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The Gilded Serpent presents...
Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival 2004
Day 4: More Egyptian Monuments and First Dance Show
Travel Journal by Shira

Friday, June 25, 2004. I debated whether to join the group for this day's scheduled outing to the pyramids and Sphinx on the Giza plateau.  I had seen these sights on a previous trip to Egypt, and although I was very glad I had been there on an earlier trip, a little voice inside me was saying it might be enjoyable to do something else. But then I heard that camel rides were planned, and decided to join the group because that was something I had been wanting to do.

We were told we could expect to return to the hotel by about 2:30 or 3:30 in the afternoon, which would allow us plenty of time to freshen up before going on the Nile Maxim dinner cruise.

The Pyramids
Although this was my third trip to Egypt, I still felt a bit of a thrill at the sight of the pyramids and the Sphinx.  These monuments truly are very spectactular. Our tour bus went first to the Great Pyramid, and people were given the opportunity to get off the bus for photos.  It wasn't possible to enter the Great Pyramid because a limited number of tickets is available each day, and they are typically all gone by 8:00 a.m.  The guides offered historical information on the bus as we approached, then allowed a limited amount of time for picture-taking. 

I returned to the bus within the allotted time, and was frustrated to see some people weren't back yet.  It became even more frustrating as 5 minutes dragged into 10 minutes and dragged into 20 minutes.  Let's just say that sitting on a bus full of 40 people in the blazing Egyptian summer heat waiting for inconsiderate people who don't return within the time allowed is not my favorite thing to do.

Next the bus took us over to the smallest of the 3 pyramids, and those people who wished to go inside had an opportunity to do so.  I did that when I was in Egypt in 1999, and didn't feel the need to do it again, but I encouraged my friends on the bus to do it.  I think it's something every visitor to Egypt should try at least once unless you have either a health condition or claustrophobia.  I normally don't have any trouble with claustrophobia myself, but when I entered that pyramid in 1999 I definitely felt very uneasy.  The air was hot and close, the passage was narrow with a low ceiling that required me to walk bending over at the waist, and I felt as if the massive weight of tons of rock were closing in on me.  It was a fascinating discovery, to realize that under certain circumstances I could feel claustrophobic.  Well, that was five years ago, and I didn't feel the need to repeat that experience on this trip.  Those members of our group who did choose to enter the pyramid reported feelings similar to the ones I felt when I did it in the past.

Once again we sat around on the bus for 30 minutes waiting for people who didn't bother to return by the time the guides had set for returning.  Once again I found myself feeling very irritated with selfish people who didn't respect other people's time.  Grrrr.

The Perfume Shop
At last the stragglers saw fit to join the rest of us on the bus, and the tour guides decided to take us to a perfume shop.  We were allegedly going to be shown how perfume is made. Well, not exactly. We were seated in a group and served tea.  The shop representative offered one or two sentences about how perfumes are made, and then launched into his sales pitch.  A few selected perfumes were daubed on our wrists to tempt our wallets. Then the shopping began.  

Lunch, The Sphinx, The Jewelry Shop
We went to a buffet place that overlooked the Sphinx for lunch.  When we were done eating, our guides instructed us to take 15-20 minutes for photos, then board the bus so we could move on. 

Once again, certain people took much longer than the time allocated. It became apparent there was a pattern of repeat offenders.  I wonder if these people even noticed the sullen, resentful expressions on 40 faces when they finally sauntered onto the bus.

In the morning, the guides had said our camel rides would occur while we were at the Sphinx.  However, instead of taking us to the camel rides, they took us to a jewelry shop.  In addition to jewelry, the shop offered a diverse range of the customary souvenir shop merchandise.  The group as a whole went into shopping frenzy.

The Papyrus Shop
By the time we were done at the jewelry shop, it was almost 5:00 p.m.  Although we were originally scheduled to return to the hotel around 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., the guides had one more place they wanted to take us: a shop that sells papyrus. The place closes at 5:00, but the guides called it and said they had a busload of 40 people, so the shop decided to stay open for our benefit. 

Before we went in, the guides told us we should not order any custom-painted papyri, because there wasn't time for the work to be done before we needed to leave.  They told us we should take only 15 minutes.  Well, by now you've probably guessed it.  Some people went ahead and requested custom-painted papyri in spite of the guides telling them not to, so the rest of us had to wait while their pieces were done.  A stop that was supposed to take only 15 minutes dragged into 45.  We finally returned to the hotel around 6:00 p.m., a couple of hours later than originally intended.

