Monday, August 30, 2010

Golden Coast

Hi all, again it's been a long, long time between updates!  I think probably readership has dropped off quite a lot, but the truth is that I'm still going through moving-home adjustment, and post-Cairo interviews, which still feels like part of the process.  The good news is, I'm back in California finally for college!  It's never looked so beautiful as when I've been gone for over year.  I'm a senior now, so it's all going to be work work work for the next several months since I'm doing my thesis in the fall.  It's due on my birthday, doesn't that figure?

In more academic news, I'm being asked to present my findings and experiences about AUC at a study abroad committee meeting, and make a recommendation regarding whether my college should pursue an official affiliation or not.  I will be saying they should, much to my surprise, but it's not for the reasons one would expect.  All of us who went to AUC experienced major problems with the bureaucracy, from things like adding and dropping classes, to getting our tuition checks processed (that one was me), to getting refunds at the proper time.  It was frustrating, and terrifying (especially when I got dropped from my classes automatically from "lack of payment" which was simply my check lying around in the NY office), but the magic word for me was when my college called them on my behalf and threw around it's institutional weight.  Suddenly everything was resolved, and I could breathe again when my check was finally found and processed and I was re-enrolled in my classes.

The fact of the matter is that I want other students at my college to have a way to do what I did, and I don't want it to be difficult for them, because living in Egypt is challenging enough as it is.  I'm hoping if my college is supporting a program through which other students can go to AUC students going to Egypt will have less trouble with the bureaucracy, because the classes and experiences you get in Egypt are completely worth it.  I was impressed with the Political Science department over all, and clearly the Arabic department is one of the world front-runners.

I know the blog seems dead now that I'm back in America, but I still would like to share experiences, maybe some guest posts, and articles/interviews my fellow students are writing.  Here's one from a girl I met "over there" that I think was quite good and illustrates how life can go in Egypt from stagnation to breakthrough, and (if you stay long enough) back and forth all over the place again:

PS-Got an interview with Karim Nagi coming up on Gilded Serpent soon, stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

No Place Like Home & Gaby Shiba

Here I am, back in Seattle!  It's beautiful here, and the weather has been pretty darn nice.  A lot of people reading this blog probably know how sick I was my last few months in Cairo, so I'm pleased to report that coming home to the cooler climate seems to have done the trick.  I'm feeling much better and happy to be home!

New dance stuff is that I'm working on sort of processing and consolidating everything I learned in Cairo, as well as going over lots and lots of choreography to memorize and rehash.  I'll be adding a couple Shaabi pieces to the few choreographies I have on hand, and next week I want to do two melaya pieces. I'll memorize everything sort of as I go this fall, but I wanted to get them marked out. Most of these were choreographed by teachers at Nile Group, but I found myself wanting to build on and adapt their choreographies to my style.  This has been really interesting as a project actually, because I have previously been very squeamish about trying to choreograph as well as having some kind of mental block.  Building on and changing around someone else's choreography has been a nice midway point since I have a lens for looking at the structures of the music and help me to see things like how verses repeat and where the changes are. I'm having fun making these choreographies into my own, and of course if I use them I'll credit the originators, except where most of it really has been changed in a significant way.

Otherwise. I'm going through music I got ahold of in Cairo and sewing a melaya dress!  Pics to come, it looks like the construction may be done by the weekend and then I'll go on to doing the beading either next week or when I return to Oakland.

Next up on the list is a website overhaul, a haircut, and a photoshoot!  I have lots of new pretty costumes that need some nice photos online!

Gaby Shiba
I just wanted to talk about another excellent teacher I took private classes with while in Cairo since I'm already writing this blog post.  Gaby is originally Lebanese, and is one of Lebanon's most famous debke dancers.  Of course he has expanded in his life into doing oriental style, Shaabi, and Egyptian folkloric as well, and now he teaches at Nile Group on a variety of topics (I took debke from him at the June 2009 festival, but he was teaching Khaleegy in 2010 for example).  Since his studio was close to me in Maadi, I had the chance to take a series of lessons with him, which was interrupted a couple times by festivals or work.  I did manage to go over 5 times though over the course of the month that I prioritized studying with him, and that gave me lots of food for thought.  I did buy a couple CDs from him, since he has nice Debke music and I was curious about his theatrical production of Salome which I haven't had time to watch yet.

We covered some Shaabi, Oriental, and Debke.   It was nice to have the variety, and Gaby is strong on all of those, however taking Debke with him is particularly special and I found his Shaabi style to be a bit more relatable than his Oriental style, which sometimes was too flamboyant for me.   He charges pretty reasonable rates for his classes compared with other big stars in Cairo, and is a kind, patient teacher although he does tend to try excessively to make sure you aren't worrying about if you are making progress quickly or slowly, etc.  I just smiled and nodded when he encouraged me to just keep trying and it was no problem if I didn't get it right away, etc.  I guess it's his way of soothing students.

Gaby does base most of his teaching based on choreography, but he will do technique corrections which I found to be always useful and delivered fairly clearly (and yes, he will gently physically correct you with his hands when appropriate, which I actually found useful because a lot of stuff can be hard to communicate verbally).  The choreographies were for me more of a device to show him in a comfortable framework how I was doing things so that he could give me corrections on technique but also attitude and musicality (especially for debke).  I felt much less self-concious following his short choreograhies for each style and like it freed me up to focus on technique within a context, so I didn't mind studying choreography.  He did give me a really difficult debke one at first since he's seen me in his workshops before though, but I had fun with it after chewing on some of the combinations a bit.

