Friday, October 14, 2016

Chapter 3; Learning from The Fringe. A bellydancer's take on learningfrom other performers.



Today's 'better late than never' Edinburgh Fringe review by Lorna, talks about two of the shows I saw in the fringe this year that were very different from each other, yet had in common one thing. You didn't see the actors face on stage at all..... Masks v sock puppets! 


Theatre dilusio- a non verbal play set back stage at a theatre. 



I wanted to see this show because, as someone who has spent many dancing years on stage myself, I loved the idea they used which was that the front of the stage is actually back stage! So when we are looking at the stage we see back stage, and when the actors go back stage they are actually going onto their stage. Confused yet? That concept in itself was interesting for me as a performer. To think about our on and off stage characters and where they coincide and where they differ, and how we change from one to the other. If we do. The show also touched on how people view us as people off stage when they have previously seen us on stage. 

This was a comedic play without a single word uttered, yet everyone knew instantly what was going on and the feelings the actors were trying to portray. Well acted you say, yes indeed, however the actors wore masks, so the feelings came to us not through facial expressions, but instead all of it was body language. 

This is a really important thing to keep in mind while dancing. I have seen dancers 'over act' happy, sad, etc on stage when they think that's what the song calls for, pulling huge grins, or long faces to depict what is being said in the lyrics. Sadly though, this often looks forced and fake. It is important to respond to the entirety of an emotion, not just to pull a face. We underestimate the impact even an outbreath can make to those trying to gauge how we feel, a tilt of the head, a lifting of the ribcage. Tiny movements can make a huge difference to the audience, completely altering the emotion we are portraying. Emotions should be danced through your entire body, not just your face!  


Scottish falsetto sock puppets- a hilarious one man (two socks) puppet show. 


I have never laughed throughout Shakespeare before! Loved this performance. As far as you could get really from a Bellydance performance, yet.... What was interesting here, from a dance perception is that each of the two socks speaking to each other, within their 'Punch and Judy' style booth, had very different personalities. They became two people. To the point where it was hard to accept that there was only one person 'backstage'. No body language. No facial expressions, yet huge personality. This was hard to understand. How can you show emotion without any facial expressions or even body language? It was of course largely in the script, but what struck me was how influential other elements were too. In particular, the pauses, the timing, the emotion put into the voices and the dedication to acting out each part. 

It is easy as a dancer to think that dance is about the steps. But it seldom is. It is often about the 'way' you do those steps, the timing, the pauses, the interaction with other dancers on the stage or with the audience. Commit to 'who you are' in any given moment and don't hold back. If you are dancing 'sexy' ... Then go for it. Don't 'mime' sexy. Feel sexy. Be sexy! The audience will sense any hesitation, or the doubt you have so you must trust that what you are doing is the right thing for you rather than what you 'think' you are 'supposed' to be doing to that part of the music. Commit fully, and remember that there should always be pauses. Moments for you, and your audience, to catch your breath, or to exhale if you've been holding your breath! 


Like I said, two shows, completely different but a similar message. You don't need to see a person's facial expression to know their emotion. It helps (unless it's over done) but it's not essential. Timing, commitment and body language all play an even greater role!
Oh, and check out the Falsetto socks on YouTube..... I promise you'll love it! 


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Chapter 2; Learning from The Fringe. A bellydancer's take on learning from other performers.

Welcome back to Part 2 of my Edinburgh Fringe Review where I have reinterpretted what I saw in each show into Bellydance terms!


Triple entendre- Female Trio performing original songs and sketches. 


When I saw these these three young women walk onto stage I have to admit, I had initial doubts about the quality of the show to come. No offense intended, but they just looked like students. Young, pretty, but nothing like the bling or stage 'costumes' that a bellydancer is used to seeing. 
By the end of the first song, their massive personalities, material and amazing talent swiped all that superficial stuff from my mind rapidly. They were totally amazing, funny, captivating and are up there in my top 3 shows of the fringe (which I drunkenly admitted to them one night when I spotted them in a chippie, and had to go over, fan girl style, and tell them that they were fffabuloush!). 

This transformation from expectation to realism got me thinking; so much of our Bellydance performance is linked to how we initially present ourselves. If the costumes and 'look' isn't going to grab people interest from the get go, then the skills MUST! Making sure the 'look' is as professional as you can makes it a bit easier to get your audience on side and is an 'easy win' for a beginner bellydancer. Looking the part will carry you somewhat, but never completely! The opposite is also true,  I certainly know that when I look at dancers and their skirt if slipping, or the bra doesn't fit right, or they don't have enough make up on etc, then I am distracted by these things and not ready to appreciate the dance itself in quite the same way no matter how good the dance is. That said , accidents happen to us all, so if you do have a costume malfunction mid show, make it part of your act! So the costume isn't everything.... But it helps. 

Also- the other key word here from this wonderful show is 'original'. They weren't trying to copy anyone, they had written their own songs and jokes. With the beautiful voices they had they could have played it safe and done a string of 'standards' and they would have had a good show. By pushing their own ideas forward however, they produced a great show. One that is still memorable while I write this two months on. This is a good message for us as dancers. We often feel there is a right and wrong way of doing certain things, a 'way to dance baladi', a costume style that only fits to shaabi etc. I took from Triple that I need to be more adventurous in what I do, and not apologize for it. Be strong and confident and stand out. A powerful message indeed. 

Well done ladies... You wowed and inspired me! Go see them if you ever get the chance! 

On the flip side ( in case you thought all my reviews were going to be glowing recommendations)....



Elsie diamond- Cabaret and variety show. 



I was excited by the concept of this show. She is a dresser to opera singers in real life and this show was inspired by that. After years in Cairo having my own dresser there and hearing the stories she would tell me, never mind dancing back stage with her, I was very interested to see this one. I was disappointed sadly. 
She just attempted to do way too much. This performer could sing, tell jokes, dance burlesque and tell a story. The problem is that she was trying so hard to fit everything in, with lots of costumes changes, that any power in the performance and story, was lost. I was especially hit by the irony that the one thing that would have drastically improved the entire show was her having a dresser to assist with all those changes! It felt like, "I know all these tricks, so I must show the audience everything I can do", rather than focusing on one or two elements and really doing them well. 
When we perform Bellydance there is a temptation to do the same. To try to fit in all of our skills into one performances. Especially when that is just one song at a hafla! I felt if Elsie had done a lot less, it would have been so much more of a show. This is worth keeping in mind on stage, in particular when we don't feel so confident and try too hard to impress our audience. Less IS more. 
This woman had the bling, but didn't keep it on for long enough! (Also something we aim to avoid doing mid Bellydance performance!!!!) 

