Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The end of the year....

What can I say? For me, it's been a hell of a year.

Wonderful things that have happened for me for work: Two month-long UK tours going to many cities I've never been before. Two Mediterranean cruises- dancing my way round the med! Teaching in JoY festival and doing teaching training programs. Performed at numerous venues around Cairo as well as the usual Pharoahs boat, taught in Shanghai for a month and been invited back...

Horrific things that have happened for work: Two 'presidents' in Egypt due to a second 'revolution'. Crippling curfews. Bureaucratic nightmares. Zero tourists.

There have been a few points in the last year where I have severely lost hope. I have had some of my darkest days.

There have been a few points where I have felt ecstatic. I have had some of my brightest moments.

I suspect 2014 will be a continuation of this volatile roller coaster. As a bellydancer in Cairo, nothing ever seems to go along smoothly or as expected. Sometimes for the good, sometimes not. But we keep doing it because those bright moments burn out the darkness.

I have become very good over my many years of living here of being able to predict all the possible outcomes in any situation. Some may just say I have become cynical. My 'cynical' response to that is , "not cynical, just realistic". All to often my worst fears have been realised. It can be very depressing, Sometimes it all seems inevitable, like I'm an actor on stage performing a rewritten drama. A tragedy. Sometimes it feels like fate has already been decreed. That life is over and I have wasted it. These are my darkest days

My brightest days are;
-when I realise I have people around me who love me and believe in me, even when I don't. You know who you are, and I thank you because I would not be here today without you.
-When I see the lightbulbs ignite in my students eyes, that amazing eureka moment.
-When dance explodes in me, from me, a zen moment, flooding my world with emotion and energy. Linking my mind, body and soul with the music and the audience. Time stands still and nothing else matters.

My wishes for 2014 are;

-To be proved wrong more often.
-To be surprised with more good than bad.
-To regain some control over the run away roller coaster that is my life.
-To hang on to and appreciate those friends that have stubbornly stood by me so far.
-To make new friends who help on my downward slides and that I can help on theirs.
-To dance more
-To teach more
-To laugh more
-To thus live and love and be happy more

so goodbye to 2013..... 

..... and be kind to us 2014....

Monday, December 09, 2013

China day 26 - all about love

What an intense week it has been.

I have learned so much about so many things. I am even managing to pick up a few new Chinese words. The main thing however is that I have seen the different attitudes between countries to 'love'. 

This week we were largely focusing on Tarab. Which meant explaining the lyrics and well as the moves for many of the great songs by om khalsoum, Abdel halim hafiz and Warda. Songs that have become if you like the bellydancers' version of 'the great American songbook' , 'the songs every bellydancer should know'.

Tarab lyrics are almost always about love. Often complex love. You will often find fantastical memories of ecstatic times shared, mixed up with anguish of being torn apart, in one song. The lyrics may seem sad, but the music sometimes sounds happy. This is a hard enough thing to explain in the UK where I understand the language and the attitudes to relationships. Here in China, my students found it difficult to cope with the extreme emotions being voiced and seem to have a much more functional attitude towards love and relationships.

They felt that it was all too much and that they could never feel these emotions, never mind express them in dance. Some of the older ones nodded understandably to many of the issues, but being from a still very conservative society, many of the younger ones could not even begin to imagine why anyone would, or could, let their heart rule their head in this way. As one student said, but 'real love is like family love'. I tried to explain that there are many types of love. It was a difficult concept for many of them to grasp. How to get into the passion of the dance when the idea of your ideal partner is that you love each other in a 'family love' way, rather than a passionate way? I am not saying their way is wrong. Not at all. It seems much safer in so many ways. Longer lasting too I suspect. I think that sums it up well actually. I am generalizing obviously since I still know so little about the people and the culture, but it seems to me that logic and safety (security) are core values whereas emotions are considered as dangerous to those. A bit like Victorian Britain maybe? Wherever it comes from, it is most defiantly on the complete opposite side of the care/passion lovescale that inspires so much of the music in Egypt, in particular Tarab! 