I would recommend Gaby hands-down if you want debke instruction.  He's solid for both Oriental and Shaabi too, but if you can afford to get one of the-big name female, Egyptian dancers it's probably a better bet in some ways since Gaby mostly focuses on group-style choreographies for those styles.  He's good if you want someone reasonably priced that you can go to a lot and get consistent corrections to take into workshops with big stars or private lessons.  If you drop in, his studio is right across from Sakanat El Maadi Metro station (oh, my old Metro stop, how I miss it.....sort of?) and tell him Nicole said hi!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Road

As they say in Lord of the Rings (yes I do like Lord of the Rings!), "the road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began." That's how I feel now, sitting at "home" in Cairo and looking at my last 3 upcoming days and 4 nights here before I fly home. This part of my journey is about to end, but the road will keep going afterwards I have been realizing, this isn't the end of anything, and that I will probably be back to visit sooner than I realize. I've seen the road go down from many doors though by this point, and each time it does feel a bit jarring. I do worry that the dance training I have been working on and the stylistic aspects that I have been grasping due to watching Egyptian dancers may start to slip. I'll try my best not to let that happen, but I worry nevertheless.

It actually hasn't been so hard to say good bye so far (although there are still some very important ones coming up) because I know I will stay in touch with my friends here, and though it won't be the same, things never stay the same anyway. How bored would I be if they were? Our paths will all continue and we'll be able to tell each other about it from afar until we meet again.

I probably will not have much time to update until I arrive in Seattle, so don't look for lengthly posts until probably the 22nd. Yes, I do intend to continue this blog because I have a lot to recap and talk about still that I would enjoy to share with anyone who is interested. I'd also like to take some time to edit the blog and redo the tags and things so it will remain as a good resource for other students of dance or academia. Though I won't still physically be in Cairo, I feel like I'll be taking just a little pinch with me to talk about!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Madame Freiz, Shareen El Safy, Karim Nagi, and Randa Kamel... (part 2)

So with now 10 days and counting left in Caro, here's my experiences with Karim Nagi and Randa Kamel:

Karim Nagi:
I've run into Karim a couple times before around the globe in the past couple of years, the last time in San Francisco.  He's getting a lot of good work and publicity lately, and thus traveling tons to teach and perform so we never have spent much time face-to-face as he's a super busy guy.  I bugged him to let me know when he would be in Cairo so we could hang out or do a low-key "lesson" and he indeed rolled in during Ahlan Wa Sahlan time to teach at the festival.  I caught his excellent performance during the teachers' show too, of which Hallah said, "He's crazy! But I highly recommend his kind of crazy."  Finally, I did manage to snag him for a half day of casual shop-talk and hanging out last week!

While waiting for his arrival, I found myself thinking back to Ozma of Japan's experiences she wrote about on her own blog and which you can (and should, because she goes in to much more detail than I will) read here:

Entries from 2008: 1, 2
Entries from 2009: 1, 2

Her experience as described is spot-on in her assessment of Karim's skill as a teacher and his excellent understanding of the relationship between music and dance which he is quite eloquent about. I completely relate to her talking about "teacher smitteness!" I think Ozma illustrated that in her writing much better than I can in my frantic pre-leaving state right now.  The man is smart, articulate, and has a lot to offer dancers. I came out of our "hanging out"/"lesson" session full of food for thought and lots of notes.

We started off just talking about the community, Egypt, and the festivals for awhile.  He asked me what I'd like to work on and I mentioned that I had danced to Lissa Fakker the previous week at Nile Group and been unsatisfied with it.  I also explained that, having gone to the teacher's night at Ahlan Wa Sahlan and seen lots of good-but-not-amazing, and a few real star dancers, I was wondering what really made a real star dancer stand out from the pack.  All the teachers at AWS were good, many were definitely considered "masters" in their home country, but only a couple really stood out to me.  He said it came down to musical interpretation and charisma so, remembering Ozma's blog posts, I asked him to speak to me a bit about interpreting Oum Kulthoum and if we could use Lissa Fakker as an example.

I won't go into a huge amount of detail, because I do think people should give their time and money to study with him, but suffice to say it was illuminating.  I came out of the experience with lots of new ways to look at music and many levels to draw from in my dancing from the octaves, tempo, maqam, emotional intensity, and so forth.  It was a bit freeing after sitting through a week of Nile Group evening parties beset by people showing very similar interpretations of popular classic songs.  There are some standard ways of interpreting classic songs that become quite stale and may not actually be executed according to what the music is telling the dancer to do.

I also came out of the experience with an even greater appreciation of the classic music like Oum Kulthoum.  I've always preferred music my Egyptian friends seem to think of as "old fashioned," but the fact of the matter is that there is a lot more dynamics, sophistication, and subtlety going on than with pop music.  It's been difficult for me to put my finger on why Oum Kulthoum is intriguing to me, but I always felt that there was a lot more depth and richness there.  What I realized through Karim's explanations is that the music is cleverly crafted so that the words, mood, maqam, tempo, etc. do tell a story and work to support eachother to build up into that story.  Great stuff, and invaluable to understand from a dance point of view.

I just wish we had both had enough free time to meet again before he left town, and we were intending to so, so I could interview him for Gilded Serpent, but we both went to Alexandria back-to-back and his time ran out before he had to run off to Rome.  The poor, poor guy!  Therefore, the interview will be coming out later, probably next month, and I will have to wait to really wrack his brains about other subjects I wanted to go over with him from folkloric dance to drum solo technique.  So much knowledge to be shared, so little time!  He's excellent though and I would highly recommend him for workshops or privates!

