Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cairo, the 30th July, 2009

"Ufffff.........Joana at the great


Taking a deep breath, after holding it for so long...It has been an incredible ride, so far...and I've only just started.

New contract. New orchestra and dancers, new place, new audience (plus the one that is already following me from the "Pharaohs" -where I used to work - to "Nile Maxim").
Nothing was given to me in a platter.I had to earn each and every show I made and I won the first row of challenges.

Me and my team were supposed to be working just - to start - for four days in a row and then take a place and give the chance to another dancer. We ended up doing the last 17 (!!!) days with no day off. We stopped because I am clearly exhausted. I begged for a break (how strange of me to do so...).

The best of all is that these unexpected last 17 days of shows in a row were purely and 100% audience required with no publicity made except for the "word of mouth" that ensured the news of my transference to "Nile Maxim" was publicly known. Thanks God!

I had no time to breath, until now...I feel like I've been diving in the deepest zone of a huge ocean and only now, as I'm writing this posting, I can see the sun and breath fresh air.
There were several couples, singles, whole families coming to see me perform two, three, four times during these last crazy two weeks. Every night we thought we were headed for a day or two off and we were informed we were REQUIRED at work the following day. What a marvellous thing to experience. The taste of a victorious challenge.
There was no time for rehearsals because we worked every day and the orchestra made so many mistakes that I proclaimed that NO show would be done without a rehearsal before going on stage. Therefore, rehearsals were held before EVERY show we presented and new songs/coreographies/concepts/cloths were arranged during the day in order to present variety to the repeating guests who were dear enough to make me feel ADORED and INSPIRED.
As I've said so many times, there's not a better inspiration than appreciation. When your talent and efforts are recognized and appreciated, you earn extra energy to do better, always better...I'm IN for the ride!!! No evil eye will be enough to detain me, may God help me!

Nagle, the Angel!
My assistant was my life saver during these two weeks of constant work, rehearsals and eternal preparations.
I once loved a man who cooked for me. I would say "Feed me, baby!" and he would. He could as well have given me a diamond ring and it wouldn't feel so great as the food he lovingly prepared for me. That was a labour of love and I knew it. It was love in the shape of the food he prepared for me. I was aware of that.
Nagle reminds me of that. She came everyday with a new dish, egyptian food, egyptian style. She made sure I always had my tea with mint in my backstage room. She performed the ancient ritual of the "halawa" on all my body (she LOVES doing it and gets giggling and euphoric at the sight of me, naked) and arranged all my dance cloths.
She even brought an old walkman and showed me a great lot of songs for me to perform.

She rubbed my muscles with mint oil and dressed me. She resembled a mother way too much and I felt caressed and spoilt.
She's supposed to be what they call "lapissa" (someone who dresses and undresses the dancer before, during and after the show) but she ended up being so much more than that.

Being used to do virtually EVERYTHING by myself and not being used to someone taking care of me, I feel -suddenly - pleased to recognize an artist NEEDS an assistant. It sounds a tad arrogant and pretentious to say this but it's true. If you're not minding every single detail around your work - which is supposed to be DANCING - you end up with more energy and mental space for the art itself. If there's someone feeding you with tenderness, making sure your favourite tea is on the table with no need of a previous request, your heart is warm and your mind relaxed, assured that basic needs are being taken care of and so you're free to dedicate yourself to "higher matters". If that person who takes care of you even dares to bring you home made popcorn - still warm -to make you relax, you surely have no excuse to make a bad job on stage.
Now I am just breathing in and out, trying to recenter myself and disconnect from the world. Just for one day...recovering energy to restart the creative machine and fly away.

Did I mention how happy I feel?!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cairo, the 29th July, 2009

"Moments before launching myself on the stage............"

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cairo, the 28th July, 2009

"Images that speak more and better than words!"

To check on one of my very new, very crazy and totally improvised tabla solos with my "also new" percussionist, follow this link:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cairo, the 27th July, 2009

"Good girl!"

