On several occasions the paths intertwined.
Our tour leader had been invited to a jet-set wedding aboard a Nile River yacht. Graciously, the bride and hostess included the entire tour group to attend the glamorous reception. I had expected a lovely Egyptian party. Instead, I was treated to a gathering of Egypt’s legendary dance stars. The bride and groom were resplendent, the guest list amazing. Ever the tourist and ever the dancer, I sat in awe of the assemblage. When amazing for our art or not, we share the struggles and rehearsals and as we grow older we are still dancers. Isn’t Fifi beautiful? We are dancers and we will be dancers forever.
Dancers like Fifi Abdo, Nagwa Fouad, Randa and others get on the dance floor, it’s an event. They danced not in performance but in “after five” attire in honor of their friend and their dancing was amazing. Their dances were from the heart. They are also genuinely warm and gracious ladies.
To a dancer, meeting the renowned Fifi is a high honor. I know I was being a tacky fan by asking to be photographed with her but I couldn’t help myself. She was kind and receptive. When we embraced I realized the bond that all dancers share. We are all sisters in dance who traverse a world where we are accepted. Life has been one great adventure.
So far, most of what I’ve written about has been the tourist-sightseeing part of my Egypt adventure. I would be remiss in not discussing a major reason for the trip, participating in the famous Ahlan Wa Sahlan dance festival.
Over 1,500 dancers from around the world descend on the elegant Mena House Oberoi hotel to attend. This is the Mecca for dancers. I was overwhelmed. Not only were the halls crowded with women (and a few men) but with more vendors than I’ve ever encountered in this lifetime. The selection of dance and related merchandise was wrought with temptation. The costumes of varying quality and price points, the variety of hip scarves, canes, wings ... it was truly amazing. Since everything was so reasonable in cost (compared to what I’m used to paying from importers in the States), I wanted to buy everything. Restraint was in order. I did, though, bring an expandable suitcase. I went home with one extra case and my regular suitcase and carry on were bulging with purchases by the time we left Egypt. You’d be amazed at how much I lugged home ... still not enough, though. One has to remember that when traveling to Egypt, cash is the only accepted form of payment by most vendors and shops.
The festival was more than shopping. It was an opportunity to study with the world’s greatest dancers. I decided to study with the stars of Egypt since I had traveled so far. I will offer a few observations and comments. Actually, I’m still digesting all that I learned. Yes, after all this time.
Dr. Mo Geddawi was a wonderful instructor who spoke perfect English. His mastery of the dance was evident in his choreography and his teaching style was easy to follow. I appreciated his practical advice on being dancer. We are not just dancers, we are entertainers. Discipline, discipline, discipline is required of a serious dancer.
Dina. I had entered her seminar thinking that she was more fluff than substance. I was mistaken. She is incredible. Like other stars of Egyptian dance, she trains like an athlete (eight hours a day, 5-6 days a week with her orchestra). She makes complicated moves look easy. What sets her and other Egyptian dancers apart from American dancers who claim to dance in the Egyptian style is the from-the-heart emotion she brings to the dance. She feels the music, doesn’t just move to it. The music infiltrates her heart and soul and radiates out into the audience. It’s a beautiful touch.
Randa, in my opinion, is the best. Sometimes she can be a bit mechanical but her technicality is impressive and she has a way, the Egyptian way, of connecting emotionally with her audience. She, like Dina, taught her class in English. She was a very good teacher who patiently performed her moves, one part at a time, and taught them through repetition. Though she didn’t get through a complete choreography, there was enough substance to digest.
For fun I took a cane dance class with Ragaey of the Reda Troupe. Loved him. He was so easy to understand and follow that I actually learned his entire choreography by the end of his class. For someone like me who is “chorelographically challenged,” I found it fun, except for the Russian student who kept swatting me with her cane.
I loved Mona El Saeid. She is the old school type of cabaret dancer I liken myself to be. She is dramatic, over-the-top yet technically proficient. Though a dancer, she is foremost an entertainer. Her energy level was contagious. I loved the fact that she taught both barefoot and in heels (Dina and Randa dance barefoot). A legend, she still has what it takes.
The opening gala show began with an orchestra of drummers. I was impressed with the zills player whose instruments were saucer-sized brass. Dancers don’t play zills, the orchestra does. The three star dancers were the hottest in Egypt today. Sorraya, originally from Brazil began the set. She’s a petite fireball of shimmying energy. Next came Randa with her technical perfection and beauty. Last but not least was Dina, the drama queen. To see the stars in person was a treat, even though it meant staying up until well over 3 a.m. (actually, when the party gets started in Cairo).
The joy has been sharing this knowledge with my students and audience. I do notice that my dancing style is different since I’ve returned to the States. I still have a long way to go after experiencing the superstars of Egyptian dance.