The Gilded Serpent

The author and Suhair Zaki

Raqia Hassan's Dance Festival
Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2000

Cairo, Egypt
by Latifa

Raqia Hassan's Cairo dance festival, Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2000, was a series of pleasant surprises. I'm happy to report that except for a few delays here and there (and, after all, this was an event held in Egypt, where delays are expected), Raqia really delivered. This festival was well worth the money and all the participants I spoke with were pleased and excited about the event and hoped to attend the event again.

Opening Gala
The festivities opened with a bang, with an evening presentation on June 27, 2000. The stars of the evening were so many that it was a bit overwhelming. Raqia was there of course, doing a million things at once, always with a smile on her face. Also attending were Egypt's national dance treasure, Mahmoud Reda, his former star soloist Farida Fahmy, Aida Nour and many other Reda troupe members.

Then my dance idol, Suhair Zaki, walked in, creating eddies of excitement that ran through the crowd. I couldn't believe this was the same dancer I'd seen performing in 1983 and 1988. She looked slim, elegant, beautiful and happy -- and even younger than when I had seen her perform. Still that same sweet smile...

The evening started with a processional of musicians playing traditional Sa'idi music, accompanied by male dancers with sticks and female dancers in beautiful assuit dresses. There's nothing like the booming of a tabla beledi and the squeal of mizmars to generate excitement! The fashion show followed, starting considerably later than 7 PM but well worth waiting for. Amira's designs are fresh, exciting, andexquisite, and it was easy to see why several dancers currently performing in Cairo have whole wardrobes of her costumes. The costumes were presented in thematic groupings, modeled by groups of festival participants who danced around the stage. One surprise of the evening was the appearance of French singing star Natacha Atlas, modeling one of Amira's creations and singing one of her songs.

Raqia and Farida Fahmy

Dina and that famous hip circle

Dina in her 'beach' costume

Dina in another creative costume

Dr. Mo

Suhair Zaki and Dr. Mo

Raqia, Amany, Aida Nour

After the fashion show there was a long video presentation, complied by Farida Fahmy and shown on large screens, about the history of dance in Egypt and the influential early dancers, with many clips from old movies and analyses of their styles and influence. The first "star" dancer of the evening was Lucy, whose band -- over 20 pieces -- included several drummers, the usual violins, qanun, accordion, nay, plus two trombones and two cellos! Lucy started her show in a blue bedlah with looped beading swagged from the bra and belt. Her style is very smooth, with a lot of variety, but she seemed to be on autopilot at the beginning.

Then, during a short qanun taqsim, her syncopated shimmies seemed to wake her -- and us -- up, and a charming stage presence kicked in. Her second costume was an elegant beaded red dress with spaghetti straps and gauntlets, with which she wore a short curly wig. (Her resemblance to Dionne Warwick in this wig was striking!) When Lucy returned for the folkloric portion of her show, she wore a stunning assuit dress that appeared to be almost entirely metal, with a beaded scarf on her head. She headed right into the audience to her mentor, Suhair Zaki. The two danced together for a short period of time, and the crowd went nuts. Lucy also got Sahra Kent (Sahra Saeeda) from California up to dance briefly. Lucy's drum solo at the end of the folkloric set was electrifying. Her shimmies and tremolos are definitely her strong suit, and when she took off her head scarf and began whipping her hair around we were all energized.

The second dancer was Dina, the current darling of Cairo. Her dancing was such a surprise for me; I had seen her on video and couldn't see what all the fuss was about, but seeing her live was something else. The first impression one gets upon seeing Dina is that she's absolutely gorgeous. Thick curly hair frames a beautiful face with an appealing expression that I would have to describe as vulnerable and passionate at the same time. Her figure is astonishing, and I spent some time discussing the logistics of her costume with my tablemates (whom I'm sure would like to remain anonymous), but we still couldn't figure out how she could (safely) show so much cleavage. Then, when the initial burst of excitement over her beauty dissipated a bit, I was struck by her dancing. She uses a limited range of movements, and certain favorite sequences appear often in her shows: she loves, for example, to do a hip movement of some kind (little drops, or little circles) down to the ground and then come back up in one of several ways, and she loves to do an almost robotic-looking hip circle, moving around in jerky little segments and often stopping in the back to add a saucy variation. And her walk -- I don't really understand why it's so appealing, but it is. She almost looks as if she's stumbling around the stage--as if she's hurrying and loses her balance a bit. On any other dancer, it would just look klutzy; on her, it works. But my favorite part of her dancing was her expression. Sometimes she would smile at the audience like a naughty, impish little girl; at other times she seemed to be caught up in some strong private emotions that we could only wonder about. Her show was a real crowd-pleaser--full of energy and a real contrast with Lucy's performance.