I can still feel the thrill of tonight's shows...people's generous, appreciating gazes, their warm shouting and heartfelt clapping, their energy totally with me, their acceptance and recognition of talent, their presence in front and around me...Me, opening my arms and taking in the whole room as if I could hug my audience in a single gesture, as if my arms were of a super human size and the whole space - with respective souls in it - could lay into my embrace.

I look up and stare, for some seconds, at the gorgeous chandelier shinning above me. I give my back to the audience and acknowledge each one of my musicians in total attention and reverence.

I simply close my eyes, allow myself to breath deeply and be with myself for a moment, even if on stage, maybe because I'm on stage and this moments is so precious that i wish to capture it in my senses, my heart and my memory forever. I am aware of the blessing of being here, doing this misunderstood job that I love so much, having this opportunity to outgrow myself, night after night. Never satisfied, never enough..."we can do it better..." I say to myself and to my team.
"It was great but we'll do it even greater next time." This seems to be my praier and I'm getting along with it, seeing how it works (besides exhausting me).

There are a couple of men in the audience who try to flirt with me. I see them, look in their eyes and, in a second, subsistute that flirting look for a respectful, appreciating sudden glance that catch them offguard. I don't expect to change people's mentality but I can do my job in a way that, in an unexpected turn of melody, they can see DANCE, ART, SOUL and all that sensuous, prejudice full self-mirroring look of the audience is replaced by a RECOGNITION of a moment of PURE ART. These are my victories. Invisible to outsiders and yet so meaningful to me.

Two american couples came to see me perform tonight for the third time time in a row.

They pay for the most expensive table right in front of the stage and aren't shy to show their appreciation. I feel happy they're there. I could perform only for them, if I had to. They are wonderful and extremely sweet with me.
I feel happy they are coming to see the same dancer three nights in a row and, on each night, they have seen a different show and loved them all.

"Good girl!", I say to myself.

It has been a rollercoaster and I've done the whole thing or almost...

Classical style with the best of the best: Om Kolthoum, Abdel Halim, you name it.

Baladi - songs, taksim with my marvellous new accordeon, crazy bits of a true "bint il balad"

Modern dance with my boys and Saiidi-Tahtib with them...what a trip!

Alexandrian style, "sagats" and "toura". Tabla solos of all shapes and styles and still a new nubian theme I dance with gusto because there's so much of me that is inffluenced my Africa and its warmth!

The singing, ah...the singing...

And my mind doesn't stop.I want to reach further and reach that mountain top I reached today when I am dancing with the tabla or the tabla is playing according to my dance and all my audience stops, moves, trembles with pleasure (as in a loving embrace with my man!) and feels everything with me. That ability to make others feel what I feel through dance is a gift. I am also thankful for that.

Together. We're all ONE. "Tarab", tabla style.

"Good girl!" I say and repeat it to myself as I descend the stairs that lead me to the changing room. If I could, I would hug myself and scream out loud: "Well done, girl!I'm proud of you!"

Asking God to keep my inspiration and health going and never allow envy and the famous "evil eye" to touch me. I ask God for protection and thank him.

"Good, gooooooood girl!"

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cairo, the 25th July, 2009

"Me, dancing "Yamsafer wahdak" by Mohamed Abdul Wahab"

I am in a video mood. I guess it shows, huh?!

It's all part of wanting to share my joy with others and just a bit, very small bit of these last nights of work.

The best audiences ever. The "shouting your name" kind of audience. In the space of a few days, I can see the same faces I've seen before bringing their mums, wives and friends. I see their look of approval and expectancies and I work with my heart not to disappoint them. There's nothing as stimulating for an artist than the appreciation of the public.

The lady who cleans the bathroom has become my biggest fan in a record time speed (I have a "thing" for cleaning ladies, they all end up my friends and N1 fans...such an enigma I couldn't decipher until now...) and advises me to protect myself from the evil eye.

"It's very important that you don't forget to protect yourself from it because it's very strong on you! " - She advises while handing me extra napkins to retouch my make-up during the show.

She hugs me and assures me she'll be watching me (even hidden from the manager's disaproving sight). I thank her and promise to take care of myself.

My assistant brought me a special ointment based on mint to cool my muscles and release some stress and effort accumulated on my precious legs (thank you, my've been doing a great job!) and I rest for a while singing along with her walkman where you can hear Hakim in some of his old hits.

