These were originally part of a series of emails sent to my immediate family and friends. Their original formatting has been left largely in tact.
Yesterday felt like a short day, after being out all night and sleeping until noon. Worth it. We began our day on the rooftop terrace at Yasmina’s, having breakfast with a view of the pyramids to our right. Her cat was lounging in the sun next to us and I found myself feeling sorry for the cat for not understanding what a view it had. I don't think the cat cared about my opinion.
Next we headed to Hallah Moustafa’s, which is relatively close to Yasmina’s. Hallah is actually an American but she has been here for over 20 years making beautiful costuming. The inside of her workshop was filled with women and men beading and pinning fabric on mannequins. She and her assistant brought us back to her office, fed us sweets and tea, and brought a variety of high end costumes to try on. I’m including a picture of what I was able to try- but please don’t share it as I didn’t purchase any of them (yet). The only one that was fully finished is the one in the top right corner, the rest would have more bling and alteration done before they were stage-worthy. I’m sure its hard for non-bellydancers to appreciate the full difference between a cheap Chinese costume and this kind of artistry, but trust me when I say her stuff is pretty incredible. We ran down the clock trying things on, headed back to Yasmina’s for a dance lesson in her home studio, and dropped Hallah and her assistant off on the way.
I made a request to Yasmina to hook us up with a Mahgranat Shaabi teacher during our time here and she really picked a great person- her son’s half-sister! Heba is in her early twenties and adorable and speaks limited English (it was still pretty good though). She is an amazing dancer and is part of two Shaabi performance groups. She is also a singer. Shaabi dance is super energetic and often involves using a tough persona- not my forte. Heba got her brother to translate the song we worked on word-for-word. I wish I could share the video but she requested that we not- Rosa mentioned that Heba recently deleted many of her non-hijabi pictures from social media, so she might be trying to portray a more conservative or religious style on the internet.
Shaabi style of music and dance has been around for awhile- Shaabi refers to a certain type of neighborhood and style that you find in Cairo. But Mahgranat Shaabi is a relatively new style of music that arose after the 2008 revolution. Its seen as kind of low class here, and even Yasmina’s son was cracking jokes about the quality of song writing. It’s main themes are usually drinking and smoking, flirting and women, and politics. I would really like to dance to one but I have to be careful about doing something inappropriate- say, being an American and dancing to a super political song. It is also difficult because Egyptian songs are usually not overt in their themes. There are a lot of double entendres, for example, talking about a woman’s beautiful melons or something. So its dicey waters. It was so great to take a lesson with a native Arabic speaker. Many of the dance moves referenced what was actually happening in the lyrics. The song Heba picked was about flirting and the many problems there are with women and men.
After our lesson, we took an Uber to a Nile boat restaurant to meet my friend Khaled who lives in Dubai, but is from Egypt and was here visiting and getting some paperwork in order. As you can imagine, Uber is a godsend for non-native speakers. You put in your destination (so you don’t have to explain it) and Uber calculates the cost (so you don’t have to worry about getting ripped off). Also Uber drivers tend to be a little less insane in their driving than taxi cabs, although we did take those with Shahrzad and it was pretty exhilarating to whip through traffic.
It was great to meet Khaled in person. He has a really interesting perspective on Egypt, and life in general, being that he has lived in Dubai for so long and is very Western. The restaurant itself was really random. It was a very fancy atmosphere and they served Western food (it was a new place and Yasmina had suggested we check it out- otherwise I would not have picked it) and played Western music… kind of. They were playing really beautiful jazz-lounge covers of American songs- but really silly ones. Like YMCA and Welcome to the Jungle. We all got a pretty good kick out of it, but I probably shouldn’t be so judgmental. A big part of this trip and my dance education in general is to clue myself in to these cultural mishmashes that may not seem “wrong” to me as an non-native, but to Middle Eastern folks seem just as weird as playing a jazzy version of YMCA in a fancy restaurant. I already know I’ve made mistakes like this. In the Arabic hookah lounge that I danced in in Knoxville I once used what I thought was a really beautiful song to perform to, only to have the manager Omar look at me afterwards and ask “why are you dancing to a song that you’re supposed to sit down and cry to?”
Today we have another private lesson in the morning, then we are hitting up the Textile Museum, the famous market Khan el Khalili, and a Tanourra show- another kind of song and dance performed in the Middle East.