That's all for today's, more fringe show reviews and thoughts tomorrow....
remember and leave a comment to let me know your thoughts on any of my blog posts.... I 'vet' all comments just so inappropriate ones don't end up there... But they do post, eventually! 


Learning from The Fringe; a bellydancer's take on learning from other performers. Chapter 1



One of the most fabulous things about living in Edinburgh once again, is the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. It is huge. Officially the largest festival in the world. 50,266 performances of 3,269 shows in one city within one month. 

Music, drama, dance, comedy, you name it. It's all there. Some shows are huge and pricy, some are completely free. There is something for everyone. 

I decided long before August came around that I was going to dedicate the month to seeing shows rather than performing them. Being entertained instead of doing the entertaining. Before I lived in Cairo, I had performed my own shows in the fringe many times, 9 shows in 9 consecutive years. Everything from African dance in my days with 'Afridonia', to 'Latino Arabesque' (combining Latin dance with Bellydance), to pure solo Bellydance shows (usually with some narrative to educate as well as entertain!)

This August , I wanted to see EVERYTHING. Which of course, is actually physically impossible. 
I did however manage to see 35 shows in 3 weeks. Admittedly, I do now have fringe fatigue. Understandable, I think!

I purposefully also chose mostly shows which were not dance related. Just for a change, and also because, as artists, there is many things we bellydancers can learn from appreciating other performers work. 

For my own development, and because I thought it might be of interest to other fringe attendees (and especially to bellydancers) I wanted to write up my findings from these shows. I hope you find it interesting and useful too! It has been amazing to me, how many things I could find from non Bellydance related shows that could make me rethink some of the ways I perform Bellydance!  Even if some of those things learnt were what 'not to do'! 

Since I went to so many different shows... I will be writing this up over a series of blog posts ... Otherwise you'll be here all day! 


The Tap pack- This was an all singing all dancing (Tap), all male show. 


A five star show from beginning to end. What got to me especially was the part just prior to the beginning! 
Before the show was due to start, one of the dancers came out and sat on front of the stage while the room was filling up. He got people clapping along and brought someone from the crowd up on stage with this too. There was laughter and music and skill, all mashed together.  It instantly changed the atmosphere in the room. He spent maybe 10 minutes building that rapport with audience right at the start of the show, before the curtains had officially opened, showing he was personable,friendly and fun, as well as talented. 
I could see how this approach relaxed the audience and got them on side before the show had even started. 
I've often told people in workshops that if you make a good impression in the first 3 seconds then your audience will be rooting for you during the whole performance. The Tap Pack took this idea and ran with it. 
It also made me think of the difference I feel performing at a hafla after I have taught workshops versus before I've taught.  When my audience have already been taught by me, they are always more relaxed with me than an audience who hasn't 'met' me yet. They laugh more (I always try to add humour into my shows) and they interact more, and they respond more which, of course, makes the show much more enjoyable for everyone there, myself included. 
The Tap pack's show opening prompted me to think about ways to achieve this connection with an audience right from the get go.

Another thing they did, which I loved, was they announced that it was not permitted to record or photograph the performance, but, that the next 1 minute only would be dedicated to selfies! They pulled lots of poses and everyone clicked away, got their momento for Facebook or Instagram or whatever, and then when that was over everyone could relax and actually just watch the show! What a fabulous idea, I'd love to be performing for a sea of faces, rather than an assault of cameras and phones, maybe this is a good one for Hafla organizers to pick up on?! 

If you hear of The Tap Pack performing near you, I highly recommend it!!! 

That's all for now.... More shows and the thoughts they inspired in the next blog... 
Please do leave comments for me.... Let me know what you think and if these musings of mine are of any use/interest to you! 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Nile Group Festival July 2016

I am just back from my two week 'holiday' in Cairo and am exhausted! 

The reason for this particular trip- I'm one of the regular teachers at the Nile group festival. I unfortunately didn't make the entire week since I'd been invited to be the star guests at Shona Hagan's Torquay summer spa weekender. That was an amazing weekend with lots of fabulous fun woman and I laughed even more than I danced! 

It was frustrating to miss the lions share of the Nile Group festival, but I cannot deny that it is also lovely to be in such demand!

So Nile group closing gala was an amazing and entertaining night. I loved seeing so many people back in Cairo again, past festival have been a little quiet due to various reasons, but it seems the dance tourists at least are not to be put off any longer and there was a good turn out. 

Almaz was the first dancer, and her costumes lived up to her name! Almaz means diamonds in Arabic. She put on a very powerful and impressive show and I really felt for her because sadly, very few of the audience members arrived early enough to see her show. I wish people, especially those who are dancers themselves, would appreciate and show respect for other performers by at least turning up on time! Despite the fact that she is a dancer from Japan, her time spent in Egypt has paid dividends, she really did look Egyptian on stage. 


Next up was another foreigner who has spent quite a few years now in Egypt, Vanessa. She is American and has worked mainly in Sharm el sheik until this past year where Cairo has molded her into the star dance she has become. In the sexiest Saidi galabeya I've ever seen, she performed a unique and exciting saidi dance which had every eye in the place glued to her. Her shaabi had everyone jumping too! I recommend you try to catch her show next time you're in Cairo! 


Then we had our token Egyptian for evening. Sadly, I felt she let the side down. She seemed to think that her super large assets (recently augmented) and her super small costumes would stand in for decent dancing. I'm intentionally not writing her name here, perhaps she just had a bad night and I wouldn't want that held against her forever... I saw her dance last year and thought she was pretty good, so I am hoping it was just an off night for her. We all have them. It was just a little embarrassing and sums up a lot of the recent changes in the bellydance scene in Cairo. Too much about the show and not enough quality. In my humble opinion. 

The final dancer of the night was the ever beautiful Mercedes. It's true that her style is her own, and she seemed less Egyptian than usual on that night. But she knows how to perform beautifully, and it was a joy watching her interact with her Tabal, although there were times I wanted to shake him as much as I could tell she did!!!!!!! 


