Wednesday, 28 December 2011

2011 - 12 months in 12 sentences

I've risen to the challenge to summarize my 2011 year in just 12 sentences, one per month. Thanks go to Claire (@StAndrewsLynx) for the inspiration to blog on the "12 in 12" theme. And to those reading this - Happy New Year!  I hope that 2012 brings good things to you, and everyone. 

In January, I found some mezze (I also survived my worst costume malfunction but quickly destroyed all evidence).

I had a Fifi February, dancing with melaya and white galabeya

In March, I fed my fabric shopping habit during a trip to Paris, and Walked the Walk with a little bit of Aziza. 

April was a JoY, and workshops with Eman Zaki had me dancing Samia style. 

Jewel of Yorkshire with Khaled Mahmoud and Eman Zaki
In May, I had a Dorothy moment in the wrong dancers holiday in Marrakesh; and later danced the Zarr with Suraya accompanied by drumming from the father and son El Minyawis.  

In June, I taught and guest starred at the second Glasgow Festival of Arabic Dance

Dancing at GFAD, by Milla

July was the Raqs Sharqi Society fundraiser in London, and the Foundation for Community Dance summer school - where I completed their certificate in Age Inclusive Practice.

August brought injury, which caused me to miss my guest star spot at Planet Egypt in London.

September, I had a really good time watching other dancers while I gradually got my body moving again.

October had me up, dancing again and joining Beatrice Grognard's workshops as part of the Songe d'une nuit en Egypte weekend.

November brought a thankfully snow free drive home from Northern Lights at Newport on Tay.

December meant lots of hours planning the Baladi Blues live Egyptian music event in Edinburgh next year - on 5th February 2012 - and I even sold out the live music dancers workshop that I'll be teaching then. 

Baladi Blues day of dance

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A little bit of something sweet

Today I had a go at whipping up a batch of traditional Arabic sugaring wax.

Sugaring is a traditional method of hair removal using a sticky toffee like mixture. This is a common beauty treatment in Arab countries like Egypt and Lebanon and featured in the movie Caramel. This helps to ensure that Arab women have no unwanted body hair.  This perfect clean look is also seen as very important quality in a dancer.   

I've used hot wax with fabric strips as a home treatment in the past, but always went for a non sugar based hot wax.  The results are very good, although admittedly a bit messy and time consuming.  However, a good quality home wax is hard to find in the UK and can also be expensive.  A while ago, I therefore switched to epilators.  These are pretty convenient but on my skin type I find that these machines tend to become less effective over time.

My YouTube Arabic teacher Maha posted a video of her recipe for Arabic sugaring wax.  I've never tried this before and thought I would give it a go.  I knew it probably wouldn't be quite as easy as it looked in the video but at least the ingredients are pretty cheap and simple - sugar plus a small quantity of water, lemon juice and salt.

Here is the clip:

One of the comments under the video suggests the recipe is:
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
 You could probably do some research of your own if you wanted to look up alternate recipes.  It looks like the acidity in the lemon juice is the important ingredient as that that helps to get the mixture to go to that sticky and stretchy consistency.  I'm not sure why the salt is there, perhaps someone can tell me?  Maybe that's something that you just wouldn't leave out of Arabic cooking?

It took me 3 tries to get the mixture and the cooking method right.  It was caster sugar I had in the larder, so this might have affected the quantities and the outcome.  It turned out I had too much liquid in my mixture so although I could pick up the paste to knead and stretch it out, it ended up a little bit too soft and sticky to use, especially when it took on the heat from the body.  The result were sticky clumps of toffee that refused to budge from my legs - I then had to improvise with hastily cut fabric strips in order to get this off.  I reckon this kind of consistency would probably still work okay with the heated wax and fabric strip method - but this wasn't what I was going for. 

