It’s been a LOOOOOOONG night. We started with my first gig at 9pm and we have been boy racing around Cairo, gig to gig, ALL night!! We finish my last gig at some crazy time 4am or 4.30am but my manager tells me I’m not finished. We have a gig at 6am. We are going to be filming a TV drama. What? It will show in Ramadan. TV DRAMAS OVER RAMADAN ARE BIG BUSINESS.... Double what??
“How can you spring this stuff on me!”
“I just got the call now.” he acts casual.
I feel that I never get any real time to prepare for these “big” gigs; that I just get rushed in quickly in between my normal gigs. I tell him I need to go home and change. My costume is soaked and anyway it is the same one I wore when we filmed a wedding scene at another big film gig which I never had any time to prepare for.
So this time, I insist we stop off at my home and then we go to the set. It is a night club in down town Cairo.
Tahia's Night Club
But this is no normal night club. This is a FAMOUS old night club that has been around for years. It is called, Sherazade in Emad El Dein. This is the night club which TAHIA CARIOCA would regularly dance and I was even told at one point she owned the club?!
“WOOOOOW are you joking?” I’m in shock.
My manager laughs, “Ha ha yes, you’re going to be in the night club scene.”
We have to go to a hotel just around the corner that they have rented out and wait for our scene. I think we will only be there a few hours max… it turns out NOT!!!
We are there for HOURS and HOURS and HOURS….. WAITING and WAITING. Finally at about 1pm we are called. Remember, I have been awake and in a bellydance costume, and full make up since 8pm the previous day! I feel far from glamorous and EVERYTHING in my body aches…
When the time comes I want to do anything but dance. We go down into the club…. There are sooooo many famous faces around. I recognise so many dancers, actors and singers that I am overwhelmed: DINA, Tarek El Sheikh, Haifa Wehbe, and LOADS OF OTHER ACTORS I RECOGNISE FROM THE TV!!!
Wow! I try to act cool.
Episode 06 - Al Herbaya Series | الحلقة السادسة - مسلسل الحرباية - YouTube
The Director is female. I tell my manager how cool that is. He tries to dismiss it, claiming it’s only because her dad is rich. I tell him off for dismissing her achievements.
The club looks classic. Exactly, I imagine, how the club looked in Tahia Carioca’s time. There is the main stage with velvet curtains behind, lights all around and then loads of tables with cheesy table cloths on and fake bottles of beer.
Last min Costume change
It’s HOT. Really HOT and the air is thick. They can’t put on the air-conditioning because it affects the sound of the recording. The place is full of extras, all employed to fill the club. They are sitting around the tables or standing around the stage. They all look, if I am honest, grumpy, hot and bothered. They have been in this stuffy atmosphere since 6am filming various scenes.
I get on stage. There is an issue. The costume I have on, that I have just sat uncomfortably in for 7 hours whilst waiting in the hotel, is not suitable. It shows too much of my flesh. WHAT! You’re having a laugh. I get shuffled off the stage by the costume director and dragged into a little room. She frantically looks through a box of costumes and starts pulling out AWFUL, cheap bellydance costumes. I cringe and they are all so tiny. Finally she pulls out a dress. A cheap one but at least it isn’t too tacky, but it is black lycra and tight. I don’t have a bra with me so I have to wear it over the bra of my costume….... Goodness me - this is NOT how I envisioned my debut on Egyptian TV!
I get out and feel like an idiot but try to look casual. The director seems happy. During this time the band has arrived and is on the stage with me. I know them. We all say a big, “Hi!” to each other. I was lucky enough to have danced with them on the previous film I’d worked on. They are lovely.
Finally, we start to film and BOOM out comes Dina. She’s in my scene! Not only that, SHE HAS TO WATCH ME AND TALK ABOUT ME!?!? Basically, I am dancing on the stage in the background and Dina is sitting on a table in the crowd with 3 other famous actors and one of the characters is trying to convince her that she should become a bellydancer because she is such a good dancer. Then she points at me and tells Dina’s character that a dancer working here makes over 2000Le a night. Dina’s character acts shocked and starts to consider being a dancer.
I’m trying to act cool but Dina is there in the crowd watching me …. and the WORST THING? I have to dance to NO MUSIC! The band just mimes the instruments and I just dance on the stage to nothing! All the extras have to dance to nothing too.
I’m so hot and the costume is so uncomfortable. I am conscious of being sweaty and the dress having sweat patches. It’s so horrible. We film the scene about 10 times (45min-1hr). I’m dying the whole time. Finally the director is happy.
But I am not done. Dina and the other actors disappear and then we do a whole shoot of just me on the stage actually dancing to live music with the band so they can use the music over lay and the close up takes of my dancing. We do one take and they are happy. I’m like, “What? Just one take!” I can’t even remember how I danced. “Can we go again?” but nope; it’s done. I’m off the stage. The next scene needs to be done.
A little memento
I insist on going back stage to take a photo with Dina. There was a STRICT NO PHOTOS on set or phones on set policy so I have no photos of this moment. I push myself past all the security and get to Dina’s changing room and ask her for a photo. She agrees. I tell her I love her and it was an honour to dance in her scene. She is polite BUT SO NICE. She lets me take a photo and wishes me luck in my career.
FINALLY I GET HOME – I COLLAPSE! It has been a LOOOOOOONG day and I only have 4 hrs before I need to get ready for my evening gigs.
الراقصه زارا مع الفنان محمود الليثي لايف Zara Dance bellydancer live with Mahmood El lithy Cairo - YouTube
Mum often shouts at me, “YOU BROUGHT THIS ON YOURSELF WITH YOUR NEGATIVE THOUGHTS.”
Or mum moans at me, “DON’T THINK LIKE THAT. Be careful of what you attract. Stop dwelling on the bad things and imagined wrongs in your life because that’s like putting out a call to the universe and the universe will hear and send you what you’re thinking about.”
She is adamant that I bring on to me whatever I think. Sometimes I agree that our minds are powerful things. But as much bad stuff as I bring on to myself, I am lucky enough that I bring on good stuff too.
I dance once a week in a lovely, modern lounge bar along the Nile. They have an “Oriental” night once a week with a belly dancer. Sometimes I dance to CDs and sometimes I have a tabla player to accompany me. It is a lot like dancing in the West but more fun as the people know all the songs and sing along. I noticed they go for wild for Mahmood El Lithey (a popular Shaabi singer). I was making the play list for another night at the lounge bar and was looking up Mahmood El Lithey’s newest songs. Out of the 8 songs I was going to dance to, 5 were by Mahmood El Lithey and I thought to myself, not for the first time, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could just have Mahmood El Lithey come and sing for me?!”
Anyway, I go to my gig at the lounge bar that night and everything goes well. Everyone goes wild for the songs and sings along. At the end of the gig my manager comes up to me and tells me I did well and that we are booked for next week and that Mahmood El Lithey will be singing live. I’m like, “Are you JOKING??!!!”
