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The Gilded Serpent presents...
Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival 2004
Day 5: Shop-portunities and Whirling Dervishes
Travel Journal by Shira

Saturday, June 26, 2004. The agenda for this day was shopping!  Everyone was excited, because it would be the first day our group was unleashed at the Khan al-Khalili (bazaar) and Al-Wikala, Mahmoud's infamous shop packed with 4 stories of dance costumes. It was also our final full day at the Victoria Hotel, and therefore our last opportunity to visit the little mall near our hotel that catered to locals rather than tourists.  Those members of our group who wanted to purchase drums in Egypt were going to be spending their afternoon at Mohammed Ali Street, the district of musicians and dancers.

In the evening, our group would be going to see the tannoura (whirling dervish) show at the Citadel.

Imagine a four-story building packed from top to bottom with beads and sequins.  Now imagine a stampede of 40 belly dancers eager to find terrific Egyptian costumes at affordable prices. It was a feeding frenzy! 

Despite the close quarters, the intense heat, and the frustrations people were having in finding items that fit well, the mood was cheerful, friendly, and cooperative.  People helped each other fasten hooks, tug on zippers, and adjust fit.  Seasoned dancers helped students assess which costumes looked best on them.

After a while, people realized that some of the best costumes weren't even on the racks - they were lying or hanging in the dressing rooms.  When people rejected a piece, they tended to leave it in the dressing room rather than return it to where they found it.  So then the dressing rooms experienced additional activity as people looking for costumes dug through the piles that had accumulated on counter tops and floors.

This time I didn't actually buy anything myself.  Because I was in the process of relocating to a new home 2,000 miles away from my former one, I kept thinking about how my existing collection would be new in the eyes of my new dance community and therefore I didn't really "need" anything more at this time.  Also, I had two costumes at home that I had never yet performed in even once, and it seemed silly to buy yet another when I hadn't yet used what I already had.  But of course, I couldn't resist looking through all the treasures just in case I found something too wonderful to ignore.  Nothing screamed "Buy me! Buy me!" though, so I contented myself with guarding the dressing room door, tugging on zippers, and advising.

The current costuming trend in Egypt favors evening gown type dresses with cutouts (backed with beige fabric) and bra/skirt sets where the top of the skirt is beaded to match the bra.  Long fringe is no longer in style. Some of the bra/skirt sets and dresses have no fringe at all, relying on the tight fit of spandex drawn across the body to showcase the hip movements.  The choices available at Mahmoud's are consistent with this trend.  The bra/belt sets aren't easy to find, and the selection is limited.  Still, several members of our group were delighted to find bra/belt sets that were exactly what they wanted.

Most of the costumes purchased this day at Mahmoud's were in the $200 price range (U.S. dollars) each.  This was true regardless of whether they were evening gowns with accessories (headband, ankle cuffs, gauntlets) or whether they were bra/belt/skirt sets with accessories.  Similar costumes sell in the U.S. for $600-$700.

Khan al Khalili
The rest of the afternoon was free time for everyone to explore the Khan al Khalili (bazaar).  This series of small shops offers typically Egyptian souvenirs:  papyrus paintings, leather items embossed with pharaoh themes, jewelry boxes and drums inlaid with mother of pearl, perfume bottles, alabaster vases, cheap and tacky-looking belly dance "costumes", T-shirts, embroidered caftans, statues, jewelry shaped in Pharaonic designs, and much more.  I decided to wander around solo, taking my time to linger at the places that offered specific items.  Because I've been there twice before, I no longer feel the hunger to bring home "souvenirs from Egypt" for everyone I know. I focused my search on perfume bottles for my collection.

After purchasing my perfume bottles and a couple of T-shirts to use as gifts, I made my way to Reda's shop.  Reda makes magnificently embroidered caftans, and I wanted to see what type of merchandise he is currently offering.  Plus, I had come to know Reda my previous two visits to Egypt, and I was looking forward to saying hello.  He is a very warm person, and always a pleasure to visit.  When I arrived at his shop, I discovered that Morocco, Tarik Sultan, and Karen had already beat me there.  Reda found a chair for me, and I joined in the fun. This photo shows Reda with a couple of his creations hanging on the wall behind him, while Tarik patiently waits for me to finish taking the picture.