The students have been joking 'from Lorna we learn Bellydance, English, Arabic and Love'.

One girl asked me near the end of the week what was wrong with her because she felt like crying when she danced to a certain song. I had to hug her. I told her she was doing exactly what she should be doing. She had opened not just her ears to the music but also her heart.

I split the class in two and had each side perform Enta Omri for the other half of the class. I had tears rolling down my face. The air was thick with emotion. In 3 weeks these dancers have come so far. Shy, giggly girls have allowed themselves to express passion in their dance. That is a such huge step.  

One of my girls wrote on wechat (China's answer to Facebook), "you made us enter the music and find ourselves deeply so we can put our emotion into the music and enjoy ourselves"

Love. Tick.

Well... The beginnings of it anyway.

Next task... To feel comfortable and confident showing their 'sexy side'. The giggles are still too frequent and very un-Egyptian (well un- Egyptian bellydancer anyway!).

Oh, and the great news is that I now have at least 8 of them who are planning to come to Egypt next year to visit in the summer. Knowing that will make the goodbyes at the end of this week a little less painful for me. We have shared a lot this course. Strong friendships have been formed. Oh dear, am welling up a little just thinking about it. 

Must be positive. I have a class to teach. 

Shaabi- 'sexy' is a must..........

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

China Day 17: More Dancing

Seemingly I have a professional photographer coming to shoot me while I am teaching and going around Shanghai. It's for the PR for the next time I come here. That is good news... There is going to be a next time! Guess they must be enjoying my workshops then. I thought that they are, but you never know for sure until you know if they want you back again or not! I know I haven't written much about the actual teaching side of things yet... But I will... In meantime you have to out up with reading all about my hectic social life!!! 

In Wednesday this week I had a 'disco nap' after class, then went to the Koala Bar to meet with its owner, a lovely student of mine, Jojo, and Mei. Jojo has an Australian husband, hence the bar's name and she is a lot of fun. Those cocktails have to be tried to be believed! I won't be trying them again the night before a class! Whilst there I got chatting with a drag queen, as one does. He is a history teacher in university during the day and a fashion designer in his spare time when he is not strutting the boards of the local gay club!  It was a scream, well it would be, wouldn't it?! 

We decided that a quiet drink in a bar was not going to be enough for a night such as this, so we went to Geisha; A chic club in town where all the ladies had free entrance and free champagne. I danced solidly from the time we arrived until we left. It was a great release. One club wasn't enough, oh no. After Geisha, we headed over to Hollywood, another club where all the rich and famous go, seemingly. And I don't think I sat down there once either. I got home by 6am! So a minimum of 6 hours dancing. I loved every second of it. 

Teaching yesterday afterwards however was tough. Very tough. However, strangely enough it ended up being one of my favourite classes that I have taught yet. The students are really opening up and relaxing with me and with each other now. The atmosphere is very loving and supportive and I am enjoying getting to know these interesting and talented people. Many of the students are in the fitness industry, running gyms and yoga classes and the like. Two of the girls also have danced traditional Chinese dance to a high level. They have promised me they will dance for me after the workshop at some point....! Looking forward to that. 

At the end of the workshop I told them my story about how I got into Bellydance since they had shared their stories with everyone earlier in the week over a group lunch. They had so many questions about Egyptian culture and how the dance in particular fits into that. One man was disappointed because his dream was to be a professional bellydancer in Egypt and I had to break the news to him that it is not possible to get a work visa as a man as a bellydancer, only for women. But he consoled somewhat when I told him he could maybe be a folklorique dancer and would certainly benefit from spending some time in Cairo to learn from the dancers there and to understand the music and culture more. He is a stunning dancer and hopes to visit Egypt soon.

After class I went for a Chinese massage. They massage you with more pressure than I have ever been massaged before (one shoulder is swollen this morning!) and then they put this hot steam thing over you which puts Chinese medicine onto your body. The massage is to remove the bad energy and the medicine is to replace it with good energy. Overall a very good experience and one I would, despite the shoulder,  happily do again before I leave. Talking with the girl who had pulverised me afterwards, it turns out that she had intentionally used more pressure on me that she ever would normally because I was a foreigner and there is a belief that foreigners have more bad energy than Chinese!! I didn't really know what to make of that, but I know that if I go back she will take it easy on me, or so she promised!

