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The Gilded Serpent presents...
Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival 2004
Day 10: Classes and the Sphinx Speaks
by Shira

Thursday, July 1, 2004. I was scheduled to take Randa Kamel's class at 10:00 a.m., so I needed to set my alarm to get up early enough to eat breakfast and put myself in the mood to dance. The buffet breakfast offered the usual choices.

The day's Oriental workshop choices included Faten Salama, Randa Kamel, Freiz, and Dina. Originally, Dina had been scheduled for Friday, but she was moved to Thursday to accommodate a change in her schedule.  I had considered signing up for Dina's class, but I did take it in 2003.  In 2003 the primary thing I learned was that I love to watch Dina dance, but the style of choreography she teaches doesn't align with the dance style I prefer to do myself. Also, her immense popularity led to a huge crowd in the classroom in 2003, and I preferred to avoid repeating that particular experience. In 2003, it had been difficult to see her despite her being on the raised platform - I knew that 2004 would only be worse due to the fact that the number of festival attendees had doubled over the prior year.  The folkloric classes scheduled for this day were Beba (baladi), Gabi (Lebanese debke), Khaled Mahmoud (baladi), and Sameh el Dessouky (Saidi).

Randa Kamel's Class
Kamel's class was enjoyable.  It was more crowded than I would have preferred, but it wasn't any worse than many a popular seminar I have attended in the United States. Randa did her teaching from a platform raised about 3 feet in the air, which made it easier for people in the back to see her movements.  Although she didn't know a large amount of English, she knew enough to make key points and offer her students some direction. Like most Egyptian-taught classes, this one was mostly "follow the bouncing butt". I felt Randa's combinations were cute, and I took notes on quite a number of things I wanted to retain.

For music, Randa used several different Arabic pop songs, such as Sobry Alil by Shareen. Since I enjoy Arabic pop music, this enhanced the class for me.

I didn't realize until after class was over that I had failed to take any pictures of Randa.  Rats!  But in retrospect, there's a positive side to that.  It means that I enjoyed her class so much that I focused on retaining what I had learned rather than on reporting for the Gilded Serpent!

This class was definitely a highlight of the festival for me, and I would gladly attend another class taught by Randa in the future!

Adventures by Others in the Group
While I was enjoying Randa's class, other members of our group were enjoying other adventures of their own. Karen and Barbara from the Washington, DC area decided to use this morning's time for horseback riding. There is a stable near the pyramids where people can engage either camel rides or horseback rides. They decided to hire a pair of horses along with a guide who would presumably give them a lesson on horseback riding.

Later, they told me about the adventure.  And some adventure it was! It started out innocuously enough. The guide/instructor took turns with each of them, offering pointers on riding.  At one point, the guide rode ahead with Karen to give her some individual attention while the child assisting him stayed with Barbara and led her horse, a real "sweetie" named Sugar.  While this was occurring, Sugar saw an opportunity to get a bit frisky, deciding the time had come to enjoy a nice, playful roll in the sand. The child was powerless to stop it!  Barbara had the presence of mind to roll out of the way, so thankfully she wasn't injured.

Eventually the guide realized that Sugar was displaying a bit of rebellion and he came back to assist, but it was too late to prevent Barbara from being covered in the sands of time and her belongings strewn in the dirt!

The festival featured a number of vendors. Earlier in the week, I simply wasn't very interested in seeing what they had to offer.  But the temptation finally caught up with me, so on this day I decided to explore the vending booths after Randa's class.  The first one I visited was the designer that Dina uses.  There I met up with Karen and Barbara from our group, both from the
Washington, DC area. Karen was tempted by a costume, but wanted a second opinion because its price tag was so high. It was the sort of bra/skirt costume that Dina sometimes wears for her performances. The bra looked like a typical pretty costume bra without fringe, only it was made of a sort of molded foam rubber with the decorations glued on.  There was no belt; instead, the straight skirt had beads and sequins sewn in a design near its top edge that coordinated with the design on the bra. It was a pretty costume, and it was easy to see why she liked it.

I took a close look at the workmanship, and I recommended that she look around some more to see what the other vendors had to offer.  I expressed the concern that the glued pieces might start to fall off after a few wearings.  The skirt seemed to be more durable. Its decorations were sewn onto it rather than merely glued. 

I went upstairs to explore more of the vendors. I saw a number of items with surprisingly high prices, considering this was Egypt. I tried to bargain them down, but they wouldn't move.

Apparently most of the other festival attendees were cheerfully paying those inflated prices, so they saw no need to be flexible with me. I shrugged and moved on without buying anything.

Light & Sound
Some women in our group were organizing an outing that evening to the Light & Sound show at the Sphinx.  This was something I had been interested in doing in 2003, but that year I hadn't been able to find anyone else who wanted to join me.  So I decided to skip that evening's Summer Party and at the agreed-upon time, I met Toni, Jennifer, and the others in our hotel's lobby. We found ourselves some taxicabs and headed over together.  I wish I had started early enough to walk over, because the prices being charged by the cab drivers were outrageously high for such a short ride.  It's annoying to feel like you're being cheated by the locals. A couple of the women in our group really disliked negotiating price and just purchased tickets from the Misr Travel agency at our hotel to go over there with a tour group. 

