Cairo Trip Day 3 – Khan el Khalili & Noussa

Our first full day in Cairo was wonderfully full!

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Nibal picked us up at 10 AM and we headed straight to Khan el Khalili, the old market in the center of Old Cairo.

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Delicious food at El Fishawy

We started with breakfast at El Fishawy cafe: fuul (a bean dip), musa’a (aubergine dip), pickled aubergines, and a special falafel, plus Egyptian mint tea, of course.

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El Fishawy cafe in Khan el Khalili

I just love El Fishawy! It’s a mostly outdoor cafe, with mirrors lining the narrow walkway, making it seem like there are secret windows throughout. The floors are inlaid with tile mosaics, and vendors constantly pass through, carrying fresh bread on their way somewhere else, offering pashminas, necklaces or shoe polish. It’s a magical place!

When we finished eating we headed to a spice shop, lined floor to ceiling with all kinds of good smelling things. On the ceiling hangs a crocodile skin, and in one corner are snake and fox skins and tortise shells. There are boxes of dates and other dried fruit, open barrels of grains and herbs, bins of saffron, cumin and so much more.

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Spices at Khan El Khalili

After stocking up on spices (Heather) and hibiscus for tea (me, shockingly), we walked a short distance through the winding pedestrian streets to Mahmoud’s veritable costume palace! Three nice cool stone levels absolutely packed with belly dance goodies of all kinds… beaded bedlah, folkloric costumes, hip scarves, jewelry and more.

I loaded up on hip scarves to bring back for my students, and treated myself to a Nubian style folkloric dress, complete with tarha.

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Mahmoud's costume shop

After spending a good number of hours at Mahmoud’s, we stopped by a music and movie shop, where I found, among other goodies, a copy of Bahebbek Hassan (I love you, Hassan), a Naima Akef movie that I have been trying to find for years! No subtitles, but I’m thrilled to have it and be able to watch some of the scenes that I have only ever briefly glimpsed on YouTube before they disappeared.

During the day, Nibal kindly called Mme. Noussa and made an appointment to visit her at her workshop in Giza. After checking out a couple more shops in Khan el Khalili, we met our van driver and jumped into thick traffic to Giza!

Egyptian traffic is like nothing I’ve ever experienced… it’s kinda like a big game of chicken. Maybe like Boston but without the rage and with far fewer rules. Lanes and traffic signs are really just decoration. Honking and flashing lights is a legit form of communication. It’s kinda awesome–at least when you’re not in a rush, cause you really have no control!

Upon arriving on El Haram Street in Giza, we had to cross traffic. There are no crossealks…. you just go. And we did, grabbing on to each other to take up as much space as possible!

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With Mme. Noussa

Mme. Noussa is the absolute kindest woman. Her costumes are dreamy and she takes great care in helping us find a good fit. After trying on a few costumes I settled on two to take home. Yippeeeee!

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Having Nibal with us made all the difference. She knows how to navigate the labyrinthine streets of Khan el Khalili, and how best to speak with the vendors for the best results. It was a stress-free first day–just lots of fun and exploration with great guidance.

Next up, a day at the Saqqara and Giza pyramids, the the Makan Center and the Mazaher ensemble in the evening!

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Why Attend a Dance Festival?

We live in a wonderful time for belly dance. Thanks to the internet, we have instantaneous access to videos of performers from every era and geographical location. We have forums to support each other and to learn. We have access to in-depth articles and online courses on everything from dance technique to history and culture.

Ashraf Kodak's workshop - Camp Negum in Cairo, Egypt

Ashraf Kodak’s saidi workshop at Camp Negum in Cairo, Egypt

We also have an abundance of belly dance festivals! One of the best things about attending a festival is to see and experience *in person* a wide variety of styles and approaches to dance. Since festivals feature a wide variety of teachers–many of them highlighting multiple genres– fans of all styles come together, ideas are exchange and–gasp–real life dancing happens! 🙂

“When I see others dance, I feel like I am dancing with them. I release everything during the shows and really enjoy myself. To me, every dancer has a story and they tell us that story in their dance, the music they pick, the faces and emotions they show. I get to see and feel, first hand, another story that is not my own all of the time. Like watching a movie. Is the dancer sad? Is the dancer happy? Is the dancer conveying a lesson or perhaps adding a personal moment to her dance? It tells me alot about the different artists and I get to catch a glimpse of other stories instead of just watching mine.” – Moira

Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive afterparty!

Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive afterparty!