I knew it was dangerous to set foot in Reda's shop.  I spent nearly $200 acquiring three of his latest beautiful garments for myself.  One was a full length rose-colored dress/jacket set, and the other was a full-length burgundy hooded jacket that would be lovely to use as a cover-up over a costume.

Mohammed Ali Street
Some members of our group wanted to purchase darabukkas (drums), so Morocco arranged for a friend named Ahmed to escort them to Mohammed Ali Street, which is the part of town that sells musical instruments.  Ahmed led them to the store with the best merchandise, and assisted members of the group with price negotiations. I didn't go with this group so I can't comment further on the experience.

At 5:00 p.m. we reconvened on the bus and returned to our hotel to refresh ourselves, catch a bit of supper, and get ready for the evening outing of watching whirling dervishes.


The Tannoura Show

For several years, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture has been presenting a show of whirling dervishes twice per week at the Citadel.  Known as tannoura, this show demonstrated the Sufi (mystic) practice of whirling, Egyptian style. 

The show began with a concert by the band.  Featured soloists on drum, mizmar, and sagat (finger cymbals) each took a turn playing a set, then stepped back into line to allow someone else to have a turn.  The men were wearing traditional Egyptian gallibiyahs (robes) and turbans.

The man playing sagat was particularly popular with the crowd because of his fun-loving, teasing personality. I had originally seen him as part of this show in 1999.  Back then, his charisma definitely stood out, but he appeared merely as one of the ensemble (although he did have a featured spot to play an instrumental solo).  It was interesting to see how his role has evolved from that of "generic band member" in 1999 to "major cast member" in 2004. 

Following the soloists, the spotters who would be watching the dervish to ensure he didn't spin into harm came on stage holding frame drums.  Before taking their positions as spotters, they performed a choreographed dance as a group.

The music played for tannoura is Sufi religious music.  Instruments for it typically include ney (flute), rebabas, and drums.  A vocalist sings religious lyrics. 

At last the featured soloist entered.  I also saw him when I went to Egypt in 1999 and again in 2003, and I have never grown tired of watching him.  Every time I have seen him, he has appeared to go into a real trance while whirling.  In this photo, he was holding several colorful frame drums on his arms as he spun.  The spotters took their places in a semicircle around him to keep a watchful eye on his safety.

The show ended with a second whirling performance, this one by a trio of young men. It was very interesting to see the difference between their theatrical whirling (complete with ballet-style spotting) versus the first one who allowed himself to become lost in the moment.

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 POSTED 7-9-04
--you are here
Day 6: The Festival Begins POSTED 7-17-04
Day 7: Classes and Free Time POSTED 7-17-04
Day 8: Side Trips, Part 1: Gayer Anderson Museum POSTED 7-25-04
Day 8: Side Trips, Part 2: The Parisiana 7-26-04

Day 9: The Evening Show posted 11-12-04
Day 10: Classes and the Sphinx Speaks posted 11-22-04
Day 11: Camels, Class, & Competitions posted 12-15-04

Last years report-
7-5-04 Cabaret: Is it a dirty word? by Piper Reid Hunt, PhD
American Cabaret, the original fusion belly dance, is accessible and fun for everyone, regardless of one’s dance education.

6-29-04 Zaharr's Memoir, Part 9, A Visit to my Teacher's Teacher, More Street Performing
I believe it is the signature of a gentleman to make a woman feel as if she is the center of his universe, even if it is only for five minutes.

6-19-04 San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival Photo Teaser June 12-27 2004 Palace of Fine Arts photos by Susie Poulelis
Taken last night, you can still see this show tonight and tomorrow and see more next weekend!

6-14-04 The Making of a Bellydance CD by Dunyah
Each phase of the process is expensive, time-consuming, and important.

6- 8-04 Nagwa Sultan: Cairo Soul by Edwina Nearing
Like a number of other Egyptian dancers who retired in the early ‘90s, Nagwa couldn't turn her back on the dance world entirely, however tarnished the glitter had become.

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