To end the gala show we had a shaabi singer, with a full entourage of performing monkeys. I'm not being facetious here, there literally was a man dancing in a full gorilla suit! That was a first for me!!!! Plus a tannoura, pantomime horse, clowns and saidi dancers! It was quite a show!! 


Throughout the entire night I had the pleasure of sitting next to the fabulous Egyptian dancer Dalida and her absolute gentleman of a husband. They did so much to restore some of my fading faith in humanity! We had great conversations about all sorts of things, but mainly about why we dance and how we see our future within dance. It was great to have that conversation with someone who completely understood! 

The next morning I had to be up early to teach my class ... So I didn't stay to see the very end of the party but 3am was late enough for me anyway after having traveling the night before! 

.... And that and it was still only my first day in Cairo! 



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Major stress in China



So... It finally happened. Possibly one of the worst things you can think of when you are abroad (that's not a medical emergency anyway! )

I was in China, flying back to Shanghai after teaching and performing in Changsha. I was traveling with my agent and felt relaxed, knowing I had finished the work part of my China tour and now had 4 days in Shanghai to rest and shop and enjoy myself before heading back to Uk. 

We left the plane, I asked him if he had everything with him and we headed to baggage reclaim. Within maybe 6 minutes of leaving the plane it struck me, I wasn't wearing my handbag! I had put it under the seat in front of me while flying and somehow had managed to forget to pick it up. Despite even checking my agent had his things, I'd then managed to leave my own! I felt like such a fool. 

We headed to Shanghai Airlines desk immediately for them to contact the plane, but the bag had disappeared. I couldn't believe it. Where could it have gone? I was furious. The only option was that the cabin crew or cleaning staff had lifted it. The airline seemed really non-plussed. As did the police when we went there. The police refused point blank to even take a lost report from me, let alone a stolen one! 

The problem was that the bag contained not only all my earnings in cash from Changsha, my credit card and my brand new iPhone 6s (less than 6 months old) but it also contained MY PASSPORT! 

So my relaxing few days in Shanghai became as stressful as any you could imagine!

We decided to get to the hotel and keep on phoning the airline and lost property in case somehow they found it all. The problem we found is that without a passport, no hotel in China is allowed to check you in! I was robbed, and now also homeless!

The British embassy emergency phone line made me an appointment to apply for an emergency travel documents and told me that in the meantime I would just have to stay with friends! Well, no one in Shanghai can afford the space to have a spare room, so my agent checked himself into another hotel (one that foreigners were not supposed to be in at all) and then he sneaked me up to 'my' room with strict orders not to open the door to anyone except him!!!! We agreed that if he was at the door he would knock the maqsoum rhythm so that I knew it was him! Although the hotel was lovely, and very close to the dance studio, it was not exactly restful. I was awake most of the first night worrying about what would happen if I was discovered in a hotel I wasn't supposed to be in, without a passport or a visa to be in China! 

Thankfully that at least went smoothly and I had to sneak in and out the hotel for the next 2 nights, by the back stairs rather than walk past reception! 

The staff at the British consulate were incredibly helpful and easy to deal with, however, there was a problem there too. Their computer system had failed and they couldn't deal with my issue until close of business on the Tuesday night! So I had 2 whole days thinking I would never have my travel pass in time for my flight on Wednesday! 

This is the view from the door of the British consulate. I took it s a good omen that I could see a den pyramid from there!

They managed it even staying back in the office after it closed to complete it for me. Never have I been so happy to see a passport photo of myself before! 

Who knew that Passports come in any other colour than maroon?! (yes ok, I did... but have never seen a yellow one before!) 

Sadly though my stress wasn't yet over. I still had to get a Chinese visa stamp Into my new passport! Before that I had to register with the police that I was In China, by checking into a hotel for a night. The temporary passport and letter from the consulate allowed them to do this so I had to sneak out of my hotel so move to another one. Next day I had to go to the Chinese immigration office, Report the lost passport there and apply for an exit visa so I would be allowed to leave the country! This they told me on arrival there (the morning of my flight) would take at least 5 days! 

This is the Shanghai version of the 'Mogamma'. (i.e. the Immigration and visas office).  It was a stunning building in a huge green area in the centre of town and had just as many windows as the dreaded building in Tahrir Square!


The chap at the desk saw that I was close to tears when he told me this and wrote a note on my form so that I could try for faster treatment. Hours of administration later we left there with instructions to come back at 4.30pm and the visa ' might' be ready, but there was a good chance it wouldn't be until the following morning at the earliest. 

So, with my flight due at 11.30pm, I didn't actually know until nearly 5pm that I was in fact going to make it! They had done my visa for me in one day!!!! 

I felt drunk from the relief! 

Lessons learned:
- never leave my handbag anywhere!
- Always have a paper photocopy of passport AND visa. I did have a copy on my phone but this isn't enough (when phone goes too!) 
- Travel insurance! (Nope- I didn't have any. Stupidly shortsighted I know. This was sadly a hugely expensive trip)
- Crying in front of officials in China has same effect as it does in Egypt. 
- My agent and his staff have my eternal gratitude for being so patient and accommodating in this extreme situation. I couldn't have achieved any of this without them translating everything for me!
- Flights that have an option to date change are vastly superior than ones you can't change. 
- I am looking forward to going back to China despite this being the second time I've been a victim of theft there. It has not put me off, it has just given me a huge wake up call. I need to be more responsible for myself and my things. The Chinese I know are the kindest and most generous of people and there are a few rotten apples in every barrel, wherever you are in the world. 

My hero! I have no idea how I would have survived this horrible experience without him and his staff. We even managed some laughs along the way!!! 



Monday, May 30, 2016

Dance surprises in China (Blog 3 from teaching in China, May 2016)


Here are few of my China inspired dance related thoughts as promised!

- Tarab. In many places around the world dancers might describe a dance style or music style as Tarab, however, Tarab is a feeling, an emotion, rather than a category. Certain music might be more likely to inspire Tarab in the listener however it shouldn't be classed as 'Tarab music'. On trying to explain this in my Beijing workshop, I was attempting to describe what athletes know as 'the zone' and dancer might think of a 'flow'. When the end result is greater than the sum of all the parts involved. When you are lost in emotion brought on by the music. My surprise came when one of my students, and keep in mind China is a hyper conservative country, piped up with, " yes, I know what you mean, it's just like an orgasm". The breath intake from everyone in the room, myself included, was audible! So there you have it. In my mind Tarab will always now be thought of as a 'spiritual orgasm'!!!!