Check out one of his latest pieces which I like to think of as Mozart reimagined and to use his term, "arabized."  Normally, I don't much care for fusion, but this was pulled off intelligently to produce something fresh, catchy, and different so I enjoyed it.

Randa Kamel:
Well I hate to carry on with the gushing over various teachers, but apparently I have to continue with Randa!
Here's a clip of her from Nile Maxim, when Shareen and I came to see her last month.  I've seen her twice on the Maxim before but this time I felt she was particularly on this night and I liked the costumes a lot more than before.

After that, Shareen and I popped down to her dressing-room to say hi and get her card.  She was cute, grinning while, hanging out and having a snack in-between the early and late sailing while re-curling her bangs using a round brush.  As a side note, I happened to notice her fabulous nails--quite long, squared-off with big holographic glitter over lavender polish.  Talk about bling!  We talked a bit, me mostly smiling and nodding since Shareen was the one who actually knows Randa, but I managed to blurt out a request for a lesson on our way out the door which was rewarded with a big smile and, "of course, Habibi! Just call me!"

That was how, the following week, Shareen and I found ourselves trekking out to her villa near the pyramids (she has a school on Faisal street but wanted us to visit her at home) for some more shop talk and a short lesson.  We spent most of the time discussing community politics and why she hadn't ended up teaching at Ahlan Wa Sahlan this year and so forth.  Eventually we retired to her small home dance studio to do a swift half hour lesson, which actually proved to be enough for two me and Shareen who were still exhausted from Nile Group.

Randa gave us basically the introduction to a choreography set to a popular current pop music tune.  It's not a song I particularly like, actually, so I was wondering how she was going to make it special, because whenever I see Randa dance she really brings something extra.  This was no exception, as she took a song I barely liked and showed us a choreography that made it interesting.

I was particularly struck by the way she uses her arms, which was totally foreign for me.  Shareen was joking that for Randa the arms are almost as important as the hips, which I agree with.  She uses very unusual postures, and for the choreography she always made sure we knew which arm movements she wanted. It was difficult for me since I usually go for fairly casual, relaxed (but with proper technique) arm styling with occasional dynamic accents.  I felt like I came out of the experience though thinking of my arm usage as LAZY.  Randa's usage of her arms and her dynamic arm movements really make her look professional, polished, and like her entire body is engaged with the music, which I love.  She just looks so alive and her movements are clearly very practiced and crisp.  I remember her mentioning she spends hours a day in the dance studio working, and it definitely shows.

It was something to see and I love being pushed out of my comfort zone in dance when I feel the teacher has something relevant to share.  In this case I think it was particularly necessary as I realized an important area I need to focus on.  Of course now I'm seeking her out for a few more lessons before I leave!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Madame Freiz, Shareen El Safy, Karim Nagi, and Randa Kamel... (part 1) excellent combination for the week!  I decided to really pile it on during and now post-Nile Group.  I'm down to about two and a half weeks now, so I'm going to go hard with the dance lessons until I head out!

Shareen El Safy
I met Shareen at Nile Group through Hallah Moustafa, who studied with her back in California in the day.  It was interesting, because she's told me about Shareen and I've been studying Shareen's technique through Hallah in a way.  I was glad to meet the lady herself finally, and we spent a lot of time together during Nile Group chatting, hanging out, and me helping to decipher her new cell phone.

I took a private lesson with her during the insane Nile Group week up in her spacious hotel room to try it out and see if I wanted to try and catch more classes with her when we're both back in California, since she's down in Santa Barbara.  It was a really interesting lesson, and I would definitely recommend her to anyone interested in getting at the heart of real Egyptian dance.  She talks about the body in a way that is pretty unique, and again was something that reminded me of Alexander Technique with her descriptions of directing the energy in one's body and the energetic relationship between the different parts of the anatomy.

Shareen's technique involves a differentiation between skeletal movements and muscle movements, but not in the so literal way of the Suhaila butt-shimmy.  What she's talking about is not just dancing by moving the bones into the right form, but having the muscles active and supporting the movement on a different level.  This has, in my case, a lot to do with moving with "purpose" instead of just going through the skeletal motions.  I enjoyed her discussion also of different ways of using the muscles in something as simple as walking on to the stage.

One other thing that Shareen talked to me about concerning movements is the preparation that comes before the movement itself.  She was saying Egyptian dancers actually do the preparation and then the step, and they may show it clearly or not depending on the styling.  It's a deliberate thing, that that sort of fed into what Farida Fahmy was speaking about in her workshop of how Egyptian dancers keep a "flow" in their dancing instead of moving in chopped up steps.  It's a whole series of movement, not just individual movements, and I think the preparation plus the movement means there is more continuity.  The other purpose it seems to serve is when you have a real belly dance drummer watching your every move in order to play the accents with the dancer.  They then have the preparation and the movement itself to watch, which gives them more information about how the dancer is moving and how they will accent the rhythm.  Interesting stuff...I will definitely be trying to corner Shareen for some private lessons back in California.

I did take her workshop as well at Nile Group which was a great choreography to Alf Leila, and I liked her enough to buy her DVD which I usually never, ever do!  Will be writing about the workshop in my Nile Group report for Gilded Serpent!

Everyone who goes to Nile Group Festival knows who Freiz is.  She, Abou Shebika, and Aida Nour run the whole deal, but Freiz is kind of the big mama, the older, semi-retired dancer, the one who sits through all the shows every night until 5am cheering everyone on.   I always liked Freiz, she seemed like a no BS, real down-home, Baladi girl with a big attitude but piles of sweetness.  I decided it was about time to catch a lesson with her, so I did a a couple this week.