In the third try, I reduced the liquid quantity down a touch from what I've given you above.  I guess this is something that needed to work with my own cups and spoons.  I don't have any marble in my kitchen - as used in the video - so I used a glass/Pyrex heat proof bowl to pour out the liquid.  To get the cooling effect that marble would have provided, I sunk the bottom of my dish into another bowl of cold water.  When I had something cool enough to touch and solid enough to pick up in my hands, I started to work it between my fingers to stretch it out.  I ended up with the caramel coloured mixture you can see on the left of my photo below.  This wasn't quite sticky enough to work, so I experimented with a small piece and stretched this between my fingers until it became stickier and lighter in colour - shown on the right.

Sugaring wax

I ended up with a small and pliable piece of toffee that could be pushed onto the skin and stay in one piece when I ripped it off.  The same piece could then be pushed into the next bit of skin.  It took quite a bit of effort to work it onto the skin into a thinnish layer and also to try and get a good pace to complete an area of the body.

My verdict?  Well it does work and it doesn't risk burning the skin on application, like hot wax can (although does need caution when preparing it).  It's also natural, cheap to make, and surprisingly clean to use - certainly once I got the third batch right - and any wax left e.g. on the bowl and work surface can be easily cleaned up with hot water.  However, it does take time to get the preparation method right and to get the hang of an effective technique for quick hair removal.  Perhaps I need to watch an expert at work.  I also found I didn't always manage to pick up all the hair with the wax and frequently had to go over the same area again.  I've still got some fresh balls of wax left over and I've popped them in the fridge to use next time.  In my view it's definitely worth another try and I plan to continue to work on that technique. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A Taste of Morocco

I've gathered together a few short dance and cultural video clips from my recent visit to Morocco, posted to my YouTube account.

Berber women traditional dancing and singing

This was taken in a restaurant in Marrakesh.  The dance style is Berber from the Atlas Mountains and is characterised by earthy hip movements, twists and pelvic tilts.  This is a huge amount of fun and the chemistry between the women combined with changes in pace - "dance for a bit...get tired...sing for a for a bit" reminded me of the Ghawazee dancers from the South of Egypt.

The costume is Atlas Berber.  The dress is in two parts.  Firstly a high necked, long sleeved underdress worn to make sure that the whole body is covered.  On top is a tunic with a very long and full skirt, tucked into the belt to give the hips extra volume to emphasise the movement.  There are then two long lengths of rope like wool, decorated with big sequins.  One is tied several times around the hips as a belt and the other in a sort criss-cross backpack style and around the bottom.  These add back in the feminine shape to help exaggerate every movement.  The look is topped off with a headdress and babouches (slippers). 

Moroccan Horsemen perform the Fantasia at Chez Ali, Marrakesh

This is a very short clip of the dramatic charge and gunfire, "Fantasia", of the Moroccan horseman.  This traditional art was showcased at Chez Ali - a sort of Moroccan Disneyland theme restaurant a few mile outside of Marrakesh.  The night, also called Fantasia, is on a typical package type itinerary for many a tourist to Morocco. However, this doesn't detract away from the sheer skill involved in performing this manoeuvre.

Cooperative Marjana, Essaouira, Morocco 

This clip is the highlight of my recent visit to Morocco, taken at the argan oil women's beauty Cooperative Marjana, about 30 minutes from Essaouira.

These beauty cooperatives appear throughout the Moroccan countryside, providing employment for local women to prepare natural beauty products through traditional methods.  Argan oil comes from a rich almond type nut grown on the Argan tree which is native to the region.   It is a vitamin E rich oil used in luxury face creams and other beauty preparations.  Again, these cooperatives are typical to a tourist itinerary.

Marjana, however, proved to be a little different and it was a joy to be welcomed by drumming, singing and dancing before the obligatory oil extraction demonstration and sales pitch got underway. And it was sheer magic when this worker who was in her 80s got up to dance for us.

My final clip is the same woman at work.  This time, she is showing off her dexterity, sorting almonds. Although producers often now use machines for processing the oil, the traditional methods of argan and almond oil extraction are being kept alive.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Choosing Your Music - Advice for Students

The first Arabic music CDs I bought were albums containing the tracks my teacher was using in class and for class choreographies.  When I was starting out, I also frequently browsed the world music sections of the big music shops and came away with some good starter compilations including numerous titles containing a taster of music from a particular region or title, for example Rough Guide - which can often include a pretty decent selection of tracks.  The good stores will also let you listen to the music before you buy.