I love the getting to know dancers from all over the world through Facebook, to get lost in a YouTube rabbit hold for hours on end….  and getting to expand that into a real-life experience is the wonder of a festival.

There are so many to choose from! Some specialize in one genre or umbrella style, like Tribal Fest in California (tribal… obviously), or RakStar (Egyptian focus) in Miami. Some make a point of offering headliners and teachers in many different genres, like the Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive in Las Vegas, and Art of the Belly in Maryland. Some festivals specifically cater to higher-level dancers, and some offer workshops at the beginner level, too.

“I love learning from various instructors in an immersion style which has more of a lasting impact on my dance. They foster a broader community (if they are done right) and I think it’s good to take the pulse of the dance outside of our immediate area.” – Tava Naiyin, CT/NYC

I’ve been to so festivals all over the country–and each has its own character, its own unique vibe.  Soon I’ll be putting together a festival “survival guide”. But for now, I’d like to help you think about attending a festival and figure out what *you* can get out of the experience.

Dancers working hard at River City Raqs

Dancers working hard at River City Raqs

For Beginning Belly Dance Students: 

  • Exposure to different styles of dance: Specialty topics often not covered in regular classes.
  • Different movement explanations from a variety of teachers: Find new gems of knowlege that will help a movement click.
  • Performances in various genres: See what styles speak to you.
  • Performances by both top-level dancers and student performers: Learn what moves *you* in a dance performance. Technique? Emotion? Music? Costuming?
  • Vending at price points high and low: Pick up a special costume piece, veil, or jewelry item that you get to try on in person.

For Int/Adv Students: 

  • Expand your knowledge base: Great opportunity to study topics that you may have heard or or just briefly experienced before–or discover something new!
  • Challenge yourself: Try different styles, learn combos and choreography that are out of your comfort zone.
  • Performance opportunities: Many festivals have open performances sign-ups or show applications. Great chance to try something in front of a new audience!
  • Sharing the experience: Getting to know other dancers and their journeys.
  • Shopping: Now that you have seen a lot of different styles and costumes, you can peruse the displays for the thing that really tickles your fancy.
Rosa performing at Art of the Belly

Rosa performing at Art of the Belly

For Professional Dancers: 

  • Inspiration: Working dancers often deeply benefit from a learning immersion to reinvigorate your own art.
  • Networking: Getting to know other dancers from around the world
  • Performance opportunities: Many festivals accept applications for pro-shows–which often are captured by top-notch videographers!
  • Competitions: Whether for experience, exposure, or glory, competitions can help us up our game.

For Teachers:

  • Add to your teaching arsenal: Bring back gems to share with your students.
  • Remind yourself what it’s like to be a beginner: Try a style that is out of your comfort zone.
  • Continuing education: As teachers, we must continue to learn and grow–or we become stagnant!

Some more quotes dancers I know and love about *their* reasons for attending festivals…

“I attend them because I get a chance to learn from teachers that I wouldn’t normally get to learn from and new techniques that I’ve wanted to try. And I get to reconnect with bellydance sisters!” – Racquel Hagen, CA

“I attend workshop weekends to further my knowledge of the dance. In my opinion, a dancer should never stop learning. There are so many amazing teachers out there, offering expert instruction on so many different aspects of the dance: folklore, musicality, classical, fusion, music theory. When I take a workshop, or a weekend full of them, I’m looking for inspiration and knowledge. To expand on what I may already know, and to learn something new, whether its a full style, or just one small piece of information that I didn’t know before. There is ALWAYS something to learn and take away.” – Yasmin Diab, NV

“To push my own limits, evolve, grow, always improve my art….” – Red Rob, NY

“Meet, take class with and closely observe dancers who I feel I can gain knowledge or inspiration from. Videos are great but in the flesh is better. To learn from fellow participants and energized by their work. To work hard and for long hours so I can feel change take hold of my body. To have an opportunity to dress up and dance for the toughest audience–other dancers!” – Souzan, FL

“I’ve attended enough multi-day workshops (mostly salsa festivals) to realize that I’m not going to absorb everything presented, even if the instructor allows us to record the choreo at the end. What I really take away are the smaller refinements in technique that come from a different instructor explaining a move or giving me feedback, and inspiration from how they approach the dance – the attitude they bring to it, how they present themselves, how they think about it. That’s what stays with me.” – Barb Strom, MA

“I love that dancers from all walks of life, from different geographic regions, can get together and for that time they share the joy, expression and growth that only happens through this very unique dance. That’s what I love.” – Katayoun Hutson, VA

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Rosa Noreen at the Giza pyramids. Photo by Yasmina of Cairo

By the bye…. here are some festivals where you can find me teaching over the next few months!