I arrived at her place in Mohandiseen right on time for my first lesson, and the place was luckily easy to find.  I was ushered into her huge flat by her very quiet son, and the lady herself soon came out to kiss my cheeks, offer me a drink (I was swiftly cornered and told to drink tea so it wasn't exactly an 'offer' as one might think), and chit chat a bit in her limited English and my limited Arabic about the festivals and if was going to "Raqia's festival" Ahlan wa Sahlan.  We got along and Freiz seemed to find me amusing to chat with, so we got down to business a bit later after establishing that I wanted to study anything she cared to work on and she smiled, saying we were going to do Shaabi at her suggestion.

We then dove straight into a Shaabi choreography loaded down with quick changes and combinations of moves!  Luckily, I was familiar with most of the moves as she assumed, and was able to hold my own.  After awhile though my brain began to implode with the sheer amount of choreography I was learning in a short amount of time.  The breaks to swig some tea came more frequently with Freiz saying, "no, tea, tea!" if she thought I didn't seem ready to practice more. I was impressed at how much she gave me her full attention though and danced alongside me to show the moves, considering she's not exactly young and a lot of the grand Egyptian dancer figures like her have a reputation for not engaging physically in the private lesson as much as one would hope.  Not Freiz, she was there beside me, watching me like a hawk or dancing right next to me holding my hand to emphasize her movements the entire time.

I really enjoyed the choreography as it was quick and clever, but with a very clear sort of chorus combination to bring it home that was solid and spunky.  Freiz didn't do a lot of technique instruction for me, but I think that was partially due to the language difficulty.  Luckily from training with the AUC folkloric group I know some dance terminology in Arabic, so I understood when she asked things like, "btlefi izzay??" She did show me some ways to make the moves more Shaabi, after shaking her head at me for being, "too oriental" a few times and shaking her finger at my foot pointing.  That was helpful to see and encouraged me to get a taste of the Shaabi flavor from a real Egyptian, which I think will prove invaluable. If anyone plans on taking lessons with her, don't let her stern facial expressions fool you, she's actually pretty sweet.

To sum up, Freiz is excellent for choreography, and actually I made up my mind to take classes with her because she did several of the choreographies I saw in the opening and closing shows at Nile Group.  I remember chatting with her daughter, saying that I found Camelia's shamadan segment of her show to be the best, when Su laughed and said, "well, actually my mother did that one!"  She's got a great ear for the structure of the music and putting together clever combinations which I like, and if you have a pretty good eye you can pick up some of her Shaabi styling.  Not only that, but because she choreographs for some big names, she is one of the sources of contemporary trends on the Cairo dance scene so it's important to go right to the source to see what's new in moves, styling, and music choices.

To other English-speaking dancers, be a bit warned that her English isn't fantastic, which led to some confusion at times, but she does make herself understood if she wants to.  Su, her oldest daughter, translates at the lessons if you have one at a time she's awake and not at university, and her English is excellent.  Her lessons are at her flat in Mohandiseen which is fairly easy to find on a major street, and she treats guests with Eygptian hospitality of course.  She expects you to take tea or coffee and it's a bit rude to refuse, and she'll make sure you have biscuits or fruit after the lesson, saying, "eat, eat!" until she feels you're sufficiently stuffed of snacks and dance.

Still to come, a meeting with Karim Nagi and some great music discussion, and a lesson with Randa Kamel!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hallah Article on Gilded Serpent

Over the weekend I took many private lessons so I have a big, two-parter blog post coming up about the fabulous experiences I had with various teachers, and my ruminations on dance sparked by studying with them.  However, it's a long post so it will be a few more days, plus I am going to the beach for a few days to unwind so I'm hoping it will be up early next week!

I'm off to Alexandria tomorrow, but to tide you over, here is the link to my article on Gilded Serpent about working with Hallah Moustafa!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

AUC Pics, Part 3

Monday, June 21, 2010

Return to Nile Group

I attended Nile Group Festival in full again this week, opening, closing, weeknight parties, workshops and all.  I will be writing a review of the event and everything on Gilded Serpent soon--it was a big week so it may take a little time!  Great festival though, I love the teachers and the atmosphere of all the organizers, teachers, and their students being a big family.  Wonderful stuff!

I'd like to share with you one experience I won't include in my recap for Gilded Serpent, because this is an especially vulnerable experience I had, but I want to share it here on the blog.  It was very interesting to be sure.

I danced in the second dance party on Saturday night, which I've been semi-frantically trying to practice for the last couple of weeks.  In a way it was supposed to be a sort of culmination of the technique I've been studying with Hallah for the last months, so I was hoping to pull everything together and do a great show for the five minutes I would be granted in between masses of other girls and their friends taping them.  The open dance evenings are always set up so the girls with the CDs dance first and then the band, which usually ends up playing on into the not-so-early hours of the morning, so I was prepared to be up quite late.

After ranks of girls from around the world showcasing their hottest moves and costumes, I was beginning to get a bit hungry after the band finished setting up by about 1:30am.  By 2:00 I went to change and found out the order of the dancers had been changed around and so we were all getting on the list again, first-come-first-serve.  I waited around in costume, slowly crumpling with hunger and tiredness, as some people wimped out as time rolled on from 3:00 to 3:30, and those of us who were still to dance kept on our game faces and shimmied around to warm up.

