Dancer Origin Stories #5 – Shahrzad

This installment of Dancer Origin Stories features the positively magical Shahrzad

Since childhood Shahrzad has been immersed in the dances of the Middle East and North Africa. Now based in Cairo, Egypt, she travels around the world to teach and perform.

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Cairo, Egypt 2015

The first time I encountered her was in 2014, when her performance at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive inspired an immediate standing ovation.

About a year later, I was planning a visit to Cairo and heard that she would be there. She was kind enough to arrange a private lesson for my friends and I. Her teaching skills were deeply impressive and I resolved to bring her to Maine at the next opportunity.

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The time has finally come! This coming weekend, Shahrzad and her partner, Marshall Bodiker are coming to Portland, Maine to teach workshops and perform at the 10th anniversary Springtime Spectacular!

Let’s learn about Shahrzad’s origin story.

 

Q. What is your first memory of dance?

A. Now that I think about it, I cant really remember a time when I wasn’t singing and dancing, I can’t even pinpoint a certain moment because it was always there.

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

A. My parents were always playing music, all kinds of music, so I was really interested in music from a very young age and loved moving to it.

 
Q. How did you first encounter the dance form that you primarily teach and perform now?

A. I saw belly dance videos advertised on TV!

 
shahrzad01-250pxwQ. What phase of life were you in when you took your very first dance class? 

A. I was maybe 10 or 11 years old. I had recently started home schooling and my parents were very open to letting me explore my interests, so when I saw belly dancing and started asking for classes my mom found them for me pretty quickly. She ended up taking them with me for several years.

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

A. My mom will be the first to tell you that I decided I wanted to be a professional dancer almost immediately after starting classes. I was so young, I’m not sure what exactly it was that drove my ambitions, but once I started my obsession with dance really took over my life and I was willing to train and practice as much as it took to get me where I wanted to be.

During my teenage years I tried all different kinds of belly dance but once I started to learn about Egyptian dance and folklore, I was hooked.

I have always been a history nerd so learning about the cultures, traditions, and history surrounding Egyptian (and general North African) dance styles I became really fascinated. The fact that there was a seemingly endless amount of things to learn really drew me in.

Even now after 15+ years of dance I feel like I’m just scratching the surface–and I love it!

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

A. I have dabbled in lots of dance styles! I’m always training in different Middle Eastern and North African folkloric styles to add to my repertoire but have also studied ballet and Indian classical dance.

 
shahrzad04-250pxwQ. Tell me about one of your most influential teachers. 

A. I have trained with so many amazing ladies, but there are four in particular that I feel had the most influence on me and all in very special ways.

The first is Habiba of Philadelphia. She was one of my very first teachers and was the first person to introduce me to Egyptian style dance and folklore, she solidified my interest in style and really started me on a great path.

Habiba sent me to Nourhan Sharif who strengthened my technique and her rhythm training classes had a huge influence on me, having those classes gave me a great sense of musicality early on.

Nourhan sent me to Faten Salama, a former member of the national folkloric troupe of Egypt. Faten gave me a huge amount of folkloric and oriental training. Having all of that folklore early on was a blessing and shaped my style a lot.

All three of these teachers encouraged me to study with Madame Raqia Hassan when she came to teach classes in the United States. Her technique, musicality, and choreography was so beautiful to me and although it was difficult at first it just seemed to fit my body and felt so natural.

I feel really lucky for the teachers that I have and really respect the fact that they all knew what to give me and also who else to send me to so I would have really well rounded training.

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

A. Most hip movements were fairly easy for me to pick up when I started dancing. I was really flexible, especially in my hips and back, so I think that helped a lot. I started dance at a time in my life when I was very shy and had low self confidence. I just remember feeling so great coming out of class every week feeling like I was actually good at something.

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

A. There is one shimmy that I learned first at age 17 and I swear I am STILL trying to master it!

It is a shimmy from Soraia Zaied where you lock your legs together and move both of your knees at the same time instead of back and fourth… it’s hard to explain. At least I feel like I can do it now but it might take a few more years to really do it full speed like she does.