Anyway, the week goes past and I tell him not to mention the gig as it may get cancelled and I don’t want to get too excited. They may even book another dancer and it’s not 100% that I will get to see him because he may not be there at the same time as when I dance. But, I keep imagining it!
The day comes. It starts off badly. The Pope is in town and is driving down the road where my first gig is situated so all the roads and the clubs have been shut. So, my first gig is cancelled. It doesn’t matter. We continue to our next one and the one after. Then we have my 1.30am gig at my regular club. I hear my manager talking to the organisers at the lounge bar, “Yes, we will be there at 1.30am.” But surely we are not going to the lounge bar? We must go my regular gig. I know that under no circumstances can I miss my slot at my regular gig. If you miss your slot once you are off their books. My manager prioritises this over everything as I dance there regularly twice a day and it makes up a big wedge of my pay. It’s 1.30am and I’m at my regular gig, not the lounge bar.
After I finish, I come down and meet my manger, “We are going to the lounge bar”
“But what? Haven’t we missed it? Aren’t we too late?”
“Nah the star is always late.” Was he talking about me or Mahmood?!
We turn up and Mahmood El Lithey is still on the stage. He had started late. I was later. The organiser was there, “Get changed quick Zara. I talked to Mahmood before he started and showed him your pictures and he said it is ok for you to perform with him for his last two songs.”
I whipped on my costume and went to the stage. Hundreds of fans were surrounding him. There is little space. He looks at me. I say, “Ahlan wa sahlan!” and together we finish the last two songs of his set with a BANG!
The power of the mind!?
(though I have to say I didn't vision my self late and still sweating from the previous gig LOL )
Note ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED IN THESE BLOGS for what I think are obvious reasons. Also I am not allowed to take photos or videos of me dancing in most Cabaret clubs so all I have is bathroom selfies ... enjoy
One of the loveliest things that has happened, as a result of working in the different Cabaret Clubs in Cairo, is meeting just so many women who work in the industry: fellow dancers, singers, their technicians/dress assistants (I have made amazing friends with one technician) and the hostesses. Most of the clubs I work in have a continuous stream of dancers performing in 30 – 45min slots, so I usually get to see the dancer who performs before and after me in the changing room/ toilet.
For my regular gigs, in the more consistent venues, I have got to know these dancers quite well. At other gigs which are less regular (for all performers) I get to meet different dancers nearly every time I dance. It is interesting to see the different dancers and how they operate. Some are very welcoming and always say, “Hi” others act like divas (part of their stage persona – I like it) some just out right blank you. Some dancers have a female technician who will sit in the changing room whilst their dancer is on the stage. Others have male technicians and these are the funniest. These guys get treated like mini slaves having to spray the dancer with perfume before she goes on and hold up her coat when she exits the changing room. They scuttle into the changing room quickly when their dancers are on stage and flood their cloths (used to wipe down the dancer after her set) and then get out so the next dancer (me) can get ready for her set. Some dancers have massive suitcases others, like me, just a small bag.
EVERYDAY, since the day after I landed, I have danced twice a night (the 9pm and 1.30am slots) in one particular cabaret club. This club is an amazing old school style club to say the least. It feels like you are going back to the 70s, the sort you see Sohair Zaki performing in, in her films! It is small, smoky and full of character. There are cheesy table cloths and the stage in the middle has a patterned rug which they change daily, always to match, sometimes red, sometimes blue, sometimes gold. The majority of the customers are hard core regulars. Sometimes I dance and I know everyone in the crowd. It has a strange family feel to it.
This was where I found the most hostility from the dancers but it is not surprising as this particular night club has a very strict timetable. The same dancers dance every night in the same order at the same time. This means that any new dancer is a threat to a consistent job and is a potential replacement. I don’t know what dancer I replaced or if they were looking for a new dancer. At other night clubs the dancers are all on rotation and almost random – hence any other dancer you see in the changing room is no real threat to you.
For my 9pm slot a considerably famous Shabbi male singer performs before me. He has no dancer accompany him but after both my 9pm and 1.30am slot a dancer Chery (name changed) dances after me. I remember, SO CLEARLY, the very first time I saw her. I came off the stage and into the changing room and in front of me was one of the most beautiful women EVER. She has long, black, immaculate hair, striking blue eyes, and amazing curves. Her costume is a black and white designer piece with fluffy dice hanging off (if you know your dancers you will instantly know who she is) I recognise her instantly – Yes instantly. She is a dancer who is popular on the Egyptian Cabaret scene. I know her because she has featured in many Tet videos. (Tet was a bellydance channel on TV In Egypt which made clips of famous bellydancers around the country and would play them back to back - a bit like a music channel. It has since been shut down. I used to be obsessed with watching these clips.) Despite this she is very low key. She sits in the changing room smoking a cigarette. She just has a small bag
I say, “Hi!” She blanks me. I don’t blame her. I mean who am I to her? Probably she thinks I’m just some silly, foreign dancer just here in an attempt to threaten her job. She has no time for me. She is a well established dancer. I am nothing to her.
This continues for a long time, almost a month. I see her twice a day and always say, “Hi!” and she always blanks me. I think to stop saying hi but to me that is just weird, to walk into a room and not give a greeting, especially as you are about to get changed in front of them.
Anyway, this goes on until one day, whilst performing, I step onto a piece of glass. I do an agonising 30min set with the shard bedded in. When I come off the stage I ask if I can sit in the chair. She moves, as she sees me inspecting my foot and asks what happened. Then she gives me advice on buying little gold and silver ballerina shoes like she wears. However, she is still far from friendly. I tell her I have been planning to get some but not got around to it because so much has been happening. I think it is the first time she realises how much Arabic I can speak. She goes on to tell me where I can get them and that it is open all night.
The next day I return for the 9pm slot. I dance bare foot. I say, “Hi!”after I come off stage. No change; she doesn’t respond. I then have a break before my 1.30am slot and a few clubs I do after. I go and buy some gold and silver shoes.
I wear them for my next set and when I see her at the end I tell her thank you and that I took her advice. She’s slightly chatty. Maybe a slight hit of friendliness. We discuss how much I paid and where I bought them from etc. The next day for the early slot again she blanks me but that evening!!! ….. In the evening I come off stage. I say a small, “Hi” she doesn’t respond but as I am getting changed she offers me a bubble gum!!!… “THANK YOU!” I say. I am in shock and I think it comes across.
From that day on she always says, “Hi.” We now talk LOADS. She is such a lovely person. Not only do we greet each other but we talk about the customer’s idiosyncrasies (as I said there are quite a few who are regulars). It was me who first started a conversation about one of the customers and she REALLY took to it agreeing and telling me some more about him. Now we openly have a discussion about them all, lol. She is an extremely nice person. I find out loads about her. She is married to a night club owner. Her husband actually owns a club on Pyramid Street that I have worked in. She has a child with him. She doesn’t need to work but does because she loves it. I tell her how much I respect her for this!
