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The Gilded Serpent presents...
Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival 2004
Day 8: Side Trips
Part 2: The Parisiana

Travel Journal by Shira

Tuesday Night, June 29, 2004. The Parisiana is a nightclub on Pyramid Street in Giza which is owned by the famous Egyptian dancer Lucy and her husband.  If you're not familiar with Lucy, she was the dancer who appeared in the National Geographic special titled Cairo Unveiled, which was aired on public television around 1998 or so.  She is one of the top dancers in Egypt.

Knowing that the Parisiana's show was scheduled to begin at midnight, we asked our driver Yehiya to pick us up at 11:30 p.m. to take us there.  It takes about 15 minutes to get to the Parisiana from the Mena House hotel.  We decided we wanted to get there early enough to see the full show, rather than waiting until strategically later to just watch Lucy.  Glee and Saqra accompanied me again for this evening's adventure, plus Della from Omaha decided to join in the fun.  Before we got in the car with Yehiya, I made a second attempt to talk about the price of his services for our evening adventure.  And once again he coyly told me we'd talk about it after the evening was over, after we returned to the hotel.

Upon arriving at the Parisiana, Yehiya had us wait in the car a moment while he went in first on our behalf.  I'm not quite sure what his purpose was.  To confirm that they were indeed open and ready for business?  To confirm that Lucy would indeed be dancing this night?  To ask them to arrange a good table for us?  To do a bit of relationship-building to demonstrate to them that he, a local, brought in good customers?  I really don't know.  But he did whatever he went in to do, and then he came back to the car to tell us to head on in.  He handed us over to the host, and we made arrangements for me to phone him on his cell in about 6 hours when we were ready to be picked up.

Della, Glee, and SaqraIn this photo, from left to right, you can see Della, Glee, and Saqra.  At the end of the table closest to the camera, you can see a bowl of beautifully-scented fresh roses that had been placed on our table.

We had a little blip when we were told that the evening cover charge was 261 Egyptian pounds (about $45 U.S.) instead of the 180 Egyptian pounds ($30 U.S.) we had been quoted earlier in the day. Yehiya confirmed that we had been told 180 pounds, but the host showed us a promotional flyer with the 261 pound price on it. 

Even at 261 pounds, it's still a decent price to pay for a 6-hour dinner show that includes a performance by one of Egypt's top Oriental dance stars.  Heck, I own a video of Lucy performing that cost me more than that.  Once the discussion about the cover charge was resolved, Yehiya wished us a good time and disappeared.

I was delighted when the host led us to a table directly in front of the stage.  There was no way any other table could be placed in our line of sight - it was a perfect angle for me to take excellent photos of the show!  The serving staff didn't speak English very well, but they were friendly and attentive.  The evening got off to a very promising start.

They asked us what time we wanted to be served dinner.  I invited input from the others, and they all put me in charge of deciding.  So I decided to request that we be served immediately.  My rational was that this was the best way to ensure that our food would be served hot and fresh.  In Egypt, restaurant food handling standards are not always as cautious as in the U.S., nor are inspectors as rigorous as those in the U.S. Therefore, food poisoning can occur.  I have no idea whether my conjecture was correct, but I imagined that the Parisiana probably prepares all the food early in the evening, then leaves it sitting out on the counter when done. My strategy was to eat as early as possible to minimize the time our food would spend on the counter.

When we ordered our meals, the server suggested I try the mixed grill.  It sounded appetizing, so I went for it.  Saqra then asked me what I had ordered, so I told her.  She told the waiter she would have the same thing I was having.  When I raised an eyebrow, she informed me that I was the only person at the table whose gut was still functioning normally, so obviously I knew something about food choices in Egypt that they didn't.  Well, I'm not so sure I'm any sort of expert on what to eat in Egypt, but I couldn't dispute the fact that my body was still being kind to me.  I told her I was flattered by her confidence but couldn't make any promises that my good luck would hold!  (I'm happy to report that my good luck did indeed hold.)

The serving staff brought us glossy programs that showed what the evening's entertainment line-up would be. 

