Cairo Trip РDay 1 РPyramids 

Yesterday’s 24+ hours of travel was long but it went smoothly. Flights were on time, luggage arrived quickly, and Nibal was there to meet us at the airport with a great driver to take us to Yasmina’s place in Giza. We were walking zombies and fell asleep after a cup of tea and a struggle with figuring out the time. 

Due to this confusion, set our alarms an hour earlier than necessary, for half an hour after the first call to prayer, which sounds out from multiple mosques simultaneously at 5 AM. But that meant a leisurely morning and a good breakfast thanks to Yasmina before Nibal picked us up at 8:30. The mist started to clear so we caught a glimpse from the terrace of the Great Pyramid emerging before heading out. (Squeeee!)

Morning in Giza

Saqqara 
Nibal took us first to Saqqara to visit the step pyramid and surrounding tombs and temples. I had visited last year but found that a retuen visit made everything seem more real and since it wasn’t all brand new to me I could retain a bit more! 

The step pyramid is the oldest of the pyramids, from roughly 2400 BC. It’s 66 meters high and currently being restored. 

Saqqara


The surrounding tombs at ground level have beautifully detailed relief work, and some even with color, depicting motion and life–including a panel of dancers!


Titi’s tomb is a short descent into the ground via a small shaft. Inside the high ceiling is entirely covered in relief stars, and the walls in hieroglyphics detailing his good works and other such things related to his life and place in the afterlife. There was a large class of 10-year-olds visiting from a local French school so I had fun eavesdropping on the kids and teachers… It was really great to see so many more tourists present than last year! 

Dashur

After 3 or 4 hours exploring the grounds at Saqqara, we headed for Dashur to see the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid. 

The Red Pyramid is made of red granite, hence the name. We decided to go inside, which I had previously avoided doing to my claustrophobic fears. To enter, you climb steps 35 meters up the side of the pyramid, then enter a 3.5-foot-high shaft and decent 65 meters, so you end up quite far underground. 

Ready to climb down into the Red Pyramid!


I was afraid the air would be hard to breath and I’d be stuck in a tiny space with no way out but the way I got it. It was quite warm and a bit stuffy inside but nowhere near what I had feared. 
Turns out, there is an incredible echo chamber inside! It’s maybe 15′ wide and 25 long (this may be way off, and that’s one of 3 chambers inside) but really, really high with stepped sides. Any sound you emit just lingers in the air… dreamy!!

Inside the Red Pyramid at Dashur


Climbing back up was way more taxing than climbing down–shockingly enough. ūüėČ The stiff breeze at the top was most welcome! 

The Bent Pyramid site has been newly opened to the public. Previously you could just view it from afar but now you can walk around its base–and see another (less well built and hence crumbling) one on the far side. The Bent Pyramid started at 54 degrees but the realized partway through construction that it would be too heavy at that height so it was changed to 43 degrees, which is the ideal angle at which successive pyramids were built, if I remember right. 

At the Bent Pyramid at Dashur


The walk in the desert was refreshing, however wobbly our legs from the Red Pyramid climb…. Sun and wind and incredibly old human inventions. 

Giza

Our last site of the day was the famous pyramids on the Giza Plateau. With a quick stop at Felfela for some pita sandwiches, we were refuled and ready to try to wrap our minds around more stuff! The sun was starting to set, with a large red sun peeking put from the clouds. 

There was 180 years between the Bent Pyramid and the Great Pyramid at Giza. The Great Pyramid is 146 meters high and took roughly 20 years to complete. The stones are not cemented; they are held together by their weight and engineering. It’s the last remaining one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.

The Great Pyramid at Giza

The smaller of the big three at Giza is about 60 meters high, just a bit smaller than the step pyramid at Saqqara. The six smaller ones were for queens. 

After a drive to the panorma above were we can see 6 of the 9 pyramids at this site, we went back downhill to the Sphinx juuuust before the monument closed up for the night. The Sphinx is 22 meters high and carved from a single piece of stone! 

Check our the Sphinx’s tail detail!


Back home to Yasmina’s for a delicious dinner, typing of this blog, and now sleep. Tomorrow out plans are to visit the Egyptian Museum, the Citadel, and Old Cairo with Nibal. Then home to gather ourselves and spiff up before heading out to see Dina. 

Dancer Origin Stories #3 – Tava

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After Tava’s workshop in ME

Our next installment of Dancer Origin Stories features the glorious Tava. I have hosted Tava in the past for workshops at my studio in Portland, ME and I look forward to the next opportunity to learn from her.

Tava has been a professional belly dancer in New York City and the surrounding areas for over 15 years. She’s currently¬†based in Norwalk, CT, where she brings her deep knowledge and caring attitude to her weekly classes, while continuing to perform regionally and teach workshops up and down the East coast.

Her style is classic, timeless, and she brings her entire self to each and every moment on stage.