I have to admit, I've not fully embraced the digital world when it comes to my music collection and I am very attached to owning the actual CD containing the tracks I am after.  And yes, it's important that these are the originals.
Windows of l'Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris
From here I moved on to the independent stores and suppliers.  These will often let you listen before you buy and often contain the more interesting international and independent labels.  In Edinburgh, I will always drop into my favourite music shop, the traditional folk music store Coda whenever I am passing.  They have a good world music section with a small rack of Arabic music and you can always find albums from the well known international artists featured there, and from the world or traditional music radio shows on Radio 2 and Radio Scotland.  They also stock independent titles and I've frequently seen CDs from UK based Arabic music talent appear there.  They will also let you listen to any CD before you buy and have a great sound system.  Also if you're lucky, Coda sometimes has some great special offer prices and the sale rail can also turn up the odd gem.  Hilary's Bazaar is another place worth browsing for CDs and definately worth a visit.  This store doesn't tend to be as competitively priced as the online retailers.  However, it has a big selection, including a number of rare titles, and you can ask for advice and listen too.  

My other main trick for buying great Arabic music is browsing for my collection wherever I happen to be on holiday.  This can often include the big chain music stores like fnac.  Certainly different countries in Europe will often have various middle eastern communities in their midst, so browsing through a store catering for local tastes whilst abroad can open the doors to many new titles and lables.  For example, on a trip to Paris a few months ago, I made a special trip to l'Institut du monde arabe, just to go to their bookstore and browse through a complete set of music titles from their own label.

This post responds to Emma Chapman's article on Choosing Your Music, a blog entry aimed at advising her students.  Emma is a Cambridge based professional belly dancer and her handy guide contains some great tips on where to start and useful links.  A nice little introduction for any student, particularly those accessing Arabic dance from a Modern Egyptian style perspective.
Emma Chapman

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Breathing New Life into an Ancient Legend

Dream of an Egyptian Night (Songe d'une Nuit d'Egypte) is a contemporary dance show; which takes its inspiration from the Egypt of the pharaohs, and the goddess Hathor.
(c) Tarab of Egypt
The legend of the goddess Hathor has enabled Béatrice Grognard and her dancers to plunge into the dazzling artistic and intellectual richness of the Egypt of the pharaohs.  Thanks to its musical excerpts drawn from numerous Egyptian repertoires and to the projection of paintings, sculptures, objects and antique sites, Dream of an Egyptian Night aims to celebrate an art which spans two millennia.  The show combines both ancient Egyptian spirituality and sensual pleasure; reflecting Béatrice Grognard’s fifteen years of research and experience of creating performances.  

“A celebration of the powerful femininity of the sun which is a mysterious expression of the beauty of the world and the magic beyond…”
(c) Tarab of Egypt
When the show debuted in Brussels last year it drew critical acclaim and was even featured on Egyptian television’s “Good Morning Egypt” news programme (Sabah el kheir ya Masr) and the Belgian news on Télé Bruxelles.  Here is a short clip from the original show.

Songe d'une nuit d'Egypte - Tarab / Béatrice... by tarabofegypt

You can watch further clips of extracts from the original show (Songe d’une nuit d’Egypte) on the Tarab video channel on Daily Motion.

The exciting news is that thanks to Ellie Atkinson of Zahira Dance and Raqs Sharqi Dorset, and after playing to audiences in Belgium, France and Italy, this amazing show is coming to UK this autumn – to theatres in Bristol in October and Leeds in November! And more good news, both shows will be followed by 2 days of workshops.  Here are all the details.  