The Golden Show
This was highly entertaining, in a "so bad it's funny" kind of way.  An ensemble of five young women (whom I'm guessing were all Russian - from the announcement I caught that one was named Olga and another Katia, and they all looked Russian) did a troupe performance that was sort of a blend of European burlesque with Egyptian Oriental. 

I was a little surprised to notice they were performing to taped music instead of a live band. In Egypt, live bands are the norm.  I should have realized that the lack of a live band was a sign as to just what level of status this particular act held in the eyes of their employers.

The five dancers strutted onto the stage and my first reaction was, "Oh my."  Each wore a white bra with a design of colored jewels spiraling into a bulls-eye with the center target right at the nipple.  On the bottom half, each wore a pair of short-short white hiphugger hot pants.  Over the top of these hot pants, each wore a white G-string with a design in colored jewels that echoed the design on the bra.  Thin white gauntlets covered their arms, running all the way from the hand nearly up to the armpit, and from these gauntlets dangled silly-looking feather streamers, sort of like the marabou trim often seen on lingerie in the U.S.  Each had a brightly colored tuft of a plumper sort of feather at the end.

Across their rears, they had "tails" of dangling feathers made of the same material as the arm streamers, with brightly colored plumper feather "tassels" on the ends.  It gave me a whole new perspective on the dancer Morocco's use of the term "shaking one's tail feathers" to refer to shimmies.

Attached to each dancer's upper back was a crest of more feathers, in the same bright colors as the tufts at the bottoms of the "wings" and "tails".

In this memorable garb, the dancers performed a series of choreography that seemed to be inspired by French burlesque.  Which I guess is a logical fit for a nightclub whose name is the Parisiana.  There admittedly weren't any high cancan kicks or mooning, but there was a lot of strutting and such.

Let me assure you, that even though I have seen the "bra teamed with hot pants, G-strings, and lots of feathers" look at a club in Egypt, I have no intention of parading onto any U.S. stage thusly garbed any time soon with claims of doing an authentic Egyptian dance.  That would be wrong on so many levels, beginning with the "good taste" level.

Our mezza (appetizers) arrived while this show was in progress.  Saqra looked to me for guidance on which to eat and which not.  I gave thumbs up to the hummous, baba ganouj, and dolma, but thumbs down to the tabouli.  I love tabouli, but it's made from fresh parsley, which is washed in tap water.  Tap water contains. well, it contains things that make our guts rebellious, and I wasn't in the mood to invite my gut to rebel.

But I digress.  Back to the colorful action on stage!

One of the "golden girls" slipped quietly offstage during the opening number, so when the rest of the group finished the opening production number, she was all changed into her costume for the next piece and ready to re-emerge with it.  She wore a simple but attractive bedleh (bra/belt/skirt costume).  The skirt was quite sheer, with those white hot pants underneath.

Eventually, her colleagues also re-emerged, each of them also in bedleh costumes.  Each of them was in a different color.  Each costume was attractive in its own right.  All had front slits positioned to exhibit maximum views of shapely legs, but were still in good taste. 

Clad as they now were in bedleh, these dancers now did choreography that was based on more Oriental moves.  There were some shimmies, some hip work. Unfortunately, throughout their set, the Golden Show dancers exhibited slumped posture, disinterested facial expressions, and low energy.  They made it appear as though this job was drudge work rather than joyful artistic expression.  Their dance technique was not precise, and their synchronization with each other was a bit sloppy.  They were going through the motions of dancing, but without the heart and soul that makes dance such a lovely performing art.

One by one, each of them exited the stage so they could begin the costume changes required to prepare themselves for the next set.  The transitions from one piece to another throughout this show were handled reasonably seamlessly, and it offers a useful perspective on how to organize a varied troupe show with costume changes.  As each choreography drew to a close, at least one person was typically ready in the next costume for the next piece to come out and begin the set.

The costumes for the next set were black vinyl.  Each dancer's costume was subtly different.  The common theme was black vinyl skimpy tops and bottoms.  The tops varied from bras to one-shoulder tops to halter tops.  The bottoms included miniskirts (some with slits) and hot pants.  I have to hand it to these women - although I found their stage personalities to be rather uninspired, they had beautiful bodies that (for the most part) looked attractive in these skimpy costumes. They weren't model-thin by U.S. standards, but that was fine with me.  I thought they looked healthy, fit, and muscular.