Now… on to Tava’s Origin Story!

Q. What is your first memory of dance?

I grew up in San Francisco in the 70’s. My mother worked in a restaurant/dance club where I frequently spent time. At night, the DJ would play 70’s disco and funk and I danced with my mother and her friends. At home, the party continued. My mother and I played records and danced to Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, & many more. We didn’t have much back then, but I learned early on that when life gets tough, the more one dances, the better.

Q. Was social dance or music a part of your life growing up? If so, how?

tavaveil03-250pxwAbsolutely. Everyone danced. My family would have parties and people turned on music and went for it. My grandparents would clear the floor dancing wildly every chance they got. They were a sight to see. Dance was a huge part of my childhood.

Q. How did you first encounter belly dance?

I first encountered it in preschool when a bellydancer came to give us lessons. I talk about this in my book because it was a very funny moment. The instructor didn’t have enough coined scarves for everyone so I danced with tears in my eyes because I was so upset not to have the right “accessory.”

Q. What phase of life were you in when you took your very first dance class?

My first bellydance class was in January of 2000. Everybody was scared of the Y2K issue. We didn’t know if there would be some kind of technical crisis that would bring the world to a screeching halt.

Once that resolved itself I found myself determined not to put off learning bellydance. I immediately went to class. I should mention that I watched my teacher perform for years before I took her class. We performed in a Variety show together (me…wacky performance art. Her…elegant bellydance).

Q. Many dancers took classes when they were little, but then returned to dance as adults. In your case, what drew to you back to dance?

I stopped dancing in my teens because of body image and spiraling insecurities. I started again a few years later because I was becoming more confident and wanted the outlet for self expression that dance offered.

Q. What led to you becoming serious about your dance studies?

tavasword01-250pxwI always thought it would be a hobby, but my teacher regularly provided student troupe performance opportunities with live music. It was usually Raquy and her drumming students. I also went to see shows almost every night and it was intoxicating to see how the dancer interacted with the bands.

Little by little, I started to perform as a soloist and I was driven by a relentless desire to improve. Eventually, it just took on a life of its own. When I moved to CT, my teacher encouraged me to start offering classes and I discovered that teaching was another genuine passion of mine.

Q. What let you to become serious about belly dance?

The factors that contributed to the cultivation of my career in dance were…

1. Encouragement and mentoring from my teacher.

2. Being a true introvert and loving the release and collaboration that came with dance and

3. I tried to follow a different path (when I worked full-time in Higher Education) but the call of dance grew too strong and I gave up my career to shimmy full-time.

Q. How do other dance forms you have studied inform your primary style?

tavapose01-250pxwI did the usual ballet & jazz dance as a child but gave up ballet first because it was at odds with what gymnastics was doing to my body. Gymnastics training helped me develop strength, coordination and flexibility which I still draw upon in my career.

My jazz teacher really took a chance on shy little me and I was her student from 8 to 17 years old. I can still hear her voice in my head, telling me “chin up…don’t look down!” She was key is helping me learn to polish my movements and keep my fingers from looking sloppy.

Q. Tell me about one of your most influential teachers.

That would be Andrea (Anwar) Beeman in NYC. I still rely on her for advice and feedback. When I was preparing my show for Art of the Belly, I had a private lesson with her just to review my structured improvisation to be sure I was hitting all the marks I wanted to hit in terms of pacing, movement pathways and dynamics. I wound up doing something entirely different in the show (classic me) but I still find it helpful to call upon Andrea and get her honest feedback.

Q. Share the memory of learning a movement that came easily to you…

I honestly cannot recall any movements coming easily to me. My posture was a mess before bellydance. I had terrible swayback and even hip drops looked more like some sort of twerk hybrid.

I suppose, if I had to pick, I had an easy time with upper body isolations. I could move my rib cage all around a lot of thoracic spine mobility. I didn’t realize that was useful until I saw how hard it was for my classmates to move that way.

Q. And a movement that you had to work hard to master.

tavaveil01-250pxwJust one? (haha) I suppose that would be the shimmy. Gymnastics left my knees in less than awesome shape and the movement would leave my patella feeling wonky.

I realized that to protect my joints, I needed to keep the movements small but I was afraid of hurting myself and wound up just freezing. I had countless lessons with Andrea trying to unlock my shimmy but still keep the movement in my knee manageable.

Q. Tell me about one ‚Äúah hah‚ÄĚ moment that you recall, whether technical, emotional, or conceptual.

Learning the 3/4 shimmy was a brain tease. I finally got it while pushing my shopping cart down the aisle at Food Emporium to the song “Low Rider.” My husband was with me and he saw my mastering the move I had struggled with for months. He was behind me shouting, “YES! YES! You GOT it!” It was awesome.

