Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Learning Arabic Through Music and Song

I've just discovered this interesting Arabic Language Learning Blog called The Arabic Student.  It's a blog that teaches Arabic using video clips, TV shows and songs.

Everything is explained through the eyes of the native English speaker learning Arabic.  I liked the useful collection of grammar points together with interesting explanations of the differences between main dialects.  Mostly, this is about learning the useful stuff that you might see and hear when travelling in Arabic speaking countries.

Overall, it's the children's songs and video clips that have grabbed me.  I really liked his post on the Egyptian Arabic version of the Little Mermaid, " 'Aroosat al baHr" which literally means Bride of the Sea.  This entry comes complete with Arabic script, transliteration and translation.  I could understand a little here and there using the bits of language I've learnt so far and think it is a great way of bringing the language to life.  Follow this link to watch the video clip and read the lesson.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Playing with Baladi

Here's a new video that I've just posted of my performance at the Kinghorn Hafla last month.  The song is "Alla Warag Il Foul", which can be translated as "The Petals of Jasmin", a very popular Baladi song sung by Fatme Serhan.

This was a piece I originally choreographed as a duet to dance with Simona.  We haven't been able to practice together for a little while, so it brought back good memories to put on this song again and try it as a solo.  This time, the performance was improvised, although I can see definate echoes of the original choreography here. 

Thanks to Annette for organising the Hafla which raised over £300 for the charity CLIC Sargent.  Thanks also for Stef for filming this.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

A little corner of Egypt comes to Dorset

Early October, did not just bring an unseasonal return of summery weather to the South of England, the warm wind also brought with it a little bit of Egypt, in the form of Béatrice Grognard, one of the foremost European teachers of contemporary Egyptian Dance.

Béatrice Grognard is a Belgian dancer who originally trained with Suraya Hilal’s Raqs Sharqi School in the early 1990s and subsequently went on to found her own school of Egyptian dance, Tarab of Egypt, primarily based in Brussels. Through Tarab, Béatrice promotes what she defines as the Theatrical Dances of Egypt and has choreographed and produced several full shows, often resulting from groundbreaking collaborations with traditional Egyptian musicians. Inspired by her original training as an archaeologist, she is an artist who has developed a unique and new translation of Egyptian dance, both modern and expressive but connected to centuries old Egyptian music dance tradition. You can read Béatrice’s own carefully crafted description of her art on her website.

I first discovered Béatrice’s classes when I worked in Brussels for a spell in 2006. Attending her classes twice a week was a wonderful escape from what was a very busy but exciting period in my life. And since returning to the UK, I have continued to train, attending Béatrice’s occasional UK workshops and participating in two of her study trips to Egypt to work with live musicians. When Diane and Ellie of Raqs Sharqi Dorset said they were arranging for Béatrice to come to their corner of England to teach, I jumped at the chance. And after over 7 hours of travel from Edinburgh, by planes trains and automobiles, we arrived at the sleepy Dorset village of Broadmayne for two intense days of workshops. And what an amazing weekend it was.

The first workshop on the Saturday morning was Baladi. As we worked with a Mawaal (vocal improvisation) sung by Ahmed Adeweia, the focus of the workshop wasn’t about learning sequences or technique, but explored tapping into the essence of Baladi, the Egyptian spirit; where the singer, musicians and dancer melt together like hot chocolate into a single melody. We were challenged to confront and break the boundaries or perceived rules of Baladi. To use placement of feet, fingers, changes in height and leans. To forget the single move to the music, the vertical eight, the camel…, but instead improvise through isolation focused on different parts of the body, the sacrum, the back, the neck to express the melody. And to intersperse all of this with elements of surprise. 

Ghawazee-Sha'abi Workshop
Saturday afternoon, brought a change of pace, with an incredibly energetic and enjoyable afternoon focused on the Ghawazee style of the Sha’abi dance, an earthy yet feminine dance made famous by performer families like the “Banat Maazin”. This workshop was focused on feeling like a Ghawazee, the strength, femininity and most of all fun. We worked with some fantastic music to interpret the sound of the Sai’idi instruments, Sibs, Mizmar and drum. We learnt the signature moves like throwing hips, twists, walks and back leans. We also practised the dynamic movements, wide shimmies, and rhythmic footwork, all contrasted with stops and poses.