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Rosa Noreen’s Grace Academy: Helping dancers add depth and dimension to their work so they grow in confidence to take their places on stage and in the world.

Workshops, Performances, Instructional DVDs, Online Programs & Coaching in Belly Dance and Ballet.

http://www.RosaNoreen.com

Belly Dance Costume Bra or Lingerie?

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Bra strap alternative. Costume by Bibi Diaz of Las Vegas, NV.

Belly dancers, if you create your own costume bra, go you!

The following tips will help you avoid the mistake of having your costume bra look like lingerie on stage. 🙂

1. Replace the thin elastic shoulder straps with something else. Wide grosgrain ribbon can do the trick. Underwear bra straps are obviously that AND they do not provide us with the support that a costume bra needs. Plus, the little plastic adjustment ring on the underwear straps are a dead giveaway!

2. Cover the entire cup (and hopefully you choose a hard cup bra) with fabric. The satin or lace of a regular bra is too recognizable as such. This will also hide the underwire line, which you definitely don’t want to show.

3. Do something to cover the part connecting the cups (and definitely don’t use a front close bra–recipe for disaster!). This can be more fabric or a decorative applique of sorts.

5/8" metal hook & eye clasps

5/8″ metal hook & eye clasps

4. Replace–or at least thoroughly cover–the part that goes around your back. On most bras that part is too flimsy to provide adequate support. Do not use the back clasps that come on a bra. They are insufficient. Larger and more secure metal hook and eye clasps like this are available at any fabric store.

And I highly recommend using fashion tape / costume tape (or even better–pasty or toupee tape) to secure your bra to your body to avoid any wardrobe malfunctions!

Costume bras are very different from lingerie bras–and they need to appear as such! Creating your own costuming can be so satisfying. And simple designs are ok.

But we are all able to recognize lingerie at a glance, so be sure that those telltale signs are hidden on your creations!

Some more tips from friends:

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One method of replacing/reinforcing the bra band. Costume by Bibi Diaz of Las Vegas, NV.

“Please be sure the bra will fit after you embellish it. Stitching makes it smaller, so a good rule is to go a cup size bigger. But, be sure to pad it so that it fits smoothly against you – both gaps (too big) and spillovers (too small) can show the audience more than you intended. Second, unless you specifically developed a choreography where you never turn or show your back, embellish the back. Show your backside some embellishment love, too.” – Anne Renee, The Practical Dancer (Check out her awesome blog here)

“All great points! Although, I find that a soft cup with padded support can be fine. I find soft cups more comfortable, and easier to work with. I often make my costumes with soft cups, however they absolutely MUST be reinforced, and no over the top spillage of lady parts.” – Zabel of ME/NH, USA

What NOT to do. Thanks to The Practical Dancer for this "before" pic.

What NOT to do. Thanks to The Practical Dancer for this “before” pic.

“I always remind them that the shoulder straps should be shorter than your “day” bras, and the rib cage tighter. You need to lift & lock the girls in place.” – Stacey Peacock of Edmonton, Canada (Check out her Raq’n Monkeys!)

“I add new bands made out of interfacing, but keep the original ones underneath. If I have a ‘store bought’ costume (like my great loop or something) ESPECIALLY if it doesn’t cross in the back, I put flat skirt elastic with skirt hooks under the decorative strap. This way if the hooks on the decorated band fail I have back up, and the bra will stay on even if the band is flapping open. It also provides extra support that lets you breathe” – Farha of NY, USA

Unadorned bra strap with obvious lingerie elements

Unadorned bra strap with obvious lingerie elements

“I agree the difference between lingerie, a garment and a costume are worlds apart. Lingerie is designed to be (generally speaking) discrete, super-comfortable, and often, transparent. Outerwear garments, like shirts and pants, need to conceal socially in appropriate parts, which, lingerie – generally speaking – doesn’t always do. If you wear a bra as a shirt, you need to make sure the girls are covered – ahem – at least where I live. A costume, designed to perform in, needs to have structure built into it to support not just your body (boobs have weight) and the embellishments, AND — be able to stand up to centrifugal force – when you go into a big spin, you want everything to stay IN PLACE! Dance costumes need to have less stretch and give and offer more support through movement. This means wider more secure bands and straps.” – Davina of CA, USA (Check out Davina’s fabulous DIY costuming books for more help!)