Most hip technique has been relatively easy for me to learn so I really love when I find something I cant do, it gives me something to work towards.

 
shahrzad03-250pxwQ. Tell me about one “ah hah” moment that you recall, whether technical, emotional, or conceptual.

A. This is kind of random but I recently had an “ah hah” moment when I was in the states and dropped into a yoga class.

We did a little shake out at the end of class and the teacher said something to the effect of, “If you watch animals you will see that when they feel stiff or feel tension they have no problem just shaking it all off. As humans we hold so much tension and emotion in our bodies and never give ourselves the chance to let it out.”

It got me thinking about why I dance. When I’m on stage or in class I feel euphoric and the less I dance the more stress creeps into my body and mind. Nothing feels better to me than shimmying for hours on end and I feel like now I finally know why that is!

 
Q. What dance skills translate to your everyday life?

A. Oooo, I’m not even sure how to answer this. I’m a full time dancer so my dance life and every day life are one and the same. Everything in my life at this point circles back to dance in some way so its hard to feel any kind of separation between work and every day life.

Any small amount of time that I’m not doing dance related things I’m usually just curled up at home in bed or on the couch, haha!

But I guess relating to what I said before, dance is really a huge stress reliever for me, the more I’m working the better I feel mentally and physically.

 
Q. What else would you like to add, if anything?

A. Lately I’ve been having some weird ‘How the hell did I get here?!’ moments so it was nice to think back on where I came from and how my dance career started.

 

 

About Shahrzad

Shahrzad has been enchanting the stage since she discovered her passion for Arabic dance and music at the age of 11. Since then, she has immersed herself in a variety of dance disciplines–including Modern Egyptian belly dance and many regional and folkloric dance styles from North Africa and the Middle East. Her professional career started when she was 17, working full time performing with live bands at top venues and events in the United States. Most of Shahrzad’s technique and choreography is influenced by her training in Egyptian dance. She has been mentored by some of the top Egyptian dance instructors in the world including Madame Raqia Hassan, Nourhan Sharif, Faten Salama, Habiba, and many more. She has traveled extensively to do in depth study about music, dance, and cultures from which these arts come from so that she can give students a deeper knowledge of the roots of belly dance as well as its modern uses. Inspired by her interest in teaching, Shahrzad underwent a 2 year Pilates apprenticeship. Now as a fully certified Pilates instructor with extensive training in anatomy and movement she is able to bring a new level of education to her students by breaking down technique in detailed terms right down to what each muscle of the body is doing. Shahrzad currently lives in Cairo and travels internationally to teach.

Check out her website for instructional DVD’s, online classes, and more! http://shahrzadraqs.com/

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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 “ah hah” 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/

 

Cairo Trip Day 4: Photo Shoot with Yasmina

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Yasmina, originally from England, has lived in Cairo for 20 years. She’s a dancer, teacher, photographer, and B&B host. You can stay at her gorgeous top floor flat in Giza while visiting! She has a beautiful studio as well as tons of beautiful nooks and two balconies perfectly set up for photo shoots. No way were we going to pass up this opportunity!

Amity kindly arranged for our group of six to share two days (three people per day) with Yasmina behind the camera. Luckily,  we had had luck shopping in Khan el Khalili the prior day so we had plenty of costume options to choose from!

After worries about cloudy weather potentially interfering with our plans, i woke up to a text from Amity left in us know that we were leaving in just one hour! Thankfully, Nibal was downstairs and she helped us to find a taxi with an English speaking driver and a fixed price. We left the hotel about 10 AM, costume-laden suitcases in tow, to go to Yasmina’s apartment.

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On the way there, we kept bringing up dance topics while Amity made cutting motions across her throat (thank you, Amity!). We are in Egypt now. Best not to blabber on about being dancers in unknown company!

On the way there, with the cab blasting 90s pop music… oh, hey, there are the pyramids! Huge, huge, pyramids, just casually hanging out on the skyline. ‘S cool.

After just a short can ride, we arrived and Yasmina cane down to meet us. Karen and Amity were meeting a professional make-up artist, with stunning results, while I would put my face on in an adorable spare bedroom.

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We spent the next few hours changing costumes and posing and dancing in various corners of Yasmina’s flat. She is very particular about which colors work best in which settings, which is fantastic!