The Nile Maxim
Because of the many delays throughout the day, we had only an hour to freshen up for the Nile Maxim dinner cruise.  The Nile Maxim is a river boat restaurant that serves an elegant dinner and entertains diners with an Oriental dance show.  The dancers that it features are generally high-quality up-and-coming dancers.  In 1999, I saw the Argentinian dancer Asmahan perform on it.  We were hoping that this time the performer would be Randa Kamel, but as it happened she wasn't available and someone else danced instead.

The show opened with a performance of a theatricalized (very theatricalized) tannoura (whirling dervish, Egyptian style) by a male dancer named Hakim.  It seemed a little incongruous to me that the band was playing Mohammed Abdel Wahab's song Cleopatra as he whirled, because normally, whirling dervishes use religious music even in a secular presentation.  But to his credit, Hakim was skilled at spinning and doing the expected "tricks" with the frame drums and skirts.


The Oriental dancer for the evening was Hanadi.

Hanadi had a playful stage personality, and was enjoyable to watch.  Her style reminded me of a blend between baladi and Dina.  She opened the show wearing a yellow bra/skirt outfit. The current fashion among the young dancers in Egypt seems to be to abandon the use of a separate belt. Instead, they favor slinky skirts that are embellished with a design around the top edge that coordinates with the bra.

Dina may have been the first well-known dancer to introduce butt-wiggling when she made the "jewel" move famous, but many of today's generation of up-and-coming dancers have incorporated that into their own styles.  

Not only did Hanadi frequently incorporate the jewel into her dancing, she added further moves to emphasize her own shapely gluteus maximus.  One move in particular involved bending forward from the hips Dina-like, then using little hip twists to slowly move her body in its own circle until her rear assets were directly facing the audience.  In this position, she did just a few more little twists to make sure everyone got a good look before returning to a more mainstream series of moves.  On the one hand, it was kind of cute and worked well with her personality.  On the other hand, it seemed to extend the sort of invitation that I would rather not extend to my audiences.

At the end of this set, Hanadi breezed offstage and disappeared.  Her band kept playing, which was our signal that we could expect a second set.

Hanadi returned before long wearing a brilliant white costume that contrasted well with the scene around her.  She was accompanied by two musicians in folkloric garb, one playing a mizmar (oboe-like folk instrument) and the other playing a tabla baladi (folkloric drum).  The musicians on stage played along too.

En route to the stage, she captured two members of our group, Della from Omaha, Nebraska, and Tarik Sultan from New York, and urged them to accompany her to the stage and dance with her.

For this second set, she wore a white bra/skirt ensemble.  This skirt was a very sheer chiffon fabric with one slit up the front over one leg.  Under it was a pair of boy-leg shorts to cover the necessary parts.  It looked odd to me to see those shorts under the skirt throughout her set, but she isn't the first Egyptian dancer to wear such an ensemble and probably won't be the last!

The shorts emphasized Hanadi's gluteal jewels (I'm referring to the hip twist jewel movement here) even more than her earlier yellow costume did.  Fortunately, her well-muscled body didn't seem to have an ounce of fat and she managed to look fabulous even when twisting her ass-ets right in my face as I knelt at the side of the stage with my camera.  I didn't take a picture of that particular rear view, but I snapped one when she did the move facing a different angle later in the show. In hindsight (pun intended), I somewhat wish I had captured the moment when she was right in front of me.

Once the show ended, there was still a little time before the boat returned to dock. Many of us headed out on the deck to enjoy the beautiful night air and offer ourselves to the mosquitos for a dining experience of their own. At least one member of our group was a bit green around the gills from seasickness, but most people were enjoying the beautiful night and the gentle rocking motion of the boat on the water.  Eventually, the boat docked and we returned to our hotel to rest up for the serious shopping that awaited us in the morning.
More coming!

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Ready for more?
First Two Days
Day 3: First Look at Egyptian History
Day 5: Shop-portunities and Whirling Dervishes
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

Last years report-
6-16-03 Breaking News from the Ahlan wa Sahlan 2003 in Cairo reported by Shira
The flavor of the instruction and dancing are very different from that offered by the U.S. festivals, and it offers an exciting opportunity for immersion in the Egyptian dance arts.

6-29-03 Photos from the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival, The Opening Night Gala by Tahseen Alkoudsi and Shira
held at the Mena House Oberoi Hotel on June 10-17, Cairo, Egypt.
Raqia Hassan's Dance Festival (Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2000) By Latifa
Then my dance idol, Suhair Zaki, walked in, creating eddies of excitement that ran through the crowd.

6-25-04 Romancing the Road (The Bousada Troupe Tours) by Yasmela
We carved our own niche, created our own style, scandalized, delighted, educated and entertained everyone around us, including ourselves. We were “Bou-Saada”.

6-24-04 Saving Grace, Belly Dance Comics by Alexandria
"Could I sit here for a few moments?"





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