She is now completely the opposite … we chat LOADS… What I also love about her is how sharing she is. Since the advice on the shoes she has given me LOADS of advice – from how to act on stage if one of the service girls gets up and starts dancing, to how to do a Turkish drop!
Her advice is like gold to me. She has over 15 years experience in working the Cairo club scene and 2 years in the club we work in. She knows a lot. That she shares tips and advice to me is amazing. Not only that but I admire her persistence to dance despite people telling and asking her to stop now she is married and a mum. She is an inspiration
It took time for me to earn respect from her. That I am a dancer here for real, that I am not just a flash in the pan and that I am ok that someone as famous as her has the right to demand respect and continuity before being friendly.
The day she offered me the bubble gum is one which I will never forget.
I remember it clearly. I was a first year PhD physics student, at the time seriously struggling to be somehow accepted in my otherwise all male lab. Anyway, there I was sitting in the pub at a social drinks event organised by the department – I put the effort in and went along because at the time, I wanted to be accepted by the group, to fit in. There is a loud call from across the table and a silence falls in the hustling, bustling conversations of all the surrounding PhD students, postdocs and supervisors from both mine and neighboring labs.
“So Hey Zara, isn’t bellydance…isn’t that like the Arab version of pole dancing?”
It is one of my fellow first year students, a male, public school, smart arse. His tone is in jest with a know it all accent. You could say, we were all having a laugh and drink - but it’s not a joke (how much of bullying is hidden under the statement: it’s only a joke?) It is an attack on me, probably due to his own desperate attempt to be accepted by the boys club, survival …
It works, everyone around the table laughs – including my boyfriend at the time.
He’s caught me off guard. I’m scared. Everyone is looking at me. I am alone. What do I do? What do I say? Help!!! I try to look composed and come out with some weak mumbling argument – I can’t even remember exactly what I said, something along the lines of, it’s a cultural dance, sensual not sexual BLAH BLAH BLAH ….
People soon go back to their conversations – he, nor any of the others are really interested in Bellydance! It was just said to humiliate and shame me, not to learn anything about dance…. His mission was complete, he had the privilege of moving on.
For me it was a different story: How that one incident contributed to how I was treated and respected (consciously and sub consciously) in the group EVERY DAY for the following 4 years, we will never know. But I will say this - I know my PhD would have been a lot easier had I not been a bellydancer (but hey it would have been a lot easier too, had I not been a woman.)
Five Years On
We are now FIVE YEARS on from that incident and MANY times I have replayed that day in my head. You know I’m telling the truth: I am even writing about it now. I have often thought, “Damn wish I had said this...... Wish I had said that …...”
Through different stages of my life, my PhD and my dance journey the response I would have given during these replays has varied…. Some were deep more academic answers, talking about the history of bellydance, others were an attack on pole dance saying how it is nothing in comparison to bellydance, some talked about bellydance as an art…. All trying to prove something.
But what would I say now? Who knows it may change in the future BUT RIGHT NOW WHAT WOULD I SAY???
I would say:
“Go f**K yourself”
in the coolest, calmest, non-emotional voice possible.
(Side note: truth be told now I don’t see how the replay could ever even happen. Now days I wouldn’t even bother to go to such a gathering. I hate pubs for a start – and I learnt from 4 horrible years I was NEVER going to be accepted regardless – I have a pussy, I’m a woman – on top of that I’m working class. I say “innit”. I am mixed race – part Arab; have a foreign name and oh no a Muslim ----- oh yer and I Bellydance HAHAHAH)
A change of perspective…..
I wouldn’t say this because I am insulted by what he said. Comparing me to a pole dancer does NOT insult me in the slightest. Back then it did. I would say this because he was purposely trying to insult me and disrespect me – nowadays I don’t take that! I refuse to be bullied, I refuse to be shamed!
My response has changed so much because now it is the attempt to shame me that insults - It originally was the comparing me to a pole dancer that upset me, to the extent I MISSED THE REAL ISSUE.
Am I any better than a pole dancer.......
Let me re-emphasize this: I no longer take offence to being compared to a pole dancer. I don’t even take offence to you comparing me to a stripper. I DO take offence to you trying to shame me.
I don’t think of myself, as a belly dancer, any better than a pole dancerBUT EQUALLY I don’t think of myself as any worse than a lawyer, house wife, librarian, rocket scientist, nurse or doctor (Hey I am a doctor).
Let’s first take discussion of the actual DANCE FORM aside: I think that pole dance and bellydance are incomparable as a DANCE / ART FORM. Bellydance for me is a far, far, faaaaaar deeper, more artistic dance. Like I said before it’s rooted in thousands of years of cultural traditions - hey it's the dance of my country maybe I am bias. To me NO dance compares. NONE!
But it isn’t what is the better art we are discussing – it is me, working as an actual bellydancer we are talking about.
I haven’t walked in the shoes of a woman who works as a pole dancer or a stripper. Who am I to judge them? I have no right or desire to judge them?!?!? And as long as they are doing this through their own choice and are happy – I say go for it.
Guess what? To half of my own family, being a bellydancer IS equivalent to being a stripper! (Oh and just so you know to the majority of the world - West or Arab- including my academic colleagues it is tooo). Most of the women in my family are covered and wouldn’t dare to show any skin in public and definitely not to an audience. My own father has dis-owned me because I am a bellydancer and no amount of arguing that this is an art form is going to change that. How can I then go on to look down on others for the same reasons, implying I am in some way better? I would just be subjecting them to the same slut-shamming I am subject to - A HYPOCRITE in the biggest sense.
Haters are gonna hate
I no longer bother to look for approval from those who think less of me because I am a bellydancer. I concentrate on myself and those who love me regardless: my mum, friends and family who, regardless of their culture or religion, still accept me; the boyfriend who will stick up for me; those who helped me through my PhD and judged me on my actual capability to do physics…. etc.
If you think I am a SLUT…..
If you think I am a slut for being a bellydancer – I DON’T CARE – and I am definitely not going to waste my breath trying to convince you otherwise by telling you about the cultural/traditional/artistic context of it. That in itself insults the dance. Your mind is so closed I am sure you couldn’t comprehend it anyway. You’re definitely a slut shamer, almost certainly sexist and probably misogynistic (and if you are a woman on top of all that you are to an extent self-hating).
As for us as bellydancers…
To change the minds of people who think like this, it isn’t the art of belly dance you need to talk to them about – you’re wasting your breath! It is women as a whole and that taboo word: FEMINISM that these people need to be brought up to date on!
AND you definitely, do not need to feel that you have to CHANGE BELLYDANCE to accommodate for this slut shamming ignorance. STOP trying to make bellydance more “respectful” or “classy” by creating deluded concepts like Halal Bellydance or trying to make it more Westernized (because western art is so much more respectable)! EMBRACE YOUR ART – you love bellydance? Good for you. You are one of the enlightened ones!
