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.

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