Q. What dance skills translate to your everyday life?

I stand while I work and do omis, shimmys or undulations while I type. If I sit too long, it starts to hurt. I also get teased for how “gracefully” I wipe down the table with a rag or constantly add little touches to things like getting the mail.

Q. What everyday skills translate to your dance life?

I am a counselor by training and I’ve returned to that field part time. I spent years in what I would call empathy training. I translate that into my performances in terms of an ability to create rapport with audiences using non-verbal methods. I always say that I “take the Psychological pulse” of the room before I dance.

 

About Tava

tavadrum01-250pxwTava Naiyin is a highly regarded professional bellydancer, instructor, choreographer and author of “Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals.”

Tava performs regularly throughout NYC and the tri-state area, she is known for dynamic finger cymbal playing and musicality. Equally at home performing at galas, family occasions, cultural events, in theatrical productions or music videos, she prides herself on having a career with as much variety as possible.

In addition to the “sparkly bits” of her life, Tava has a Masters in Counseling and uses the dance as a tool for building self-esteem and healthy body image for women.

http://bellydancebytava.com/

 

Tava’s 4-Week Online Intensive: Fearless Finger Cymbals (Level 1)

If you love the idea of playing finger cymbals but get discouraged as soon as you try to dance and play at the same time, this intensive is for you.

Join Tava for some effective ear training and musicality enhancing exercises presented in in a light-hearted and fun approach. Over the course of 4 weeks, Tava will send 2 to 3 homework assignments per week with video tutorials & demonstrations. You will also receive articles and inspirational clips so you’ll complete the intensive with greater skill, knowledge, context, appreciation and motivation.

Please note: It is self-paced so don’t worry if you can’t complete everything in 4 weeks. You can view all videos for up to 6 months.

Sign up today! http://bellydancebytava.com/tavas-current-workshop-offerings/

Tava’s Book

tavabook-250pxwLittle Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals is an essential read for dancers who may be considering a transformation from hobbyist to professional. Tava Naiyin, author and highly-accomplished bellydancer in NYC and CT, writes candidly about her experiences as an artist who has relied exclusively on dance-generated income for 10+ years.

After receiving countless questions from budding dance professionals across the U.S., she compiled her answers and wrote this book to address what she perceived as possible gaps in training.

This book cannot take the place of a mentor; however, it aims to promote industry standards and help bellydance artists determine if they have the right skills and circumstances to turn their passion into a career.

Get the book here! http://bellydancebytava.com/shop/

Dancer Origin Stories #2 – Lauren Zehara Haas

Our second installment of Dancer Origin Stories features a many-faceted woman who I greatly admire. Many of us have followed her travels around the globe, explored her fabulous Belly Dance U website, or participated in a Hafla for Humanity

Lauren Haas, currently based in St. Louis, MO (USA), gave up belly dance for a few years to pursue a dream she had long held: to travel the world! After spending nearly three years staying no more than a month in places from Peru to Istanbul to Malaysia, Lauren has returned to St. Louis, where lucky locals can now take belly dance classes with her once again!

Now, read on to learn about Lauren’s Origin Story…..

Q: What is your first memory of dance? 

lauren01-250pxwA. I remember taking a ballet class at age 6 and being very disappointed because there was no twirling in our first class. We just moved our feet and arms around.

Q. Was social dance or music a part of your life growing up?

A. My family didn’t dance or play music, but my mother was a huge fan of dance, including world dances like Indian and belly dance, so we saw a lot of performances, both live and on television.

I used to lock myself in my room as a preteen and dance to pop music, and as soon as I was old enough (around 13) I started going to baby discos.

Q. How did you first encounter belly dance?

A. My mother gave me her tickets to a local hafla. I didn’t actually like it at first; I don’t think I realized I was seeing mostly student performers, and I didn‚Äôt quite ‚Äúget it.” Later, when I saw a professional show, I was hooked for life, and now I enjoy watching students and pros alike.

Q. What phase of life were you in when you took your very first dance class?

lauren04-250pxwA. My very first classes were tap/ballet at age 6, but I didn’t stay long. I was terrible at sports and disconnected from my body due to PTSD, so I never tried dance classes as a teen or young adult. I was 35 when I found my way to my first belly dance class.

Q. What circumstances drew you into dance as an adult?
A.
I needed something in my life that was just my own, away from work and raising my children. I also needed to be active. Dance was supposed to be a hobby for me, and a way of getting active.

Q. What let you to become serious about the belly dance? 

A.¬†I was infatuated with belly dance from the first time I saw my teacher, Warda of St. Louis, perform. But I really fell in love when I went to a workshop and realized that women who’ve been belly dancing for 20 or 30 years were still studying, still learning, still growing. The depth of this dance surprised me.

Q. How do other dance forms you have studied inform your primary style?

lauren06-250pxw.jpgA.¬†Belly dance is informed by folk dances from around the region. I’ve studied dances from Egypt, the Gulf region, Turkey and North Africa.

