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The Gilded Serpent presents...
Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival 2004
Day 9: The Evening Show
by Shira

Wednesday, June 30, 2004. Every night during the week of classes, the Ahlan wa Sahlan festival included an evening of dance performances known as a "Summer Party", featuring the festival attendees. At registration time, people had the opportunity to sign up to perform in one of these. Morocco had made advance arrangements with Raqia Hassan for one Summer Party evening of the festival to be dedicated to her group, and this night, it was our group's turn to perform! There were a small number of performers that night who were not part of our group, but the majority were.

Just three weeks before I left the U.S. to come to Egypt, my 19-year-old cat died. I decided to employ a bit of wallet therapy (shopping) to deal with the grief of losing such a faithful longtime companion. Before leaving the U.S., I found a turquoise dress made by Pharaonics which was exactly what I needed to lift my spirits, lighten my wallet, and wear for my performance in Egypt.

I know it sounds crazy to buy an Egyptian-made costume in the U.S. shortly before going to where they would be so much more affordable, but my need for retail comfort couldn't wait! I was looking forward to performing in this costume for the first time.

I had intentionally left my schedule free of classes this day because I had planned ahead to see Lucy perform the previous night and I wanted to allow myself time to rest after pulling the all-nighter. I was grateful I had made this decision!

The Oriental classes being offered this day included ones taught by Momo Kadous, Nour, Sami Nawar from the Reda troupe, Nani Sabry, and Mona El Said. The folkloric classes included Morocco (sagat) and Farouk Mustafa (Saidi). It would have been nice to attend some of these, but sleep was a higher priority for me! I needed to be well-rested for my upcoming performance this evening.

Although I didn't attend Mona el Said's class, I heard that her attire was somewhat distracting to the students. I'm told that she wore skin-tight spandex hiphugger pants that came to mid-calf like Capri pants. Under these she wore a contrasting color of thong that came up to her waist in both front and back. The thong fit tightly too, causing the skin between it and the top edge of the spandex pants to bulge. There was no hip scarf. Apparently, she taught well. So well that, in fact, the person who told me about her exercise clothes admitted that after a while she quit noticing the thong and skin bulges and was able to concentrate on the moves being taught.

The Evening Show
The dancers appearing in these nightly Summer Party shows were the worldwide festival attendees.  Although many were professional dancers back home, here at the festival all were regarded as "students", which allowed us to perform without being barred by the ban on foreign dancers.  Each dancer was allowed 5 minutes maximum, and we were given a choice between using a live band or tape/CD music.  The dancers using tape/CD music went first. I opted for CD because when I went to the festival in 2003 some of the performers experienced difficulties with the live musicians.

One woman, for example, requested a particular song, but for mysterious reasons the musicians substituted something entirely different that she had never heard before, leaving her to improvise to an entirely unfamiliar piece of music.

For the 2003 festival, the nightly summer parties were held in a nightclub in the Mena House hotel complex. However, for 2004 the large number of festival attendees made it necessary to move the summer parties to a ballroom, and even with this greatly expanded space nearly all the seats were filled each night. Morocco told me later that Raqia's decision to move the Summer Parties to the ballroom was somewhat last-minute, after being overwhelmed by an unexpectedly large number of festival attendees this year. 

This created added expense for Raqia, including not only additional rental/setup fees to the hotel for the larger room but also more expensive costs for lighting and sound system. Consequently, a fee of $10 per dancer was charged for each individual performing in the Summer Parties to cover these unanticipated costs.  Morocco paid this additional expense on behalf of the individuals who were performing from her group.

I don't remember the exact order we all danced in, so I have presented this photo gallery in random order. My own photo appears at the top of this article.  The conditions weren't ideal for taking pictures - our table was some distance from the stage, and there were many heads in the way.  But I'm sure you'll agree my friend Glee did a great job operating a camera she wasn't familiar with under difficult conditions.

The show opened with a performance by Naomi. I had enjoyed meeting her over dinner at the Chinese restaurant the very first night the group had arrived in
Egypt. Throughout our visit to Egypt, I was constantly impressed by the many inventive ways Naomi found to wear the scarves she had brought to cover her hair.

At this Summer Party, Naomi rescued me when I realized I had failed to bring my makeup kit with me from the U.S.  She had several items in her own makeup kit that were a suitable color for me, and I much appreciated her letting me use them!


Alexandra from New York had been my roommate when I attended the festival in 2003, and we had been so compatible that Morocco arranged for us to share a room again this year. Although her day job is that of a school teacher, Alexandra is also an artist. It was fascinating to explore Cairo with her because she helped me see Egypt through the eye of an artist.