- Music over technique. To some extents this is not purely a chinese issue, however they are on the whole obsessed by rules and technique. The majority think that all they must do to improve their dancing is to learn new techniques and steps and drill harder the stuff they already have. They always ask me for 'rules' for linking the moves. When I encourage them to get rid of the idea that there are rules and to relax into the music, they visibly tense up! I knew this however before I came to China this time. What I hadn't realised was how little they actually listen to and are inspired by the music. The art form which itself inspires dance! Being able to hear the music and everything in it, emotions included and then reflect this to your audience, is in my mind crucial to being a dancer. Less about the move and more about what moves you!


- Food. I cannot eat before dancing. I need 3-4 hrs digestion time, otherwise I am in horrible pain. It's always been that way for me so imagine how surprised I am by the Chinese dancers idea of a 'light lunch' in between dance classes. Noodles, dumpling, rice, you name it, they eat it and in great quantities too. I cannot understand where they put it since most of them are tiny wee skinny things too! It doesn't seem to effect the effort they put into the dance though. Oh, and seemingly the way to look your best for a photoshoot the next day is not too drink too much water the night before as this can make you look puffy. Also, women should avoid all iced drinks, especially around their period as it is seemingly 'very dangerous'.


- Private classes. This trip I taught some private classes in addition to my workshops and was surprised how many girls will go to the expense of a one to one class without having given it any prior though as to what they want to learn. It seems that private classes in China also generally follow the fashion for technique and choreography, so the dancer is waiting for the teacher to decide what she should be taught. One girl however wanted me to trouble shoot her performance for the show that evening. Tweeking a dance  for someone is something I really love doing. Helping them be the best they can be is my reason to teach. In this instance it was a little politically difficult for me because although the choreography was exceptional, it was not her own, and the creator of said choreography was my translator. This meant that I had to really be careful not to offend the teacher in front of her student if there were things in the choreography I didn't like!! Private classes are an amazing way to really work on your dancing in depth, but do give it some thought what you want from a specific teacher before taking a class. If students come to me without knowing what they want, I usually ask them to dance for me,  then I pick out the things that I feel need work. This works well, but can be a little scary for less experienced dancers.


- Changes. I have seen a huge improvement in the level of dance all across China in the past 4 years of teaching workshops here. I have always maintained that the best cities/areas/countries for Bellydance are those who have enough teachers with direct links to Cairo. Ok, so as a dancer in Cairo for the past 10 years I am perhaps biased, however I really believe that to perform Egyptian dance well, you need to immerse yourself in the culture of the country it comes from. I am happy to see more and more Chinese dancers coming to Egypt to learn and also organizing holidays for their students to travel and experience it for themselves too. Long may it continue.



I love traveling and working in different countries. There is always something new to understand and learn. It makes me feel so alive! 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Being the surprised tourist in Beijing..(Blog 2, May 2016 from China)


I have just had the good fortune to Beijing for 4 days and although I knew I'd like the city, I did have a few surprises along the way... These are all very tourist based. The dance version is for my next blog entry (I thought I could combine them, but am surprised while writing them how many there are!!!!)

1. Blue sky! Yes, renowned for its horrific Beijing pulled out all the stops for me and I was lucky enough to have warm blue skies everyday! When the pollution in China is bad it swamps even the sandstorm days in Cairo, so I felt very relieved that you lungs were to get a break these days. Very unexpected!


2. Sunburn! Ok, so this is linked to number 1, but even living in Cairo for 10 rarely got sunburn just from walking about. Great to see the sun, and get a start on my summer colour, but strap lines- not so great when I am performing in 2 days time (in Changsha). Oops!



3. Tourists! I should have expected it. I know I should, but for some reason I didn't expect to see SO many chinese tourists in China. There were a few other foreigners too, but they too were jostled roughly by large groups of home crowd, all wearing matching Tshirts or caps!   



4. Forbidden city treasures! It surprised me that the forbidden city was just SO huge (and that my 'guides' thought we would get round it all in 1.5hrs!!!) and SO busy. The style of tourism is rush in, get to the front, photograph whatever it is, maybe stand there to post it onto wechat and block the view for all, or jostle your way back through the crowd again. Elbows and phones everywhere. I was therefore amazed that the entrance fee to the treasure hall seemed enough to deter the majority of the crowds, despise being only 10yuan (about £1). This area was exactly what I imagined the forbidden city to be like, area of calm, no throngs of people, the chances to imagine what life would have been like 500 years ago! I felt so lucky to have this time. I still don't feel I have seen half of it and am already looking forward to my return journey!



5. Spiders! So, not all the surprises were good!! One evening I was taken to a street in Beijing, set up for the tourists I believe and here there were selling all sorts of local delicacies, pork shawarma (worth a mention for my friends in Cairo!!), cheese coated fried banana (???), noodles and tofu of every shape, size and colour, deep fried crab and lobster, snake, sliced and whole intestines of every animal you can think of, yellow bean soup (which smelt like sewers, no, in fact it was worse than the sewer!!) and then there was the creepy crawlies. Maggots, huge centipedes, cockroaches, scorpions and one I wasn't expecting at all, huge black spiders which were the size of tarantulas. Put it this way, they looked too big to fit in one mouthful (if you can even contemplate that idea, I felt sick looking at them!). Thankfully we were NOT eating there! Instead we went to a restaurant that was famous for its 'sheep neck' which I have to admit to really not liking the idea of, however it was delicious, and infinitely preferable to the alternatives! Everything I travel  to China people say "oh no, the food is horrible!" And I am always stunned because I have always had amazing meals here. In fact, I usually have to work really hard not to put on weight in my travels here. Now, after seeing this street, I understand where this idea has come from! Oh. But it case you think it's all bad- you have to try 'Rose pancakes'. These wee things are manna from heaven!

******CAUTION*****- scroll down v quickly past next photo if spiders make you squeamish!!!!







6. Christmas songs! It is May but I have heard an annoying little girl sing 'jingle bells' repeatedly (Bingo drinks advertising) and a pack of dogs barking 'decks the halls' (not sure what that advert was for!!). Whatever next? I will tell you what. A cat food advert on tv based around a man baking Christmas cookies with a cigarette dangling from his lips, his ash falling into the dough. I kept waiting for it to be a health and safety ad but no. They ate the cookies with smiles on their faces. All except the cat. Clever cat. And then there was Nat King Cole sings Christmas- the album, being played in Starbucks. I really had to double check a few times this trip that is wasn't actually December!



