At the beginning of the week, we registered and booked the workshops we wanted to do. It's fortunate that the dollar is so weak against the pound because it certainly didn't come cheap! Three-hour 'Super master classes' with the likes of Randa, Dina and Soraya were $80, three-hour master classes were $60, and two-hour classes were $40. Add in the cost of the opening and closing galas and registration, and it's one expensive holiday.
Now that more and more Egyptian teachers are coming to the UK, and there are tailor-made tours such as those organised by Farida Dance, it seems sensible to choose master classes or two-hour classes with the non-Egyptian teachers. Firstly, there were fewer people so you actually got to learn something, and secondly, the subject matter was often more interesting.
For example, I really loved the Tanoura workshop I took with Madrid-based teacher, Mohamed El Sayed. He seemed a gentle, joyful kind of person and it was wonderful to work with live music too; he brought along a singer, req, nay and darbuka players. Mohamed obviously has a big following in Spain and South America as the majority of people in the class were Spanish speakers. This was a big advantage as he didn't speak any English, and I found his translator's English far less comprehensible than Mohamed's Spanish, which fortunately I more or less managed to follow.
After getting used to turning by changing direction and varying arm positions, we all got to spin as a group. Sufis spin only to the left, and this takes some getting used to. Every few minutes there was a dull 'thud' as another person keeled over.
After the break we got to spin in the big Tanoura and Sufi skirts. They really are magnificent. The Tanoura ones are made for performance, much more colourful and weighted with a thick band of rubber, while the Sufi ones are hemmed with very thick rope. Apparently there is only one person in Egypt who makes them. (I was momentarily tempted to buy one for some home spinning but then remembered the excess bagage we'd already accumulated over the previous few days and thought better of it!)
The music has a haunting, meditative quality with an insistent rhythm that builds up in speed. It's a very special feeling having that weight to ground you when you feel that otherwise you are spinning so fast that you might take off. I find sitting still to meditate extremely difficult, but spinning is a great way of clearing the mind.
Maja, a Russian-born dancer based in Miami, gave another interesting class in Gypsy Tribal Fusion. I loved the combination of Arabic, Flamenco and Romany Gypsy movements. At one point she taught us how to use silk fans. We had to make do with plastic plates, which made me smile until Jo pointed out that it was no more ridiculous than making people put a shoe on their head as a candelabrum substitute (which, yes, I have been known to do).
Having said that I felt I learned more from the non-Egyptian teachers, I really enjoyed the piece of choreography we learned at Randa's masterclass.
For the workshop Randa wore a rather spectacular white number to teach in with the kind of uplift that would give Margaret (Krause) a run for her money! In fact her enthusiastic hug when she caught sight of Jo practically propelled her across the floor. Definitely no mean feat of engineering.
The closing Gala was a smaller affair than the opening one - largely because there weren't the big names to attract the same audience. There was a fantastic Saidi band though, which got everybody up dancing.
There was a succession of performances by foreign dancers, trained by Raqia and now performing on the Cairo stage. Each in turn tearfully thanked Raqia for the opportunity she had given them. One thanked Raqia - 'my mother!' - for everything she had done for her. I said to Jo that I'd be happy to do the same for her, but she threatened never to talk to me again if I did. That's gratitude for you.
Towards the end of the evening the Egyptian singer Carika appeared, accompanied by clowns on stilts and even a gorilla! According to Nabila, it's currently very fashionable in Cairo to have this kind of entertainment, and many people are opting for this instead of hiring a dancer.
What was apparent from the dancing, and also the results of the competitions held throughout the week, was that the international bellydance scene is evolving into something more akin to the ballroom dancing scene than the kind of community-based activity that it started as in the UK.
While I think it's great that the bellydance scene is achieving this level of professionalism, I would heate to see it lose its soul in doing so. While good technique gives you the vocabulary to better express the music, for me the dance will always be more about feeling than step combinations. But then, that's a whole other discussion!