Rhea's Adventures!
Egyptian Dance Festival--Intrigue & Chaos

by Rhea Likouri of Athens

I was intrigued when an envelope from Cairo, Egypt, arrived at my studio in Athens, Greece. I regularly receive notices and announcements about international seminars from America and sometimes from Finland, Germany, and England about dance tours to Egypt but had never received anything from the "source." So It was with great curisity that I opened the big white envelope to see what could possibly be in it. A very professional looking but badly spelled agenda spilled out announcing a seminar and series of "galas" to be given in Cairo and somewhere unnamed in another area of Egypt. Famous well-known dancers were mentioned as being on the roster of seminar teachers and performers in these galas which were to take place in such well-known hotels as the Sheraton. Among the sponsors, mostly unknown to me, were names I had seen advertised in Habibi Magazine, although Shareen El-Safy, its editor and producer, was not mentioned as a participant or teacher. I was later to learn that she was, indeed, to participate. I also learned that the seminars and galas were to be in hotels in Sharm El Shaik, on the Red Sea, where I had previously been on my trip to Mount Sinai. So I looked forward to again seeing this charming area. (Imagine my surprise when I later saw a previously pristine natural place hardly touched by tourism glutted with hotels and various tourist shops and eateries. Ah, progress!)

Nagua Fouad, Mahmoud Reda, Horacio and Beata Cifuentes were among those listed as participating in the event. Seminar participants were to be met at the airport and provided with visas and transferred to all hotels and the possibility of snorkeling was mentioned. Shopping trips to Khan El-Khalili and various vendors who would be participating at the out-of-Cairo site were promised. As I usually do with all notices of any events entailing Oriental dance both inside and outside of Greece, I posted this one, but later forgot about it. It all seemed a little confusing and unclear to me, although not expensive. One of my students, Anna, who had been threatening to "get serious" about her dancing and purchase costumes and videos and music, was particularly interested and begged me to go with her. My students know that my primary focus on dance is Turkish, not Egyptian, dance. We had already taken a trip to Istanbul to shop in the main covered Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar, and had seen shows such as were available to tourists. We even visited the so-called "Gypsy" quarter in Instanbul where the real Romany people live, and still the students were left feeling a little unsatisfied.
The dance supplies were more expensive than those to be found in Egypt, although the cymbals, or zills were of good sound and quality. (In Turkish the word "zill" means bell and one rings the zill when one goes to visit. Therefore. it is a generic term, unlike the Egyptian word "zagat" which is more specific). The dancing we saw, be it from the professional or the Romany dancers, was not satisfying to anyone! Also, many of the dancers of the professional variety were not Turkish but Russian or Ukranian. One of them wore a costume purchased from the much loved and now deceased Phillip of Cost Less. So they lacked a certain "ethnic" flair, although one of them was quite acrobatic. But these acrobatics looked more strained than graceful, or pleasing to the eye, or even artful. Everywhere we went and danced ourselves we were feted and made much of,with both the patrons and customers describing our style as being of the "old" school, and something not seen in Turkey nowadays. Of course, the style with which I started and have developed was taught to me by my teacher, Jamila Salimpour, who was teaching in 1968 the popular style of the cabarets and clubs of that day. It was a style which I later learned was predominantly Turkish. This same style I observed in Montreal when I went to dance there in 1988 and 89. I have lived in Greece for 22 years, both dancing in Greek clubs and for tourists, and this is the preferred style. Even though there is an age-old emnity between Greeks and Turks,their cultures are very similar and folk ways more in sync than with the dancing and folk ways of Egypt. Many Egyptian dancers have been brought to Greece to work in the tourist clubs on the Athens By Night circuit, they are soon let go because their style is seen as predominantly «sexy» and not suited to family entertainment. Their dancing is predominantly simple and reduntant, with a lot of gestures that are not universally understood, and the tourists come from all over the world, not only from Egypt. The truth is, for entertainment value, American dancers are preferred in Greece, both in the Greek nightclubs and in the Athens By Night restaurants, although Egyptian stars, such as Fifi Abdou, are regularly brought in by the Egyptian community in Athens.
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So a certain empty space existed, insofar as Egyptian dance is concerned, in Athens. We are fortunate to have Nelly Mazloum to give classes, but she is very much in demand on the International seminar circuit, in addition to having her own studio in Southern Greece and is not always in Athens. Also, having enjoyed a long career as a movie star and dancer in Egypt, she was not about to dance in Greek night clubs or tourist places. It would be very much beneath her very great talent and dignity. We were fortunate to have had Pat Taylor come to Athens and dance in one of our shows and at the Elysee Theater. Her style is definitely Egyptian and many of my students had begged her to teach. Anna had missed her lessons and had been quite chagrined to hear all the others praising her. So she proposed that we go together and participate in this seminar. I was a little dubious as I was unfamiliar with the sponsors and had no idea of their reliability. But when I saw it advertised, along with the participation of Shareen Al-Safy, my fears were put to rest. Why she had not been mentioned in the advertisement sent by the sponsors from Egypt was unknown to me, and it was to prove not the only thing that was not mentioned but appeared, or promised and didn't appear. For a certain fixed price we were promised many things which later were either hotly contested or rearranged or never materialized. But let me not get ahead of myself!