I’ve also taken some ballet workout classes to improve my carriage, lines, and strength. Tangentially, I’ve taken Polynesian and Bollywood classes and loved them both.

Q. Tell me about one of your most influential teachers.

A.¬†I’ve just finished doing a weekend of workshops with Raqia Hassan and Aziza (both from Cairo, Egypt). Raqia is a powerhouse, who has reinvented the dance over the last two decades. I just love her style and her approach.

Q. Share the memory of learning a movement that came easily to you…

A. All sorts of torso articulations felt very natural to me from the beginning, while others were struggling with them. That gave me early confidence.

Q. And a movement that you had to work hard to master?

A. Barrel turns! I don’t know why they were so hard for me. Even private instruction didn’t help. Now I can finally do them, and I love them.

Q. Tell me about one ‚Äúah hah‚ÄĚ moment that you recall, whether technical, emotional, or conceptual.

lauren02-250pxwA. I remember watching a dancer (Vashti of Texas) perform. As the drama of the music built to a crescendo, she made her movements smaller and smaller, until just her hips and abdomen were responding to the music.

I was drawn in until my whole world consisted of a spot just below her navel, and it seemed like the music was emanating from her body. Exquisite.

Q. What dance skills translate to your everyday life?

A.¬†My awareness of my body, and connection to it, have increased tremendously. I am much more present with myself. I’m not as accident prone, I don’t spill things as much. I’m more aware of tension in my body and can let things go more easily.

Q. What everyday skills translate to your dance life?

A. To be a professional belly dancer is to be self-employed. All my skills from running other businesses, from bookkeeping to marketing, have been useful to me as a dancer.

Q. What else would you like to add?

lauren05-250pxw.jpgA.¬†The most surprising and wonderful thing about belly dance is the dancers themselves. There are some egos in the business, of course, but on the whole they are the most intelligent, creative, interesting women I’ve ever met. This is true of long-term students as well as pros.

I’m honored, as a teacher, to bring these women together in my studio and build a community for them, and I think that community is even more valuable than any dance skills I might be able to teach them.

About Lauren

I’ve been dancing for over 15 years in the St. Louis area. It’s been a marvelous journey. I’ve danced in hookah bars, taught in universities, worked on a cruise ship out of Dubai, and taught at the Las Vegas intensive. I’m no longer doing restaurant or party work, but I still teach and write about belly dance. I’ve never stopped loving it.

Website: http://www.laurenzehara.com/

About Hafla for Humanity

haflaforhumanity-250pxwHafla for Humanity is a global fundraiser that brings bellydancers around the world together to raise money for women in the Middle East who are in desperate need. This year’s H4H benefits Yazidi women and girls who are escaping ISIS after being captured and held as sex slaves.

We need more events! If you can organize something on or before September 24, no matter how small, please join us at haflaforhumanity.com.

Grow Your Belly Dance Business!

bellydanceu-250pxwIn addition to her own teaching and writing, Lauren has is publishing a line of books!  (bellydanceu.net/bellydance-books). She is currently working with Amity Alize, who is a CPA as well as a very successful studio owner and event producer, on a series of business titles especially for dance teachers.

Dancer Origin Stories #1 – Tamalyn Dallal

Dancer Origin Stories is my brand new blog series describing just that: the origins of dancers we love, in all different genres. This spring, the wildly skilled Anais Fatale and I were talking business late one night during her festival, River City Raqs, in Jacksonville FL, and we both thought this would be such a fun series to read. And so it has come to be!

Anais’s story will be featured¬†in a later post. For our debut issue, I am thrilled share with you the origin story of one of the most soulful and moving dancers who I have ever encountered.

Tamalyn Dallal, currently of New Orleans, dances with the grace of someone who is grounded in who she is, and willing to share that with us. I had the pleasure of hosting Tamalyn for a workshop weekend at my studio in Portland, ME (USA), a few years ago. Her depth of experience and her joy in expression always leave me looking forward to the next time.

Dancer Origin Stories: Tamalyn Dallal

 

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Tamalyn Dallal at Rosa Noreen’s Springtime Spectacular in Portland, ME Photo: Jon Reece

Q. What is your first memory of dance? (Social, performance, class, etc.)

A. I was exposed to dances of the 1960’s, such as the Monkey, the Swim, etc., via my older sister. When I was in first grade, I loved to stand on chairs and do these dances in school.

Q. Was social dance or music a part of your life growing up? If so, how?

A. My father had been a swing musician. He played jazz at home, especially dixieland, and sometimes other family members joined in.

Q. How did you first encounter Mid Eastern dance?

A. I took a class because I liked the music, but had no idea what I was getting into. I was so impressed with the students who were in the performing group. Back then they did lots of zils and floor work, as well as extensive belly rolls and flutters. I had never seen anything like it.