7. Don't talk politics! So on my first night in Beijing I went for Peking Duck which was amazingly delicious. Later I was told why it's special, which shouldn't have been a surprise but I just hadn't really thought about it; how they contain and force feed the birds etc. Knowing that has put me off somewhat now! The duck restaurant was right next to T square. I don't know much Chinese history, but I do know about some of the stuff that happened here and when I asked my Chinese friends they would barely talk about it. At all. A couple of days later I asked again a question which related to when all the culture was destroyed, the wall broken down in Beijing and books burned, amongst other things. Again, no one would talk about it. So I figured it really was a closed country and perhaps people were scared to talk. So imagine my surprise when on the way to the airport the taxi driver talked the whole way saying he wants a revolution in China, because in his opinion, currently there are no human rights! It's all or nothing it would seem!









...... And that's quite enough surprises for one blog... Next one is all about Bellydance!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Rules and Systems in China, and in Bellydance! (Blog 1 from China 2016...)

I'm just back from 3 weeks teaching around China!


I actually arrived in uk yesterday morning. Switched on social media on arrival, mid transit, in Amsterdam, first thing I saw was breaking news about Egypt Air flight going missing. I instantly felt devastated and horrified and decided I couldn't face it all yet so switched off the iPad again. Wasn't easy stepping onto a plane minutes after it either.....

Today, I am incredibly sad for the victims and also for this compacting blow to Egypt's tourist economy. I can't imagine waiting at an airport for a plane that doesn't show. The horror for those family and friends. My thoughts and love goes out to all involved.

I have now had some sleep and am more or less back in uk time zone so I feel a little more able to reconnect with the world again and, I will be posting some blog articles I wrote while in China and didn't have access to post (damn the great firewall of China!).... hope you enjoy!

Blog 1 from China...Rules and Systems in China and in Bellydance.

I might be stating the obvious, or falling for stereotypes, but in my experience it does seem that the Chinese like rules. By like, I mean 'really' like them.

In Chongqing this week, going to cross a road, I am told "No No No! you must never cross the roads in Chongqing, you must use the bridges and tunnels, it's too dangerous". A little extreme I felt, given my 10 years experience of road crossing in Cairo, but ok, if that is a law here, I will do as I am told. However, with rules, of course, comes rule breakers. The following morning I am made fun of by another girl when I am insistent that we should take the long way in order to use the bridge! She got her way, and we crossed with ease and without repercussion (although the vast majority of people it should be said, were indeed using the bridges).


I am writing this in my first moment of (unexpected) free time since arriving in China one week ago. My flight from Chongqing was delayed. No one advised any of us of this delay. This was an occasion where a system that should work smoothly, failed. No announcements and no message on the departures board. The result; chaos. Almost all the passengers were thronged around the gate and the two 'rabbit in headlights' flight attendants who were manning it. They didn't look like they knew what was going on either. Obviously, since I don't speak Chinese, perhaps they were reassuring people and asking for patience, however, that wasn't the impression I was getting from the faces around me. I couldn't find a single person who spoke English and after asking a couple of people, both of whom looked mortally embarrassed when they couldn't reply, I decided that rather than embarrass anyone else, I would just sit it out.  Two hours later than expected we were permitted to board and at last told why the delay. A tyre needed changed. I'd never thought of a plane getting a flat tyre before. What a frightening thought!!!!

I can't help thinking how these two instances in attitudes to rules and systems relate to Bellydance. I can't help myself!

I remember early days of learning technique and indeed of teaching it. "You must put your arms like this, your feet like that, you must move to this part of the music in this particular way".

This is like "you must use the footbridge to cross the road".

This way will always fit. It is sensible and safe.

Only once you have enough experience behind you  should you break these initial rules (eg dealing with traffic in Cairo or in this analogy have mastered these basic moves and steps). Sometimes when you dance you will still choose to play it safe and that's ok, but sometimes you will take the riskier, more exciting (aka adrenaline producing) route.

Thankfully in dance as opposed to road crossing, the benefits of doing this are much greater (for the performer and the audience) and the risks potentially much lower! Do keep in mind though that some of these 'rules' a dance teacher will give you are there to protect you from injury, so only bend these rules when you know you have the strength and control to deal with the consequences! Breaking some of the rules in dance can make space in which to discover your own personal dance style and be more creative and exciting. Even the top Egyptian artists don't all perform or teach even a basic hip drop in the same way, so keep this in mind when learning and exploring for yourself different ways to do even the things you previously thought were written in stone.



My airport story made me think of the choreography v improvisation debate.

There is a recognized international system for boarding a plane. You have your gate number and boarding time on your boarding pass and if there are any changes they will be shown on the board. Chaos happened today because the board was not used as it should, the system failed!

This to me is like a choreography. There are steps, in a specific order and if all goes well then you will succeed in achieving what you set out to do. Things will run smoothly.

If however the choreography doesn't go to plan, you forget it, or the stage doesn't allow you do perform the moves you wanted, or someone gets in the way, you have the 'board of Improvisation' to fall back on. Assuming you have practiced free-styling then hopefully that will take away the fear and uncertainty you might feel at this point and see you through to the end of the show or at least until you can pick up your choreography again.

However, if you don't have improvisational skills, you have nothing to draw on, it is just like today when that board stayed blank for 2 hours; chaos!

So, even if right now you think you will always choose to perform choreography over improvisation, make sure that your improv skills are up to scratch anyway, just in case that 'flight is delayed'. Who knows, you may even end up preferring that method of performance eventually anyway!



I'm airborne now, heading to Beijing to teach guess what.... improvisation skills! You'd never have guessed it, would you?!

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Lorna's 2016 workshop schedule so far...


Some of my upcoming workshop and performance details have not been confirmed yet... but so far, here are the 2016 ones that are! mainly UK, but China and Egypt too!



April 15-17- Shimmy by the Sea weekender ( www.shimmybythesea.com )
April 18- Hove- Tabla solo workshop ( www.nadiaundine.com/events-2/ )
April 22-24- Shimmy by the Sea weekender ( www.shimmybythesea.com )

April 27 -May 19 - China - Chongqing, Beijing, Changsha.

