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


...is 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!