(side note: do always act with respect as dancer - SELF RESPECT this is essential. And always represent the dance in the best manner. If you do this there is no need to change bellydance - it is classyand it is respectful. There is nothing to be ashamed of as a Bellydancer )
I LOVE being a bellydancer! It makes me feel great. It makes me feel good, empowered, confident and yes SEXY. Being a bellydancer has gifted me freedom, opportunity and the power to be an independent woman. If you want to somehow shame me about that, as I said before:
It is so exciting to be writing you this blog from the busy streets of Nairobi, in a lovely café serving local grown Kenyan Coffee. I’ve been belly dancing here with my friend and colleague Azin Bellydance for the past month and we’ll be here for a few more months to come so, if you are in Kenya, do come to see us!! It’s a very exciting opportunity. We perform every weekend in one of the city’s top night clubs, Venom, where the dance floor is packed with locals, the LED lights are flashing and everyone is out to have a good time!
But actually I nearly didn’t come! Something I look back on now and feel ridiculously stupid about. Especially when I consider that I am sitting in and enjoying the spectacular Nairobi Sun – whilst the UK is still icy cold and dark (sorry to rub it in).
But why would I nearly allow such an opportunity to pass me by? It wasn’t the obvious “stress” of leaving for another country with less than 10 days’ notice. Yes, Azin and I are crazy enough to move to another country with only 10 days’ notice! This was the least of my concerns. It was because, despite having danced professionally for nearly 10 years (ahh how time flies) – I am human, a woman ridden with insecurities! And regardless of how irrational my insecurities may be they have a very real effect. This is not the first time I have had to face my insecurities – It is something which has always been a part of my life, especially in my dance journey.
What were my biggest fears?? AHHHH what if I get there and they don’t think I am a very good dancer? And DOUBLE AHHH what if I get there and they think I am ugly / too fat / too old? Yes, they had seen photos/videos but I am talking about in real life, no filter.
Now let me be clear in this article – I know these fears are irrational / blown wayyyyy out of proportion, but it doesn't stop them from showing their ugly face. I can dance, I have been studying belly dance for as long as I can remember. And hey, I know I’m not hideously ugly and I seriously believe beauty comes in all forms and NOBODY is not deserving of fantastic life opportunities because of how they look. Also, as a woman, I DO NOT have a sell by date! It is something a lot of women battle with, usually due to deep societal ingrained teachings from birth as to having to look “pretty” and a certain way as a girl/woman to feel worthy of happiness, even of existence. There is a famous saying, “If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business!” which makes you realise the scale of this issue. I’m not alone. You’re not alone. Really when you think about it, it is crazy but all the same it has an impact and I can’t deny I was in fear about going!
Luckily, as much as belly dance has lead me into situations where my insecurities run rife, amazingly, there is something magical about bellydance. It is always bellydance which makes me face, destroy and conquer these insecurities! I have a section on this in my Bellydance Empowerment Workshop which really concentrates on how fundamentally embedded within bellydance is the power to overcome insecurities and as a result let you live happier – because really - what use are our Insecurities?
Insecurities will only ever ROB YOU! They will rob you of happiness, of joy, of experiences and opportunities. They can even rob you of friends and love because not only do they lead you to feel un-worthy of being loved and receiving luck; they are usually deeply rooted in jealousy. Hate and nasty behaviour often emenates from a dark place of insecurity.
DON’T LET YOUR INSECURITIES CHEAT YOU out of doing what you want to do; out of performing anywhere; of chasing your dance dreams; ENJOYING fully dancing in your beautiful body; performing; showing off and sharing your joy: all without guilt. And don’t let your insecurities control your actions. Don’t act out of a place of spite and nastiness. I know it’s hard. Trust me, I nearly didn't come here. But know this: bellydance is there for you – it’s your support that loves you and a tool which you can use to let go and allow yourself to love yourself.
So, I am here and what is the conclusion? ….. Of course I think it goes without saying – I had nothing to worry about! I was panicking over nothing! (The wisdom of hindsight). I am having the time of my life out here! I LOVE IT!The amount of joy and the RUSH of excitement, performing regularly for an amazing audience in a sexy, classy club in Africa is performing on another level!
And hey, even if somebody does think those things: that I am not a good dancer, that I am not pretty enough – you know what? They can go !*?!*?!Thoughts like those are probably coming from a horrible place of insecurity within them and are not a reflection of me – My advice to them? ….. Take up bellydance! ;)
Zara Dance and Azin Bellydance In Nairobi kenya - YouTube
I have wanted to write this article for years but hesitated. Jealousy IS NOT AN EASY TOPIC TO TALK OR READ ABOUT. It is a complex emotion that can be so strong and hard to control. Factors causing it are mixed up with other emotions, as well as personal and social issues. It is hard to know where to even begin but I am just going to do my best even if it is just an article that can act as a platform for sharing experiences, I will be happy.
What makes me qualified to write this article? NOTHING. I am not a mental health doctor and I have not studied psychology (PLEASE MAKE A NOTE OF THIS) I strongly recommend anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues to seek professional advice and help – LOOK AFTER YOUR MENTAL HEALTH <3
However, over the past 15 years of working in the bellydance community, both as a hobbyist and a professional, I have experienced a lot of jealousy both towards me and from me. I have also watched it manifest and take over other dancers to the point it becomes all consuming and robs them of any joy of the dance! I am upset at seeing this and no longer want to see jealousy have such a hold on our beautiful art. If I’m honest I’m sick of it. Jealousy is an exhausting energy with no positive gain for anyone involved. Call me crazy, but I want us bellydancers to liberate ourselves from it. Imagine how much nicer, this already amazing community and art, could be without jealousy. We could all enjoy it A LOT MORE: yes even more! How exciting is that? What possibilities could it open the door too?
Let’s jump in with one of my experiences of jealousy.
One of my first memories of bellydance jealousy was towards a fellow student in a class. It was a class that was fashionable at the time. All the top London dancers would go to learn from this teacher as well as dedicated hobbyists. At the time I was semi-pro, climbing the ladder, and I desperately wanted to be better. The class had a subtle sense of competition about it and in many ways a bit of healthy competition was good. It would drive me to try harder but it is when jealousy comes into it that it becomes ridiculous. A student who was almost A BEGINNER, who had no want of ever becoming a pro, was just there for joy, was progressing fast. The teacher really highlighted and praised this in class one day and that was it. I was overwhelmed with hate and jealousy towards this woman. It was nasty. I felt that I HATED her, but at the same time I was overwhelmed with a feeling of guilt that I disliked this lovely lady who, ironically, looked up to me because I was one of the more pro dancers in the class.
This guilty feeling, luckily, stopped me from doing or saying anything horrible to her. It would have been awful if I had, but had I done, I could empathise. The feelings were strong and almost overpowering. I had this black storm inside me of horrible nastiness towards her that ultimately just damaged me. All sorts of ego got involved and for a few weeks I actively hated the class. I hated going. I would be grumpy in class, self hating, snappy, and more concerned with her progress than my own.