June 3- Manchester hafla (email: office@katycarmichael.co.uk
June 4- Manchester workshops (email: office@katycarmichael.co.uk)
June 5- Newcastle workshops ( Claire@bellydances.co.uk )

June 11- Glasgow workshops and Hafla ( www.glasgowfad.com )

June 25- Wales charity hafla ( elindiabellydance.webs.com/hothaflasfundraising.htm ) 
June 26- Wales workshops (Private event at the moment but contact me if interested and if spaces become available i will let you know!) 

July 2- Oxford workshops ( http://www.oxfordbellydanceclasses.org/bellydance-events-in-oxford/workshops-with-lorna-of-cairo/ )

July 8-10- Torquay Luxury Bellydance Spa break ( www.shonahagan.com/torquayholiday )

July 13- Cairo-  Nile Group festival workshop ( nilegroup.net )

September 10- Wolverhampton workshops and 'RaqsW6' Hafla ( www.shikidim.co.uk )

Sept 27-Oct 18 - China - Chengdu, Weihai, Wuxi

November 14-21- Cairo, Nile Group Festival - TBC 

Please contact me if you need more info re any of the above... or if you would like to host me in your area do let me know via email bellylorna@hotmail.com 

Apart from China and Egypt, most of these dates are in UK, however, there is talk of me coming to USA soon... so let me know if you are interested in that too as we are still at the drawing board stages!


Sunday, April 03, 2016

My BIG news....


I'm sitting with Star the cat on my lap, listening to Elissa on Nogoum fm radio, looking out at a grey sky, a church spire and the sound of church bells fill the air....

It's about time I tell you all my big news!

On 22nd March I celebrated 10 years living in Cairo.....



And on 25th March I packed up the last of my costumes and moved back to live again in Scotland! Yes, although I will always be 'Lorna of Cairo' I am no longer 'Lorna in Cairo'!

I have decided that I have at long last ticked the box that I went to Egypt to achieve. I have continually held down 3 major work contracts at Nile Pharaohs, Fairmont Nile City Hotel and Nile Maxim and worked with my own bands in each of them. I have danced at many weddings, parties, bars and clubs. I have learned enough Arabic to get by in most situations and Egyptian culture and habits now are so well mingled with my own that I still talk about 'us' and 'we' when discussing Egyptians, and I suspect I always will. I've 'lived the dream' as my auntie told me yesterday, which made me feel my life was over, but I reassured her that I was only transitioning into a different dream phase!

Of course I will be back so often to Cairo that some there may not even believe I am no longer based there! I want to keep myself up to date with everything there, the music the dance, the politics, the lifestyle. I believe I need that energy to inspire my dance, and I would miss it, and all the friends I have there, way to much otherwise. Who knows, I may even restart my group holidays to Cairo again if there is enough interest!

I am also looking forward to teaching there again in the next Nile Group festival, in July, which will be my next visit back. I still can't quite believe I have left. It's only been a week and I do feel that I should be getting on a plane and heading 'home' to Zamalek soon (I think the cold and rain in Edinburgh may be accelerating that desire!). I'm writing this blog post partially to keep my friends and supporters abreast of this major life change, but also to try and force the idea to sink into my own head that I have actually left!

As you know, I have been doing more and more workshops internationally recently and I have in particular enjoyed my many recent trips to China. My primary reason for returning to Scotland is on a personal level to be near family and friends here and on a professional level, to focus more on my international work. I love that through dance I have met so many lovely people all over the world and I feel it is now time to see a bit more of this wonderful world of ours!

So there you go! Apologies to those of you who had been planning a trip to come and see my show there, but who knows.... You may see me soon,  I will just have to come to you instead wherever you are!

On that note- if you are interested in hosting workshops with me do please contact me either via email bellylorna@hotmail.com or on Facebook! (I may also do a show or two when I visit Cairo too!)

I will share my upcoming world workshop schedule with you all as soon as I've got my feet under the table!

Apologies also to the very many people I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to in Cairo. I just couldn't. It was too emotional to leave even without all the farewells! I hope you understand and forgive me. We will party in July when I am back. It is not goodbye but rather, 'hashufku oriab!'  (See you all soon)

Thank you Egypt for all you have taught me, about the dance, but also about life and about myself. It's been a roller coaster of a ride, but any lows have always been more than made up with by the supreme highs! I will always look on my decade in your arms as the years that really formed who I am. I hope that in my future workshops and performances I can now take some of those lessons I've learned and share them around the world.

Oh and Egypt.... In return for spreading the love of your dance, music and culture around the world, if you could send some sunshine to me in Scotland that would be just perfect!





Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Surprise Edinburgh workshop! Sun 7th Feb


Wasn't planning to come to UK for a holiday... But January is always a quiet month in the entertainment and I saw that the temperature in Cairo was similar to Edinburgh, so I decided to come home and visit family and friends for a couple of weeks! 

While I am here, any excuse to dance, right?! 

So...... Why not come along to my workshops?

Sunday 7th Feb
Times still TBC. (But in the afternoon!) 
Lothian Dance Academy, 2 Rosefield Avenue Lane, Portobello, EH15 1AX


Workshop 1-Lorna's Cairo Technique. Dance along to new tunes as well as classics and learn Lorna's latest top moves from Cairo. Technique, musicality, attitude- a bit of everything really, but mainly LOTS of dance! 

Workshop 2- One Tune, Four dance styles. Lorna will help us find 4 completely different ways of dancing to one piece of music. We will look at musical interpretation and Lorna will give lots of suggestions for improvisation. 

Open level (but not suitable for complete beginners!) 

Workshop 1 £30
Workshop 1&2 £50
(Apologies but it is not currently possible to book for only workshop 2!) 

To book your places please contact ElspethSwishandhips@hotmail.co.uk or by Facebook message. Payment will be made by BANK TRANSFER ONLY ! 



Thursday, January 07, 2016

A dancer's Typical work night in Cairo!


Phew....

well just about got my breath back now...

Christmas and New Year are out the way.... only they are not, because today is Christmas day in Cairo!

Happy New year to you all, and Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it on the 7th Jan!

I haven't written here, because I've been writing for another blog!! (traitor to myself!!!!)

