Friday, June 24, 2011
Things have been a little nutty in my life lately… but then, what else is new? So many projects, gigs, classes and flights to catch…so little time!
I stare in abject guilt at my computer’s desktop, knowing I need to finish the series of articles on identifying different styles of dance. After five installments I kind of let that fall by the wayside due to my travel schedule and “Bombshell” DVD shoot.
I had planned for Part Six to be about Egyptian Shaabi and Beledy styles, and for Part Seven to be about trance dances (like the Moroccan Guedra and Egyptian Zar) and devotional dances, especially Sufi whirling dervishes and Egyptian Tannoura dancers.
Sadly, those chapters are just going to have to wait until I complete my latest trip…but happily, my next trip is to Egypt! I leave in a day.
For the past few years I have been completely fascinated by Tannoura, it’s history and practice. Every time I see Tannoura dancers I am so moved- even if it’s just at a night club show. I am hoping to get some great pictures of the whirling dervishes to include with the new articles- last year on the Nile Maxim, I saw an incredible young Tannoura dancer who had a costume that lit up with LED lights, and when the lights in the club went off as he whirled and ignited his costume, he looked just like a carnival ride! The year before I saw a group of little boys dancing Tannoura, they were apprentices learning the art. The youngest was about six and the oldest maybe ten or eleven. They were incredible, and had the entire place screaming wildly. It was kind of like seeing a whirling dervish version of The Jackson Five!
I am so very excited to be going to Egypt, and not just because I will be teaching-and learning from the master instructors-at the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival, but because of the recent turmoil in Egypt surrounding the revolution and all the social unrest earlier this year.
Like people the world over, I watched the events in Egypt unfolding with dire concern, desperately hoping things would end well. My many friends in Cairo, both Egyptians and ex-pats, were constantly on my mind, and with the internet and phone service down, there was no way to reach them. I feared for their safety, and prayed for the people of Egypt who were fighting for their rights, as well as for the future of the country.
With resignation, my partner Zahra Zuhair and I cancelled our summer Eternal Egypt Tour earlier this year due to the unsettled situation; we didn’t want to bring a group of people who had never been to Egypt into a country that seemed ready to explode at any moment.
After the reality of our cancellation set in, my own somewhat selfish feelings took over.
“ This can’t be happening to MY Egypt,” I thought, panic sweeping through me in nauseating waves.
Suddenly, aside from what I’d been seeing on the news, the reality hit me in a personal way and I was afraid I might never again be able to visit this beautiful country that I loved so much, this place that, for the last two decades, I have almost taken for granted, thinking carelessly that Egypt would always be “available” to me.
Egypt is a land full of contradictions, a place with many problems and extreme poverty, but undeniably it's one of the world’s richest places in terms of culture. From ancient to modern times, Egypt has always been alive with art. It is a place bursting with incredible music and dance, gorgeous antiquities and people so friendly and welcoming that even a complete stranger would go out of his or her way to help you if you needed anything.
I have had many adventures and certainly many misadventures there, but I have always felt safe there.
When i think of Egypt, I think of laughter: I have probably laughed harder and longer than anywhere else I’ve been, because most of the population-or at least those i have been fortunate enough to meet- seem to have a deliciously crazy sense of humor. Fun is free, and the seemingly universal Egyptian love of fun is one of my favorite things about the country.
I love Cairo with it’s sensory overload of sights, sounds and smells; it’s sizzling nightlife that ends the next day well after the sun has come up; the Nile bridges full of families hanging out at 3:00am and the insane, relentless Kamikaze traffic. Luxor with it’s jingling hantour carriages and the gigantic grand temples of Karnak And Luxor. Cosmopolitan Alexandria with its sea breezes, the green of the Fayoum Oasis in the expanse of the Sahara.
Everywhere in Egypt, the haunting muezzins calls broadcast loudly while any animal within earshot of the mosque- dogs, donkies, camels, goats- begins howling and braying along with the prayer, and cabbies stop dead in the middle of the street, laying down cardboard or rugs to pray on the pavement. Cairo after sunset, where the motor boats decked out in blinking disco lights careen down the Nile blasting Shaabi through distorted speakers while fifty people onboard dance wildly, and the river police try to pull them over. And um, oh yeah… the epitome of Egypt, Giza’s Pyramids and Sphinx, which everyone in Cairo refers to as “ The Svin-kuss”.
While the revolution was taking place, when I was faced with the fear and the reality that maybe things would be changing in an unfavorable way, I was scared I might not be able to go back to Egypt, I started to reflect about the time I’d spent there. Though I never lived there, I'd always felt like Egypt was a huge part of my life.
My first trip to Egypt was twenty years ago. Back then, there were no cell phones or Internet, and it took waiting for at least four hours just to get an overseas line, even at the five star hotels. There were no signs in English- anywhere! I arrived in Cairo with the $200.00 I had somehow managed to save and the scribbled address of a decaying hotel off Tahrir Square in my pocket. I didn’t know a soul in the entire country. I had quit my job in Los Angeles, and felt like a new chapter was beginning in my life.
I knew that I needed to make this pilgrimage, because I was absolutely obsessed with belly dancing. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do once I got there, or how I would find what I was looking for, but that didn’t matter, I knew in my heart that things would somehow come together… and the moment I stepped off that plane, I wept. During that trip, crazy as it may sound, I seriously started to wonder about past lives and psychic connections. No matter where I’d been in the world… and I’ve traveled extensively, I’d never had the reaction I did when stepping onto Egyptian soil for the first time. I was crying with joy and overwhelmed with a feeling of coming home. I still feel those emotions every time I go there.
Yes, I am every bit as excited (as I always am ) to go back to this incredible country, but even more so this year! I can’t wait to experience the “new” Egypt.
And now I need to get back to my packing, but rest assured… there will be many, many stories to tell.