This is Part Three in a four-part series on belly dance travel and tourism. Even with the social unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, many dancers are eager to travel to research, study and immerse themselves in Oriental Dance. If you're armed with some knowledge about the places you'll be visiting and know what to expect before and during your trip, you'll have a much better time.
In this series, I'll cover everything from keeping healthy and staying safe abroad to buying costumes; from cultural and social differences to breezing through security at airports; from communicating socially to haggling for a bargain.
I learned all this stuff the hard way… but you won’t have to!
Dance Festivals, Tours And Classes
For most dancers, the idea of going on a belly dance tour or attending a dance festival in one of the countries where the dance originated is heaven on earth. Imagine getting to see performances from your favorite dancers-many of them living legends- and also being able to study with your idols… in between sightseeing and shopping excursions! It’s not just a dream come true, it’s also likely that your trip will exceed your wildest fantasies! You’ll witness scenes that look like they just popped off the pages of a history book, you’ll hear incredible live music, absorb the culture, and be dazzled by the magic of it all.
However enthusiastic you are, (and I’m relatively sure you’ll be bouncing off the walls just thinking about it) you need to acknowledge that pretty much everything you do will be a “peak experience”. Keep in mind the fact that you are mortal, and concentrate on reigning yourself in just a little, going for quality, not quantity.
At dance festivals, you’ll want to take every class- and attend the gala shows, sign up to perform, shop for costumes, and talk to all your new friends from around the world. On tours, you’ll be waking up at 5:00am to visit ancient ruins, exploring the countryside and major cities, going to nightclubs, wandering through bazaars, museums and mosques and taking private classes.
There will be so much you want to do, there’s no way you’ll be able to do it all… so choose your activities wisely.
Instead of booking non-stop dance classes, just pick workshops with your favorite instructors, (or someone who is highly recommended) and schedule in a little bit of downtime for yourself. Take advantage of your hotel’s pool or spa services. Don’t feel the need to participate in every activity that is offered, whittle down your list of potential excursions to those you are really interested in. You might even want to spend a relaxing evening in your hotel room, enjoying room service and the amazing selection of Arabic music videos that are on television 24 hours a day. A couple of years ago, on a tour I was leading to Egypt, I once walked in on a roomful of girls tipsy on Duty Free wine, giggling hysterically as they watched “Oprah” dubbed in Arabic!
If you haven’t been to a foreign festival or on a tour before, this might seem impossible, but because of jet lag and your own excitement, it’s fairly typical to forget to eat or drink enough water. Add this to five or fewer hour of sleep a night, and you’re setting yourself up for disaster.
Please remember that you need to stay well hydrated, well fed, and get enough sleep. Injuries and illnesses typically occur when the body is exhausted- and trust me; you will be over-tired when you are traveling…especially at a dance festival!
The biggest piece of advice I can give you on attending belly dance festivals or going on dance tours in foreign countries is… pace yourself!
Costume prices vary in Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey. There are always cheap souvenir costumes available at the souks, but these “airport specials” are most likely not worth bothering with if you are a professional dancer.
In Cairo, custom made stage wear and off-the-rack costumes altered to fit you from top designers like Eman Zaki, Sahar or Hanan will probably run $500.00 and up, but you can often get a discount if you purchase more than one. Though many costume vendors will go for some bargaining, most of the major ateliers will not, unless you are a regular customer.
If you’re not a “label whore”, you can easily find very nicely made, gorgeous costumes from up –and-coming or “generic” ateliers for $60.00 - $350.00.
Bella of Istanbul does lovely costumes, but expect to pay Western prices for her custom made numbers. Even so, they are definitely worth it!
Take your time and shop carefully, make a list of exactly what you want before you leave home…because your eyes will be literally popping out of your head when you see all the gorgeous stuff on display!