Alexandra danced to an upbeat Egyptian pop song and also appeared later in the show with Morocco's dance company. She had been very conscientious about rehearsing this solo in our Mena House hotel room, and it was fun to see it all come together in full costume on stage.

Tarik Sultan
Tarik Sultan from New York incorporated balancing a shisha pipe and doing floor work into his act.  He works closely with Morocco as the assistant director of her dance company, the Casbah Dance Experience. Male dancers performing Oriental style (as opposed to folkloric dance) are rare in Egypt, so his performance was a big hit with the audience, especially the local Egyptians. Later in the show, he also did a duet with Morocco.

Mary Ann
This evening was particularly meaningful for Mary Ann from Springfield, Missouri. Her instructor, Jasara, had also dreamed of coming to Egypt and had considered coming with our group, but fell ill and passed away. Mary Ann decided to come to Egypt anyway, and brought with her Jasara's eulogy which included a favorite photo of Jasara on the front cover.

Mary Ann told me, "When we came to the hill looking down on the Giza plateau, a feeling came over me that this would be the perfect picture of her and her dream.  I placed the eulogy between the two biggest pyramids and took the picture. I know she was looking down on me and was truly happy. I know she is proud of me and the rest of the troupe for keeping on as best as we can.

For my solo performance in Egypt, I used a song to which she had danced in the past. I remember her dancing to the song in a beautiful red bedlah. It was and still is my favorite performance of hers. So, I thought, what better way to remember and honor her than to perform a solo to the same song. My solo went beautifully and I could feel her presence and knew she was proud. Having been to Egypt and experienced it for myself, I have gained an even greater appreciation for the dance. I would like to think Jasara experienced Egypt through me. Jasara opened the door for me to enjoy the dance that will now be a lifelong passion. I know I will return to continue my studies of this most exquisite form of dance."

Denise from New York performed to the Arabic pop song Sabry Alil by Shareen. I had also met Denise for the first time in 2003 as part of Morocco's small group of Ahlan wa Sahlan attendees. In 2003, Denise and I both attended an enjoyable workshop in which Hamada Hossam taught a mischievous choreographed dance to Sabry Alil that had some almost comedic moves such as finger pointing reminiscent of John Travolta in the movie Saturday Night Fever.

For her performance in this show, Denise worked with Morocco to make many modifications to Hamada's original dance, removing some moves such as the finger pointing that were just a bit too tongue-in-cheek and replacing them with things that worked better for her own personal style. The resulting dance was still fun-loving and playful, and I enjoyed seeing the outcome.


Ariel from Tennessee sparked energetic audience response for her joyful dance. I had originally met her in 2003 when we both came to the Ahlan wa Sahlan festival with Morocco, and I enjoyed spending additional time with her this year. One night, while our group was still staying at the Victoria hotel, Ariel, Glee, and I all sat up until 3:00 a.m. chatting and becoming better acquainted. Glee and I were happy to cheer her on in this show. Her personality on stage demonstrated a genuine enthusiasm and love for the dance.


Karin from New York did both a solo and an appearance with Morocco's dance company. She roomed with Morocco during our stay in Egypt, and assisted her with many of the logistics of dealing with our large group - helping distribute keys to hotel rooms, helping contact members of our group to notify us of announcements Morocco wanted us to receive, etc.  I had met Karin twice before, once in 2000 when we both traveled with Morocco's tour group to Turkey, and again in 2003 when we came to Egypt with Morocco for the Ahlan wa Sahlan festival.

Other members of our group performed as well, including some brave individuals who waited for the live band and danced with them.  Unfortunately, Glee and I weren't able to snap pictures of all of them, and other people from our group who shared with me photos they had taken didn't cover everyone I had missed. 

A professional photographer was on hand to take photos of everyone.  He snapped three of me, one of which I found attractive enough to purchase.  Some people were delighted with his photos of them, while others were disappointed.  One person was disappointed that he didn't take any photos of her at all.  But that's always the way it goes with photographers!

Leonor from New York performed both a solo and an appearance with Morocco's dance company. She had brought her 4-year-old daughter Sophia with her on this trip to Egypt, and many members of our group were enchanted with the adorable youngster. My roommate Alexandra had a wonderful time creating dance costumes for Sophia's dolls using scraps of fabric that Alexandra had with her, and she used her camcorder to make a little movie about the dolls' adventures in Egypt.

Through the travel agency that coordinated our group's arrangements for the trip, Leonor hired a nanny to help look after Sophia while she was involved in the more adult-oriented activities of our trip such as the dance classes. It worked out very well for everybody.