I know full well why I was so jealous. I had been feeling stuck in my own dance for so long that I didn’t feel I was getting better or would get better. This teamed with the fact that at the time I was studying a PhD which I really wasn’t enjoying due to being constantly belittled by others at uni. Bellydance was my escapism and I just felt it was also falling flat on its face.
The irony of it was, any progress I was making, I wouldn’t have been able to see anyway because I was concentrating on this other woman more! Luckily, because this woman was so nice, especially to me, these feelings of jealousy passed in a few weeks. But it could so easily have gone another way.Today it is harder – the social media trap
Today it is even harder, at least then, when I left the class I could reflect on how stupid these feeling were and as a result deal with them. That, combined with the blessings of an understanding mum I told everything to, meant that my jealously never got out of control. Now, with social media, we are constantly being reminded of how good other dancers’ progress is. We are bombarded 24 hours with images of how many gigs or haflas they are going to. How beautiful they look in their bathroom selfies; how many competitions they have won; how many likes they get on their pictures; how tremendously full their class look …… Remember, people only post their best pictures and about their successes, so if you are not careful you could be overwhelmed with jealousy by comparing yourself constantly against a superficially high, tailor made ideal and THAT ISN’T THE WHOLE STORY or even real. This could easily lead to you judging yourself and being horrible to yourself, feeling inadequate, acting nastily to fellow dancers and ultimately getting swooped up in this horrible storm of dark feelings.
Bellydance community as a whole lack of SISTERHOOD
I’ve given a personal example that shows just how damaging jealousy can potentially be, but it is also, I feel, holding us collectively back as dancers. I LOVE THE DANCE COMMUNITY and all the comments and examples I’m about to make in no way take away from all the amazing elements of our community.
Jealousy, I believe, is a weakness in our community that has been exploited by many and leads to horrible things happening. One of the biggest ways this manifests is a lack of sisterhood. Although it is not the only way, it is no wonder that there is a lot of jealously in bellydance, when you consider social factors. Basically, society has conditioned women from birth to be self hating and to place self value on how they compare to other women, especially in superficial ways such as beauty. If you are not convinced about this please STOP HERE and just have a quick read of this article:
It then isn’t a wonder that when it comes to bellydance, an art for the solo, powerful, woman performer, an art where a woman embraces her body, her beauty, her independence, her femininity and everything womanly about herself that it triggers our internalised misogyny. Sexism’s BIGGEST WEAPON is that women hate and bring down fellow women, including themselves. It is like we have been hypnotised by society over time and when we see a woman doing well and embracing herself, which bellydance calls for, we are then triggered to attack!!! (a scene in the film Zolander is very similar why a man has been hypnotised to attack the president when hearing the song relax, see the clip). How do we attack? We look for and emphasise her flaws; we slut shame; we want her to fail; we don’t support her or her events; we exclude her from our events; we see her as direct competition (even if she isn’t); we don’t share or like her posts; we don’t pass work on to her; we criticize her hipdrops etc.
Now, you know why nearly every bellydancer in Cairo is wearing an evil eye necklace for protection. I’m guilty of it too, even though I hate what underlies it. I don’t think we should think of other dancers as the enemy and actually we should actively compliment each other (something that the evil eye actually protects you from as in the Middle East even a compliment is seen as jealousy if not accompanied by “mashallah” Aley Allegra Pena talks about it here)
Our internalised misogyny has often been our community’s biggest weakness: exploited MANY TIMES by poisonous people as I know from my experiences in the UK, Egypt and the rest of the world. Abusers (manipulative or toxic teachers/event organisers, sexual abusers, physical abusers and many more) have time after time split our community and used our lack of love and support for each other as a cover to manifest their deviousness. Whist we are all sitting around hating each other, they are there exploiting us all. Another, slightly less horrid, example is just how over represented male teachers are at the top of bellydance. Yes, I know there are a lot of AMAZING male teachers. One of my best teachers was a man, but let’s be real: the ratio of male teachers to women is PRETTY HIGH and they are often over glorified at festivals. When you compare how many female professional bellydancers there are, working every day as dancers to how many profession male bellydancers there are - it’s pretty crazy. Unfortunately, we find it easier to love, praise and admire male teachers and identify their talent, than to look up and take in the amazingness of a strong female. Jealousy is a strong factor in this.
Are Bellydancers that awful?
But I don’t look down on the bellydance community in any way for this. How could I? This is just a very small part of it. It is an AMAZING COMMUNITY WITH SO MUCH AND HAS GIVEN ME SO MUCH. I even thank the bellydance community in my PhD thesis. Also, I find comfort that it is not only in bellydance that these things happen. I’ve heard how ballerinas can often be overly nasty to each other. At Crufts, the dog show, I’ve heard people have done some pretty horrible thing to rivals’ dogs!! And as for the male dominance, it is rife in our society no matter the industry. Look at something like hairdressing. Most hairdressers are female, but look at the top. The BIG NAMES, the famous, most sought after hairdressers, the ones that all the celebrities want and, more importantly, the hairdressers themselves admire and it’s nearly all men!
How to deal with your jealousy
So, basically jealously isn’t helping anyone. It isn’t doing us any good as individuals and it isn’t doing us any good as a community! It often leads to us hating ourselves, hating each other and holding ourselves back. So, what can we do about it? Well, below I have put some suggestions. Things that have helped me deal with jealousy in and out of bellydance life.
STEP ONE: Be aware of it – realise you are not alone
The examples above hopefully give you some insight into what jealously might feel like and how it may manifest. The first step is to identify you are experiencing it. But, in identifying you are experiencing it, don’t forget A LOT OF US ARE. I know top dancers, who I thought of as goddesses, feel threatened about little me working in Cairo, and refuse to be my friend any longer. It can happen to the very BEST OF US in the very same way that I was jealous and threatened by a beginner in dance class. Remember, you don’t know the back story of the person you are jealous of. Ironically, they are probably as jealous as you are and as insecure and even if they are not, they are fighting their own battles! Instead of allowing your jealousy to separate you from other dancers and make you feel like you are alone: “I’m the only one not getting work”, “I’m the only one feeling this depressed about how slow I’m progressing” or “My class numbers are lower than hers”, let it UNITE YOU MORE WITH OTHER DANCERS. Let it be a reminder that we are all in this together. We are all amazing women drawn to this art in seek of conquering these insecurities. Let's turn jealousy on its head and instead of separate us let it unite us. We all have to rebel against our conditioning and internalised hate. Nearly every bellydancer, in some way or another, is facing a similar battle.STEP TWO: Don’t act on it, don’t dwell on it
Try your best not to act on it – or even imagine yourself in scenarios acting on it! You may feel yourself wanting to click the unlike thumb on her YouTube videos. You may feel yourself wanting to spread her deepest secret and slut shame her to all your friends; tell people not to go to her events; trust me it won’t make you feel any better. Probably, in the long run, you are just making your suffering worse. You’re adding negative actions to an already negative feeling. You’ll just make yourself feel crap. The more time you spend taking her down (literally or in your imagination) the more time you are replaying the painfulness of the situation. Also, the more time you are dwelling on it and letting it upset you means you are spending less time looking after yourself. Jealousy is a horrible experience for you. You need to deal with that issue, not keep dwelling on what is causing it.