We all drooled over Dina's costumes. The first one was a bedlah with a minimalist gold beaded bra and belt -- almost a bikini look -- and a full gold skirt that moved beautifully, swirling about her. Her second costume was a distinctive one that I promptly dubbed "Dina at the Beach". The bra looked something like a large sequined butterfly in the front, fastened firmly to her chest by a series of thin silver straps in the back. She wore little flesh-colored boy-shorts with spangles on them, and over the top of them was draped a sarong-style skirt, tied at the waist and open down the side. The sarong was very sheer fabric in a blue flowered print, with some long fringe-y trim along the edges. The whole effect was of an unusual bathing suit with a little skirt thrown over it for nominal modesty. This distinctive costume was sighted twice at the festival and once during Dina's regular nightclub show, so it must be a favorite. Dina seemed especially playful in this costume, dancing to a great vocal rendition of "Taht ash-Shibakk" ("Under the Window"). Dina's third costume was a short stretchy red dress with spaghetti straps and a Wilma Flintstone jagged hem - very sexy. The design was simple, with just a few sequined designs in red down the sides. Draped diagonally across the front were a couple of long strands of red beads that added some nice movement. But it was Dina's last costume that really turned some heads, and I know of two dancers who had knock-offs made within a week of this show. This costume is hard to describe, so bear with me. Imagine a snug black dress with long sleeves that has been cut away on one side to reveal what's underneath--and that
happens to be a silver beaded bra and belt. This was a very flattering and totally innovative costume.

Long Days of Dance
The dance part of Raqia's festival was serious, with a cadre of excellent teachers presenting a series of classes that ran from 10 AM to 6 PM for 6 days at the Ramses Hilton, a very nice 5-star hotel. Technique and choreography were taught in the morning, with a specialty class offered at mid-day and then more technique and choreography in the afternoon. There would then be a short break and then some kind of evening activity, usually a show with a live band.

The teacher for both the morning and afternoon classes the first day of the festival was the legendary Farida Fahmy, longtime star soloist of the Reda Troupe. I was unable to attend because of previous commitments with the Arabic Department at AUC, but the students who attended the session raved about Farida's teaching and her material. She certainly demonstrated flexibility in her teaching techniques during these classes: many of the festival participants turned out to be at the beginner and intermediate levels, so she tapped her colleague and former classmate Sahra Kent, who was attending the class, to demonstrate combinations on the teaching platform while Farida moved through the class giving individual coaching and corrections.

The second day of classes was largely devoted to the teaching of Dr. Mo Geddawi. Mo truly is bicultural--an Egyptian who has lived in Germany long enough to absorb western influences. This means that he has the Egyptian feel for the music, but can present technique and choreography in a way that can be easily grasped by Americans and Europeans. He knows what he wants to accomplish in a class, and structures his teaching to accomplish his goals. He also makes the classes fun. Mo taught two choreographies. I was eager to see the dance he taught in the morning because he had told me that it was "like a drum solo, but not a drum solo", and it was exactly that. The music was written by Egyptian drummer Hamish Henkish, for Lebanese dancer Amani. The whole class fell in love with this dance. It had syncopated sections with cute accents, and the music had a variety of rhythms, including 10/8. The choreography was adorable and a pleasure to perform. We had no problem learning the whole dance during the morning session, which astonished Raqia when she stopped by towards the end of the class to see how things were going. It was a real tribute to Mo's teaching ability, since the class was not only multi-level but also multi-linguistic, with a large contingent of Japanese dancers and many from Italy and Finland as well.

Our lunchtime specialty dance was a Port Said spoon dance, taught by Ihab Gamal, a strong dancer with a mischievous sense of humor. Unlike Turkish spoons, which are wooden and nestle together in the hands, the spoons for this dance were regular metal spoons bolted to a flexible, U-shaped piece of metal. They're held in the right hand and clicked together by either striking the spoons against a leg or foot, or hitting them with the left hand. We had fun learning this style, although there were times when combining the demanding fast steps with the rhythmic spoon playing was possible in theory only!