We set off in good spirits, planning to arrive a day early for a modest added fee. We were met at the airport and provided with visas, but did not give over our money, nor were we made aware that if we wanted to avail ourselves of alcoholic beverages, we had better purchase them in duty-free or pay exorbitant rates in the hotels, many of which were allowed by the government only to provide beer. We were dropped off at our hotel with a promise from Mahmoud, our guide, to pick us up later that evening and go for a little jaunt to a hotel which was the rival of Topkapi. He arrived on time and brought a friend, Mohammed, and we set off. Once at the hotel, we were taken for a detailed tour and took many photographs. However, it became obvious that they appeared to be enamored of us and were of the assumption that because we had accompanied them that we were of the same feeling. We, of course, imagined that they were just being courteous and hospitable, and because they were associated with the sponsors would be aboveboard. Still in all, it is not untoward or unheard of for a man to be attracted to a maid, and they proved easy enough to fend off, but I advised Anna that in the future we should not go alone with any men on any unscheduled events, as they had proved more amorous and had gone further in their attempts to become physically familiar with us than any Greek man would have done in the same circumstances. We retired to our hotel only to find that we could have the air conditioning, or the refrigerator but not both due to some reason that was just as unfathomable to the reception desk as it was to us, so we opted for the air conditining. Fortunately for us, before we had left for the evening with our hospitable but lustful guides, we had placed a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator, not realizing that we couldn't also employ the air conditioning. So we went out on the terrace to drink our chilled champagne and looked out over the Cairo night and all the neon signs flashing their messages in Arabic. We retired to our comfortable beds and were awakened the next morning by Mahmoud wanting to offer his services for more unofficial tours. His hospitality knew no bounds. We graciously declined and went down to the lobby to find the sponsors and register and pay our money.

We found the elevator out of order, more easily dealt with when going down than going up eleven flights of stairs and tried in vain to contact the sponsors. We did, however, meet up with many women from just about every country in the world, including some people from Finland. I was already acquainted with the Finns due to my having been invited to participate in a monster seminar and show there in January of 1977. Some of the Finnish women had been in Cairo for three days. When I inquired as to the reason for this jump start into the festival they replied, «So we could get sick and recover before all the fun began!» It turned out that they were old hands at the ins and outs of Egyptian stomach viruses and recommended a very cheap and effective intestinal anatiseptic, Antinal. For a dollar, it proved to be more effective than the twenty dollar stomach malady medicine that I had brought from Athens, and I took it for the remainder of the trip. Once bitten, twice shy, as the old adage goes, and I had spent enough days in my hotel room the last trip to Egypt to take any chances. In fact, in 1977, on my first trip to Egypt, I missed an interview with Nagua Fouad due to
some mysterious ailment that caused me to lose consciousness and vomit in the street, and I vowed never to let myself in for that experience ever again. Once is too much. We waited to meet with the sponsors (who were apparently gathering their money from many festival participants sequestered in many hotels all over the city) and set out to the Cairo sights. We proved to be the source of much attention, perhaps due to Annas blond hair and voluptuous figure, and barely escaped with our lives trying to cross the street. Luckily enough for us, the occupants of the cars were more than willing to attract our attention with their honking, so we managed to avoid the swerving cars with their passengers hanging out of the windows shouting at us in Egyptian. Although there are lines painted on the street for lanes, the drivers merrily ignore them and drive as they please, honking at each other to signal some move or the other, adding to the joyous cacophany of the Cairo streets. All manner of men rushed up to us on the street and tried to cajole us into buying this, that, or the other. We accompanied one of them into his shop as he had been kind enough to help us maneuver the buying of the Antinal in the pharmacy. We were soon to regret it, as he tried to charge us for two thousand percent marked-up parchments, upon which he rapidly lowered his price to ground zero, making us dizzy. When we didn't buy anything, he also asked for money for the refreshment which he had offered us. We left to go back to the hotel and finally found the sponsors five hours later than they had promised to appear. They then tried to talk us into signing up for all of the classes, but would not confirm who would be teaching them and on what days. They did inform us that Nagua Fouad had «backed out» at the last minute due to a television series that she was filming. We imagined that they should have known about this well in advance since Nagua Fouad is known for being very professional and certainly would have known about something as important as a television special. But things do happen in life. Still Anna was bitterly disappointed as Nagua was one of the reasons that we had come in the first place. But we remained of good faith and paid our money for the «all expenses paid» breakfast, one meal a day, all services paid for deal and decided to wait and see how events would unfold. We readied ourselves for the gala show at the Sheraton that included Dina, the troupe of Mahmoud Reda and a fashion show including costumes later to be on sale modeled by some of the festival participants. We were told many times that we should take advantage of half price sales of gorgeous cabaret costumes resembling the outfit Cher wore when she accepted the academy award,and partook of delicious and plentiful food.