Don’t beat yourself up about it – but don’t justify it with EGO
STEP THREE: Be kind to yourself
Regardless of if you act on it or not, DON’T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT FEELING jealous. As I mentioned before, for many reasons jealousy is understandable but remember, these thoughts and actions don’t define you! It is just something you are experiencing. It isn’t something you are. BE KIND TO YOURSELF!! Give yourself some love and understanding. We are in a hard industry; a hard world in general, it is understandable. Take some time out to understand these feelings. Ask yourself why you have them; talk to yourself about them; REASSURE YOURSELF THAT THEY ARE OK FEELINGS TO HAVE. But don’t justify your feelings with ego (another bad energy), just sit with your feelings as they are.
What’s the difference? Well let’s take my case above about the woman in class I was jealous of. To justify it with ego I would tell myself, “Well it’s no wonder I am pissed off with the teacher giving her praise when she can’t do a good hip drop and she doesn’t know how to shimmy and I am so much better at x, y and z than her.” but to be kind and understanding with myself I would take an approach such as, “Zara, I know you are feeling jealous right now but it is ok. It’s no wonder because you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself. I know you want to be a better dancer; I know you feel stuck so of course all that praise to another in front of you is hard to deal with. Breathe – it’s OK. You’re a lovely dancer on your own path. You are probably progressing more than you realise. There is no need to feel jealous.”
STEP FOUR: Always remind yourself: another’s success does not detract from your own. ENJOY YOUR JOURNEY
It isn’t just sexist views that have lead to constant comparison of one’s self to others. Even in school with things like gold star awards and naming who is top of the class, we automatically start to compare our success to others. For example in a test at school you can get 97% but belittle this result because your best friend got 98%. This is ridiculous. Getting 97% is AMAZING but your comparison to others makes you dismiss the 97% and concentrate on the 1% difference, something that is irrelevant. Because someone got 1% more than you doesn’t take away your 97% of amazingness! There is the famous saying, “Comparison is the biggest killer of joy” and it can easily kill your joy of bellydance, hobbyist or pro. Detach the success of others from your own. Be happy for them on their journey but be EQUALLY happy for your own. Their doing well doesn’t mean you are not! Acknowledge your own success and if you catch yourself saying things such as, “I’m crap because Mary is even better…/ or has more… / is more… blah blah” stop yourself. Reassure yourself and be kind and remind yourself comparison is irrelevant. Your achievements are still amazing. Your journey is your own, so appreciate every step of it. Mary’s journey is hers.
I hope these four steps of some help!!
On the receiving end of jealousy?
But if you are the one suffering as a result of someone's jealousy? I’m gonna just quickly give a few lines of advice on dealing with petty acts of jealousy you may experience in bellydance. Things like, other teachers not helping you or supporting your events; stopping their students attending; dancers clicking unlike on your YouTube video; not giving you gigs; bad mouthing you to work, stuff like that.
HOWEVER, if someone is in any way being abusive to you or you are in some sort of abusive relationship, it is beyond the scope of this article but PLEASE, PLEASE know you are not alone and seek help (links at end of article). LOOK AFTER YOURSELF distance yourself from toxic people. Do not keep horrible people in your life. Of course, easier said than done but always remember you don’t deserve to be treated horribly.
Back to pettiness: Ok so, you don’t deserve other dancers to be horrible to you or jealous of you. You’re more than likely going through more s**t than they could ever know. My advice is not to justify their behaviour but I do recommend you EMAPATHISE with it. Empathy means you can see why they are doing it – not that you agree with it. Society is hard on women. Maybe they have their own body issues and as a result lash out at other dancers they feel are prettier. Maybe they feel threatened by your hafla, even though you know you are not looking to steal their students. Maybe they have had a dancer backstab them in the past or even underlying issues from childhood. Just take a minute to understand them. This act of kindness in understanding the person will make you less angry with them, because getting angry will only hurt YOU!! And ALL acts of jealousy are about the giver NOT THE RECEIVER so as a receiver DON’T GIVE IT ANY OF YOUR TIME. Not even your anger or hurt. It won’t change what they are doing to you, and being less angry will make you more likely to think of a rational, calm, PRACTICAL solution to this person’s pettiness. Yes, you may need to block them or simply ignore them but these decisions are easier when you are less upset or angered by their actions.
End note and LINKS
Hope this article is in some way a help. I hope you enjoyed it, if that is the right word, and whether you are experiencing bellydance jealousy or are the receiver: remember you are not alone and have a little bit of kindness and compassion be it for yourself or the person doing you wrong AND ALWAYS DANCE IT OUT!!!!!!If you enjoyed
RECOMMENDED READING: this article only scratches the surface of self kindness, something I am taking time to try and improve on. Jealousy is just one thing that it can help you deal with. A book I seriously recommend, it is not an easy read but so worth it, is:
I LOVE COFFEE… and Egypt does the BEST coffee: actually my friends take the micky out of me that I always claim Egypt does the best everything but this time I'm serious - IT IS AMAZING! Trust me, it's called Ahwah.
It is sometimes referred to as Turkish Coffee (but it is different, it's Turkish Coffee done EGYPTIAN STYLE). It is thick and expresso like, with the ground coffee called “bonn” sitting at the bottom. It is served in a little cup and is soooo aromatic and yummy. How is it made? It is made by boiling the coffee in special little pots if you don’t do it right, you get a grainy or watery Ahwah.
My auntie told me a story once about how, in olden days when looking for a husband, the potential in-laws would visit and they would ask the potential bride to make them Ahwah. Your suitability as a wife for their son would be party judged by how well you made the Ahwah. Can I make it right? NAHHHHH but if any potential in-laws ask, I can let them know of some great coffee shops around Cairo that do and which also do a good shisha! (no wonder I’m single!!)
How is it served? The important thing about Ahwah is how you like it served. There are FIVE WAYS you can order your black Ahwah in Cairo and it’s all to do with HOW MUCH SUGAR YOU LIKE – so much so there are 5 levels of how sugary you can have it:
“Sada”: this translates literally to plain. And you may have guessed this mean with no sugar. “Areehaa”: this comes from the word
“Areehaa” which means smell – a bit like we use the expression “a whiff of” it means a tiny little hint (a whiff) of sugar.
“Masboot” this translates literally to exact/exactly/spot on. If someone is telling you something you agree with you can reply “masboot” “yer exactly”. When it comes to Ahwah this means it's not too sweet and not too bitter. It's in the middle.