What a joy it was to dance on a rooftop balcony in Egypt under a warm sun in March!

Then came a venue change… At about 3 PM we packed up and headed to the desert to take pictures in front of th pyramids! We donned our desert costumes (bright colors best!), cover ups, and pulled on pants under our costumes. (Note to self: closed toe shoes would have been smart.)

We drove with Yasmina for about 15 minutes to some stables where she keeps her horse. There were 4 horses and a camel waiting for us. With no time to waste, we hiked up our cover ups and costumes and climbed into the saddles. Karen took the camel on the way out, while Amity and I rode horses. An experienced rider, Yasmina took on a high-stepping horse that was still in need of training.

We set off towards the desert, down a small dirt road past a cemetery, some unfinished construction (really common here), my horse being led by the guide since I have no training whatsoever in riding.

As we reached the edge of the desert, a group of eight or so young men came galloping towards us at full speed, ignoring our guide’s motions to slow down. They passed us and our horses didn’t even flinch.

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After about 15 minutes of a leisurely ride over hills of sand, we came to a ridge with a clear view of the pyramids. We dismounted and headed to the edge of the ridge. Yasmina took out her camera and the shoot began! It was a hazy day, with the sun in and out of the clouds, but the result was that our brightly color costumes popped even more against the backdrop.

The wind was strong when we started but it just kept getting stronger, providing really fun movement even when we were posing still. We tried all kinds of different types of set-ups… veils, dancing, poses, camels in the frame. So much fun!

After a while–and tons of shots–the light was fading and the wind was still getting stronger, and we were ready to call it a day. On the way back I decided to brave the camel. They are tall, with a rolling gait, so I was super nervous. But how can you pass that up?! It took a few minutes to figure out the right muscle groups to stay upright and comfortable, but once that phase passed it was awfully fun.

I don’t think there is anything more touristy than riding a camel in a belly dance costume (evinced by comments such as, “Aloha! You look very Egyptian.”). But, hey….. worth it!!

When we returned to Yasmina’s, Amity got a text from our wonderful tour guide from the previous day, Nibal, who said she was on her way by the other half of our group, who had visited Khan el Khalili that day, and she would pick us up.

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Egyptian Perfume Palace, Giza

As it turned out, the others were at the nearby Egyptian Perfume Palace so Nibal brought us there. The power was out (it happens from time to time) so everyone was sniffing botanical essences in the dark while sipping lemon and hibiscus drinks. Of course we couldn’t pass up this opportunity!

The lights came back on half an hour later and we all cheered, then looked around to see all of the beautiful tiny glass perfume bottles (actually made of Pyrex!) lining the walls. We made our purchases and headed back to the hotel, exhausted but happy!

Cairo Trip Day 3, Part 2: Khan el Khalili

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Vendors were still getting set up when we arrived at Khan el Khalili market. Prayers were playing out of different shops, incense burning here and there. Cats prowled the narrow pedestrian streets. I quickly lost my bearings but Nibal knows the place like thw back of her hand and she expertly led us towards our first stop… Yasser’s costume shop!

The building’s facade looks like a fairytale place… but it’s real! Yasser’s shop is two narrow levels of belly dancer heaven. Gorgeous hip scarves,  swords and costumes adorn the walls. A big pile of saga (finger cymbals) was in the corner by the door–and I snagged a set of toura, the giant finger cymbals at least 4″ in diameter that are played in bands by musicians.

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We climbed up the second floor (or first floor as they say here) where the ceiling was just a few inches above my head, and started to dig through bags and bags of individually wrapped costumes, looking for colors and sizes that might suit. Yasser had not yet arrived so his assistant set aside the costumes we liked. We would return later to try them on and get the prices. Karen and I both left some piles on the picturesque bench in the upstairs window.

Next stop: Isis Bazaar! Each belly dance shop has a completely different character and they specialize in different products. At Isis I found a whole bunch hip scarves to bring back for my students and other local dancers, and the others found various costume pieces, wings, and more. Luckily we were able to leave out bags there to pick up later!