Horacio Cifuentes was invited on stage to participate in some of the fun with the troupe show and acquitted himself with grace and good natured aplomb. Although the event was advertised as being all expenses paid, we were required to buy a drink--or leave. In fact, even the people who were modeling the costumes (which they did without pay) were required to buy their bottled water until an American dancer living in Italy assisting the costume designer stood up for their rights and demanded that they, at least, not be required to pay. Anna was particularly fascinated with Dinas dancing style and especially enjoyed the use of different horns in the musical section (very popular in Greece at the present time) which dominated the many-pieced ensemble. She was less enthralled later to discover, when we subsequently viewed Dina for one last time at the Sheraton, that her previously perceived passionately rendered dance was in fact a choreography! Although Greeks are viewed as being the inventors of the word choreography (Horos = dance. Grapho = I write), the modern day Greek prefers to take his dance, as with his life, as it comes to him. So we learned that all the famous dancers have something like a «tableau» which is choreographed for them by someone else and danced for a period of time until such time as they change music, dance and costume. Modern day Greeks would never allow another living soul to interfere with the communication of the Muses and Gods as it was received by their own bodies, spirits, and souls! Should they be required to dance with others, they would reluctantly comply with a choreographed piece, and even then think it okay to have each person do the choreography with his or her own feeling and «way.»

We again returned to our hotel and walked up the eleven flights of stairs to pack our suitcases and make ready for our departure for Sharm Al Shaik and the Red Sea the following day. As the elevator had not yet been fixed the next morning, we descended on foot and ate our breakfast of exotic cheeses, tomatoes, soups and all manner of things with which we were not familiar but enjoyed mightily, and sent the bellhops to fetch our suitcases. Miraculously, the elevators started working and they were able to bring everything downstairs, leaving us to wonder if perhaps the hotel was trying to save money on electricity. We embarked on our journey, battling the Cairo traffic and picked up many dancers staying at many hotels who were not ready. We finally arrived at the pyramids but for some reason were not let out of the tour buses until the especially appointed guide had told us more than we wanted to know about the history of the pyramids. I finally stood up to stretch, and, as if they were shot from guns, all the occupants on the bus stood up as well, overwhelming the tour guide, and making him lose his place. The bus driver assumed that the lecture was over, and opened the bus doors. We needed no second invitation, and quickly escaped to view these ancient marvels. We were quickly accosted by many men with camels trying to persuade us to take rides, and people with trinkets to sell. We again boarded the tour bus and were taken to another pyramid where we would be allowed in. My personal opinion is that these mummies were placed there by their loved ones and never were meant to be seen, as much as the Egyptian government has the right to gain much needed cash by charging people to see them. Mindful of the mummy's revenge, I remained in the pullman and drank tea with the tour guide and his friends. Anna twisted her ankle in the narrow cramped passageways of the pyramid and had to nurse it the rest of the festival. It was to take us until one o'clock at night to finally arrive at our destination, at which time we were famished and had to wake up the Bedouins who were our hosts at a unique bungalow arrangement hotel complex to open the dining area directly adjacent to the sea. We were allowed to choose either fish or meat and ate a delicious repast, after which we gratefully retired to our beds. Fortunately we had air conditioning, but no closets for our clothes. No matter. We lived out of our suitcases, put our toiletries on the bathroom floor, and greeted the next day with anticipation and enthusiasm.

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