Mo's afternoon class presented a nice oriental dance to a vocal version of "Samra Ya Samra". Mo's teaching was as good as ever but the invasion of several videographers made it difficult to concentrate. (The whole festival was videotaped for Egyptian TV. We were glad about this in theory, because it could present a positive image of dance and at the same time, show Egypt that foreigners are serious about working hard to learn their dance. In practice, it was very annoying to be dancing along, change direction, and find yourself nose-to-nose with a video camera.)

Another noteworthy teacher at the festival was Dina, who surprised me by being almost on time for her class (when a dancer's performing schedule extends into the wee hours of the morning, it's tough to teach at 10 AM) and by being a very good teacher. Dina's English is excellent, and she's generous with her time and technique. She's also a very good sport. At one point, she was showing a series of variations on a particular step, which involved various ways of sinking into a very deep plie and then rising up out of it -- for instance, sinking with little hip drops or tiny hip circles and then leading up with the ribcage, or doing a bigger hip circle on the way up. She asked if there were any questions about the movement, and one gutsy New York dancer said, "Yes -- could you show us a step from your show last night?". She then described the movement she had seen, and Dina laughed and good-naturedly taught that combination to us. I would definitely take another class from Dina.

You can't beat Raqia Hassan herself for technique--and for energy, since she managed to run this whole festival plus teach a segment of it. She layers movements in a way that makes them look new, by such simple things as starting a figure 8 movement and then using the abdominal muscles to center the pelvis in the middle of it. (These movements have been effectively incorporated into the styles of several American dancers, most notably Zahra Zuhair of California; I also like the subtle "Raqia touches" in the dancing of Habiba from Philadelphia.) Raqia began to teach a choreography in her class, but she then switched to teaching technique, because the level of the class was so mixed.

Former Reda Troupe member Nevine Ramez taught Hagallah technique as one of the lunchtime specialty classes. She's not very well-known but she's an excellent teacher. Nevine mixed Hagallah steps in with other movements in little combinations, because she said that she was afraid that two solid hours of actual Hagallah would kill us! I liked the way that she incorporated upper body movements into the steps we did. For example, one combination was an undulation (or "camel" as most Egyptian teachers call it) with the lower body. The upper body leaned from side to side, and the arms did a sort of dreamy sweep up to the head and down. The whole class looked great doing this graceful step.

I also took a class with Aida Nour. I must say that the beginning of her class was less than impressive. The steps worked on her, because her face is beautiful and captivating when she dances, but they looked boring on the students. And then ... the music changed, and she dropped to the ground and did a seated shimmy. The excitement level in the class rose. The other floorwork she added to the shimmy was original and gutsy. And it looked good on everyone, although we were all stumped about what kind of costume one would wear that would be modest and sturdy enough for performing this in a show.

Other teachers at this festival included Amani, Lucy, Ibrahim Akef, Nelly Fouad, and there were specialty classes in sagat (finger cymbals), tabla (drum), tanoura, and assaya (cane). I was sorry to miss Amani's class because I love her dancing , although I heard mixed reviews on her from the students. Lucy's class was actually a good one to miss; she gave the students so little that many demanded their money back for the class. Apparently she saw her teaching time as a photo opportunity and paid more attention to the photographers and videographers than the students. I take my hat off to any students who got through the whole week: 6 days of dancing, 8 hours a day, with no breaks between classes. But where else can you have this opportunity, with such an incredible array of talented teachers?

Evening Entertainment
After 8 grueling hours of dance class, however, there was no rest for the weary. Raqia planned some kind of entertainment every single night. These events (except for the opening and closing galas) were very reasonably priced at $10 per evening, which included a live band--every night. We didn't always know what would be happening, where it would be, (or when it would start, but we knew it would be something well worth attending!

The first evening, Dr. Mo Geddawi presented some of his findings and theories on the origins of our dance, drawing on research conducted over a long period of time and suggesting areas where more research might be fruitful. Mo also briefly addressed the origin of the term "belly dance" and presented his beliefs about the origin of the Ghawazee dancers of Upper Egypt. His remarks left many in the audience with food for thought.