Bristol show
Friday 28 October 2011, doors at 7.30pm. 
Queen Elizabeth Hospital Theatre, Berkley Place, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 1JX. 
Tickets are £16.50 including booking fee
To reserve go to

Bristol workshops
Dance Space at the Island (Bridewell St entrance), Bristol, BS1 2PY
Saturday 29 October, 11:30-16:00 - Baladi
Sunday 30 October, 9:30-14:00 - Sha’abi (the rural style from Upper Egypt)
Each workshop costs £45
Bookings can be made by contacting Ellie Atkinson.

Leeds show
Friday 18 November, doors at 7.30pm.
Northern Ballet Theatre, Quarry Hill, Leeds, Yorkshire LS2 7PA. 
Tickets are £16.00 including booking fee. 
To reserve go to

Leeds workshops
Northern Ballet at Quarry Hill, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS2 7PA
Saturday 19 November, 11:30-16:00 - Classical from the ottoman courts
Sunday 20 November, 9:30-14:00 - Sufi.
Each workshop costs £45
Bookings can be made by contacting Ellie Atkinson.

Béatrice is an inspirational and generous teacher of her own particular style of contemporary and theatrical Egyptian dance. I’m so excited by this that I’m even planning to travel from my home in Edinburgh to both Bristol and Leeds weekends so I can attend both workshop weekends and I’m even thinking of seeing the show twice.  I’m particularly excited by the Sufi style, I’ve only done this a handful of times before with Béatrice and it is an incredible experience, not to be missed. 

Béatrice Grognard is one of the foremost European teachers of contemporary Egyptian Dance.  I first discovered Béatrice Grognard when I started attending her 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. 

At the end of last year, I attended an amazing weekend of workshops with Béatrice organised by Diane and Ellie of Raqs Sharqi Dorset.  The learning was deep and amazing.  The Baladi focused on the meeting between singer, musicians and dancer, melting together like hot chocolate into a single melody.  The Ghawazee class helped us to explore strength, femininity and most of all fun, working with signature moves like throwing hips, twists, dynamic movements, wide shimmies, and rhythmic footwork.  And the jewel in the crown of the workshop weekend was Sharqi, the modern and classical form of the dance, almost contemporary in its interpretation.  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.

About Béatrice Grognard

(c) Tarab of Egypt
Béatrice Grognard divides her time between Europe, Cairo and Brussels where, in 1998, she founded the "Tarab”, School of Theatrical Dances of Egypt". She has dedicated the last 15 years to the study and research of Egyptian music and dance. Trained as an archaeologist, Béatrice has always had true passion about arts and dance. Since 1991, Béatrice has devoted herself exclusively to dance and choreography and, thanks to her tremendous enthusiasm, has dedicated herself to defending the beauty and the authenticity of traditional Egyptian dances. Her quest today is directly linked to her original interest in archaeology: to bring forward Egyptian dance and the music of the past, redefine their boundaries and breath new life into them with theatricality introduced on stage, therefore ensuring them new life and a future.  For more information about Béatrice, see

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

"Lauren of Arabia"

Egyptian percussionist, musician and dancer Karim Nagi has posted this great clip of a lecture he gave from a panel discussion in the Diwan 2009 conference at the Arab American National Museum in Deerborn Michigan, USA. Karim discusses the Americanization of Arab dance in America, and how Arabs can reintegrate into the development of their own art forms.

This is an articulate and intelligent presentation of the issues around how dance originating from the Arab world has often been portrayed and mistranslated in the West and how important it is both for non-Arabs to understand properly the culture, form and origin behind Arabic dance and for Arabs themselves to embrace their own cultural wealth of dance.

I think this video is a must see for any Egyptian or Raqs Sharqi style dancer and for those with an interest in Arab culture.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

An afternoon of Egyptian Dance

Last week, Juliana Brustik together with dance troupe Chic Shake Shock presented a Sunday afternoon of Egyptian Dance and fundraiser for the Raqs Sharqi Society

I regularly attended Juliana's workshops for a number of years and was previously a member of her Edinburgh performance group.  Chic Shake Shock I know as a London based dance group that has entertained audiences for 10 years in a variety of arts and community settings.  I have seen this lovely group dance and worked with several of their members at previous Society events and courses, so knew to expect a wonderful afternoon.  Fortunately I had the chance to join them as I was also already down in London, for the Raqs Sharqi Society CPD event for Associate teacher members, which ran the day before. 
Al Malikat
The result was a wonderful informal community showcase, bringing together dancers of all ages to showcase the different types of Egyptian Dance that form the Raqs Sharqi Society style.  Set within the naturally lit space of the back room of the Earl of Chatham pub in South East London, we had cosy respite from the rain beating down outside and a warm crowd of dancers, friends and family across the generations, providing a supportive atmosphere to dance, watch, and be entertained. 