Classical Workshop
An early start, the following morning brought with it the third workshop of the weekend, classical. The classical form, sometimes known as Sharqi, is the most modern of the three main types of Raqs Sharqi Egyptian Dance that I study, and can even be considered contemporary in its interpretation. And wow, what a workshop. We introduced a new perspective on classical technique, revisiting the previous day’s focus on introducing flexibility in the sacrum, back, and neck. We used our fingers, hands and arms to pick up melody and add a touch of Egyptian humour. But most of all, during this final workshop, Béatrice opened our eyes to challenging all our assumptions about how to interpret the music, unpicking many years of learning the “correct” way to dance. Why should we be intent to always shimmy with the sound of the qanoun, to be expansive with the violin and to travel to the dynamic passages? Is this indeed the correct interpretation, or is this the predictable one, or could it even be considered comfortable in its interpretation? And when the tempo changes, do we have to suddenly react, or can we respond instead with subtlety, to explore an alternative layer in the music, to pause for breath before embracing the new rhythm?

In fact, this is the part of the weekend of learning that I have been mulling over in my mind ever since my return home. So many questions that I am now compelled to consider. How can I apply this to my own dance? What are my assumptions? What are my goals as a dancer? How can I learn to perfect my dance and find a place in this wider art? Can I continue to teach what I teach? How can I apply this to my own teaching? What an amazing lesson to be part of.

Thanks to Diane and Ellie for their fantastic organisation, help and support over the months leading up to the weekend and throughout the weekend itself.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Gaslight Ghawazee

Here's a short clip of my performance at Gaslight Faeries last week, which I've just uploaded.  For more about my experience performing at Gaslight Faeries and my inspiration for my act L'Exposition Universelle, read my previous post. Thanks very much to Elaine for filming.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Challenge of Glasgow by Gaslight

Saturday night I had the honour of making a guest appearance in Sarasvati Tribal's show the Gaslight Faeries at QMU, Glasgow University.

Gaslight Faeries was originally conceived for the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall - the oldest surviving music hall in the UK - as a show with a connected series of Fusion dance acts, each taking a little bit of inspiration from the era of the Panopticon itself (1857-1938).  The first performance of Gaslight in August packed out the tiny auditorium of the Panopticon in the Trongate, Glasgow, with many people turned away.   The show contained a mix of Tribal Fusion group and solo performances, with the addition of a sprinkling of comedy, burlesque and good old fashioned story telling that featured the Dragon Lady, Cleopatra, the Victorian Gent and Mata Hari amongst its characters.  

About 2 weeks before the Panopticon show premiered in August, Laura from Sarasvati got in touch to say that one of her guest stars had pulled out and ask whether I was willing step in.  The challenge was to create an act complete with music that would look and sound in keeping with the era that the music hall was open.  I accepted.  My first stop was Wendy Holyer of Wen-D Designs to set about creating a period costume.  We settled on the design for a purple silk Ghawazee coat and while Wendy slaved over the dress, I put together a Courtly Classical dance to Farid El Atrache's Kharamana.

Following the sell-out Panopticon show, the Sarasvati girls decided to do the show all over again and I was asked back for another guest slot.  With a little bit more time to prepare, I had the chance to rework my act.  As I've been learning and teaching a lot of rural Sha'abi style Egyptian Dance, this was the style that I had really wanted to showcase and I thought it would provide a real contrast to the rest of the show.  Also, whilst researching I found inspiration in a beautiful film from Serpentine video about the French World Fair in 1889 which described the first European appearance of the famous Ghawazee dancers.  I have studied Ghawazee dance accompanied by Sai'idi muscians during recent study trips to Egypt and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to present a dance and music tradition that goes back centuries, but is still performed (albeit rarely) in Egypt today. 