Right, it's 10.30am here now and I have a melaya lef class to teach...

Monday, December 02, 2013

China Day 16: Half-Way Point

Time has changed. It is going so very fast. I just seem to blink and it's the next day! 

This past week , other than the teaching, which is every day, I have either been sleeping early which took up 3 evenings, and I mean early, like 5pm/ 7pm! I got to the point where I was silly tired from waking at 2am everyday, even if I slept at 11pm that I decided to stop trying to regulate my body clock and just sleep when I needed to. That decision was made last Friday when I went for a lovely walk round a local park with leon and some of the girls from the class then we went for food afterwards and I literally was falling asleep in my chair! I hate jet lag. I have since found out that drinking milk is supposed to help, and also so is drinking sodium with soda. I haven't tried either yet, it seems a little late now, and wish I had known these things when I arrived! 

After class Todd took me to the tailors market. A huge building, like a mall, with nothing but tailors shops! I had thought to get a winter coat made, since I had been told it was very cheap to have things made for you, it wasn't. Shanghai prices actually seem to be very expensive, unfortunately. I did however buy a few meters of different fabrics with which to make costumes with when I get back to Cairo! 

On the Saturday night I went with Mei to a hafla. 'Lets shimmy'. A hafla in Shanghai seems to be fairly similar to one in UK; Lots of bellydancers all dressed up sparkly, but the venue was too swanky for words. It was in a Thai style club in the area called the Bund which is really stunning and all the buildings are super luxurious. Two days before I had been in a jazz bar in a 1920's Art Deco style hotel with live band and the place was to die for (as were the prices!) . At the hafla there was only 3 performances all night with the rest of the time free to dance to the drums, there were 3 tabla players there, and the music, of which the same 5 songs kept repeating. Very strange. The performances were varied. No Egyptian style unfortunately. One male dancer doing tribal style, followed by a group of what I can only describe as 'oriental fantasy', you know, with the little chiffon half face veils in colours to match the costumes, and then a tribal sword dance to end the night. Everything was a little slow.. And we were thinking to leave early, but the a group of my students arrived and I hit the dancefloor with them and we ended up having a ball of a time, with a impromptu photoshoot in the lobby of the building afterwards.

The next day I went to the botanical gardens. It has been cold weather here since I arrived, getting colder everyday (down to zero degrees today) but on Sunday that was the only day we have had rain. Typical on the one day I really want the sunshine because we don't have class. Ah well... The gardens were stunning despite the rain. I loved the tropical greenhouses too. I used up all my camera battery yet again.

At night I went to the cinema to see gravity. I don't recommend it as a film at all, however, I went to see it in the IMAX cinema and that was my first IMAX experience, which I loved. The cinema was in a beautiful new designer shopping mall. I have never admired the decor in a mall before. Now I have! Oh, I also ate curry for dinner. Curry in china. My life seems very bizarre right now, even to me!

Mondays plan was to have an evening in my hotel room, doing some class planning and blog writing, but I crashed at 5pm! So the planning was instead done in the middle of the night when I was obviously, frustratingly, wide awake! At least I got my 7 hours sleep, even if it was at a strange time! Did manage a wee trip to H&M first though, and bought myself a long sleeved Tshirt dress in the colour of the moment, green. Everything I am gravitating to these days seems to be dark green and lime green. No idea why! 

Hope you are enjoying reading my shanghai stories.... I am writing them so I don't forget things I have seen and done but unless I write daily I am sure I am forgetting so much. No wonder my body doesn't want to sleep, everything is so new and different and interesting that my brain just doesn't let my body rest!

Sunday, December 01, 2013

China Day 10: Food - A Cultural Comparison

Where did days 6-9 go I  hear you wonder. I wonder myself! The time has gone by so very fast that I haven't even had a spare hour to myself to even think about what I have been doing, never mind write about it! 