Once we arrived over there, we were herded past souvenir vendors to a courtyard area. We had chosen to go to the later show, so we needed to wait for the earlier show to finish and its audience to leave before we could be seated.  Although standing around waiting for stuff isn't my favorite thing to do, I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Jennifer and Toni and get to know them both better.  One of my regrets from the trip is that I didn't manage to take any photos of the two of them, because I had enjoyed meeting them and it would have been nice to have the photos to remember them by.

In the Light & Sound show, the Sphinx speaks. "He" speaks of how he has sat here in the desert since the dawn of time.  He then narrates the history of the Giza plateau and ancient Egypt in general. As he speaks, different colors of lights shine upon the pyramids, the Sphinx himself, and the other structures in the complex to illustrate the comments being made. For example, when he speaks of the height of the Great Pyramid, a laser light passes up one edge of it to illustrate the point. At other points, artwork is projected on the wall to the left of the Sphinx to illustrate the mummification process and other topics being described.

Although the lights used to highlight the structures are assorted colors, my photo is in black and white because the infrared night vision feature of my camera can't pick up color. I tried some normal-style color shots, but they didn't turn out at all.

I must confess, I was a little disappointed by the show. I thought the notion of using laser lighting effects sounded really cool.  However, it was frankly a little boring. The Sphinx's deep, stentorian voice sounds annoyingly pompous. 

Imagine what it would sound like if James Earl Jones made fun of a puffed-up self-important movie director. In fact, later when Karen from our group (who didn't go with us to the show) asked me what I thought about it, the first words out of my mouth were, "It was pompous!"

The cool laser effects weren't used as much as I had hoped.  Instead, floodlights illustrating the face of the Sphinx and images projected on the wall were the primary visual effects.  The information contained in the Sphinx's narrative was generally a bland  re-telling of the many things our tour guides had told us the days we visited the Cairo museum and the Pyramids at the beginning of the trip. It was okay as a review, but I didn't really feel a need to hear it all again.

I'm glad I went, because I had been curious about it. I had believed I was missing out on something special, and now that I've gone to it, I know it's something I don't need to do again if I ever make it back to Egypt. And it gave me some good laughs the next day when I did pompous imitations of the Sphinx for Karen and Barbara's benefit.  I never realized mimicking a Sphinx could be so much fun!

I <long pause> AM <long pause> THE SPHINX!

Back At the Hotel
Some of the others in our group were in the mood for a late night snack, and that sounded appealing to me too.  So we went to the outdoor café next to the swimming pool and ordered some light goodies. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that the delicious light snack I had enjoyed at this café earlier in the week was available only during the daytime.  There is a different "evening menu" for late at night which doesn't include it. The waiter and the kitchen did their best to approximate what I wanted, and I appreciated the efforts, but my palate was disappointed nonetheless.

On a more positive note, I enjoyed relaxing with Jack from Palm Desert, California, Amira (Mary Ann) from Springfield, Missouri, and Tracey from Boynton Beach, Florida. I had had some opportunity to get acquainted with all three of them earlier in the trip, and it was lovely to have this opportunity to get to know them better.

As we chatted, we enjoyed the breathtaking view of the full moon rising over the Great Pyramid behind our hotel.  (See the photo at the top of this article.) It's absolutely amazing, to lounge next to a swimming pool and see this magnificent view.

When I went to Egypt in 2003, I had tried to take a picture on my film camera of the full moon rising over the Great Pyramid, and it didn't turn out at all. Since I had this fancy new digital camera with a night vision feature, I decided to see whether it could do better. Once again, the night vision feature doesn't capture color, but I'm thrilled with the way this picture turned out! [I played with the photos a bit!-Ed]

Finally, it was getting late and it seemed like a good idea to try for a good night's sleep.

More coming!

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Ready for more?
more from Shira-
6-28-04 Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival 2004-Intro Travel Journal by Shira
Middle Eastern dance artists and students from throughout the world attend this event to immerse themselves in instruction by leading Egyptian instructors, shop for costumes and other supplies offered by Egyptian vendors, and enjoy the gala shows featuring top Egyptian dancers. Check back for regular updates!
First Two Days
Day 3: First Look at Egyptian History
Day 4: More Egyptian Monuments and First Dance Show
Day 5: Shop-portunities and Whirling Dervishes
Day 6: The Festival Begins
Day 7: Classes and Free Time
Day 8: Side Trips, Part 1: Gayer Anderson Museum
Day 8, part 2:The Parisiana
Day 9: The Evening Show

11-12-04 Mystery Dancer #1: Iklas
Gilded Serpent is looking for clues to the story behind this lovely dancer! If you have any information, please contact us!

11-11-04 Sunday Afternoon at the Desert Dance Festival '04, Page 2 Photos by Monica
11-9-04 Sunday Afternoon at the Desert Dance Festival '04 Report by Nisima Photos & Captions by Monica Page 1
Consequently, I was a very popular girl all day as vendors called out to me to visit and talk. After all, I was a bona-fide Actual Audience Member.

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