And then...the much love I receive from people and how much do I know that I cannot take it for granted but rather care for it and feed it like a valuable, rare flower I must keep alive and growing.

I thank God!That's my only and heartfelt prayer these days.

To check on me dancing Mohamed Abdul Wahab, follow the link:

Cairo, the 24th July, 2009

"Joana dancing "Mawood" from Abdel Halim Hafez"

Another heart candy for all my friends, dear "not so secret" followers, students and dance/music lovers to enjoy.
Me, going a bit ahead of myself with a song I, unfortunatly, can relate too much with.
Dancers - and not dancers who just pretend to feel making hard faces and poor tricks - who really know their craft have as common knowledge the fact that you dance away and share your own life on stage. Through the lyrics, melodies and rythms of these wonderful egyptian artists, you release your past and have, MUST, put a lot of yourself and your real life material in it.

Enjoy it following this link:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cairo, the 23rd July, 2009

"Videos from my show...growing and growing with God's help and blessings"

I woke up totally messed up!
Besides the demanding new work with all its excitement, responsability and constant stress, I dared to spend the night at Salsa with friends right after work.
It was salsa night in Veranda (glued to my new "home"), dear fellows! How could I resist?!
I had been in almost total reclusion creating my new show for about 15 days. Research, coreographies with the dancers, new cloths for everyone, the "singing" part (I am daring to sing in arabic...and yes - sure - I am crazy!), rehearsals with the orchestra who seems to presume that, if I am on stage, they don't need to worry a bit and they can even sleep in their pajamas because the audience will be happy. Simply because I am there. flattering and, I must add, how lazzy and stupid this kind of theory is.Fighting against general laziness and lack of motivation. Also fighting against a mentality - very common in egyptians and arabs - that says that success and any kind of appreciation from others gives us the right to be arrogant and take everything - and everyone- for granted.

I say : Success brings responsability and the more people appreciate you, the more you have to give them and keep exceeding their expectations.
My musicians seem to say: Success brings comfort and flattering compliments which fill my ego to such an extent that I can do whatever my mind conceives - sleep, fart, eat on name it! - and people will love me, anyway... (Oh, GOOOOOOODDDDDD............)
Returning to my classical role of headmistress of the nursery giving lectures to a group of men who are old enough to be my father or even grandfather on a daily basis(Holly, Macaroni...Give me strenght!)...
Coming out of my creative retreat after so much brainstorming and hard work was something I absolutely needed.Salsa, here we go...

Great food, some close friends I didn't see for a long while (some russian spies checking on me as if we were in the heat of 2nd World War, how ridiculous!!!) and SALSA! I forgot how tired I am these days and just threw myself on the dance floor.GREAT!
Downside of the whole night: waking up like I've been beaten by a truck or as if an elephant had run over me back and forth for a long time...(well, the night was so amazing that it was worth it!)
Current victories that I'm so proud of:
1. Winning a dream opportunity for my career due to my own merits and talent. Escaping the prostitution circuit and growing in my work without compromising my own values and dignity as a woman. This is the thing I am most proud of.
2. Showing the ones who gave me this opportunity that they couldn't have made a better choice than me (yes, I am feeling quite cocky right now! I have reasons for that!).
3. Watching myself expanding artistically, personaly, energetically.
4. Working on new songs, "tableaus" and musical/dance material that is so daring and exciting that no one - except me!- believes it can be done on stage.I prove them wrong, thanks God!
5. Having good people around me pulling me up and not the opposite (as it happened for such a long time).
6. Being respected as a person and as an artist in a new place where nothing is given to me. Every night of work has to be conquered. I am up and running for it!
7. Facing the best crowds ever...being happy and not excusing myself for it cause I finally recognize that I deserve it.
Now some sweets for all my students, secret readers (not so secret cause I know who ALL of you are!I feel flattered for your "underground" attention).

Two videos of my show.Follow the links and enjoy:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cairo, the 23rd July, 2009

"Running the REAL marathon..."