I shook my head when the next costume motif appeared on stage.  I'm sorry, but ruffled lime green miniskirts with wrist ruffles are not an attractive look.  Even on athletic, fit, pretty young women like these.

Little did I know they were about to make me regret that thought.  Their next costumes were even worse.

Yikes!  I guess these costumes looked fine from the neck up.  (Mostly because from the neck up there were no costume pieces, just the pretty faces and hair styles of the dancers.)  But the rest of the garb made me shake my head.  Day-glo colors that were made even more vivid by the black lights in the club.  I'll try to describe the key components of this garb starting at the feet and working my way upward:

  • Chunky silver high heels.
  • Spats from the arches of the foot all the way up to just above the knee. 
  • Brightly colored ruffles running from the knee down to the ankle.  Fishnet stockings in matching day-glo colors covering the upper leg.
  • Short-short hot pants that allowed their butt cheeks to dangle freely out the bottom.
  • Contrasting colors of thongs worn over the top of those hot pants. In the front, these thongs are decorated with fine upholstery trim thread tassels.
  • Sheer chiffon loincloths over the thongs in the rear.
  • More upholstery tassels slapped haphazardly on the cups of the bras.
  • Gauntlets running from fingers to above the elbow in colors to match the spats.
  • Ruffles running up the arms from wrist to elbow to echo the look of the lower legs.

So, there you have it.  Ghastly, really.  So I did what any self-respecting audience member would do when confronted with such a spectacle.  I laughed.  I took pictures. I felt sorry for these poor dancers, being required to wear such things in public.  I began to understand why their demeanors seemed unenthusiastic throughout the earlier part of the show - I wouldn't look enthusiastic either if I knew I was doomed to be such a fashion victim later in the show.

I considered that people desperate for a job will go to desperate measures such as wearing these garments. I cringed at the idea of a U.S. dancer seeing this in Cairo and concluding it would therefore be appropriate to wear something similar for a show at their local New York restaurant all in the name of dressing just exactly like the dancers they saw in Cairo.  I imagined how I would react if I saw this on stage at a Rakkasah festival.

I was so distracted by this spectacle that I really didn't even notice what the dancing was like for this piece.

Thankfully, The Golden Show ended with the dancers clad in black and red costumes that were actually cute.  I liked the clean, elegant lines of their wrap skirts over hot pants with coordinating bras and sleeves.  It cleansed the palate of my poor brain that had been stunned by the previous display.  These black and red costumes came across as flattering for pretty much everybody in the ensemble, and they finished their set leaving a pleasant aftertaste.

The First Singer
After The Golden Show ended, it was time for the first singer of the evening to perform. We had a bit of down time while her band set up. 

I enjoyed this singer.  Her stage personality was cute and spunky.  Her dress was really cute, and flattered her figure well.  (Unfortunately, the color red sometimes adds the illusion of extra pounds in photos, but trust me when I tell you that in person she looked great in it.) 

Frequently, during the instrumental interludes in her songs she shimmied or otherwise moved her hips just a bit.  Always ladylike, always cute.  The tone of her performance was that of someone who was enjoying the music so much she just couldn't quite stand still.

The singer plucked a rose out of our bowl of fresh roses and handed it to Della.  We persuaded Della to tuck it behind one ear. The singer noticed and enjoyed it. She favored Della with additional special attention throughout the rest of her performance.

Sitting across the stage from us was a table of Arab men.  One of them seemed to be gazing at one of my companions, particularly after the singer had lured her up on stage to dance just a little bit.  (Other audience members also took brief turns boogying with this singer.)  That Arab man's gaze kept boring into my friend, making her uncomfortable.  Eventually, she and I decided to trade places, so that I would block the guy's ability to catch her attention.  That seemed to ward off his unwelcome staring and he turned back to minding his own business.

The Second Singer
The second singer had a nice enough voice, but to my thinking she didn't seem to have as much charisma as the earlier one.  Instead of behaving like someone who loves her music, she behaved like someone who was there to walk on stage, do her set, collect her pay, and get out of there. 

But I loved her fascinating dress with its revealing cutouts.  She had the body to look fabulous in it, too!

