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!!) 

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