I settled on my act, "L'Exposition Universelle" (the world fair), to evoke a time when thousands flocked to Paris to visit La Rue du Caire and gain a glimpse of the most unusual dancing you have ever seen.  But there was one further addition I felt I needed to add to the authenticity of the interpretation, sagat.  Sagat, the "metal castanets" described in Serpentine's film are always used by the dancers from the Ghawazee tradition and this was a skill I've always wanted to learn.  So I took the chance to practice and attempt to master the coordination of percussive fingers combined with strong hips.  And, although I wasn't yet entirely proficient at both at the same time, I decided to go for it for my performance on Saturday, at least to try to give a taste of what it might have been like to watch this dance in reality. 

The result, well it wasn't perfect, but the performance went down well and contrasted with the rest of the show.  The Wen-D costume also worked well and characteristics of the dance, particularly the energy and strength in grounded movement were conveyed.  Here is a photo of the end result.

A big thank you goes to Laura and Sarasvati Tribal for inviting me as a guest performer.  It was really a pleasure to work with them.  Sarasvati Tribal is a group of 4 dancers from across Scotland, led by the talented troupe leader Laura Monteith, a well respected Glasgow based Tribal Fusion dancer, teacher and choreographer.  Gaslight Faeries is their second production, following Extraordinesque which debuted last year and played to audiences in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Peebles.

The photos are courtesy of Violet Shears.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Edinburgh Egyptian Dancers Annual Hafla, 21 November 2010

"Hafla" is the Arabic word for party. This fabulous dance event, will feature the best of local talent and further afield.

This is the longest running Egyptian Dance event in Scotland and it's organised by our very own Edinburgh Egyptian Dancers.

The Hafla is at Revolution, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1HU.

Doors open at 7.30pm, show starts at 8.00pm and tickets cost £10 and are available on the door.

Here's a clip of Daughters of Isis (who run Edinburgh Egyptian Dancers) dancing at the EED Hafla at Revolution:

I'll be performing again this year, dancing both a solo and a group performance as a member of Juliana Brustik's performance group. 

Edinburgh Egyptian Dancers also arrange regular workshops with visiting Master Teacher Juliana Brustik:
Juliana will be guest staring at the Hafla and will also be running dance workshops in Edinburgh over the Saturday and Sunday of the weekend:
Saturday 20th November, 1.00-5.30pm
Sunday 21st November, 1.00-5.00pm
At Granton Parish Church, Boswall Parkway (corner of Boswall Parkway and Wardieburn Drive), Edinburgh

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Autumn 2010 - new term of weekly classes in the Dances of Egypt

I'm really pleased to announce a new term of weekly classes in the Dances of Egypt at the Salisbury Centre, Edinburgh.  

You will discover a beautiful, earthy and expressive form of Egyptian Dance.  Raqs Sharqi, meaning “Dance of the East” is a blend of folk tradition and contemporary interpretation.   You will experience the broad variety of music and dance associated with this beautiful form, from the Sha’abi folk dances of the South of Egypt, to the Baladi of Cairo. 

Classes are Open level.  We welcome both Beginners with little or no dance experience and Improvers who already have experience or knowledge of either Egyptian Dance or styles of belly dance. 

Please wear clothes that allow you to move freely and if you want you can tie a scarf around your hips.  We also dance in bare feet, although soft soled dance shoes are OK.   

Here are all the details. 
Thursday nights 7:30-8:45pm
Classes start on 30 September and will run until 16 December
This is a 12 week term with no break
Cost is £72 (or £60 for concessions)
Open level
In a class we start with a warm up and then explore the technique and music associated with a particular style of Egyptian Dance.  We then use the technique we have learnt to dance together a short piece in this style.  We end each class with a cool down with some gentle stretching.  The length of each class is an hour and a quarter so that we have time to cover all of this.

I've had some really positive feedback about my classes and teaching style, and you can read some testimonials on my website. 

To book, visit the Salisbury Centre website where you can pay using PayPal.
You can also make your booking by contacting the Salisbury Centre:
2 Salisbury Road, Edinburgh, EH16 5AB
Telephone: 0131 667 5438
email: office@salisburycentre.orgBookings should be open within the next few days. 

