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?