“Maando” Apparently this word has no direct translation. The word was created by barristars just for ahwah, for people who want it a little more sugary than Masboot but not as sugary as the next level up.
“Zeyadaa” The ultimate level of sugaryness which only someone who is a true Egyptian at heart can handle. The word Zeyadda translates literally to extra/left over, so it is a level of extra excess sugar, about 3-4 teaspoons in a cup: remember that Ahwah is about the size of an expresso, prepare for a double caffeine sugar high!!!
How do I like my Ahwah? Actually I don’t like my Ahwah black. I like it made with milk (still it comes as a very small coffee and made in the same way but with milk not water). For this you can ask for it with milk “bi leban” OR as the locals ask, “frans-awy” translating literally to "the French way". And the level of sugar I like? Areehaa!! Just a whiff.
And don’t forget EGYPT IS A PLACE OF MAGIC, WONDER AND CRAZINESS so once you have drunk your ahwah, flip your cup over into the saucer and let it sit for awhile. Then turn it over and get a traditional Egyptian woman to read your coffee grounds .... a window into your future …. (if it's Zeyadaa I see a late night ahead lol) In conclusion I like a Turkish coffee, done in a French style with a whiff of sugar and FULL OF EGYPTIAN MAGIC: “Ahwah, Areehaa, Fransawy” mmmmmmmmm Thank you to Ahmed for filming me ❤
Did you enjoy this video blog? Then please SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL - it brings me happiness. Also sign up to my FREE Bellydance Magazine Zameena: http://eepurl.com/DgCdj
Though based in Cairo now, I still travel to many a hafla in the UK and over the years I have definitely been to what is close to, or even over, 100 haflas. At some points I would go to at least 3 a month. And I have seen my fair share of what is passed off as bellydance. Now, I’m not here to preach (well, not tooo much) just to lend a suggestion. You can take it or leave it.
I know women all over the country bellydance for different reasons. Being authentic or practicing ‘proper’ bellydance isn’t always their priority. They dance for health, community, self confidence etc and that’s great. Travelling to these haflas, talking to women and finding out their stories about what bellydance has done for them has made me less concerned with that dreaded word, the elephant in the room, APPROPRIATION.
But, that said, we are all aiming to better ourselves in dance, right? Regardless of how seriously we take it? Well, here is what my observations have led me to conclude: I feel as a community we all generally NEED TO USE MORE AUTHENTIC MUSIC.
Of course there are many dancers dancing to Authentic music but gosh there are a lot that aren't.
What do I mean?
I mean, I have been to haflas where, I am not kidding, of nearly 20 performers only two or three dance to Egyptian/Arabic music. This hasn’t been a one off thing! At many a hafla 70% of the music has been Western/English. I’ve seen everything from Celtic to Bruno Mars used to perform ORIENTAL BELLYDANCE. I am not talking about tribal or fusion pieces, those I can understand. Though, hey, why not check out the new electronic fego/mahragan music coming out of Egypt which, I feel, would suit fusion and tribal really well?
By authentic I mean MUSIC FROM THE COUNTRIES BELLYDANCE ORIGINATED ….... mainly Egypt but of course other Arab countries plus Turkey and Greece.
Think about it
It’s crazy how much English music is used. Imagine going to a samba or salsa party and all the music they were dancing to was Chinese ?!?!! You would think it was insane. Well, bellydancing to Western music is just as strange but it has been normalised for us, so we see it as ok.
But forget about that. It’s just not natural. The music you choose is the base upon which you make your dance, your art. Choosing music that doesn’t naturally fit the moves means you are just forcing moves onto music it doesn’t naturally sit with. It’s like jamming two, mismatched, jigsaw puzzle pieces together. The music should be your guide, your foundation, your play mate for your dance. When the music naturally calls for your body to move in a bellydance manner the dance is easier to execute and arguably safer for your body.
I understand and empathise
I know, I know. I hear your pain. I know why you choose English music. I can empathise. When I was a beginner I was even guilty of doing the same. To me now, Bellydancing to English music just seems weird. Not to say I won’t do it but if I did, it would be for a particular artistic, thought-out reason.
English music is NATURAL TO YOU. It’s what you listen to regularly. It’s what you grew up with. You understand its beats and rhythms and yes it’s in a language you understand. Therefore, it may even feel more natural to bellydance to English music, seemingly contradicting the point I made above, but it isn’t. I repeat: When the music naturally calls for your body to move in a bellydance manner the dance is easier to execute and arguably safer for your body.
And, I know you want to be respectful. You don’t want to offend and dance to a song you don’t understand, so you play safe and choose an English song.
Also, it’s not always easy to know how to get hold of Arabic music. It can seem like a jungle out there!
And, you might want a song with a certain feel, ie romantic and floaty and to identify such a song, with those feelings, in another language and rhythm can be daunting. But, believe me, ANY FEELING OR VIBE YOU WANT TO DANCE TO there is an Arabic song that fits the bill.
Even if you want a Western feel to your song and performance, hence invalidating many of my points above, you can still find an up-to-date Arabic song that does that and has all the Western vibes you want yet stays closer and truer to the root of the dance you love.
I’m not here just to moan - YOU WILL LOVE IT!!
Often, it’s just a little effort and know how that can help overcome these barriers stopping you choosing Arabic music. I’m not just here to criticise. Being part of the bellydance community, not an outsider pointing my disapproving finger, I’m going to give my tips and try my best to help with this situation and trust me:
THIS IS MORE FOR YOU AS A DANCER, than it is concern for the art, because TRUST ME when you get comfortable with Arabic music, especially Egyptian (yes I’m biased) IT IS MAGICAL!!
Your dance comes alive. You can sink your hips right into the music, in ways Western music just doesn’t allow. That scary jungle of Arabic music out there? It’s exciting. It’s full of colour, sensations, adventure, excitement and ultimately you too will come to enjoy your dance even more!
MY TIPS AND MORE
So here are my tips (assignments) for getting more into Arabic (and other authentic) music
1) Listen Arabic music A LOT
Fill you phone/mp3 player with Arabic/bellydance/authentic music. Listen to it all the time, on the bus, as you do your chores, walking to the shops before you go to sleep. At fist you may not feel comfortable with it, but persist until you are relaxed and at one with it all. Until it no longer feels foreign or alien to you.
Don’t have any music to start with? Download this app on your phone and listen to this either Nagoum FM / Rehab FM / 90s FM radio station, or another Arabic radio station you like, just type Arabic or Egypt into the digital radio search and you will find all the radio starions you hear playing in taxis around Cairo.
2) Get acquainted with the classics
The songs by Umm Kalthoum, Abdel Halim Hafez, Ahmed Adawaya and Warda are a must to know. Yes, they are old singers and songs but they are dance classics, universally known and loved. Search their names in Google to find their songs. There are 100s of resources and already translated lyrics of all their songs. A good resource is
AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN. Put it on in the background, let his voice and the sounds of the music take you over. Lay on the floor, close your eyes and listen to it. PRINT OUT THE LYRICS AND SING ALONG WITH IT!