Amira (L) and an assistant make adjustments to Elizabeth McColgan's costume

The show that night was in the same room as the lecture, and I ended up sitting with him in the front row. Then the musicians began arriving and trying to squeeze into the small space. The second percussionists and singers were crammed into a corner behind other band members, so we could hear them but not see them. The performer of the evening was Dendrish; I've heard her called "an up and coming dancer". Her shimmies were incredible, and she could layer them effortlessly with abdominal movements -- but unfortunately that's what she did for most of the show. Our seats in the front row were so close to Dendrish that when she did her spin and pose at the end of the first segment of her show, her skirt swirled over my knees and I was afraid she was going to land on top of us. It got a little scarier when she came out for the Sa'idi segment of the show with her mizmar and tabla beledi players. I told myself that I was not going to panic about the close quarters unless Mo did, because I didn't want to look like an American chicken. (Ah, vanity...) Well, when Dendrish started swinging her cane, Mo scooted his chair back and so did I! Luckily no one was injured, although I felt like we should have been wearing hardhats. Dendrish's show was long, and the music was great, but I found her repetitive dancing tiring. There were supposed to be other dancers appearing later in the evening, but when Mo offered to drive me to my hotel at midnight, I was more than ready to leave.

The next night started with a lecture by Farida Fahmy, who had many interesting things to say about dance. She said that those who try to preserve this dance are taking the wrong approach, because dance can't be preserved; it's a resilient, evolving thing. She admitted that there were contradictory feelings about the dance, and that these were caused by the dance's sensuality. (I was reminded of a paper on this same subject that Habiba gave at the Middle East Studies Association a few years back. She called it "Belly Dance: The Enduring Embarrassment" and discussed Egypt's love-hate relationship with this dance.) Farida cautioned against hasty scholarship, saying that many mistakes have been made in documentation and that a "tremendous amount of research" still needs to be done on the origins of this dance, so we shouldn't believe everything we're told. Then she went on to discuss today's music, saying that percussion is taking over the music and displacing the melody instruments, but this is because of the time; even if someone wanted to go back to a takht (small, traditional music ensemble), the audience has changed.

The show that night started with a celebration of Farida's birthday, with two of the biggest, fanciest cakes I've ever seen, which the audience helped her enjoy. The first part of the show was all festival participants, mostly from Finland. Many were technically excellent dancers but no one really stood out. The band was wonderful and played many favorites like Tawam Rouhi and Haramt Ahibbak. After the participants performed, a striking woman got up from the audience, with much encouragement, and danced with the band in her street clothes -- very form-fitting lycra bike shorts and a little knit top. I didn't know at the time that this was Samra, a Syrian/Lebanese dancer who is a friend of Raqia's and would perform at the closing night gala. She obviously loved to dance and felt the music deeply, and she gave us the emotional interpretation that had been missing with the earlier performers. Most of the time she did small, contained torso movements with a lot of emoting, but a couple of times she got really wound up and did incredible Turkish drops. She also leaped up on one of the chairs in the audience (a la Roberto Benigni at the Oscars) and shimmied, then stepped over the man sitting in the next chair to get to a vacant chair on the other side of him and shimmied some more. (I did wonder what went through his mind...) Her dance was an incredible, riveting display of raw energy in response to music -- almost like a Zar in its intensity. Before we really had a chance to recover from Samra's performance, another of Raqia's companions got up to dance -- Aida Nour. Her dancing was very enjoyable to watch, and she blew us away when she performed her seated shimmy. Who knows if there were dancers after that? After 8 hours of dance class that day, and no time for dinner, it was time for me to say goodnight, wend my way back to the hotel, check my email and head for bed.

The next evening featured a "Zar party". This party had everyone all excited but we didn't know exactly what to expect. We had been told to wear gallabiyahs (the loose-fitting Egyptian caftans) and Raqia promised -- and delivered -- a real party atmosphere. The event was held in the Ramses Hilton Falafel Room, which I remembered from a previous trip when we attended a show there by the Hassan Hassan Folkloric Troupe; it's an intimate space that is elaborately decorated with appliqued wall hangings. A band of beledi women played and sang appropriate music, and everyone got up to dance at some point to dance in a communal circle around the dance floor. (It was a real treat when Raqia and Mo danced together briefly! Also memorable were Sahra Kent and Zahra Zuhair.) This was the night when Raqia really amazed me. She seemed to be everywhere at once, dancing with groups of women, going around to tables and pulling people up to dance with her, and just generally making sure that everyone had a good time. I was impressed by her seemingly unlimited supply of energy, as usual, but also by her concern that everyone should enjoy themselves and participate. This Zar party was an incredible experience of shared energy and mesmerizing music.