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After that much shopping and new sensations we were famished. Nibal took us directly to the perfect place: El Fishawy cafe. Princess Farhana had highly recommended this place so I was excited to go there!

It is the most picturesque outdoor cafe imaginable. People carrying big pallets of bread on their heads stride right through, vendors offering henna, sunglasses and tissues come past, but it still feels private and cozy. There are mirrors in elaborate frames everywhere, reflecting light into the spaces and making th alleys seem both more crowded and more open than they are.

We opted to have Nibal order the food for us. We got fuul (a bean dish), baba ganoush, falafel and more, accompanied by fresh pita bread and my very favorite thing–Egyptian red tea with mint!! If you know me, you probably know of my tea obsession. I was over the moon! And, yes, I brought home two boxes of tea!

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After lunch, we went to Mahmoud’s veritable palace of wonder. Three expansive floors of granite and wood, filled with racks of bedlah, skirts, folkloric costumes, hip scarves and more.

After marveling at the vintage photos and fun stuff on the first floor, I climbed the stairs and a pink and turquoise Noussa practically screamed my name. I tried it on, and it was a near perfect fit. After saying a big YES (me to the Noussa, rhe others to various other wonders), Mahmoud’s tailors materialized and eyeballed the alterations we needed. A short while later our costumes were ready to go!

By now it was getting late… Time to leave the market behind and head to Hallah Moustafa’s workshop back in Giza… squeeeeeeee!

Cairo Trip Day 3, Part 1: Nibal, Cairo Traffic, and Going to Khan el Khalili

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Cataract Pyramids Resort in Giza

On our first morning in Egypt, I woke to the sound of screaming birds at 6:00 AM local time. Since we were at a resort in Giza, at the edge of rural land, we didn’t get typically city sounds… instead some gorgeous, sleek black birds with blue tails cawed their hearts out as the sun came up.

I wandered around the resort taking some pictures of the beautiful setting that would be our home for the next 9 days. So much to see!

Determined to adjust as quickly as possible to local time, we hit the ground running. Amity arranged for our wonderful tour guide, Nibal Abdel Aziz, to meet us at 9:00 AM sharp for a visit to Khan el Khalili, the historic market in Old Cairo.

After having consulted with friends who had recently visited Cairo, I decided to dress in jeans and a loose tunic with 3/4 sleeves, with an infinity scarf around my neck to be sure any cleavage was covered. Bonus to the scarf: it could be converted to a head cover of sorts if needed.

I decided not cover my head when going to the market as it is a place with plenty of tourists/foreigners and it would be obvious that I was one of them anyway. American friends told me that they actually got more attention when wearing a hijab than when not. In the car, Nibal confirmed that decision. If I had been in a different city or in a more “local” are of the city I may have made a different decision,  but it turned out to be a good outfit in those circumstances.

It was about an hour’s drive to get there, and our first look at Cairo in daylight. So much to see! Fortunately, Nibal had hired a van for us, so we were able to see out all of the windows and above most of the traffic. She oriented us and explained the things we were seeing, from famous sights to small details, from customs and language, to all of the many questions we had.

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With tour guide Nibal at Khan el Khalili market

Nibal deeply loves Egypt and wants to share her country with us all. She is warm and personable and especially great with small groups. Having her guide us kept our experience from being overwhelming. She was able to suggest things to help us get the most out of our stay, and truly enjoy ourselves.

Traffic in Cairo deserves a blog post unto itself…. Lanes and signs are just suggestions. Near misses are constantly occurring yet I never saw an actual collision of any sort. Motorcycles, mule carts, and pedestrians weave in and out of traffic right along with the cars. It’s a matter of will and grit, with small beeps, hand waves, and flashing headlights to communicate.

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Casual camels in Cairo

The consensus among our group is that traffic is more chaotic yet far less frantic than Boston. People are aggressive by necessity but generally not jerks for the sake of it. All of our shuttle, van, and cab drivers were remarkably relaxed!

We finally arrived at Khan el Khalili, greeted by a gorgeous plaza in front of El Hussein mosque (I think… working off memory…). Then…. we dove right in!