The Salisbury Centre
The Centre is the longest established holistic education centre in Edinburgh.  It is based in a Georgian House in the Southside of Edinburgh and set within beautiful organic gardens.   Here is the streetview.  The studio is in fact an amazing first floor drawing room, with a clean floor and beautiful views.  If you haven't been there before, I would thoroughly recommend going along to visit the Centre.  You can sit in the garden, help yourself to tea and coffee, and explore the range of things on offer including meditation, yoga, pottery, therapies and treatments, and a whole range of different classes and workshops.


If you can't make the weekly classes, or if you are already at an Intermediate or Advanced level, then you might be interested in coming to the next Habiba Dance workshop.  The next workshop will be in the Sha'abi Rural Folkdance style on 23 October, from 1:30-3:30, also at the Salisbury Centre.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Classical Music for Egyptian Dance

Some of my students have been asking about which CDs I use in class and where to buy music.

So this blog entry is simply to highlight a handful of my favourite CDs focusing here on Classical Egyptian music, together with some handy links to where you might be able to purchase them from.  I've picked Classical for this blog as I recently used some of the tracks from these albums in my Golden Age workshop.

One of my all time Classical favourites is the "Layali El Sharq Ensemble Live, Classical Egyptian Music for Raqs Sharqi".

This double CD consists of live recordings from the 1980s of the Layali El Sharq Ensemble, a group of Egyptian musicians based in London and brought together by producer Jennifer Carmen, to tour with Egyptian dancer Suraya Hilal.  There are a beautiful selection of tracks to listen or perform to including beautiful songs like Raqs El Gamal, Tamra Henna, compositions by Mohammed Abdul Wahab, Farid El Atrash, and the Rahbani brothers, as well as taqsims and tabla solos. 

I find that the beauty of these recordings is in the balance between the different musicians.  This results in a production so very different from the more modern CDs made for Egyptian dancers which I find to often be overly dominated by percussion and keyboard.  There is simply space to hear the purer melodies of classical instruments like Violin, Qanun, Nai to be heard.

You can order this CD direct from Layali El Sharq Music.  You can also buy this from the Raqs Sharqi Society

Another CD I use, which contains live recordings of Classical pieces is called "Jewels".

These tracks are also taken from productions of Suraya Hilal's work, although a slightly later period than the Layali El Sharq album.  And, although there are a number tracks in common for both CDs I consider this to also be a worthy addition to the collection as I find the recordings to be slightly better quality.  You can order this CD from Tanz Raum

Hossam Ramzy has also produced some classical CDs.  The version of the song "Aziza" which I used in my workshop comes from the CD "Best of Mohammed Abdul Wahab".

This is a useful CD for some timeless popular tracks which are a good length for performance.  This can be purchased direct from the Hossam Ramzy online store and should be widely available from a number of other UK stockists, including as part of a double CD with the Best of Om Kolthoum, available from Aladdin's Cave.  

Finally, one of my brand new purchases is a live recording from a concert and Dance performance in Paris by Raqs Sharqi dancers Anne Benveniste and Lillian Malki - un "hommage à Mohamed Abdel Wahab".

This is a box set containing a DVD and CD.  I have listened to the CD over and over as it contains some beautiful versions of a number of classic tracks like Enta Omri and We Daret al Ayam.  This production is available to purchase direct from Anne, although I bought my copy from the Raqs Sharqi Society

Happy listening!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Photogenic Cairo - Midan Hussain, Beit as-Suhaymi and the Nile

The Friday was a day of tourist delights as we packed in as much as possible before our departure to Luxor the following morning.

We started at Midan Hussein where we listened to the call to prayer and watched the crowds heading to the Mosque of Sayyidna Al-Hussein to pray.  Al-Hussein is the holiest site in Cairo and the most important mosque in Egypt, so sacred that only Muslims are allowed to enter.  Hundreds come to pray every day, and on a Friday this can go up to several thousand - when large umbrella's are opened outside the mosque to provide shade to those who cannot be accommodated inside. 

We then headed back to the streets of Islamic Cairo and Sharia Al-Muizz to see some of the sites in the daytime. 

We visited the Madrassa and Mausoleum of Sultan Qalawun, dating from the 13th Century.

We then visited the beautifully restored Ottoman house, Beit As-Suhaymi.  The most elegant remaining residence in Islamic Cairo, this was another clear highlight to our stay.  We explored room after room filled with beautiful panelled and painted ceilings, delicate wooden screens and ironwork, tiled floors, colourful light filtering through countless stained glass windows, all overlooking lush green courtyards.   

