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! )  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 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! 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cruise 3- Katakolon and Piraeus (Greece)

Day 3 on board I decided this was the sunbathing day. I remembered my suncream this time too! I had the entire top deck to myself as folks went off on shore to see the first ever Olympic Games site. No work today at all. I actually asked for extra duties... But seems they are happy with what I'm doing and don't need more. Thing is, I want to dance! Other crew members were jealous because I have in total of 6 days on ship, only 2 with any teaching or performing, I am jealous that they get to perform every day! I've spent the time chatting with guests, going to the Gym and sunbathing. But I'd rather be dancing! I really have got the right job haven't I? How many people have you ever complain about lack of work (when they are paid for doing it or not, I'm not talking about those who get paid per shift and need more shifts!!)

In katakolon I had a wander about, mainly to buy wine and find free wifi somewhere! My Vodafone data package from Egypt decided I had done enough online and blocked me. Why is there ALWAYS a problem with roaming phone, even if you set it all up in advance?!

I have been buying wine at each port to bring onto the ship. We are not allowed on board with beer or spirits but we are allowed wine and champagne! Since its cheaper to have a wee glass to myself in my cabin than sit at the bars on board that's what I do at sea.(and a good tip for any dancers who might do this job at some point too!!). I especially like that they sell wine in Europe in what I would consider 'water' bottles. 1.5L for often less than €3, and I can't tell you how much better that 'cooking' wine from here and Italy is compared to Egyptian wine! 

I was getting a little down because I felt 'underused',  then I had one of the girls from reception come up to me at dinner and ask if, even though its not on my contract, would I mind please doing a short class for the reception girls. I jumped at the chance! Yippee- I get to dance! We had 12 in total in the class, 3 of whom were men. I have to say, the British guy who is the personal trainer aboard the ms nieuw Amsterdam, was the best in the class! Must be all that Pilates he does! He could even do a full belly roll, in both directions! We had a great laugh, I wish we could have done more! 

In Piraeus I walked and walked and shopped. I decided not to go into Athens since I did that in June, and was glad I hadn't when one couple told me how their hop on hop off bus got stopped for over an hour because of protests! Home from home or what? And next stop Turkey, that's not exactly been peaceful either has it? Seems the whole area is a mess. 

I went into shop after shop with everyone so helpful and kind. They all assumed I was Greek and when I apologized almost everyone one of the shopkeepers had a few words at least of English and made me feel very welcome. I had a long chat with one lady in a shop when I bought a lovely black lacy party dress. We talked about about the troubles in Egypt, and in Greece, and she told me how bad things have got there for everyone. So many unemployed. Employers cutting wages by a half and employees having no choice to accept because there are so few jobs. It's that or nothing! So many doorways had sleeping bags in them. its so sad to see. One old lady who didn't have any English was quite disgusted with me for not buying anything from her. It's true her shoes were cheap, but nothing I liked, so I apologized and tried to leave the shop. She grabbed my wrist 'only €5' she kept indicating but without the language I couldn't tell her that although I am born in UK, I earn Egyptian money, and that is in short supply at the moment too!  I felt guilt and sad I couldn't help her. But the entire county needs helps. I spent what money i could. Please, holiday in Greece if you can't come to Egypt.... The people there need you! 

So many similarities to Egypt; The crashed economy, The protests in the street, the desperate needs for tourists to inject a little cash into the area. Yet the friendliness of the people despite everything not to mention the wealth of ancient history both countries have. And the sunshine. Sold? book your holiday now, Egypt 1st choice, Greece 2nd. Or do both?!!! 

 I have a feeling I may feel similarly to Turkey, we are on our way there now... I fact, due in at port in about an hour. The first hour ls which I am due to stand on the gangway in costume to have my photo taken with guests as they go off on their Istanbul adventures for the evening.

This morning I performed and gave a talk about life in Egypt. Both went well and the questions I was asked were whether I would ever marry an Egyptian man, does dancing there pay well and how can the culture justify woman's dressing in niqab when the national dance is Bellydance?! Anyone want to stab a guess at how I answered?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Cruising - Venice and away!

I didn't go to the gym this morning. Instead I decided to get out early at 8am to stomp the pathways of Venice. My legs now ache and I have blisters the size of golf balls. Along with some tourist stuff I probably didn't need. Plus wine, which I do need. (I do, I do.) and a stunning cream bun, which was breakfast, and one should never skip breakfast! Minus, of course, the one thing I went shopping for! 

The last time I came to Venice I just wandered, letting myself roam wherever i fancied. On that occasion I was shopping for dresses and kept going into, and buying clothes from, shops which all turned out to be a chain of shops.. They were everywhere and I wear constantly the things I bought there. Today I knew I only have 3 hours total to do everything and be back in the ship. Do you think I could find any of these shops? No, not a single one!!! 3 hours constant, fairly fast walking, and I found many many beautiful side streets, bridges and beautiful views ( cant help it- you trip over beautiful views in Venice!) but I did not find any of these shops! My bank balance should thank me but I was gutted. I had even worked out in the map where I thought they were, and completely missed them all! No new clothes for me. 