The next night we were back to a hotel ballroom for another show with a band. The overall level of performance was better at this show than it had been two nights earlier. Ameera of Australia treated us to a khaleegy dance and then doffed her thobe for some serious classical oriental dance; Azza from New York danced in a smashing hot pink Amira el Kattan costume; and we saw a belly-dancing marionette (you had to be there!). Two male dancers in Alexandrian costume performed a fisherman's dance and then welcomed a milaya-clad and face-veiled Yasmine (the beautiful blond British dancer who was featured in Habibi magazine a while back) on to the stage for a charming tableau. After the milaya dance, she discarded both her modesty garment and her face veil to reveal a to-die-for salmon pink Amira El Kattan beledi gown with jeweled trim. Then the guys unfurled a long piece of bright blue silk (the Nile, I assume?) in which they wrapped and unwrapped her as she danced in the middle. Yasmine's charm and expressiveness really made this little tableau work.

The show the following night was a bit of a disappointment. The band was very nice, and we were in a larger ballroom so there was more space for dancing, and there were some good dancers performing, but there were also several repeats--dancers who had performed in previous shows but had another costume to show off -- and they weren't dancers I would have chosen to see a second time. And why is it that sometimes the lesser dancers get the longer shows, and then the good ones get the short shows? That was what happened this night. I was waiting for Zahra Zuhair, who is a phenomenal performer, but she danced last, and the band had to cut her show short to get to another gig. It's a shame, because the band was really "on" and played many wonderful songs -- Ana Fintizarek, Inta Omri -- all my old favorites. Zahra was an all-too-short vision in aqua, with cascading auburn curls.




Closing Gala
We were all twittering with excitement about the finale for Raqia's festival because the star of the show was Amani of Lebanon, a highly artistic and innovative dancer. The show opened with a nice speech by Dr. Mo Geddawi, who commented on the significance of the event, which drew participants from all over the world to the capital famous for dance, Cairo. Then the closing gala began as the opening one had, with a group folkloric number. Four male dancers performed a very acceptable tahtib in the Reda tradition, with that masculine style that is somehow showy and understated at the same time. Two different female soloists joined the men, but neither one really stood out, and when they both danced together at the end, it was a little awkward; they shared the stage but did solos that seemed self-consciously improvisational.

The first "star" of the evening was Nour, a Raqia-trained Russian dancer who is a frequent performer in Cairo. I had heard her criticized for not having enough personality, or for being cold, but I didn't find that to be the case in this performance; she was all smiles and a pleasure to watch. She did a long show that demonstrated self-assurance, musicality, and precise, clean and subtle technique. Her very fluid and graceful upper body impressed me. Her first costume was a bedlah in a vibrant blue, encrusted with beads and jewels. The skirt was very full and layered, also decorated with beads. She used a full blue cape with a big ruffle around the top for her entrance (but wisely discarded it soon after). Watching her dance to the band's version of "Zayy al-Hawa", it was obvious that she knew every note, trill and accent they were going to play, but she made her interpretation look very fresh, as if she were full of the joy of dance and having a great time. After a brief interlude of tahtib (again), Nour returned to the stage in a costume that absolutely possessed me. It was a black milaya dress, and I loved everything about it--the style, the decoration, the fabric, the cuteness -- everything! Like her other costumes, this masterpiece was by Amira El Kattan. Nour danced with a vocalist, doing the type of performance that looks great on an Egyptian dancer performing in Cairo and just does not work over here: not much dancing, but lots of miming the words, reacting to the singer, etc.

Nour's last set started with a happy, bouncy folkloric cane dance, in a costume that technically was a dress, but had so many asymmetrical cutouts that the effect was more like a bedlah. It was bright red stretchy fabric with jewels and beading and the
characteristic matching headband and accessories. Dina returned to the stage after that, which was fine with us. This was a typical Dina performance, quirky and appealing, with that adorable stumble-y walk, subtle technique that made her difficult combinations look easy, and the warm appeal that makes the audience love her.