Q. What phase of life were you in when you took your very first dance class?

A. After I started taking ballet at 15, I continued with other dance forms consistently: Modern, folk dances, Persian, Indian, Middle Eastern , Flamenco. So once I was drawn into dance, it kept growing to be more and more a part of my life.

Q. What led to you becoming serious about your dance studies? 

A.¬†I was often called a “bellydancer” even though I’d only had a few classes, so I felt I had a name to live up to. But when I lived in New Orleans, in the 1970’s, I met Habiba, who was a household name. Her classes were expensive and I was a teenager. I couldn’t afford them, so she took me under her wing as her assistant.

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Tamalyn Dallal in Rosa Noreen’s Springtime Spectacular Portland, ME. Photo: Jon Reece

Q. What let you to become serious about Mid Eastern dance? 

A. I was a hobbyist for the first 6 years. One day I was decorating a costume at my desk at work, where I worked with refugees. An Opera singer was temping for the secretary. She said she sang her way around the world and knew a bellydancer who did the same- on ships, in clubs, etc. I wanted that life too.

Q. How do other dance styles you have studied inform your primary style? 

A. I learned to identify natural ways of movement in bleed and Oriental by learning other dances: I.E., The wrists in Persian dance are also used by some Egyptian dancers, especially from the 70’s to 90’s. And Ethiopian upper body movement comes from the earth. Ditto for baladi. I learned to express with the sternum through Japanese Noguchi Taiso.

Q: Tell me about some of your most influential teachers. 

  • Habiba (New Orleans) took me under her wing and helped me learn basic movements.
  • Mish Mish (Seattle) taught lots of ethnic dances
  • Laurel Victoria Gray (Formerly of Seattle) taught me stage makeup and that you can never wear too much jewelry.
  • Inzar (Seattle) was co director of the troupe Shahrazad with Laurel. She taught me how to play zils.
  • Evelyn Hamsey (Miami) invited us as her students to her home to eat home made Arabic food and watch videos of the famous Egyptian dancers in the early days of video.
  • Ramzi El Edlibi (NYC) taught me the way I teach oils today and how to do the 3/4 shimmy the way I teach now.
  • Morocco (NYC) has the best advice and insight in the world.

 

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Tamalyn Dallal at Rosa Noreen’s Springtime Spectacular in Portland, ME. Photo: Jon Reece

Q. Share the memory of learning a movement that came easily to you…

A. I did bellyrolls in the back seat of the car when I was little because my sister made me. Not as a part of any dance. So when I took up Middle Eastern dance, I already knew how to do bellyrolls.

Q. And a movement that you had to work hard to master…

A. The Nagwa Fouad shimmy. It took me 40 years, but I just nailed it.

Q. Tell me about one ‚Äúah hah‚ÄĚ moment that you recall, whether technical, emotional, or conceptual.

A. When I was in Africa (Egypt, Zanzibar, Kenya) I danced more earthy than in the USA. When I went to China, suddenly my dance became very skyward. Then I understood that the land in Africa grounds you, and the emotions are expressed in Asia through the upper body: hands, arms, head.

Over time, I found that working with the earth and sky can help all dancers, so a six point system evolved that works like a charm. I discovered how to help people get grounded and how to be more expressive too.

Q. What dance skills translate to your everyday life?

A. Using the six points to improve posture, walk more comfortably.

Q. What everyday skills translate to your dance life?

A. Ethics, sewing and costume design, administrative skills.

Q. What else would you like to add?

A. The dance needs respect; for the dance, hundreds of years of history, the culture it came from, for ourselves, and for our students and audiences.

Q. What do you have coming up that you’d like to share?

“The Dallal Dance Experience” is a program of experiential dance… I will be teaching two-month series in New Orleans in 2017 where dancers learn technique, history, context, and come together to dance and cook together with other classes. It is about the joy and humanity of our dance, yet it also educates and polishes every dancers technique. “The Dallal Dance Experience” can also be done in workshops.

[Editor’s note: Check out Tamalyn’s website to get in touch re. hosting a workshop!]

About Tamalyn Dallal: 

Tamalyn Dallal’s 40 year Middle Eastern dance career has been eventful, to say the least. She has been a guest choreographer for the 1995 Superbowl Halftime Show in Miami, Fl., and has performed for stars such as Sean Connery, Michael Jackson and James Brown (to name a few), the president of El Salvador and the King of Jordan.

Directing the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange, a non profit organization, dance school and performing company in Miami Beach, she taught and mentored dancers such as Amar Gamal and Bozenka, Virginia and others. She organized the Orientalia dance festival for 17 years and produced numerous theatrical productions.