Lessons from today. 

-Venice need more than 3 hours just to find the shop never mind to shop! 
- shoes- choose comfort not style (I looked good, but I don't now with my limp!)
- trust my instinct. This has to be the biggest lesson from today. I tried to be smart and plan, but actually if I had just followed my nose I would have been there (I discovered where I went wrong 5 minutes before I had to charge back to the ship). Too late to look, never mind try on anything! 

And since most of my blog readers are dancers this bit is for you-

 How that transpires into dance:
- Bellydance like Venice, needs more than a crash course  learning. It takes time to feel your way about and if you try to force that you miss the beauty of the dance/city! 
- costumes need to be comfortable in order to perform in, and look good!
- trust myself. Instead of trying to dance the 'right step' or style for a piece of music, be open to thoughts and feelings and take chances and risks sometimes. Planning in advance (choreographing) doesn't always work for every situation or every person. You miss the subtleties that way, as I missed my new dress today. 

And in both cases, be in wandering round Venice, or bellydancing, I found a glass of wine, or the promise of a glass of wine after, always helps! Phew, at least I got that bit right. Hic!

Listened to an educational commentary from the observation deck as we sailed out of Venice, along with the majority of the guests. 

Note to self- I must contact Tracey at Taste of Cairo to get me onto another cruise... There are dresses somewhere still to be bought In that labyrinth and I am the lady for buying them! 

Cruising- Just getting there!

5am wake up. 
I will repeat 5am Wake up.!

Goes against nature no? Well, it goes against mine anyway! That's when I am usually going to bed ( or at least it was normal bedtime before cairo curfew kicked in anyway) 

But I am not complaining. (Well, only a little!). Today I flew to Istanbul, and then to Venice in order to join the MS Nieuw Amsterdam. A week on a HAL cruise ship. Yes, that's 'another' cruise within 3 months.  Why not? It's not as if the nightlife in Cairo is keeping me working daily is it?

In Turkey I went looking for an ATM and in the process, discovered an old Egyptian women having problems with a phone card because she didn't have any English at all and the girl at the desk didn't have any Arabic. I stepped in and offered my translation services. I am not fluent by any measure, but I figured I could help move them forward from where they were, thus, doing my good deed for the day and passing some of the 5 hour transit time in the process. 

I wish I hadn't. This woman looked me up and down with such disgust, even while I was helping her that I wanted to, well, I won't tell you what I actually wanted to do. But I restrained myself and managed to get her through to her grandson in Switzerland after much to- do. A smile? A shukran? Willa haga!! (Nothing !). Surely if you don't have a common language you use basic human interaction skills. A nice person would have. Anyone half decent would have. I tried my best, believe me. I can only assume she has had a very troubled life to turn her into that type of person. So I have decided to feel sorry for her. Why can't people just be nice? 

Anyway. Forgive the rant.

Who reading this has flown into Venice airport in daylight, or better yet, as I did today, in sunset? OMG stunning! If you have never done it, it needs to be on your bucket list!  It was nearly as awesome as arriving at sunrise into Venice on the top deck of the ship when I worked on the Noordam back in June. Tomorrow we have a 'scenic sail away' planned for noon. Having a bit of a love affair with this city! Mind you, I wouldn't want to live here. The prices are horrific. €45 just to taxi from airport to ship and I swear it was less than 20 mins on clear roads. I'll be heading to the euro shop to buy myself a mask for the masquerade ball on board tomorrow night!!

On board ship I was excited about getting to my room and meeting the entertainment manager to see what my dance duties would be. My room is a staff room. Seems I was spoiled last time getting a guest room. This is lovely enough... But doesn't compare with last time (and there's no fridge, so can't buy all the 'pig fat' that my Cairo roomie had requested!). So a little disappointing. That will teach me to be on a cruise that is running at full capacity! 

As for my dance duties. I have none until Saturday! So I guess tomorrow will be sightsee (aka shop!) in Venice in the morning and sunbathe in the afternoon, before the Ball. I know, I know.... you hate me. Sorry. I know you may not believe me - but I'd rather have a class at least in the day. I feel somewhat at a loose end without a job to do! 

This evening what impressed me most was the ship's Piano man. Everyone was introduced on the big stage tonight and his line was "singing is like making love. Even if you are not very good at it , it makes you really happy when you do it!). I decided on that he would either be a big hit or a huge miss. I went along to see his act. It was the former.

 I love talent in people. Musicians, dancers, actors, painters, you name it... But when you see someone who can play piano well, at the same time as sing, not to mention play a passable harmonica (at the same time as playing piano but not whilst singing, he wasn't THAT amazing!!! ) then all of that is of course to be admired. But,what wowed me, To the point I stayed up for an hour longer than I had intend to watch, Was this man's stage presence, his charisma. 