While we were looking round the house a lady with her daughter stopped to talk to us and ended up showing us all the things she learnt from the Arabic speaking tour - telling us something of the history of the place and pointing out the features in the rooms from the table 'just like her mother used to have' to the cupboards where the women used to store their things.

In the early evening, we went to meet Lorna and some of her friends for a sunset felucca ride on the Nile.  It was a wonderful way to spend an hour or so relaxing on the water, having a drink and a chat with the girls.

After the felucca, we went off to the Grand Hyatt to take our third evening cruise of the holiday. The boat was pretty quiet and the first part of the entertainment was bizarrely 2 singers taking turns to sing along to their ipod, karaoke style.  However, things picked up after that.  First of all with a fantastic dinner - the Grand Hyatt boat surely should probably boast the best food of all the Nile cruises - here is my very photogenic plate of dessert.

And after that we were entertained by bellydancer Camelia.  We were even dragged on stage at the end of the show to try some khaleegi style dance.  Here is Camelia with her Shamadan.

Khan, Mahmoud's (again!) and a Balcony party with Sara

Day 6 of the tour took us on a return visit to the Khan el Khalili to take our shopping more seriously, taking in Mahmoud's again along with visiting many of the smaller outlets.  This photo shows one of the many shops displaying their colourful wares in the Khan. 

In Mahmoud's I took the opportunity to order a made to measure saiidi dress and we stocked up on a whole range of costume essentials including galabeyas, skirts, hip scarves, veils and jewellery.

The evening, Sara Farouk came over to Lorna's apartment for a class and a chance to spend the evening chatting on the balcony.   A British dancer who moved to Egypt a few years back, Sara had plenty of stories to tell about the life there.  Also, Sara works for Eman's which meant I finally got a chance to order that galabeya.  Here is a photo of the view from Lorna's balcony.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Night of the Zar - the best of traditional Egyptian music

Makan, meaning the place in Arabic, is a small performance space in Downtown Cairo, by Saad Zaghloul metro, that holds regular concerts of live traditional music from the Egyptian Centre for Culture and Art (ECCA).  

The ECCA seeks to safeguard Egypt's rich musical heritage and oral tradition, researching, documenting, preserving, showcasing and celebrating some of the increasingly rare musical forms - both returning them to the Egyptian people and sharing with the world. 

One of the true highlights of my recent visit to Egypt, was a night at Makan to see the Mazaher ensemble, presenting the music of the Zar.  In its original form, the Zar is a healing ritual, one of the few, ancient healing ceremonies performed mainly by women for women. Zar is meant to pacify spirits and to harmonize the inner lives of the participants. A small circle of women gather with the aim of communicating, through music, song and energetic movements, with unseen entities or spirits.

Zar is a part of the underground culture and the practice of Zar in Egypt has nearly vanished.  In the whole of Egypt only around 25 people continue to practice this knowledge and this tradition.  The musicians of the Mazaher ensemble, Umm Sameh, Umm Hassan, Nour el Sabah are among the last remaining Zar practitioners in Egypt and they perform regularly at weekly musical evenings hosted by Makan.

This was a small, and intimate setting, with great acoustics and space for an audience of perhaps 60 people, made up of young and old alike, both Egyptian and foreign.  The show itself was an evening of stunning music with beautiful vocal melodies and energetic rhythms that could penetrate your entire being.  The lead singer had amazing charisma and with a glint in her eye she wove an interplay of gentle humour and deep emotion, which was both captivating and incredibly moving.

Here is a small clip that, although cannot possibly do the music justice, at least shows you something of the atmosphere of the place.  The song was one of the audience favourites - Banat el Madrassa. 

This second very short clip, shows two musical instruments featured in the Zar - the tamboura (a six-string lyre) and the manjour (a leather belt sewn with many goat hooves).

We helped ourselves to a cup of traditional tea during the interval and spoke to the Egyptian girl sitting next to us.  She had attended this concert for the first time only a week earlier, and already she had come back to hear more.  I now feel I need to plan my next trip to Egypt, so that I can do the same. 

