It's curious being here with a VIP. As organiser of the Bellydance Congress, Jo is very much in demand. Other international teachers, who previously didn't show much interest in the UK scene, are falling over themselves to say 'hello'. As Jo admits, it makes her life much easier.
I'm enjoying meeting new people - and bumping into dancers I have met at other workshops, such as Bernard from Paris and Raja, from Lille - a truly wonderful dancer, full of passion and flair, who I first met at a Horatio and Beata Intensive and then performed with in a show in Biarritz when a Parisian dancer fell ill. (My abiding memory is of her stunning finale - and of getting locked out of the theatre with my friend Yvonne during rehearsals and having to scale a wall to get in, only to find that there was no time for me to practise with the orchestra, or even mark through what I was going to do to somebody else's music in front of an audience of 500 people.)
That ranks as one of my scariest experiences, but the masterclass with Mona el Said wasn't far behind. My God, she's the ultimate maa’lima (boss woman). She gave short shrift to anyone wishing to sit down, telling them that they should go back to their room if they were tired, and told the people on the door to shut it in no uncertain terms.
But she danced with such passion that she made me cry. She doesn’t teach as such, you just follow her dancing to a piece of music, which keeps you on your toes as the choreography changes each time she dances. She used all the signature moves I have seen in videos of her over the years. I’m not sure how the younger dancers felt about her, some looked rather bemused. I was interested to see that there were (only!) about 80 students in the workshop, compared with 150 for Soraya and nearly 200 for Randa. But Jo and I agreed that she’s a legend and has to be respected as such. It was dancers like her and Fifi Abdou that made me fall in love with this dance.
Eagar to meet one of the stars of yesteryear, for once Jo and I did beat off the hoards of devotees to have our photo taken with Mona - thankfully she still has a great affection for London, where she had a nightclub, the Omar Khaiyyam, for many years.
The workshop style was in stark contrast with the one we began the day with - Momo Kadous' oriental choreography. Momo is a highly-respected Egyptian teacher/choreographer who is based in Germany. The class was very well structured - and he even did a warm up!!! He has a Redaesque, quite balletic style which I’m not good at, but feels lovely to do. It was fun to learn step combinations and be able to glide around the floor. He used a gorgeous, and very varied, piece of Oriental music and the movements fitted it perfectly. I particularly like the Samai section.
At the end of the workshop we went shopping (again). There really is an amazing array of stalls - the belly dance business is really booming. They’re totally geared towards the international market, accepting US dollars, English pounds and Euros as well as Egyptian pounds, and selling everything from traditional galebayas and cabaret costumes to Isis wings and all things tribal.
In fact, 'Tribal' is very much the 'in-thing'. There are workshops in Bedouin Tribal, Tribal Fusion, Gypsy Tribal and even Egyptian Tribal, whatever that is. Teachers seem to have found ways of tapping into this increasingly popular style, however tenuous the link.
In the evening we went off to the home of Keti Sharif, an Australian dancer and teacher based in Cairo (pictured here with Jo and myself). I’ve long been a fan of her website and she was very keen to see Jo again. We had a lovely time; she’s fun and down-to-earth and it was really nice to get away from the bustle of the festival. She is organising The Sphinx Festival next February which sounds really interesting - more MBS than dance, with workshops on Sacred Geometry, the masculine and feminine in Egyptian dance and other esoteric aspects of Egyptian culture. Definitely worth looking out for.