3) Ok, Ok so you know the classics. You’re bored and you want new music.
Have a look at the music video as it usually tells the story to an extent. DOES THE MUSIC VIDEO HAVE A BELLYDANCER? Is the singer shaking her/his thing? Then you can say for the most part it’s of good for you to dance to. Though yes, it may still be political but it’s a start.
Comment on the video on YouTube and ask the world of the internet what the song is about. Write it in CAPITALS you will most probably get a response quite quickly. People love sharing their knowledge on YouTube.
Still don’t know? Ask an expert. There are lots of people offering song translation services online contact either
Ahmedor Allegraon FaceBook I am sure they will be able to help.
Ok so you are doing your bit, now it’s time for me to do mine.
I am in the lucky position of dancing in Egypt right now and get all this great new music handed to me on a plate so I am going to do my best and share it with you all. In June’s Zameena I listed Egypt’s current Top Ten songsand since August, I have added a new MUSIC SPOT section to my monthly newsletter, Zamena. I am going to try my best every month to feature a song that is good to dance to, straight from the streets of Cairo and one or two lines about the song. BE SURE TO SIGN UP TO THE NEWSLETTER, here.BE SURE TO LISTEN TO THE SONG every month, follow the link of the song to YouTube and see what other song suggestions are thrown up. Chances are they are similar and also good resources. HAVE A SHAKE AROUND IN YOUR LIVING ROOM TO THE SONG, even if you don’t like it or are not confident enough to use it for your next performance, HAVE A GO AT HOME ANYWAY.
LET’S DO THIS, let’s shed our fear of the unknown and embrace the ‘foreign’ and I WILL SEE YOU ON THE DANCE FLOOR AT THE NEXT HAFLA FOR A SHIMMY!
Those who know me may remember that I had a three month contract in Kenya, dancing in Nairobi’s nightclubs. When I left in April 2016, I was happy with the time I’d spent there. Three months seemed enough time and I was happy to move on to the next adventure.
I NEVER thought I would return again for bellydance.
However, that contract has been the gift that keeps on giving. Every year since, I have been invited back to Kenya to perform and each year IT’S EVEN BETTER!
I get the luxury of being flown in for just a weekend or a few days, staying in amazing hotels, enjoying the culture, catching up with friends and then back to my life, which is now in Cairo. It is fast becoming like a third home. The first two being the UK and Egypt.
This year the destination was Nairobi (I have also danced in Mombasa quite a lot) and I was blessed to have my best friend and dance companion, Tara, with me. The timing couldn’t have been better. It was Ramadan and my dance licence in Cairo doesn’t allow me to dace then, so the work was needed AND time to catch up with Tarawas well overdue.
This booking was to perform at the unveiling of two new trucks by a Korean company now working in Kenya. This is the exciting thing about Africa. Africa is coming up! There are so many new and exciting business opportunities and I will hopefully be dancing at more events this new land of business can offer.
The event was in a fantastic venue, Safari Park Hotel. The guests at the event were a mixture of Koreans, who had flown in for the event, and Kenyans. Our performance went well. We opened with Isis-wings, which is a standard wow for international audiences, and a drum-solo followed by some fun shaabi music which everyone enjoys for a dance along. A highlight was that the Safari Cats were also performing at the event and I thoroughly enjoyed their show of African and fusion dance. They were great people and said they also enjoyed our show - DANCE LOVE. I also want to say that Nisha, the lovely lady who booked us for this event, was AMAZING. I loved her! She was the perfect hostess.
We were only in Nairobi for four days and unfortunately the first day was totally gone as a delayed flight meant Tara and I missed our transit flight in Egypt and ended up having to then to fly to Ethiopia and finally to Kenya in what was over 24 hours of hell.
But it was well worth it, as the gig was fun and in the days we had free I got to show Tara the best of what Nairobi had to offer, all my knowledge of this great place:
WHAT TO DO IN NAIROBI IF YOU HAVE 48hrs or less: Tara was given no option. I took charge. I was going to give her the FULL MONTY - all the things I love so much and had
during my 3 months in Nairobi, but in just a few short hours.
Catch your breath – Here we go:
DAY ONE 8am:
Wake up eat the yummy hotel breakfast.
9am: My friend Patrick, a driver I know, picks us up and takes us to the supermarket where we buy a packed lunch, then drives us 3 hours through the Great Rift Valley to NAIVASHA. (Every time I come, tingles ripple throughout my body. I really feel a deep, spirtual connection to this place.)
12 noon: Hire bikes, and get ourselves a lovely guide: Dan. We cycle through Hell’s Gate National Park seeing wild zebra, gazelle, water hogs, ground squirrels (that Tara loved), monkeys, giraffes and LOADS OF OTHER ANIMALS. (You can cycle or walk in this park as there are no dangerous game. It is great to be out of a vehicle and so close to nature.)
2pm: We have cycled all the way to the gorge. Patrick meets us there and we have lunch. Tara is attacked by a monkey who cheekily steals her apple. lol
2.30pm: Refreshed, we start to trek through Hell’s Gate and Gorge to the Devils Bedroom! There is lots of climbing , slipping, jumping and adventuring.
5pm: We rush back to the car via a Massai market on the mountain and we drive to the natural sulphur spa at the top. We stay there until closing (6pm) but manage to get a bit of extra time and leave at 7pm. (Swimming and floating in this water is amazing and the skin is so softened – heaven!)
7pm: Our drive back starts with a burst tyre. It is surprisingly fun to help change it. Then we drop off Dan but not before having a cup of tea and actually quite a long chat with different park wardens and guides about the wildlife, struggles they face such as poachers, the ivory trade and the effects on the elephant and rhino populations.
11pm: Back in Nairobi and exhausted! Still in our trekking clothes but it doesn’t stop us meeting up with Nisha, the lady who booked us, and off we go to a high end members club for some interesting meetings and discussions with people in quite high power in Kenya.
We stay the night at Nisha’s.
9am: An amazing home cooked traditional breakfast with Nisha.
10am: Off to the elephant orphanage, a great place homing orphan baby elephants whose parents have often been killed at the hands of man. It’s busy. It’s a bank holiday. The elephants are cute all the same. These elephants will be released back into the wild when grown.
12 noon: Time to go to the Giraffe sanctuary and spend lots of fun time with the giraffes up close stroking and feeding them. They are full of character.
2pm: Home for a power nap followed by a lovely homemade curry, on the porch of Nisha’s house
7pm: We meet my friend Steve in Westlands, the party and night club capital of Nairobi. We drink local beer and have a boogie to African Beats at Black Diamond one of my favourite Nairobi bars.
10pm: Unfortunately our partying is cut short! We HAVE A PLANE TO CATCH. We head to the Airport and HOOOOOOMMMMEEEEEE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!