Cairo Trip Day 1-2: Travel

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Turkish Airlines… wow! Our flight path took us Boston-Istanbul-Cairo, which meant a 10-hr flight for the first leg. That was to be my first new experience, and something I was a bit nervous about. However, it was far better than any other air travel experience I have had. Everything was on time and our luggage arrived in Cairo with no problems.

When we got on the plane we found a little care package with an eye mask, ear plugs, toothbrush/toothpaste,  socks, and more. There were blankets, pillows and slippers, too!

Shortly after takeoff the flight attendants brought us hot towels and Turkish Delight. Dinner followed and it was actually good! I got very dehydrated even though I was drinking a lot of water, but I slept for a good portion of the overnight flight, thankfully (though it took a couple of hours of excitingly talking about all things dance and travel with my traveling companion before we could calm down), and woke up wirh just an hour or so left of that leg.

The airport in Istanbul was nice but not especially different from any other… except for the mosque signs and variety of dress on all the people! Also: the food court was awesome. When is that ever the case?! I couldn’t resist stopping at the MAC counter on rhe way to the gate so now I have a liiiiitle bit of Istanbul make-up. 🙂

It was dark for our 2-hour flight into Cairo but I had a window seat so I could see the Nile, minarets, fireworks from above, and all the city lights stretching on forever. This is a city of 20 million people!

Upon landing we bought our entry visas ($25 US cash) at one of the bank windows before standing in the loooong looks good customs. That went smoothly, and then we were officially visitors to Egypt! After about 5 more passport stops we emerged into WARM night air… imagine that, coming from a winter of record snow and freezing temperatures! Our driver was waiting, led us through lots of parking lots, and our first Cairo traffic experience commenced!

It is perhaps best not to think too hard or watch too closely. So many close calls and seemingly chaotic traffic behavior. Lanes? Who needs em? But we tried to just take a clue from our incredibly chill driver and all was well.

At one point we stopped at a random median maybe 30 minutes into the drive and picked up an apparent stranger… who then received a phone call on his cell and handed it to Amity, saying that Leila was on the line. Ahhh, Cairo!

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Eventually we arrived at our hotel in Giza, the Cataract Pyramids Resort, where we all immediately connected to wifi (lobby only, but free! All counter to what the website said, but hey!). We found our rooms after wandering down a lovely palm tree-lined path, turned on the room lights by inserting our key cards into a slot in the wall, oohed over our balcony, and crashed before long. The next day would be a visit to Khan el Khalili!

Visiting Cairo!

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Here in Cairo for the very first time…! A few months ago, I learned that my good friend Amity Alize of NH/VT was going to be teaching at Leila Farid’s Camp Negum festival in Egypt. Then I found out that airfare is 1/3-1/2 of what it usually is, the festival fee is all-inclusive, and I’d be in the company of some experienced Middle Eastern travelers… so I jumped at the opportunity to take my very first trip to the Middle East!

We have been here for a few packed-to-the-brim days now… from Khan el Khalili to a desert photoshoot, from an intimate zar show to a fabulous saidi workshop… I’ll share our adventures!

Yes, we are aware of the potential security concerns here. I did a lot of research through people I know who have lived here for years or who have visited recently. Definitely not walking in blind, nor wandering wide-eyed down dark alleys with strangers. (Though one could argue that we literally did just that at Khan el Khalili! However, the stranger was out wonderful and protective female guide guide… 😉 )

On the ground here we do not feel any danger, other than obvious city stuff, though of course we are careful. This is a crazy, vibrant city. A lot of poverty on a scale that I haven’t seen before. A lot of lifestyle things that are normal here but inconceivable to people of any means in the States, yet a lot of small luxuries that are unbelievably special to us yet normal here. Very different attitudes towards getting things done, not necessarily more or less efficient or responsive here, just different! Traffic is an adventure, but the system seems to work. People are happy to run errands and be helpful. Change for meals is a long time coming in many different trips but it all gets done. And tipping is a whole nother thing!

I’m not used to being such an obvious tourist but this trip I’m just going with the flow and letting the experience happen, oooing and ahhhing with the best of ’em. Cause how can you not?! This will not be my last trip here, inshallah, and this has been a wonderful way to get my feet wet (in the Nile, as it were). And the festival/dancing part has only just begun!