go on a working cruise. A FAQ if you like.

Since HAL cruise line have been using bellydancers for their European tours, and Tracey at Taste of Cairo dance agency has managed to get so many British dancers opportunities to dance on these cruise I thought I would put together this blog entry for all the dancers who are about to go on a cruise. (If this inspires you work a cruise- have a chat with Tracey! Www.tasteofcairo.com )  I have been asked all these questions, now I have done two,  and I in turn, when I went on my first one, remember having soooo many questions about what would be expected of me! 

It's just a note of all the things I worried about actually, and my experiences!

- travel details. These will be sent to you, but don't panic about not getting them early- I received mine 2 days before I travelled! They send it in email and via TripCase, which is an app which you can download on iPhone etc. if you can print this info out all the better. Taxi's between airport/hotel and ship will be covered by ship. Either paid for in advance by them, or as was the case last time I went I got a normal taxi at airport, and a receipt and the ships purser reimbursed me the cash (this is when that print out will be useful!) 

- if you only have the dates, and perhaps ship name from the agency, then go onto http://www.hollandamerica.com and you will be able to track more info about your ship port schedule, plus any other info.

-on arrival, just present yourself at the gangway to the ship and then check in at reception. They will let you know who the entertainment manager is and may well have a letter for you from her/him and then you can make arrangements to meet them. I had very different experiences in both ships. One manager took me around the ship on a guided tour and discussed the program with me one day one. The other ship, maybe cos they knew i had done one before, kinda left me to my own devices from the beginning. 

- you should get a room key, and also a staff crew card which has your photo on it (they take your pic at check in!) they take your passport from you. When you leave the ship at any European port the card is enough to show port officials. They don't need your passport. My first ship stopped at Egypt, and that was the only port where we had to collect our passports from front desk. 

- with regards how much 'work' you have to do; i have done two cruises now, one 12 day and one 5 day. I think it really is up to each entertainment manager to set the program. I have never felt I  was being asked to do too much (in fact, would have happily done more!). Just as a rough guideline I did the following;

12 day cruise; 7 classes, 3 performances, 1 Arabic class. 
5 day cruise; 2 classes, 1 performance, 1 talk about Egypt, 1 photo shoot on gangway (1hr) 
All classes and performances were half an hour. I used my iPad for all of it. They have all the appropriate leads etc for that. head mics available too if you want them. 
Level is complete beginners. They just want to have fun! In 1 st cruise I have some women who came to all 7 classes, so best to vary your classes just in case! I also had a few ladies who had done classes in their own countries so I would throw them extra little challenges to try while the others were getting to grips with the basics. 
Each performance is only one costume, so best to take about 3/4 costumes with you depending on number of days you have for shows and photo shoots. Also I did an element of audience interaction and participation in each show and they loved this! I kept to oriental style mostly, but no reason why you couldn't add in a little of folk styles etc.. Best to stick with oriental style costume though rather than folk or tribal! 

- rooms. If you are lucky you will get a guest statesroom. These are lovely. I got one in my 1st cruise. If less lucky you will be in crew room which is still more than adequate and you have room to yourself with ensuite shower room. Power sockets are the round two pin plug you find in Europe and in Egypt. Towels included and there is a fridge in the staterooms but not in the crew rooms. TV has a channel you can watch out of front and back of ship- and you can even check these out online so your friends/ family back home can see where you are each day too!

-money. All drinks on board are added to your bill. I just put my credit card in at start as security but triple check the bill at the end just in case (mine was very wrong! But they were fine about sorting it) all prices on ship are in US dollars. Obviously euros are useful for European ports and accepted in turkey too, although actual currency there is the Turkish lira. On ship you get staff discount on everything. (All your meals are included anyway)

- phone/Internet. Make sure your phone is on airplane setting when you are at sea. The ships signal is super expensive! You can use their Internet cards, but they are expensive and not very reliable. Make sure you get a staff card for this rather than guests one! Much cheaper. I basically just went on phone and internet when we were at port, not at sea. On my own roaming package. This was the best option.

- the motion of the ocean. If you are prone to sea sickness, don't worry. The ships are HUGE floating hotels. You hardly feel any motion at all. Take drugs with you if you are prone to it though obviously! I only felt slight rocking one day which was a little difficult to teach with but we all got on with it. 

- On a health note. Ships are very prone to the Norovirus bug. There is units with antibacterial gel all over the ship. Use them. I do maybe 10 times a day. It is not worth getting sick on ship since you get isolated in your room if you do so you don't spread it!!! 

- free time-what to do?  I ate, used library and gym and Pool and jacuzzi. Want to the shows each night and generally sat chatting with guests, who were always interested to hear about how a British woman became a bellydancer! Guests are usually older, and American, Australian, British and Dutch. Business cards are good too if you have any, since many people want to become your friend on fb etc or ask about information about dance classes in their hometowns.

- at port. Unlikely you will have any work scheduled while you are at port, apart from if you are on the gangway to do a photo op either when guests are leaving ship or arriving, and that's usually only an hour or so. At each port you can wander off and do your own thing, or go on an organized tour. If you go to excursions desk on arrival they will give you the program and you can do any of the tours free, if you apply in advance and there are spaces available. Your entertainment manager will explain how to go about applying for this, ask them if they don't! It means while on the tour you may need to count heads of fill in a health and safety form or something but otherwise enjoy tour as the guests do, except free! This is good if it is somewhere that requires a drive from ship! I did one organized tour and the rest of the time I wandered about just directly from ship, or used the hop on hop off buses. iPhone maps was great cos it meant I could drop a pin in at the dock and always find my way back to ship if I wandered off. Also crew are due on ship 30mins prior to the time they say last embarkation is for guests- so keep an eye on time. The ship does leave without people!!!! 

I think that is everything. Any dancers who have been on the ships who feel there is something else useful to add please let me know. And any other questions too- fire away! 

Happy cruising!!! Hope you have as much fun as I did!