By now, it was after 3:00 a.m.  That afternoon, we had been told Lucy would dance around 2:00 a.m.  Well, 2:00 had come and gone, and Lucy hadn't appeared yet.  My companions were getting restless.  I wasn't too worried yet, because I knew that when I came to Parisiana in 2003 Lucy hadn't come on until around 3:00 a.m., so I figured we were still in good shape.  When one travels to Egypt, one must expect that all times are approximations with rounding errors.  Sometimes generous rounding errors.

The Broom Dancer
The time had come for the second singer's band to tear down and the next band to set up.  This was the largest band yet of the evening, which boded well.  The bigger the star, the larger the band.  Who says size doesn't matter?

When the "broom dancer" came out to sweep the stage, while the band was setting up I knew the moment we had come for was drawing near:  Lucy's performance!  He was very meticulous, paying careful attention to detail, another sign that he was probably preparing the stage for Lucy herself.

The Star!
At last, approximately 3:30 a.m., the band started to play an energetic song, and Lucy strode proudly onto the stage.

True to the current style in Cairo, Lucy wore a bra/skirt set rather than the traditional draped-in-fringe bra/belt set with skirt.  On her arms, Lucy wore detached sleeves to match the bra/skirt set, and ankle jewelry completed the look. The black and silver color looked flattering on her, and a slit up the front of her straight skirt showed off one leg to top advantage.  Her feet were bare.

When Lucy entered, she seemed distracted.  After an initial turn around the stage, she paused on one side, reached down to the floor, and adjusted a brace on one foot.  Suddenly the reason for her distraction became clear - she was having some kind of foot pain, and the brace she was wearing to control it was not proving effective.  The adjustment appeared to have helped the situation.  Her facial expression brightened up, and suddenly the charisma I remembered from 2003 was there in full force.

Lucy's dance style began somewhat simply, and gradually built in complexity as her show progressed.  I enjoyed her opening set very much.  Eventually, she left the stage for her first costume change.

When Lucy returned to the stage, she was wearing a vivid orange outfit of costume bra with skin-tight spandex bellbottoms.  To make the bellbottoms even more risqué, there were cutouts with beige insets to give the illusion of bare skin.

  I didn't have a problem with the amount of skin that this costume exposed, but I didn't think the overall effect of this garb was particularly flattering to her figure.  If she wanted to be bold and daring, she certainly achieved that. 

This second set of Lucy's show was more singing-oriented than dancing.  Lucy is a multi-talented performer who both sings and dances.  She has a pleasant singing voice.

Joining Lucy on stage was another singer, a man wearing a suit with a silly-looking bright red tarboosh with a black tassel on his head.  They sang an extended-length duet.  I didn't recognize the song, but judging from the way they postured and gestured, it came across as a lovers' quarrel.  At times, they mimed him swatting her with his Saidi stick.

Sadly, about this time the memory card in my digital camera filled up and I was not able to take any more photos.  I hadn't thought to bring another one with me.  I had believed I had inserted a one-gigabyte memory card into my camera before leaving the hotel, but instead I had mistakenly grabbed the 256-megabyte one.  And because I believed I had a gigabyte of storage to work with, I hadn't believed it necessary to bring a spare. 

So you'll have to use your imagination with me as I describe the rest of the evening.

After her orange bell bottoms, Lucy had two other costume changes.  One was folkloric, the other another Oriental. 

At one point during her show, Lucy asked all four of us from our table to come up on stage with her.  Glee chose to stay in her seat and watch, but Saqra, Della, and I all accepted the invitation.  We had great fun dancing on stage with Lucy.  Some Arab guys sitting off to the side of the stage (a different table from the one I mentioned before) tried to get up and come on stage with us, but Lucy made them stay in their seats.  I appreciated that. She made me feel like I was under her protection. We had fun looking at which moves she was doing and trying to match her.

Near the end of Lucy's show, Della thought it would be nice to tip her.  Several other patrons had already tossed money showers over Lucy, so Della went up on stage and did the same. Every time a money shower occurred, a young man immediately scurried over to the fallen bills and collected them for her.