Crowned “Miss America of the Bellydance” in 1995, she has performed and/or taught in 41 countries. She was one of the original “Bellydance Superstars”, has written three books, produced two music CD’s of Africa’s oldest band, the “Ikhwan Safaa Musical Club of Zanzibar”, and currently films ethnological dance documentaries; “Zanzibar Dance, Trance and Devotion,” and “Ethiopia Dances for Joy”.

Website: http://www.tamalyndallal.com/

 

6 Tips for Fluid Arms and Hands

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Belly Dance U has published my new article on 6 Tips for Fluid Arms and Hands… Enjoy!

“Rosa Noreen has to-die-for arms and hands. They float through the space around her¬†with heartbreaking grace and fluidity, adding an ethereal quality to her movement and helping her dance express everything from longing to playfulness.

“Luckily, Rosa‚Äôs¬† new DVD,¬†‚ÄúA Dancer‚Äôs Hands & Arms,‚Ä̬†will help the rest of us achieve our dreams of grace and expression. She generously agreed to¬†share these tips with Belly Dance U readers to help us improve our lines and fluidity as well.”

Read the full article here!

6 Tips for Fluid Arms and Hands from Rosa Noreen

 

 

 

Cairo Blog Day 8 201512: Opera House, Cairo Tower, Metro Foray, & Aleya

On our sixth day in Cairo we ventured out on our own…. no Alanah or Gina to help.

The plan today was to visit the Cairo Opera House, the Oum Kultum museum, go pick up a costume I had ordered from Aleya (the American dancer living in Cairo) back in October, and then head back home for

We hailed a taxi, checked to be sure he had a meter and also spoke a little bit of English. We told him we were going to Opera (“Arouh Oberra”!) he nodded and we took off.

After a very short ride, he said we had arrived. But in fact we had arrived at Opera Square, the site of the old one (near Badia Masabni’s famous Casino Opera), not the current one, which is in Gezira.

To add to the confusion, I had confused the Oum Kulthum museum location with the Opera House location, thinking they were right next to each other, when they are in fact both on the southern tips of Nile islands…. but different islands. So, pointing to the map just confused him further.

Once that was clarified (“Opera gedida”–the new Opera House!) We began a ridiculously long taxi ride…. ring road, etc., which is definitely not the most direct route…. good heavens. Not a navigation win, but we eventually arrived, all of is in one piece.

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Cairo Opera House

The Opera complex has a music library, a modern art museum, another museum, and the Opera House itself.

I was so excited to see the big Oum Kultum statue and the others on the grounds! We took pictures, saw pretty birds, and then sat for tea.

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From the cafe we could see the top of Cairo Tower (Medinat Gezira) so we decided to go check it out! After getting brave and crossing traffic on foot, we wound through some streets until we reached the Gezira Corniche, a wide road that runs next to the Nile with some lovely gardens on the Nile side.

We spotted the Cairo Tower road sign and turned down a well lit street filled with street food vendors and horse carts. The corn looks so good! But I never did try it…. I’m pretty babyish when sick so best not to tempt fate.

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The most incredible tree then came into view. It was massive, with multiple trunks and it seemed like a living creature. Its branches grew down like vines, connected with the earth, and turned into new trunks. I want to know so much more about this tree!!

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Cairo Tower is a Nasser Era building with an elegant lattice work exterior that is 62 stories and 187 meters tall. We went through the omnipresent metal detector and x-ray machine bought our tickets and climbed the stairs to the entrance.

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On the walls all around the elevator shafts was a mural depicting people from all different areas of Egypt: Suez Canal, Alexandria, delta, upper Egypt and Aswan. So very fun to recognize things learned from Sahra Saeed in her wonderful Journey through Egypt course!

The elevator arrived and we went up, exiting on to the obervation deck. For those of us from Maine it was a lovely evening with a stiff cool breeze so high up, but for Cairo dwellers it was freezing!

Like you would expect from an observation deck, it is high up and fairly narrow. Of course it is surrounded by a shoulder-height fence/barrier but I had a moment of weak knees and dropping stomach due to the height and the edge. Totally irrational of course, but a most involuntary reaction!

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I recovered before long, and it was absolutely worth the effort. Seeing the panoramic night views of Cairo, it finally hit me that we are HERE! We ran around taking selfies and other pictures of the views, spotting the Opera House, the Blue Nile boat, the Egyptian Museum, and other things we had visited so far.

I really love going up to get views from above. Every city’s roofs have such a different character!

Next up: a visit with Aleya, an American dancer and costumer who has lived in Cairo for 7 or 8 years, now. I had ordered a costume from her a few months prior and told her I’d pick it up when I was in town.

Since it was rush hour and traffic was at a standstill, we decided to attempt metro (subway) travel for the very first time. We would our way back to the Opera House, found the entrance with some help from passersby, crossed El Tahrir street (eeeeeee!!!!) and entered the metro.