The showcase opened with Juliana's performance group Al Malikat, performing a skillful Baladi choreography with veil to the tune Gozy.  The three young dancers dressed in eye catching block colours moved around the stage with beautiful patterns and shapes and proved a lovely opening to the show. 

Next up, Maggie and Rebecca from Chic Shake Shock in a break from the Society's form, performed a fun Reda style duet.  This was followed by Sara with her first ever solo, performing a gentle classical piece to Raqs El Gamal by Farid El Atrash.
 Continuing the classical theme were duet Maggie and Sue performing a floaty veil duet to Mohammed Abdel Wahab's Nebtedi Menin el Hekaya (When did the Story Start).  Then it was my turn to take to the stage with my crowd pleasing Baladi solo to Alla Warag El Foull (the Petals of Jasmine), which I have performed on a number of previous occasions.  Then dancer Caterina followed this with her performance of a cheeky stick dance. 
Maggie and Sue
Closing the first half were Pauline and Doreen with a mesmerizing Baladi accordion duet followed by drum solo.  This was easily my favourite performance of the day, with two amazing women enjoying dancing together with their own unique blend of musicality, chemistry and comic timing. 
Doreen and Pauline
The second half opened with a soulful solo from Pauline to a qanun piece by Imane Homsy, fusing together classical technique with her training in Hilal Dance.  Then Doreen returned, this time for a veil duet with dance partner Brenda.  By this point in the evening Doreen had also built up the biggest and loudest entourage of family, including her children and grandchildren to cheer her on.  Al Malikat then returned to the stage and performed a Baladi piece and drum solo.  After this was an incredibly poised and delicate classical performance by Carmen to Farid El Atrash's Zeina. 
The penultimate act was a solo from Juliana Brustik.  Dressed in red with Baladi head veil, Juliana's dance was a sensitive and beautiful choreo-improvisation, using all parts of the dance floor, with soft shapes, different levels and poised arms.  This was then fittingly followed by fellow organisers Chic Shake Shock closing the show with a lively Shaabi group piece to Music of the Ghawazee. 
I thoroughly enjoyed this colourful community showcase of Egyptian Dance and especially to see a whole afternoon dedicated to the Raqs Sharqi Society style.  Key choreographic themes for the afternoon were connections between duets and groups, fluidity, and use of floor space, shapes and body direction.  All the performers were also connected through their training, every one having at some point taken lessons with Juliana.  But still, every individual found their own style within this and each stamped their own personalities onto their performances.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Dancing to Sun, Sea and Sarasvati

The wonderful Sarasvati girls held yet another fabulous event on Saturday night - their Sun, Sea and Sarasvati Hafla.  This was a fun night out with a seaside twist which raised almost £200 for the Marine Conservation Society.  This is a fantastic achievement, especially given numbers were slightly down after another dancer decided to organise a clashing hafla over in Edinburgh on the same night.  Well done girls!

The Hafla was hosted at La Bodega Tapas Bar, part of Dance With Attitude Studios in Glasgow.  It's a great venue for a party and the resident teachers Karen and Alexis even treated us to Tango and Salsa displays.  There were a number of marine inspired acts through the night and delivered in style, including Dance with Attitude's own belly dance teacher Lorri resplendent with mask and snorkel, a pirate dance by Kaz of Hafla Karimah and Stef from Sarasvati doing the dance of the jellyfish. 

Here's my dance from Saturday.  My performance didn't quite follow the theme, but I did select what I think is an appropriate "seaweed coloured" dress, by Hanan from Farida Dance for the occasion.