It was around 4:00 when they called my name, and I waited through the first opening bars of Lissa Fakir.  I tried to let myself fill up with energy to that special, tingly, brimming, performance-ready place before I slowly walked out and up on to the stage.

The stage lights combined with those from the video camera guys were blinding, which always seems to make me instinctively look down, but I did my best to not bow to the assault on my tired eyeballs and keep my head up and smiling as I began to move.  It felt difficult, draggy, and something was not quite clicking.  I couldn't get the reverberation in my locks that I had practiced over and over at home, and my floor patterns felt repetitive and uncreative.  I did things I hadn't rehearsed, and left out moves I had really wanted to use.  I felt small out there alone with the wooden stage reflecting the lights back at me so I could barely see Madame Friez and Abu Shebika smiling at me like they so graciously do at everyone, all night.  In my loneliness I knew my posture was collapsing, I was breaking my back posture in a habit I've tried for years to get rid of it.  I tried to bring my arms up, keep the light, airy feeling of the song, but I honestly can't remember whether I succeeded or not.

I looked at the band, hoping for some anchor, some encouragement, some feeling.  I always try to "feel" the music as my inspiration and listen to what it says, but in this case I couldn't connect.  I imagined, from seeing many other dancers in Egypt and their bands, that dancing with a real Egyptian band would feel powerful and uplifting and encouraging, almost like riding an avalanche with that amount of power behind you.  Instead, we politely smiled at each other and I felt nothing but polite indifference and fatigue from playing for hours on end.  Even though there were smiles, there was no connection, and I couldn't grab on to any performance personality of substance, besides kind of classically pretty and emotive.

I did not impress any one, and most definitely not myself.  Suddenly it was over, and they were not playing me a drum solo, like they do for the best dancers, but simply playing me off.

I went and grabbed my camera from my friend, feeling horrified and let down about my performance, and brushed off the compliments people kindly offered.  I knew I was capable of better dancing, I had rehearsed several times and done good work back at home and at Hallah's studio.  I didn't understand what had went wrong, and felt helpless and discouraged.  I changed and plopped down in the dressing room to ponder on a forgiving sofa.

I realized I was starving.  It was after 4 am.  I looked around at other dancers when I crept back into the hall, tired and haggard-looking but hanging in there for their chance at a dance with the band.  We were all just doing our best, everyone wanted everyone else to do well, and it WAS hard to stay up that late and dance well on an empty stomach.  I wanted to be hard on myself, and I think I was, but I ended up forgiving myeslf a little bit for not giving the most riveting performance.  Let's be honest, I haven't been on stage actually since I came to Egypt a year ago, so I am unsurprisingly rusty outside of rehearsal.

I watched the video later, and I found my dancing to be not great, but decent and passable.  Maybe that's enough for me for now, but I am still disappointed.  However, it was humbling to be reminded that I'm not the hot shot yet, I'm a student and I'm supposed to be here to soak up all the learning I can.  We're all on a dance journey, and right now I'm in a particular place where I can't dance on stage at the level I want, so I will keep working.  Intellectually everything is there, which is at least a step. It's in my private rehearsals too, so that's another step.  I understand how I want to be dancing, and my body is starting to absorb my new learning (its been a whole week of new learning!) but it hasn't become second-nature yet to the point where I can get up on stage that tired and hungry and just do it.  This is the goal I think, accustom and teach the body a new way of doing things, so that no matter how crazy the circumstances it can move beautifully and naturally with the technique I've been working on.

The main thing I need is self-confidence, which has been a slippery subject for me.  While Cairo has toughened me up in some ways, it's also made me realize how young I am, that 20 actually isn't that old really. Amusingly, the memory flashed up after my performance of how a close friend in his 30s did call me a fetus awhile back just before I left for Egypt.  I still have a lot more living to go through though for sure, and a lot more experiences to have, so I don't get to magically jump the line and have tons of self-confidence and assurance about the world because I am still exploring who I am as a person and a dancer. That's fine, I've been trying to embrace that and half self-confidence while in motion on my exploration of myself, which is definitely a work in progress.

Well, Nile Group is over, and that was probably the most personally intense part of it, but the journey continues.  After the show I rode home across town in a taxi with some Oum Kalthoum music playing. The sky began to lighten gradually over the bright, neon lights of Cairo, which pierce the darkness until all the club-goers are ready to have a smoke and head home.  I sipped on some tea the driver offered me and tried to just relax and enjoy where I am, because what else is there to do when you find yourself in Cairo?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

AUC Pics, Part 2

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Cultural Moment of the Week

We have new sewing people at work now, specifically two young ladies in their 20s who are lovely and giggly but are learning quickly and doing good work.  This week I found myself catching a microbus home with them a couple days in a row instead of staying to do my usual lesson with my teacher right after work.  It's always pretty funny catching the microbus anyway, because the drivers can be pretty silly and its just an over all rather sloppy affair with the running and jumping on to the thing, trying to figure out where one is going, fighting over who will pay for the rest of us, etc.  In this case though, between the two girls (who barely speak any English) and our main bilingual assistant is was a complete giggle-fest.  At some point the point was raised that I studied Japanese back in the day for a few years and thus the interrogation in Arabic began about what "izzayak" (how are you?) is in Japanese, how you say "Sabah il Kheir" in Japanese, etc.

It was a total crack-up to be sitting on a microbus, bouncing and bumbling along, listening to overloud Egyptian music, while trying to translate Arabic into English into Japanese.  Seeing the girls smiling and saying, "ohaiyogozaimasu" over and over again to try and get it perfect was pretty great though!  Tomorrow I think I'll tell them that "yalla" is "ikimashou" in Japanese to impress them.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

AUC Pics, Part 1

In no particular order, which suits AUC style anyway.  More to come later!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Summertime still busy!  And very hot!