A fellow dancer who I knew when she lived in Scotland, lives now in Australia and has a blog. Yasmin asked me to write an article about a typical night of work for me... my answer ended up being a super long one... so, rather than repeats bits of it,  here is the link , so you can check it out direct at the source and also read other dancers replies to the same question! Interesting reading... Hope you enjoy it!


A Typical Night in Cairo, by Lorna of Cairo



Friday, December 04, 2015

The show must go on......!


Yesterday I published a post about continuing to work for the past 9 months despite severe pain. Some of you have expressed surprise as to how I was able to do that. To be honest, I am pretty surprised at myself too! 

If you are a professional dancer like me I am sure you will have nights where you just can't get in the mood, or you are suffering either physical or emotional pain. How do you manage to get up on that stage and go for it, when it's the last thing you want to do?! Here's some of what goes on in my head and helps me put those sequins on when all I really want to do is get into my PJs and curl up with a good book in bed! 

The main thing is professionalism. 

This breaks down into two intrinsic elements: Brand value and income protection. 

Brand value- I have to show that I can deliver what has been promised. I cannot bring myself to let people down and have them think ill of me. I need people to know when they book me, they can trust me to be there. If I cancel, even with a really good excuse, like a slipped disk, I'd run the risk of breaking that trust and losing that client. 

When you run your own business you really do need to put your best foot forward or face the consequences. If you cancel work in Cairo, you run the high risk of never being offered a gig at that venue, or with that person again. There are other dancers out there and if they are forced to use another, they may not ask you back. Competition is steep. Money is seldom the reason most dancers I know have chosen this challenging occupation, however of course, we still all have rent and bills to pay. You can't afford to give the work away, you need to protect your current and future income. 

photo credit: www.MicheleDillon.com



















Sickness, injury, whatever reason you wish you weren't going to work that night, now because of professionalism you have steeled yourself up for it. So how do you manage to paint on enough of a smile that will show the world you are not only there doing your job, but happy to be? We need to make that effort because there is nothing worse than watching a dancer who looks like she doesn't want to be there. 

For me it is all about slipping my feet into the shoes of my audience. Not literally! 

'The show must go on' attitude has always been strong in me, no matter what, since the beginning of my performing career. I have always thought 'there will be at least one person in that audience who has never seen Bellydance before and it is my duty to make sure they go away with as favourable an opinion as possible'. Educate them, if you will. 

Of course, you could argue that everyone in Cairo has seen Bellydance at one point or another so the above reasoning doesn't really apply unless I am performing at the time for a boat load of tourists or outside of Egypt. 

In Cairo my thinking is more in relation to how the general public view belly dancers. 

The vast majority of them really do see us as only one step up from prostitution, mainly due to the way Bellydance has always been portrayed in media. The dancer in films is always the 'bad' influence. Sadly. So when I set foot on a Cairo stage, I do so with the attitude that I want to show 'it's not like that'. Yes, it is sexy, but it is not crude or vulgar. There is elegance and skill involved too. 

That is always part of my purpose and the thing that gives me that energy boost to get on stage and 'prove' them wrong or at least challenge their preconceived prejudices. 

The third factor involved in that impetus to "get the show on the road", is entertainment. Everyone has struggles within their own lives and when you go out to see a show you want to be distracted from that and given the opportunity to smile, relax and have fun. To be entertained. If I can help even just one person in front of me do that through my dance, then I have made their world a slightly better place, even if just for that short time and that is, I think, a noble aim. 

These driving thoughts have been the main reasons I 'soldiered' on through the pain and depression. 

I didn't quit. I didn't give up. I wanted to make a difference.

To give me a valid reason for being a bellydancer.  Perhaps even to give me a 'reason for being'.

If you still are finding it hard to push yourself when you really aren't in the mood to dance remember than you always get that natural chemical reward too. When you dance your body releases endorphins and these can be thought of as 'the happy hormones'. It is unlikely that the world will weigh as heavy on your shoulders at the end of the dance than it did at the beginning. I cannot count the number of times I have literally been in tears in changing rooms before a show, depressed about something going on in my own life, but then been able to smile and even laugh, genuinely, on stage. That's the high. 

Dance is my drug of choice. It never fails to help me cheer up when I am down! I always feel better when I am dancing, or have just danced. 

I hope that whatever the difficulties you face in your life, they can also always be lessened through dance. Whether you are a professional dancer, or not!

Happy dancing! 

Thursday, December 03, 2015

To be, or not to be?


One night last week I was called over to a table after my show. Regular customers (a mixed group, all Egyptians) who decided that they had to tell me that had renamed me 'Samia Gamal for this generation'. 



I was somewhat perplexed. I don't look like her (I wish!) and although she has always inspired me and I love her, there are many other dancers whose style I am more influenced by. So I asked why. They were all jumping over each other to explain it to me (which shows me that they had actually been analyzing and discussing it together as a group!)



I was told that I always came across as "classy, elegant and intelligent when I dance and  in the way I interact with everyone, on and off stage". They have no idea how much that compliment means to me. Not commenting on my steps, or my body, or my costumes, or even my 'feeling', but seeing past all that to on my overall demeanor as a person. The 'me' inside the dancer. 

I'm actually welling up thinking about it. All the battles I have fought to be a dancer in this country. To fight against so many things that are out of my hands, from revolutions to pain and so many things in between. All these felt like they had been leading up to this moment. 

If I could have imagined what my biggest achievement would be I might have previously answered, dancing on a large stage with a huge orchestra, or dancing in a movie or being booked for more weddings than I could handle. Of course, those would be great too, and if anyone wants to help arrange these I wouldn't say no ! Actually scrape that, I might say no, it always depends on the cost (and sadly in this industry, in this country that cost is often one I am not prepared to pay!). 

The truth though was there, in a bar in Mohandiseen, being told by a group of people that they saw, recognized, appreciated and liked 'the person inside the dancer' was the acceptance I think I have been striving for all these years. It really moved me. (I tried not to embarrass them, or myself, by showing that too much though!!!!) . I guess it was reaffirmation that I hadn't been wasting all these years after all! 



I always thought 'making it' would be that people thought I was Egyptian because of the way I dance. However,  people have told me that many times over my 10 years here and, although fabulous to hear, it did indeed boost me on low days, it didn't really make me feel I succeeded. Or perhaps it did, at the time, and I have just moved the goalposts. I do that I lot I have noticed. Good way to improve, bad way to ever feel content! 