Descriptions of the Zar ritual and Mazahar ensemble used in this blog entry are to be credited to the Egyptian Centre for Culture and Art.

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Sunday, 13 June 2010

Ateliers, metro, and a night time walk

The next day, we wanted to step up our costume shopping and decided to hit some of the ateliers. 

First stop was Amira el Kattan of Pharaonix, which happens to be in the same street as Lorna's apartment.  The workshop was chock full of costumes all getting parcelled up for export to the United States, in every colour you could possibly imagine and each one carrying characteristic exquisite beading.  We chatted and looked through the albums and my friend tried a stunning asuit galabeya.    The photo is of Lorna being fitted by Amira - a fascinating process to watch. 

Next stop was Eman Zaki, a short taxi ride away to Dokki.  Turning up without an appointment caused a bit of confusion on arrival, but very soon we were busy trying on costume after costume in the workshop.  That was until I found my perfect galabeya and then more confusion, with no one to explain to me how to actually order the exact dress that I wanted.  Time seemed to disappear at Eman's and eventually we were left tired, hungry and exhausted and I still hadn't ordered my dress.  That's when Ramy the tailor came to our rescue.  He ended up taking me and my friend out to a place nearby to buy us some extremely welcome Tamiya and Foull (both Egyptian staples).  

Once we had recovered enough, we took the Metro to head back to old Cairo to continue our shopping.  The Metro in Cairo, is surprisingly clean, quick, efficient and incredibly cheap (12p per trip).  It is also a great way to travel and avoid the traffic, fumes and heat.  We opted to travel in the women's carriage and it was a lovely experience just to people watch and enjoy the journey. 

When we got out, we headed to Mohammed Ali Street to buy some Sagat.  Finding the place was also an adventure as when I asked for directions, several very helpful people then tried to do their best to direct us away as they couldn't understand any reason why tourists would want to come here. 

For the evening we headed out to enjoy traditional music at the Egyptian Centre for Culture and Art at Makan (the place) to see the zar music performance.

At the end of the show there was another surprise treat in store for us.  Lorna had just finished work, and came to pick us up with her friend Sherif so that we could enjoy a late night walk through Islamic Cairo.  We walked along Sharia Al Muizz, a street with beautiful renovated buildings which are lit up at night.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Seeing more sides to the city

To continue telling my tales of Cairo before the memory starts to fade, it took till day 4 of the trip for the temperature to drop far enough for us to visit el Haramat - the biggest tourist draw of all.

In typical Cairo fashion, the adventure again started with the taxi ride.  Instead of taking us straight to Giza, our driver chose to head towards Downtown - he was going the wrong way.  So we called our host to ask for help.  It turned out that the driver didn't know the way to the pyramids and Lorna had to give him directions.  Surely that would be the equivalent of an Edinburgh taxi driver not knowing where the castle is - it simply couldn't happen. 

At the pyramids, after quite a bit of bargaining we went for a camel ride.  This was a huge amount of fun.  We rode out to take in the amazing view, far away from the tourists at the sphinx and at the great pyramid.  I got to practice my Arabic, and we took all the touristy pictures. 

The main tourist attraction over with for the day, it was back to Mohandiseen and the start of our next mission, shopping.  Instead of exploring the famous shoe shops, we went mad in the 2.5 Egyptian Pound Shop (25p) buying up so many different things, from presents to a rather nice selection of flowery hair ties - perfect for performing. 

Then it was back to the Khan el Khalili, to start the costume shopping at the famous Mahmoud's. 

Exploring all four floors of costume heaven we piled up the costumes and tried on everything we could see - dresses, skirts, hip scarves... it went on forever.  In fact we were there so long we became tired, hungry and exhausted.  And that was exactly when we got rescued for the second time that day.

Lorna called at just the right moment, and she told us exactly what we had to do next. 

So we went to Naguib Mahfouz Cafe in the Khan.  We sat, enjoyed fantastic Mezze, and most enjoyable of all listened to some exquisitely played live music on qanun and reqq.  And they even played Enta Omri.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

More Cairo adventures

A lie in and then a bit too much time spent in BellyLorna's kitchen eating watermelon meant a pretty late start to Day 3 of our holiday.  Undeterred, we set out in the late afternoon to El 'Ala'a, the Citadel.