I survived finals again, and this was actually one of the easier rounds of them, all things considered. Not that the material wasn't as hard, but the process was just somehow a lot less complicated than last semester.  Most of my stuff was papers that were due the last day, so I wrapped all that up and then had one sit in before being done done done!  I popped over to AUC to take lots of pictures for you all, but the weather was all gross and sandstormy so they look a bit nasty, but that's definitely not normally how it is.  Will post separately a bit later!

Now I'm working full time doing costuming, which is including a bit of book-keeping, a bit of design, a bit of web design, and sales kind of.  Hallah and I will be at the Nile Group festival in June vending, and yours truly will finally set foot on a stage for the first time in ages and ages.  Now that I'm done with the semester I'm sliding back into a lovely "dance-all-the-time-more-more-more" schedule that I like to do.  Last summer I was in Egypt being a lazy butt, but the summer before that I spent the whole thing tango dancing all night, all the time and dancing away the days which was awesome.  Right now I'm trying to train hard and get back on the horse after the semester so I can be on stage later this month and not look like crap!

A trip to the beach is certainly in order soon, but probably not until after the festival, so for about three weeks.  After that, I intend to take a nice long weekend and go out to Dahab.


This week has been full of drama on various scales, and so today I was pretty annoyed when walking from my house to Gaby Shiba's nearby dance studio to book him for a private lesson.  One poor young fellow picked the wrong day to follow a cute, little, unassuming foreign girl when I whipped around in response to his, "let me get to know you!" and let loose with a bilingual tounge-lashing of epic proportions.

I think he nearly peed himself while backing away, and I stormed off still cursing amid his "no, you don't get me!" half-hearted calls.

This is a saddenly common experience for pretty much every female in Cairo, although I think us foreigners get it a bit more because we seem more vulnerable or exotic or something.  Every woman at the very least gets stared at, whether she is veiled or not.  Most of us get comments that are in passing and easily ignored or responded to with a cold, no-nonsense glare. A lot of foreign women have said they've been followed, but nothing more aggressive.  Some people have actually been touched, grabbed, pinched, or just generally abused.  While the presidents wife may claim there is no problem of sexual harassment in Egypt, everyone knows that's a lie.  On the one hand, it seems unlikely people will follow through violently on the harassment, but it still happens and makes simply walking down the street hard for a lot of women here.

The only good part about it is that the harassers tend to be pretty cowardly, so usually a strong, confident-looking woman is not targeted as much, and when women do get harassed, verbal confrontation usually scares the guy off.  At least if it's a one on one interaction, but what worries every girl here is if they happen to get caught by a group of guys that won't back down.  The problem is at a larger level of societal accepting and teaching of this kind of thing, to the extent that even little boys who don't understand sexuality know there is something funny or naughty about running after a grown woman and trying to grab her butt.  The issue is being addressed by some women and men in Egypt and some organizations, but its hardly an extinct phenonminon.  I heard recently about a girl from AUC who got a big group of women together and took to the street to harass the men, which sounded simply hilarious.  Apparently some guys got totally confused, some were angry, some ignored them, and some even tried to talk them out of doing it.

I've read a couple interesting things on the subject from how to react verbally or physically, to how to dress, and the reasons behind why harassment happens.  There's a few theories on the latter subject, such as the rising percentage of young people in the population (youth bulge), leading to less jobs, more economic frustration, and more young men unemployed and hanging around looking to prove their power over something.  A related theory is that because marriage is so expensive, and people here must be married to be granted by society permission to be sexual beings, there is a waithood that happens before young people can be married and thus out of frustration men prey on women on the streets because it is the only way they can express themselves sexually.  There's lots of ideas out there, which could help to unravel the problem, but most people are concerned with the day-to-day of getting around without being bothered.

It's simple to tell foreigners we should simply dress more conservatively, but what's the point when even women wearing hijab are not off-limits to this kind of thing?  People told me to wear a scarf on my head when I came, that I would get treated with more respect, but there is nothing that screams, "I'm desperately trying to fit in but I'm so foreign!" as much as a head scarf that doesn't fit the fashion and style of everyone else's. That tactic only works in really touristy areas where you are then simply showing you are more respectful than other tourists.  It's either wear hijab and wear it properly, or don't in most of Cairo. I remember in the AUC newspaper this semester a very small story of harassment of various girls from the community, veiled or not, in one area of town or another.  I also remember in New Cairo driving back and forth on the AUC bus and closing the curtains of the bus when we passed a truck with 20 or so construction workers piled in the back, because they would scream and blow kisses and yell when they caught sight of a female face going by.

I don't know what to make of it for you readers, besides trying to get by on a harassment-free level on a day to day basis.  The easiest way is to simply avoid the street--don't walk around more than necessary, take taxis, take the women's car in the Metro, but that seems like an unfair fix, doesn't it?  On a last note I did read an article recently though that the women's car on the Metro is both a good and bad thing, in that it provides women a safe space from harassment, but also that it reinforces the need for them to be separated from men to ensure men's behavior.  It reinforces the behavior, by making a women on the mixed car seem "out of place" and asking for attention, which in turn leads to strange power and gender relations.

Before I foray off into gender theory I had better stop, but if there is more anyone wants to know about harassment here don't hesitate to comment and ask.  Stay tuned for AUC photos!