After Lucy's Performance
Eventually, the evening drew to a close.  Lucy's performance ended around 5:30 a.m.  We wearily paid our drink tab, tipped the servers, and battled the rude, ugly, obnoxious pig of a professional photographer who had snapped pictures of us earlier in the evening.  He was trying to extort 40 pounds (about $7 U.S.) from each of us, trying to force us to buy the pictures he had made.  The jackass hadn't even shown us the pictures yet, so we didn't even know whether we liked the way we looked in them or not.  The last straw came when this greedy jerk grabbed some money I had placed on the table for the servers and tried to claim it for himself.  I immediately reached out to grab it from his fat, grubby paw, and we had a tug of war over the money.  I won.

The four of us retreated as a group to the women's room to talk about the whole photographer situation.  I recommended that we insist he show us the pictures.  If we liked them, we could buy them.  If we didn't, well, I didn't see any need to line the pockets of that disgusting creature with my hard-earned money.

Della ended up deciding that she would like to have copies, so she bought a set.  None of the rest of us wanted to patronize the guy after his horrid behavior.  If he hadn't been such a colossal toad, I probably would have bought photos for myself.  But I didn't want to reward such turdliness.

So.  We had paid off our tab and tipped the servers.  We had eaten well, and enjoyed a marathon show of 5 1/2 hours.  I pulled out my cell phone, found Yehiya's business card, and called him to tell him we were ready for our ride back to the hotel.  We had originally stepped outside to check whether he might already be there waiting for us (when he dropped us off, there was some discussion that he might come back on his own around 6:00 a.m. to meet us), but he wasn't.  That was okay, I wasn't really expecting to see him just yet. 

When I reached him, Yehiya instructed me that we should all go back inside the club and wait indoors.  He said he would come inside to find us when he arrived.  This was excellent advice.  In Egypt, respectable women don't loiter on public sidewalks.  I herded my companions back to some comfortable couches in the entry hallway and we waited comfortably.  Glee drifted into a sort of waking doze, while Della, Saqra, and I commiserated about what a detestable lump of lard that horrid photographer had been.

While we were waiting for Yehiya, we had a chance to talk about how much money to offer him, given that I had not been able to coax him to quote a fee.  The others each really wanted to chip in $5 U.S. each, for a total of $20 U.S.  I told them that was really much higher than it should be for the amount of work/time involved, but they felt guilty about making him get up so early in the morning to retrieve us, so I relented. 

Yehiya showed up and came inside to claim us.  We gratefully piled into his car and he took us back to our hotel.  Once we actually arrived at the hotel, Saqra informed me she had thrown in an extra $5 because she had liked his services so much.  Well, I agreed he had taken good care of us, and had been courteous, accommodating, and pleasant.  I allowed myself to be overruled, even though I knew in my heart we were paying much more than the going rate.  Somehow, I ended up with the fistful of money and the duty of negotiating payment.  So I asked him one more time what we owed him, and he teasingly told me it was up to me to decide. I asked him how he'd feel about $25 U.S., and he beamed as he accepted it.  

As I mentioned at the end of my description of the Gayer Anderson museum, if you are traveling to Egypt soon and interested in hiring a driver, drop me a private e-mail and I'll tell you how to contact Yehiya. I felt good about the service we had from him, and I'm happy to recommend him to others.

I stumbled sleepily into my hotel room, ready to get horizontal as swiftly as possible.  My roommate Alexandra woke up when I came in, and informed me that I needed to have my CD for my performance that evening in Morocco's hands by 9:30 a.m. that morning.  Eeek!  I hadn't burned it yet!  I hadn't even yet finalized what song I was going to use!  But that's a story for Day 9.  Stay tuned for my next installment.

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
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
you are here
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

5-28-04 Dance Contests by Yasmela
People being who they are, and dance and art and America being what they are, there will always be the competitive urge, the attitude that success is defined by the amount of your income, the number of your trophies.

5- 26-04 Dance Festival or Shop-a-thon? by Nisima
Shukriya, can you hear me now?

5-24-04 Dancing Darkly: The Phenomenon of Gothic Belly Dance by Laura Tempest Schmidt
This may come as a shock to many, but Gothic Belly Dance isn’t really a new phenomenon, and it’s not just centered in California. First of all, it’s simply a merger of two entities that go well together, like peanut butter and chocolate.

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