This meant another taxi taking highlight of our holiday - laughing and joking with driver Ahmed who offered us a share in his packed lunch and drinks and a chance to practice my newly aquired arabic - to decline. 

We headed straight for the Mohammed Ali Mosque, and what an amazing place.  It was really something to leave the sunshine to enter the peace of the interior of the mosque, a huge space lit up by 100s of little lights hanging from tinkling chandeliers.   My photos do not do this place justice.

After a hot and dusty walk along the main road by the City of the Dead, we then eventually made it to Al Azhar Park.  There were plenty of Cairenes enjoying the park the late afternoon and we soon attracted a crowd of children come to stare and smile at us and practice their English - typically "Hello", "Welcome to Egypt" and "What is your name?"

After that it was a short taxi ride to the Khan al Khalili to enjoy the cooler evening in Midan Hussein, watching the locals come out to play.  We then found our way across to the Wikala of al-Ghouri for the free Whirling Dervish show.  This was a beautiful evening featuring an amazing singer, dancing drummers, beautiful music and of course the colourful spectacle of the Whirling Dervish dance.  We had to resist the overwhelming urge to get up and join in - it looked like so much fun.  I would have given anything for the chance to be one of the background dancers and attend a one of their training sessions. 

Here is a very short video I took of the Sagat player and some photos of the Whirling.

Our last stop was the famous El Fishawi's coffee house for a chance to sit, watch people go by and engage in some amusing banter with some by passing vendors. 

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Saturday, 5 June 2010

Welcome to Cairo!

The taxi ride from the airport proved an exciting opening to my Cairo holiday.  After a minor collision and the taxi driver needing to ask half the residents of Mohandiseen for directions, we eventually arrived at Lorna's to find that the lift up to her apartment wasn't working.  Luckily for us the driver then proceeded to carry our suitcases up the 8 flights to her apartment.  It was only once the driver descended again that Lorna told us "nothing wrong with the lift", pressed the call button and then opened the door. 

BellyLorna is a professional dancer Edinburgh, working in Cairo.  She also rents out rooms to visiting dancers to help make ends meet and we were lucky enough to have selected this as our accommodation of choice for the visit.  After settling us into the apartment and giving us a good dose of tourist info, plenty of instructions and even a phone with an Egyptian Sim card, Lorna headed off to work her first sail. 

That night, we went to join Lorna's boat, the Nile Pharaoh, for a dinner cruise and show and most of all to see Lorna herself, perform with her band.  We got a bit of the VIP treatment there, what with being Lorna's guests and all.

It was a great show, including some beautiful Arabic music, the first Tanoura of the holiday, and of course 2 sets performed by the beautiful Lorna.  Something I really enjoy about watching Lorna is the warmth and humour in her dancing, which I think is summed up in these pictures. 

The food was pretty good too and there was even a Tabouli that I'm still thinking about.  After her performance, Lorna hung out with us for the rest of the sail and then we returned to the flat to chill on her balcony.  Unfortunately this was also my first introduction to the Cairo mosquito who seemed particularly drawn to limbs soaked in Superdrug repellent. 

Day 2 proved too hot for the pyramids (Lorna went as far as checking the forecast and putting a note under the door to tell us so), so we went instead to Il Mathaf il Masri, the Egyptian Museum.  It was a great day out and we took in pretty much everything in the Top 10 list, and along with eyeballing the great Egyptian Pharaohs we also saw enough jewellery to whet the appetite for the costume shopping later to come. 

Night time came the chance to take the second of our Nile Cruises, this time the Nile Maxim to see Randa, a dancer I previously knew only by reputation, and You Tube of course.  The show lived up to expectations and Randa was indeed amazing, although to reveal my guilty secret, I loved her band and her two singers even more - my heart does not lie with belly dance.  Here is Randa, complete with Randa costumes and Randa band.


After the cruise, we were met by Lorna and her friends and whisked off to downtown bar called Arabesque of all places and a chance to let my hair town. Personally, I fell in love with the kitsch interior decor.

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