The Cairo metro is really quite easy to use, as it turns out. It costs just 1 le. There are (if I remember right) just three lines, and the train directions are labeled by the name of the last stop (none of this inbound/outbound Boston business!). All trains stop at every stop.

And–very important!–there are all-women cars. Apparently men can get on an car after 9 PM, when the metro is less crowded, but at that time there is no risk of close body contact with men.

There are metal detectors and bag x-ray machines at every single metro entrance, as well as at all tourist attractions and hotels.

We rode just a few stops to Aleya’s area, came up, and, with the help of Heather’s data and Google maps, found our way to her apartment. Such a fun neighborhood to walk through, and different from other areas we had visited so far.

Of course there were lots of bakeries and other shops, also lots of fancy dress shops, upholstery places, banks, and, last but not least, a shop displaying feminine products right at the entrance of the store! Tampons are incredibly difficult to find in Cairo, so this was a big surprise. They also had lots of bath and body supplies and other such things.

We arrived at Aleya’s house, and the man in the lobby (regular guy, not concierge) took one look at us and said, “Aleya?” We laughed and agreed. Entering her place, it was such fun to sew rhr area that she has filmed her http://www.cairobellydance.com online classes! And of course couldn’t help but dig in to her fresh delivery of costumes from a couple of different designers. YUM! After a super fun fashion show of sorts, we settled on our purchases, got Paypal sent, and got ready to leave with big grins on.

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As we were getting ready to go, Jaie, a friend of Aleya’s showed up, and we had the pleasure of meeting a fellow dance addict from South Africa. She is in Cairo doing some studying for¬† bit.

During this visit we learned that there was a Starbucks nearby. Dorothy works for this company in the US and she was excited to meet employees of the same in a foreign country. After all the new sights and tastes, a bit of familiarity can feel really good, even if it isn’t a place I normally seek out at home, since Portland has so many awesome local coffee shops.

Everything was exactly what you would expect from a Starbucks… the same decor and general layout, muffins and other pastries, drinks menu, extras like mugs or bags of coffee for sale. Also the prices: American rates charged in Egyptian pounds. So, definitely not a place for the average person! But the familiarity was indeed refreshing and I was glad for the stop.

After a nice time hanging out with Aleya and Jaie, it was time to head home.

We retraced our steps to the metro and navigated the distance back to Hadayek El Koba with no trouble at all. From there it was just a 5 le taxi ride to our hosts’ place, and we were starting to recognize the area and be able to give directions ourselves. Shimaal is left, and yimeen is right. More vocabulary learned!

We were ready for a solid night’s sleep, to get ready for a lesson with Yasmina the next day, and a visit to Hallah Moustafa’s dreamy costume workshop.

Cairo Blog Day 7: On our own in Cairo! Khan el Khalili, Tanoura, Belly Dance Show

On our fifth day in Cairo we ventured out into the city without a guide for the first time! However, we had Alanah with us and we were meeting up with Gina so we weren’t exactly unchaperoned.

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On the agenda was Khan el Khalili, a tanoura show that Nibal recommended, and finally a belly dance show–Egyptian dancer Sahar on the Blue Nile boat!

After a nice, relaxed morning, we caught a taxi near Alanah’s house around noon and headed to Khan el Khalili.

Instead of taking the main roads the whole time (don’t worry, we were indeed going the right direction!) the taxi driver took us through the City of the Dead. This is an enormous Muslim cemetery which we have driven past many times, but this was the first time we entered.

In every Muslim cemetery in Cairo there are above-ground tomb-houses (not unlike European cemeteries–but Egyptian style), not grassy expanses like in the US. Many of these are also populated by live people–not just the dead. Families often have arrangements with people who live there in exchange for taking care of the tombs and preventing the graves from being robbed, which can happen for medical purposes or for material gain.

So, if you didn’t know otherwise, you would simply see a dense community of quite formal-looking small houses, complete with satellite dishes and laundry drying out the windows.

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Eventually we arrived at our destination, Khan el Khalili market once again (and for the correct taxi price–yay!) We found our way back to El Fishawy cafe, and ordered some delicious lunch…. plus tea with mint, of course!

The pashmina vendor was relentless. Others have been persistent but this guy just would not take no (la’!) for an answer so we pulled out some functional Arabic words that we had learned: “Helas” (“be done”, essentially) and finally Masalaam (“goodbye”)… which finally worked.

Soon Gina joined us and we started our wandering through the tiny and exciting streets of the old market. We all had various goals… I was in search of a tea set.

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We found a shop with various metal lamps, pots, trays, and more… after figuring out some rates we wandered on, planning to return later after comparing.

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A bit further on, we found a place selling tea sets with an owner who was not overbearing. The further we looked the more fun stuff we found, single glasses out of full sets, perfume bottles, and so much more.