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Another long silence again on the blog here I see.  Finals are approaching and I've been caught in a deluge of papers and podcasts (the latter for Arabic class) in between being really ill.  Earlier this week I got a nasty case of food poisoning AND we had a hot weather snap so I was puking my guts out in 100+ degree weather.  Ok, yes I'm being a bit of a drama queen, but it sucked and it actually was that hot!

Now I seem to have recovered for the most part and am buckling down to do my finals, so bear with me in my distraction, and possibly read my entry from last semester about surviving finals: Ho, Ho, Ho Habbi.  Yes I know, but it was December at the time and going home for Christmas was on my mind!

My last round of sickness was both the sickest I've been in years and definitely the most in Cairo, which has killed some of the novelty factor for me over here.  I have never been so sick so often in  my life as my time in Cairo, which sucks but the place is rough on the body.  Or at least for us pink, squishy things that grew up in the mild and lovely Seattle!  It's always been the case that I've been afraid to leave Egypt, as though if I blinked the memories might be erased in an instant.  There is some truth in that the memories will fade with time and lack that certain emotional depth they once carried and felt so important at the time, but that's simply life and I'm starting to be able to look on the rather bright side of coming home.  I wasn't anticipating a new level of adjustment a year into living here, but perhaps this is just the first phase of the adjust back to life in America.

What's starting to kill things for me in particular as well is the weather.  I was raised in a MILD climate, people.  I cannot take 100 degree weather all the time in any form except lying down in an air-conditioned box.  Someone needs to tell this to the Egyptian summer weather!  Winter is perfect, I haven't got a problem with it and being covered up isn't a big deal or uncomfortable during the winter, so dealing with social norms about dressing is never stressful.  My only condolance is that on July 28 I will be flying back to lovely, mild Seattle for awhile to visit my parents before going back to California, because here in Cairo it will just be getting hotter and hotter.

Otherwise, life is going on as usual!  I have an article coming out in Gilded Serpent soon about a teacher and friend here, Hallah Moustafa so stay tuned.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Egypt Fashion

A question I got asked quite a bit when  I came home to the US this past winter was, "what do you wear in Egypt?"  which is a completely different question from "what do people wear in Egypt?" but hints at that.  I think it's time to answer both on the blog, so that people get to know something they're curious about, and people thinking to travel here get a better idea of how to blend in and dress appropriately.

On the Street in Cairo
Men: Doormen, some laborers, some small shop-owners will wear a garment like a long robe or shirt called a galabeya which falls to the feet with whatever shoes.  Most Cairo guys on the street wear jeans (of the semi-not-total-ball-crushing variety) and a T-shirt or casual collared work shirt in either long or short sleeves or a full-on suit if going to work.  Young men usually stick to jeans and a T-shirt with sneakers almost unanimously.  If they're real local they LOVE their fake designer-wear. If you're wearing a suit you better have some pointy-ish black leather shoes with either squared off or truly pointy toes. Extra local points if they're dusty and turn up at the tips from a rigorous life.  Shibshib is what we call the Egyptian version of flipflops and they are considered very casual wear, mainly worn around the house, so not many men wear these outside and barely any women except in the poorer areas as it's a bit like going out in your sweatpants in the US.  Because of that you can sometimes see people going around in shibshib, but not if they're going much farther than down the street to the store.

Women *: Here there is a huge mix, which you can see if you ride the women's car on the Metro.  Many young women wear hijab here, but they also dress in often very colorful, tight clothing.  The tightness seems immodest, so I don't exactly understand it except as a way to somehow make the clothes fit in with "modern" western clothing more. Matching is very popular, down to the accessories, no matter what esoteric hue they might be, so you can often see young hijabii girls rocking an outfit in 2-3 colors around town in a very fashionable way to them, which I as a Westerner could never pull off. Colors are matched from the (often layered) headscarves, to bangles, to footwear.  Long, A-line or trumpet skirts are popular here (but not to the exclusion of pants which are usually skinny jeans on the younger girls), including in denim, which I thought was cute enough to buy a couple. Older women usually will wear simple long pants or skirts and blouses or long casual dresses like the male galabeyas, but a bit more form-fitting.  Oddly enough it's my impression that is a generation of older women present in Cairo that don't veil possibly because of the events during their lives when the veil was considered "backward" or restraining.  Few women wear complete veils, but maybe 3/4ths cover their hear.  During the winter many girls were wearing skirts at the knee with tights or pants under tucked into cute ankle or knee boots.

*Please note: The veiling issue is very complicated and women on an individual basis have many different opinions and feelings about their personal choices regarding to be veiled or not. There are many works of scholarship out there about what veiling means or doesn't mean, but I think the most important point is to try and understand what veiling means to the individual and react to it on an individual basis, not on the penalty of assigning group homogeneity.  There's my two cents!  Lots of info out there for people to check out!

Women: Women are pretty safe in most major areas wearing long jeans, pants, or a skirt which falls beneath the knees; and any shirt that has at least short-sleeves.  Sleeveless is a no-go, or at least throw a scarf or shrug on over your shoulders.  Anything that shows much cleavage is probably best left at home or to other areas to be discussing following this section. No short shorts. Ever. Sensible footwear is good as the streets can go back and forth from sidewalks to none, to an inch of sand, to rubble, to puddles.  However, Cairo is a major city, so impractical, flashy footwear and short heels will make you blend in more. 

I typically wear:  I have a certain way of dressing that I consider a baseline of modesty to go on when in Cairo or traveling in Egypt in general.  It's important to wear long pants or skirts, and keep your arms partially covered, so I usually wear jeans and a T-shirt with a 3/4 sleeve shrug over, cute ballet flats for around town, or short wooden heels if I'm going to school or getting around on my own.  If someone is driving me, I will wear heels if I know for sure we won't be walking far or taking the subway.