Casbah Dance Experience
There aren't many group performances in the Ahlan wa Sahlan summer parties, because it can be difficult for multiple members of a troupe to find the time and money to travel to Egypt together. For that reason, the performance by Morocco's dance company, the Casbah Dance Experience, provided an enjoyable change of pace in the evening show.

Throughout the week leading up to our performance, my roommate Alexandra was working with other members of the group to carve out time and places to rehearse.  I definitely admired their dedication! 

To their credit, their hard work paid off well. They delivered a performance that was sharp and precise.  In this photo, the dancers from left to right are Leonor, Denise, Marisa, Karin, and Alexandra. Together, these dancers gave Morocco reason to be proud of them!


Mara al Nil
Although she didn't perform in the show, Mara al Nil attended it to cheer on the rest of us. From stage, looking out over the packed ballroom, it was definitely nice to see some friendly, familiar faces! I definitely appreciated the support!


Duet Featuring Tarik Sultan and Morocco

Morocco and Tarik Sultan performed an elegant duet together. At times, the choreography flowed with them dancing in unison, and at other times their moves complemented each other.  Their dance was truly an audience pleaser.


I have known Yolanda from Palo Alto, California for many years, and it's always a pleasure to see her dance. She always displays a sparkling on-stage personality, combined with sharp technique. I was sorry to miss her performance in this show, but she had opted to dance with live music and I was too worn out from my previous night's outing to stay up for it. She was gracious enough to provide me with this photo from her own camera.

Yolanda's daughter Lulu was our youngest performer this evening. She has been dancing in public for many years, and is clearly an up-and-coming star.  Unfortunately, I had to miss her performance too due to my early bedtime. She danced with the live band.  The evening of the opening gala, I was sitting next to her and we "shared the experience" of that memorable event together.
Fatinah from New York was another member of our group that I met their very first day in town. I encountered her and Naomi as I was returning to the hotel. They were on their way to shop for a suitable headscarf for Fatinah, as she had not brought one with her from home. Later that evening, I set next to her at dinner at the Chinese restaurant and had an opportunity to get to know her better. Throughout our time in Egypt, her blonde hair was a magnet for attention from many of the Egyptians.
Masouma (Rose) and I have known each other through the San Francisco Bay Area dance community for many years, and it was great having her along on the trip.  She was one of the few brave people from our group who took the chance on dancing to live music in this show.  Unfortunately, I didn't have an opportunity to see her performance myself because I was too wiped out from the previous night's all-nighter at the Parisiana.

Of course, the evening would not have been complete without a performance by our fearless leader, Morocco herself!  Dancing in the classical Egyptian style, she showed us all just exactly why she is so widely acclaimed in our field and respected even by the Egyptian dance community.  Thunderous applause greeted the end of her performance, and afterward many of the Egyptians who were teaching at the Ahlan wa Sahlan festival offered her highly positive feedback.

The End of Another Day!
I left before the show ended, because I was worn out from having pulled the all-nighter the night before at the Parisiana.  I was planning to take Randa Kamel's class the next day, so I wanted to get a good night's sleep to rest up and be sharp for it.  In addition, Egypt is a country where smoking is very common, and the air quality in the ballroom was thick with cigarette smoke by the time the evening was half over.  After living in California for 20 years, where smoking in public places is banned, I found it difficult to tolerate for large periods of time.

I was glad the Summer Parties this year were in the ballroom instead of the nightclub.  The larger crowd size really did make it necessary.  The nightclub had offered an intimate atmosphere which had its own advantages, but the larger space of the ballroom ensured that more people could participate in this aspect of the festival.

All in all, I felt my fellow dancers in this show performed beautifully, and I think that as a group we did a fine job of showing what U.S. dancers are capable of.  From Karla, who performed her very first public solo, to our leader Morocco, we showed ourselves to be enthusiastic, tasteful, joyful practitioners of the beautiful art of Oriental dance.

I really wish I could have seen the members of our group who were performing to live music, but I don't think the sight of me face-slamming into my baba-ghanoush would have been viewed as being very supportive.  I also regret that I didn't manage to snap any photos (or find someone else from our group who did) of the other dancers in our group who performed.

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

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

5-16-04 Sirat Al-Ghawazi, Part 2 by Edwina Nearing
Begun in the mid-1970's , the early sections of "Sirat Al-Ghawazi" were first published under the title "The Mystery of the Ghawazi." We are happy to be able to respond to the continued demand for these articles by making them available to our readers worldwide.

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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