After a couple of hours of browsing, we were famished. Then appeared at the end of a street (we had pretty much done a loop, returning to an area near the entrance of the market) the beautiful Nagib Mafouz cafe! It is a beautifully decorated and very quiet oasis in the middle of the market… quite a contrast to the outside. It is also wildly overpriced. But, hey, we are tourists after all, and very much in need of refreshment.

By overpriced, I mean this: at El Fishawy we paid about 80 le (maybe less?) or about $10 for a dish of fuul (bean dip), five falafels, five pieces of bread, and a round of tea and coffee for us all. (Yes, locals certainly pay less…) At Nagib Mafouz cafe, we paid 180 le or about $22 for an order of baba ganoush and drinks/juices for all six of us. Not bad at all for US prices but quite high for Egyptian prices.

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I had sahlab, a thick hot milk drink with coconut and nuts and raisins to mix in. So delicious!

The cafe also had free wifi–like gold! We learned from Nibal that, unfortunately, Sahar was not going to be dancing that night after all. Darn!

Meanwhile, I also heard from Shahrzad, an American dancer who was in town for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan winter session, that there was a show that evening at the Nile Fairmont, a 5-star hotel on the Corniche. Soraia usually dances there but she is currently on break so Kawakib would instead be performing. I had heard great things about Soraia but Kawakib was a new name to me. However, we were up for the experience. We hadn’t seen any dancing yet, and the hotel nightclub experience was exciting!

After a bit more shop wandering, it was time to head to the tanoura show!! Gina knew where to go so she led us directly there, across a street, around a corner, and down an alley to an unmarked arched wooden door.

From there, Gina and Alanah headed home, so we were on our own for the rest of the night! A bit nervous but hooooopefully now with enough experience to find our way around for the rest of the evening.

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The tanoura show was inside of a huge stone hall, which we have since learned was the courtyard of a former shopkeeping establishment. The area where the show was held was where the animals would hang out during business hours while their owners were doing business outside. The place is three very tall stories high, and each level is lined with doors. It is stunning!

Oum Kultum singing Enta Omri played over the loudspeakers as we waited for the show to begin. Heaven! We hear her voice drifting out of every corner in Cairo…. That is a wonderful thing!

Finally the show began. This was a first for all of us, and it certainly won’t be the last time! Wow….

The musicians first introduced themselves musically, including my favorite, the enthusiastic toura (giant zills) player. The number of sounds he can get our of two metal disks is just mesmerizing to me!

A group of 10 or 12 male (all performers in this show were male) dancers/practitioners then came out, joyfully filling the stage. They were dressed in long white robes with green sufi vests over them. (There is probably an official term for this attire… let me know if you know it!)

Then the first whirler came out. He started to spin, and the other performers made various changing formations around him, weaving around the stage. This man whirled for probably 45 minutes, with the music and dance around him.

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In the second half, there were three whirlers, one in yellow and two in green, in a choreographed or lead/follow formation, with at least 4 or 5 different skirt layers making spectacular colors.

The music and power and ecstacy is not communicated by what I have written. So far…. I hope that you can come to Cairo and experience it yourself!

After the tanoura show we were elated–but gathered ourselves and went back out into the alley, past a large local outdoor market and around a mosque to a main street to find a taxi.

We know to look for a specific official black and white taxi, and to be sure it has a meter that gets started as soon as we get in the car. But first we need to tell them where we are going and they can decide whether or not they want to go there. Of course, we can also accept or decline.

We found a taxi that looked good, and told him we were going to the Nile Fairmont. He was at first confused… then Dorothy said Fairmont Hotel. His face lit up and he said, “Ah, Fairrrrrrmont Hotel!” and we took off. We learned that we need to get much better at using an Egyptian accent with English words. But our first solo taxi ride in Cairo was a success!!

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Entering the fancy pants Nile Fairmont Hotel we suddenly felt terribly underdressed! However, the staff was very kind, leading us to a table right next to the stage. On stage when we arrived about 10 PM was a wonderful 7-ish-piece band with a female singer in beautiful black robes with gold and red accents, singing Oum Kultum classics. Couldn’t ask for a better start!

See a video of this singer here!

The next act was a pop/shaabi singing duo (a woman and a man) accompanied by a man on keyboard. While these performers were entertaining for a few songs, their act went on for close to two hours…

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Finally, a bit after 1 AM, the dancer’s band took the stage. There must have been 12-14 musicians, including oud, accordion, and so much more. So thrilled! The show went on till nearly 3 AM, two full sets with a costume change.

Here’s a short video of Kawakib!

Since the hotel had free wifi, we decided to try Uber to get home. Since it was very late, we didn’t want to wake Ahmed with a phone call for directions unless we had to. (This is normal taxi behavior here.) The Uber arrived promptly… but I had chosen the wrong address since the real one wasn’t on Google maps. Sigh… They were expecting a phone call but still!

We arrived home happily exhausted…. zzzzzz…….