So the moral of all this, if there needs to be one, is that the more I allow myself to dance honestly, as me, not 'trying to be Egyptian' but just 'being me', the more I am valued as a dancer in Cairo. 

So the answer to the title question- 'To Be!' 


Oh, and I just want to say a special thanks to those audience members for choosing Samia for all the reasons above but also for giving me such a good excuse to spend a morning poured photos and videos of her! 




The ostrich effect


I've been finding it really hard to write these days, because actually I've been finding these days really hard. 

When I say days, I actually mean months. Nearly 9 months in fact. 

I kinda lost my fire. There were glimpses, here and there. Hot spots, you might say. 
A show which which reignited the flame.
A night out where the music has flooded everything else out.
A class where I was overwhelmed and inspired by the energy of my students. 
Largely however, that fire has felt more like trying to light a match with a gale-force wind blowing in my face. I've felt I've been fighting things which were out with my control. Fighting and losing.

Pain: Such a little word for something that can change you and your life so much. 

I know my body well. I've been a dancer for 20+ years and I see this as a professional requirement. I know how relaxed or tight each muscle is. I know when I am somewhat out of alignment, and I usually know exactly needs moving to get me back up and running. I know when my stomach needs to avoid food for a while, and I'm not talking about weight issues here. In fact, I know my body so well that I could tell you where to look to find a pimple on my back that I hadn't seen or been told was there! I can 'sense' it. 

This complete body awareness is, I think, what has given me an edge in dance all these years. It is what allows my body to respond to sounds without consciously having to process the information in my brain. It's what allows me to lose myself in the music. It frees me up from the thoughts of 'what to do' so that I can be fully present in my interactions with my audience. 

I have been so lucky. 

The unlikely thing was that I didn't realise nor appreciate it. They say "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone". This is not the case here. For these past months I have wished it was gone! The downside of such intense awareness is that, if I can feel a small pimple.. Image what happens when I get an injury! 

All dancers get injuries. You use your body for any job, day in day out, and it will have repercussions. I've had a constantly recurring neck and shoulder pain from a slipped disc my neck, caused by wildly swinging a saidi stick above my head every evening in my show. Then I realised it was actually just too heavy for me and a switched to a lighter one (which had the added benefit of helping me completely change my style of saidi dance and has actually been one of the best things I ever did!). The pain lingers though, despite my belated understanding and change of behaviour. It's amazing how long the body will bear a grudge, or perhaps I should be amazed at how forgiving it has actually been all these years!!!! 

With that particular injury, I've always been able to fix it, or ignore it, or at least dance through it. The adrenaline from dance has always been enough to block the worst of the pain while performing. I saw dance as a miracle drug- able to remove pain for as long as I kept dancing! 

Then, 9 months ago, doing I don't know what, I manage to slip a disk in the very base of my back (L5-C1). I didn't know that's what I had done and I did all my usual fail safes for fixing myself. I threw ibuprofen pills down my neck like they were sweeties. I went for massages. I went to my osteopath. I stretched. I rested. I tried strengthening exercises. I had a few weeks where I didn't dance at all.  I did all the things I 'knew' that the doctor would say, and (wrongly) assumed the pain would just eventually go away. 

When I was on my recent trip to China I went for numerous massages hoping someone would be able to just 'pop' it into place. The thing was that the pain was registering inside my hip joint... And pins and needles and pain all down my leg. So I stupidly (in hindsight) thought it was hip related not back related. I did have one massage that managed to pop something back into place and as I danced to a baladi song in class 20mins later I actually had tears running down my face because of joy for the moment mixed with sadness for all those lost dances. That first pain free dance in 9 months was an incredibly emotional experience!  Sadly the 'fix' didn't last. Within a hour the pain was back. Just as bad as before. I really didn't think there was anything that could be done. After all, I'd been taking drugs and they weren't working. I trusted my own ability to heal myself too much. 

I learned to struggle on and live with it when I didn't have to. Trying all the things that usually work, getting more and more depressed when they didn't . In fact, I got so down this year that I actually decided to quit dance. What was the point, when the joy was gone? What would I have left as a dancer if all I had left was the theory and the mechanics (even they were limited) and no passion? I was distraught. 

When I came back I knew that I had to see a doctor and go for an MRI scan just to rule that out. It was that or accept the end of my dance career. 

In Cairo I went to a dr friend of mine. He prescribed me some heavy duty pain killers, and sent me off for a scan. This is only the 2nd MRI I have had in my life, and this time, as it had the first time, a power cut happened MIDSCAN. How unlucky am I?! Stuck in a freezing cold room in this machine until the generator kicked in and we had to restart the scan! 
however, by the next day.... Yes, I was able to get my result that quickly, a huge plus side to getting these things checked out in Cairo rather than in UK!, I knew what was wrong.  Not only that , but to my intense surprise, the new painkillers were actually doing their job! They worked where other antiinflammatories and painkillers hadn't. I've got physio exercises too. 

That weekend, I was able to dance relatively pain free. I couldn't believe it. These pills worked where all the brufen in the world hadn't! I felt so relieved and so stupid all at the same time. 

Why did it take me so long when it involved maybe even losing the thing I loved most?!!! Why hadn't I gone to the doctor sooner? I will tell you why- I was so scared I would be told I had to quit dance altogether. That's why. The pain got me down and the thought of what I might 'have' to do, or stop doing, got me down even more. I was ostriching, not wanting to face the fear and making myself worse in the process. 

Now, my head is out the sand and the pain is gone. I am able to get back into the music and things are looking brighter again. I am realizing that my body has been compensating for such a long time that I am having to retrain certain muscles and movements. Not surprising I'm sure, but weird for me. These are moves which have been 'natural' to me for so long that having to teach myself again is very peculiar. Wonderful, because now I can do them without pain. And I am so much more appreciative of what my body can do, now that I am fully aware of all the things it couldn't for so long. 

It's great to feel free again! 

The moral of the story: I'm a dancer. Not a doctor. 

So in future I plan to try and respond  quicker to aches and pains by getting them checked out properly by someone who is actually trained to do that! 

I hope this hasn't come across as too whinging of a post. I have not been feeling like myself for the majority of this year, and wanted to explain why! Thanks for getting through to the end of this! 

If you are also a dancer and in pain.... I hope you seek, and get the professional help getting through it that you need because nothing is worse that losing that exquisite joy of dance!