I have noticed a few things about Chinese culture that I couldn't help but compare to British, or Egyptian culture. Overall, how different it is to UK, but how similar it is to Egypt, mainly due to the collective ness of society. People do things in groups.

One of these things is Food. 

You may have noticed already, in fact one of my friends has already pointed out to me, that in the 6 blog entries prior to this, food features heavily! 

This is partly due to the fact that I love Chinese food, how could I not mention all the pork and duck and goose, but also due to the fact that Chinese show they love you through food. Every day one student or another will have brought me something new to try.  From ginger tea, to strawberries, to local sweets, to the largest orange I have ever seen! In fact I though the orange was a grapefruit, but no, it was sweet, a Citrus Maximus, according to the Chinese translator! 

Like in Egypt meal times is social time. Very social. Eight of us went for cake after class one day and everyone ordered, but then I could believe that without asking everyone was diving their forks into everyone else's cake to try, even before the person themselves had taken a bite. This shocked my British sensibilities, I have I admit perhaps on overgrown sense of 'mine' and 'yours', but china has very similar attitudes as Egypt. People don't bring a packed lunch to class, they bring a picnic, enough to share. The past couple of days I have chosen not to go to a restaurant for lunch so that I don't eat before having to dance ( I did one day and the pork and rice was sitting very heavy afterwards). However, if I sit in the dance studio, I end up being 'strongly encouraged' shall we say, to sample everyone's food, so I end up eating almost as much as if I had gone out for lunch! I am sure I have already put on about 5 KGB in the last week. I dread to think what size I will be when I get back to Egypt! 

Talking size, the Chinese are again similar to Egyptians in that they are not shy to tell you about yourself. The good and the bad. One day whilst shopping after class will some of the girls, I picked up some trousers I wanted to try and was told, no no, that is too small for you, you need XL !!! I was heartbroken, but took the XL (and L and M) into the changing room, in case maybe the size systems we're so very different from UK. Nope. The M fitted just fine thank you. So I obviously seem to be fat here even if I am not. Either that or they are confused because I am tall, so they are giving me extra leg length! I will try to console myself that the later is the case, because the alternative is depressing. Maybe of course they can tell the future, and they were choosing something that will actually still fit by the time I leave this country after the month of pigging out! 

Hotpot was one of the things I read about before coming to China and I have been lucky enough to be taken out to do this twice already in my first week. Think of it as a savoury fondou almost. Everyone sits around a table with a large hot pot in the centre of it. 

Half the pot has a spicy juice in it, and half has water. You order lots of foodstuffs and then put it yourself into the pot, whichever side you prefer. When you deem it to be finished cooking, you fish it out again with your chopsticks. You cannot be squeamish about double dipping in this country! Everything went in there! Ducks blood congealed into a jelly cube, tofu ( in various forms) lamb, pork, mushrooms, crabs, green leafy things, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, noodles, I would tell you more, but I don't even know the names for most of the things! Even after two shots at this, I still haven't suss did the etiquette, if there is any. Seems you choose what you want individually, but then you fish out anything at all you like from the pot, so you end up eating each other's choices anyway! 

Each experience was fantastic, but very different and in very different venues, one was a more local place, which was fun and relaxed. The other was also fun, but in a massive restaurant and we had a private room just for us, with our own personal waitress, and bottles of rice wine to drink down shot style with the meal. There was even a kung-fu style noodle dancer who threw some dough around himself in a extremely skilled manner. He moved so fast I didn't even get a clear shot of him doing his thing. 

It is quite common for people to be sick after a hotpot meal, often because they have taken out something that wasn't cooked through, and I can understand why this happens because if someone else puts something in, and you didn't see them you think it's the thing you put in ages ago and it bound to be ready. One girl was off class the next day after our first hotpot with a bad tummy, poor thing, thankfully I was ok! People also get a bad stomach from the high chilli content in the dish. I have to admit to not finding it overhot at all. Tingly, but not burning. The rice 'wine' however did burn. I say wine, but this stuff was 38%vol! 

Anyway, that's enough about food for now, off you go and cook yourself something!