He had everyone in the bar singing along and joking along, he knew most people's names within a very short time, but also so did we all. He had us cheering for each other. He turned a room of people into a friendly musical party. He did what I usually aim to do when I am on stage dancing, and certainly when I am teaching. He did it as thought it was the most natural thing in the world. Yet I see so many teachers and dancers who could really do with enjoying the entertainment aspect of Bellydance so that an audience enjoys as well as admires. The dance needs to be about and for those people watching, at least as much, if not more than it is for those doing it! If you are on stage it does anyway!

 That special something that every entertainer needs to stand out from the crowd. He has it. In bucketfuls. Do you? Do I? And if not how can we achieve that? (Hint- I believe the change has to come from inside our heads, rather than focusing on steps and combinations. About the reasons 'why' we dance!)

On that note, I'm heading to sleep. Hopefully my sleep will be as deep as my thoughts! (At least!!) 
I have set the alarm for 5 hours time so I can get up and join the stretch and abs class in the morning, but am thinking maybe I am being somewhat ambitious since I only slept 3 hours last night. hmmm

You know what?  If my only dilemma tonight before sleeping is working out when to fit in my 'gym time' into my 'Venice day',  life isn't too shabby, is it?!  

Sunday, September 08, 2013

An ode to Cairo

I have no idea why, since I have never written poetry in my life before, but the whim took me yesterday to try, and I went with it. Why not?

The results of that are to be published in the next NADA magazine! so in the meantime I thought I would rustle up another wee ditty for my blog readers pleasure! Hope it's a pleasure anyway....

'Home with the cat'
By Lorna of Cairo

Cairo is curfewed
the tourists don't come
I want to go dancing 
I want to have fun

I've sewn my new hair piece
I've fixed all my bling
I've even done press ups 
and sit ups and things

I try not to eat lots
And stay clear of drink
I want to stay healthy 
But it's hard not to sink

I'm sad there's no tourists
I wish they would come
I want to go dancing
I want to have fun

I really don't blame them 
I know it looks bad
When you sit watchingTV
You'd think 'they're all mad'

Yes Cairo is curfewed
Streets empty at night
But please do come see us
It's really alright

The Nile still flows northwards
The sun still shines bright
Pyramids are still open
Just don't go at night!

The dancers are bored now
We itch to perform
There just isn't work so
We sit home forlorn

Come see us shimmy
We pray, if you are able
Support the arts
And put food on our table! 

Cairo is curfewed
So home by eleven
Come enjoy Egypt,
Just get up at seven

To stay safe in Cairo
Just do as we do
Stay home every Friday
Or lie by the pool

There's plenty to do here
There's lots to be seen
The plus side of curfew?
more sleep in-between

If tourists would come here
The shows would all run
Yalla, lets all go dancing
Yani, let's have some fun

If you come to Cairo
I promise you that
It's more fun even curfewed
than home with the cat! 

Monday, September 02, 2013

Lorna's world Tour!

I have some very exciting news to share, 

Back in April I had a private class with a Chinese dance teacher, Leon. He had attended the Nile Group Festival at the Pyramisa hotel in dokki and enjoyed it. However in the class with me he said, "but Lorna, you don't teach like any of those teachers".

At first I wasn't sure how to take this! But he continued. "All China needs Lorna style!" 
I was very flattered. He promised he would find a way to get me to China to teach. I held my breath, loving the idea but doubtful he really meant it.

It would seem He did!

Two weeks ago I signed my contract to go to Shanghai. Not just to teach some workshops, but to teach an entire month long course! 

The Lorna Intensive Course!

4 weeks of 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, to the same students. They are going to know me inside out!!! 

I am very excited, since I have never been to that part of the world before and slightly nervous about it for the same reason!

To have this kind of extended time with one group of students is a fantastic opportunity for any teacher and I am excited about what we will be able to achieve together. 24hours a week for 4 weeks. I can't even begin to imagine right now the amount of material I will need to prepare to teach them! 
Just as well things are quiet in Cairo right now isn't it. So I have some time to prepare!!

Except that I will not be in Cairo constantly.. I am off teaching and performing on another HAL cruise round the Mediterranean, next week (11th-19th sept) courtesy of 'taste of Cairo' . Yippee. More sun and sea and fabulous fun and food! I must make sure this time I choose the healthier buffet options otherwise I will be wobbling my way to China! 

And then in October I have two weekends of teaching in the North of England. A weekend in Newcastle (4th and 5th oct) followed by the JoY festival the weekend after (10th- 12th Oct). With the days in between spent catching up with family back in Edinburgh. Detail of the Newcastle weekend will follow in another blog posting!

It is all go and very exciting!

So my next few months look like this,
Sept- cruise
Oct- UK tour
Mid nov- mid dec - Shanghai

And next year so far,

March - shimmy by the sea festivals- Both  weekends!

And of course, all the times in between- Cairo! 

Yes. I feel very happy to have chosen the job I have. I may not make a lot of money. I may have to live through uncertain times (two revolutions!!) However, I get to dance with lovely people all over the world and what could be better?! 

Wishing that you too can live through exciting as well as interesting times!!!