Men: Foreign guys pretty much wear what Egyptian men wear, with the exception that shorts are probably best left at home if you want to blend in at all, and the foreigners are usually the ones wearing more baseball caps than Egyptian guys because the latter don't like to mess up their carefully gelled hair-dos.

Nightlife and Clubbing in Cairo
There is no distinction between foreigner/local wear at clubs in Cairo, because the kind of Cairenes who go out to clubs are usually pretty westernized, international, and not conservative.  I think most of my Cairo friends are conservative enough to not go clubbing, or they keep it to mainly dance-themed things like Salsa nights which are a bit more fun and innocent in a way than a hip-hop club or a belly dance cabaret.

Women:  Hiiiigh heels, skinny jeans, mini-skirts, skanky earthquake-inducing tops--pretty much the same as the US.  You will probably never see a Hijab while out clubbing, or if you do the girl wearing it is probably not going to be flouncing around like she owns the place as the truly outrageous Cairo girls do.  I have seen Hijabii women out salsa dancing though, but not much in hip hop clubs or some of the racier venues.  Egyptian ladies certainly like to dress it up, and then some though.  And hey, why not?  Egyptian girls are gorgeous!  Us foreigners just drag out one of the two clubbing tops we brought "on the off chance I would be on the Red Sea or something.." and jeans.  The key to getting in and out without being ogled to death on the street? Shrugs, scarves, jackets, getting rides from a friend or jumping into a taxi promptly after exiting any building, and large purses in which to stash a change of clothes to switch into in the bathroom!

Guys: Um...not much new here, jeans and T-shirts.  Big watches.

Weddings in Cairo:
Guys: Suits, many suits.  I've seen shiny platinum-colored ones, but most are basic black or navy with a tie that goes with it nicely.

Ladies:  Huuuge variety here. Weddings are a bit of a chance for people to let their hair down as they're just around family and friends usually, which shows in women's outfits.  You can see sleeveless and strapless dresses here on non-hijabii women from the mid-thigh to full-length ballgowns.  It's always good to bring a scarf or shrug though in case you get a bit self-conscious and for walking to/from the car. The hijabii ladies just throw on a mesh long-sleeved turtleneck undershirt and are good to go! The bride will usually wear the hugest cupcake dress she can manage while still being able to actually dance, with a slightly-less-huge veil.  It's adorable in a "awww, I fantasized about that as a little girl!" way.  Usually the sisters of the couple will be in full-on gowns hovering around offering tissues and carrying stuff for the bride, while the mothers of the couple stalk around in pant suits beaming and joking for some reason.  I don't get the pantsuits, not the beaming and joking of course.

Boys (there are no men at AUC except professors):  The foreign guys obviously wear whatever they would wear at their home college.  Egyptian guys like their designer shades, their brightly-colored T-shirts over carefully worked abs and biceps of a size that makes them walk around with their arms always slightly bent, designer jeans, designer sneakers.  Huge, expensive, imported watches. They can afford it because this is the most expensive college in Egypt. Even the more modest guys are usually a bit better dressed than in the US, sticking to smart short-sleeve, button-down shirts and designer glasses.  There is definitely a uniquely AUC fashion trend that's hard to put your finger on until you come here.  Oh, also Egyptian guys wouldn't be caught dead carrying more than one single notebook at a time, if that.

Girls:  Again, the foreigner girls wear whatever they would at their home college. The Egyptian girls at AUC are usually decked out in a way that makes foreign male tongues wag and foreign females roll their eyes.  There is a specific co-ed group called the "Guccis" that everyone refers to as the absolute consumer-whoreist group of students at AUC and who are the butt of every joke, but besides them the girls in AUC generally make me wish I: a) had Egyptian genes, b) a lot of money, c) could actually justify buying skinny jeans, d) had more time in the morning to look like something other than a colossal wreck e) a driver so I could wear whatever I wanted without worrying about the gauntlet of the open street.  Skinny jeans are prevalent.  Everyone carries large purses instead of backpacks. They can afford to get their hair "did" regularly and stuff waxed and plucked to perfection.  They look fabulous, and that sucks because Egypt hates my skin and my body generally.

On the Red Sea:
The Red Sea is home to many major tourist towns, and I think they've pretty much seen it all.  Women can wear bikinis on the beach or in the club (which is also on the beach), or a mini-skirt, or tank-top.  No one cares enough to give you crap or really say much about it, although expect the Egyptian males around to give you "a look" in a certain way at times.  Again, guys pretty much wear...yep, jeans and a T-shirt or a T-shirt and swim trunks on the beach or even in the club.

I wouldn't say Alexandria is much more conservative than Cairo per-say, but I haven't spent much time there.  There are certain beaches you can wear bikinis, but beware strong surf causing boob-escapage (seriously, been there). When in doubt, throw on a long T-shirt over your suit and you're good to go! I'm not even going to mention guys this time, too boring.  Otherwise I would say just do as you do in Cairo, although somehow I got away with wearing a tank-top one night, but I was accompanied by an Egyptian guy friend.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Up the Nile: Day 8 (Abu Simbel)

This was the grand finale of my trip: The temples of Abu Simbel, on the edge of Lake  Nasser, at sunrise.  We were the only ones there, but sadly you can't take pictures inside of the most beautiful paintings yet on my trip. Walking alone through these temples gave me shivers!