Here are some of the photos I took at the event.




Sunday, 17 April 2011

Arabic Dance belongs to Glasgow

I'm delighted that I am invited to teach at the 2nd Glasgow Festival of Arabic Dance on Saturday 18th June 2011.

The Festival, run by two local Glasgow Egyptian Belly Dance teachers, Sarah Pulman of Alchemy Egyptian Dance and Ann McLaughlin, features a day of exciting workshops from national and local teachers, topped off with an evening Hafla.

This year, I will be teaching a brand new workshop on the Secrets of Improvisation.  Here are all the details:
Costs £12
Open level
Break free from the confines of choreography, feel the music, and tap into your instincts to take command of the stage with improvisational freedom. This workshop will help you to connect with and dance to some traditional Arabic music, melody and rhythm that form part of every dancer’s repertoire. Using movements you already know, you will learn techniques to identify your own personal interpretation and breathe life and emotion into your performances.
I'll be teaching alongside Kay Taylor of Farida Dance, Laura Monteith of Sarasvati Tribal, Christine aka Her Royal Hellness Lucretia, Joannie Ward of Mirage and Imman Mussa of IMMEDA.

Workshops take place at the 411 White Studios, 62 Templeton on the Green, Glasgow G40 1DA.  

After the day of workshops, put on your sparklies and join us for the Hafla at 7.30pm, Woodside Halls, 60 Glenfarg St, Glasgow, Lanarkshire G20 7QU

I'll also be performing at the Hafla, together with the other teachers and other dancers and special guests - personally, I've got my fingers crossed that a certain very famous Arabian Horse called Dessie might make an appearance.

For bookings, full programme, biographies and everything else you need to know, visit:

Saturday, 9 April 2011

An interview with Om Kalthoum

I've just come across this beautiful interview with Om Kalthoum, recorded just after her concert at the Olympia Théâtre in Paris, in November 1967.  This was the one and only time in her career that she performed outside of the Arab world.  It's a delightful, if short interview with questions asked by a star struck young interviewer.  The Star of the East herself presents as stately, somewhat reserved, entirely modest, and of course overwhelmingly patriotic.

As for the impact of the concert, judge for yourself.   Here is an extract of Om Kalthoum singing Enta Omri, "you are my whole life".  This is also subtitled in English. 

For any dancers new to Om Kalthoum who want to learn more, I should mention the lovely dancers resource complete with recommended listening and You Tube links on Candi's website.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Profiting From Others

Recently, I was offered for sale a homemade CD from a local belly dancer.  It was a compilation featuring a variety of oriental music, sold in a plastic sleeve with a photo of the dancer, and with no track listing or other information. 

At £10 a CD, it's obviously a nice way of supplementing a dancer's income, particularly at workshops where eager students can clamber to purchase the track used in the class.  But this brings with it unfortunate consequences.

I can try to explain more about the implications of music piracy, but it's probably better to watch Beata Cifuentes, one of the victims of this type of crime, explaining for himself.  

If you want to understand more about how much of the heart and soul of an artist goes into producing original oriental music, I would also recommend reading Yasmina of Cairo's article in this months NADA magazine.

Finally, this is one of my favourite CDs:

This music was produced by Jennifer Carmen of Layali El Sharq music.  One of the tracks is a beautiful Baladi accordion progression, played by Sheikh Taha (for more about Sheikh Taha read the latest issue of Mosaic magazine). Last month, I watched an experienced professional performer dance a lovely rendition to this very piece.  I  approached the performer later that evening to speak to her about what is one of my favourite pieces of music.  But I quickly discovered that she wasn't even aware of where the music had come from, let alone know the name of the artist.  And she was far from understanding the story behind it (which you can read here). 

In the Arabic Dance world, performers are increasingly conscious of finding out exactly what style they are dancing to, ensuring that they understand the lyrics and are sensitive to the culture which the music comes from.  So why should so many of these same artists have no reservation about disrespecting the artistry and hard work that goes into producing the very recordings that they dance to?

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