Amani started her set lounging on a chair at the side of the stage. She seemed to be awakened by the music, then mimed putting on makeup and fixing her hair. She then picked up her veil, rose from the chair, and started dancing, later discarding her veil on the chair. This first number was in night-club style. Her costume was beautifully elegant, simple, and very flattering. Her jeweled bra had one asymmetric strap, and rather than wear a traditional bedlah-style belt, she had a rich rope of jewels around her waist which dipped down to attach to her skirt. The top of her red skirt had four or five simple strands of pearls swagged around it. When she picked her veil up again later, she used it in very unusual ways: She wrapped it on her head like a scarf; sank to the ground and let the veil settle over her; gathered it up and hugged it like a child, and eventually discarded it on the chair again. One part of this number that I didn't understand at all was the man standing on the side of the stage, near the "veil chair", reading a newspaper. At one point he folded his paper and left, leaving us to wonder what the point was. (Amany explained later that this dance was about a woman who misses her lover; he is far away. She dreams that he has returned and she's happy, then she wakes up and is sad because she realizes he is not there. ) Then Amany had the chair removed, put on finger cymbals and did a second number with intricate dynamics that reminded me very much of the Nadia Gamal influence in the works of Ibrahim Farrah, particularly in the late 1980's.

Mahmoud Reda and Raqia Hassan

One last smile from lovely Dina!

For her next number, Amanimade her entrance with a veil over her head, then quickly discarded her veil to pick up a tambourine and perform an enchanting dance I had previously seen on video. Her costume was green, between pistachio and chartreuse, and very beautiful. It had a very full skirt, with very small jewels scattered from about knee level to the hem. The same fabric covered the top, which was like a little fitted vest rather than a traditional bra. It had rich gold decoration, done asymmetrically, with a long streamer of the green fabric hanging down the back from the left shoulder. The top of the skirt, which was fitted at the waist rather than the hip, had a wrapped and criss-crossed look, with bands of richly decorated gold trim and other coordinating fabrics worked in. The skirt had wonderful movement and was used to advantage during this dance, which included energetic skirtwork. Her last set started in a very exciting way: her band left, and in their place, drummer after drummer started coming in. She had over 20 drummers for the last part of her show, playing every conceivable type of percussion. She had said that this drum solo was "presenting a new idea about a prayer", and perhaps that is why she made her entrance carrying an ornate incense burner that wafted delightful fragrances throughout the room. Again, she wore a beautiful and elegant costume. This time she had a gold lame strapless bra covered with a long sleeved crop top made of black illusion net and heavily encrusted, here and there, with jewels. Her belt was also encrusted with jewels, and with it she wore a heavy, swingy skirt that later turned out to be all black fabric fringe, from the belt to the floor. The first part of her dance was very interpretive, and this gave way to a more traditional drum solo. The next part of her drum solo was an impassioned Zar, with her beautiful long red hair whipping around dramatically. Then she did a short amount of floorwork, and ended her show.

Amany's show had beautiful musicality and impeccable technique. Each dance she did was very different and she had a wide range of steps and movements with many turns, complex traveling steps, and changes of direction. She really was the visual embodiment of the music and she had something different to say with every piece.

I was delighted to be able to see her in person and gain a fuller appreciation of her artistry. I was reminded several times during her show of Nadia Gamal and of Ibrahim Farrah, and it was very gratifying to see the connection to these two greats and to compare the way that Nadia's influence affected the styles of two different dancers from different parts of the world, generations apart. To be truthful, however, I would have to say that I got the impression that Amany was going through the motions and would rather be somewhere else. She was lovely to look at and her show provided a lot of food for thought, but she did not engage the audience.

This brings to a close this rather lengthy review of Raqia Hassan's Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2000. Raqia told me that about 170 dancers had attended, from Europe, America, and the Far East. The largest contingents were from the U.S., Italy, Japan, Australia, and Finland. The levels of some of the students, who were absolute beginners, had surprised me; I had assumed that those willing to make the investment to attend would be advanced students and professionals. Raqia said that she was also very surprised by the beginners who attended and that several of the instructors had found the disparity of

levels challenging, since they wanted to present choreographies using advanced techniques and found themselves instead explaining the basics. When I commented on her choice of instructors-a combination of "big name" teachers like Lucy, Dina, Farida Fahmy and Mo Geddawi, plus talented but unknown (at least to me) teachers-she got very excited by my reaction to the unknowns and said that one of her goals was to bring some very good and deserving dance teachers into the limelight. She also wants to have different teachers every year so that returning students would always find something new.

This festival is a very encouraging step forward for those of us in America who want to learn more about the dance and experiment with different styles, but it's also a great advance for dance in Egypt. There were positive articles about the festival in several Egyptian magazines in both Arabic and English, and I understand that there was TV coverage as well. I hope that American dancers will save their pennies and support Raqia's worthwhile endeavor. You'll definitely get your money's worth!

Ready for more?
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