Holly Mother of Jesus! How can someone be that exhausted and, at the same time, SOOOOOOOOOO excited and happy???
I'm performing for the 6th night in a row and there's still two more to come.New place (YES!!!), new orchestra and dancers, new programs (ideas, ideas, ideas!) and so much PLEASURE to be in a place where my talent and hard work are recognized and clearly appreciated.I deserved this chance more than anyone I know and I am making sure that what I present in my shows is nothing less than the BEST!

Thanking God every single minute. Thanking, thanking as often as I breath.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cairo, the 17th July, 2009

"The reason why Om Kolthoum will always be my biggest inspiration.

She was and still is simply the BEST!"

As I was finishing to literally swallow the book "I loved you for your voice", by Selim Nassib (already on my MUST READ list in this BLOG) I got stuck on the same page, reading and re-reading it again and again...there I found the description of what I think is one of my favourite moments caught on tape of my adored diva Om Kolthoum.

Some months ago, I found something DIVINE - this is the real meaning of divine I'm using here - on the Youtube and, since then, I couldn't stop sharing it with students and friends.

The passage on the book that got me stuck for 20 minutes on the same page (associating it with the live concert video I have saved as a treasure on my pc) describes one of the last concerts Om Kolthoum ever gave. It was in Morocco and the description is made by the poet Ahmad Rami who lived a frustrated love with the singer until his own death in 1981 and wrote 137 of the 283 songs performed by her.

The following text and video I am sharing with you is pure magic and explain all my passion and endless love for arabic music and dance.This is it! I've seen nothing better than this as far as music talent goes...I cry every time I see this video...

Click on this link and watch the BEST:

"Just a wink...a wink I took for a greeting." Her voice, challenged by the cheering and applause and proving iself capable, this evening in particular, of responding, gradually filled with emotion to the point of breaking. Muhammad (Abdul Wahab) and I looked at each other.

"She seems to be in top form.", he murmured.

That was an understatement. Her vocal cords lingered over the same phrase, repeating it relentlessly, but never twice in the same way, stopping on one word alone, nazra , "a glance", and putting it through all its paces.All she had to do was let it out. Her mastery was so sovereign that she could ignore the rules. She wasn't singing as a virtuoso but as someone freely in love, flinging herself into the void. "Just a glance...a glance I took for a greeting / Did it contain / Commitment and promises and suffering." On the second syllable of the word salaam , "greeting" she went off into incredible variations which moved furtherand further away from the core, she didn't care, she was creating autonomous arabesques, perfectly circular and improbable little units, an entire vocal architecture. I suddenly felt that something unique was taking place."

Piece from the recommended book "I loved you for your voice", by Selim Nassib

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cairo, the 16th July, 2009

“Egyptian press disguised depravity…”

Here am I presenting you, ladies and gentlemen…theeeeee one and only…(drums playing)…UNDERRRRRRR… BELLY!”

*** I´m kind of nervous after reading a newspaper note my dear student , Jackie (the wise, crude, lovely voice in my head), brought me to read. Thanks, Jackie!
There´s some great points about not keeping up with the country´s – and the world´s – news. I am deliberately isolated from all the information, commercial intentions, marketing for the big powers and news of the world because I don´t own a television and hate reading newspapers. I believe that press is mainly bought by the Governments and Egypt is not an exception (by God, it isnt´t!) and not much of the truth can, actually, come out.

*** Is it bad or good to only be surrounded by the subjects, objects and people I choose to surround myself with?! I don´t know the answer but I sure feel good about “not reading” journalistic master pieces like this article.
The title of the article says it all: “Exposing the underbelly”.
Just in case the gentleman who wrote this master piece didn´t notice yet (quite possible he didn´t !), the UNDER belly is, calling things and bits by their rightful names, a vagina or a penis. That´s the correct, scientific term for the “under belly” matter.

Not only this gentleman – Ramadan A. Kader – seems to ignore these body parts so common in human beings born on planet Earth but he also proclaims himself as a pervert by so directly identifying Oriental Dance with any kind of “under belly” subjects. By choosing such a title, he´s affirming to the crowds: “Hey guys, I am a pervert. I am such a sexually frustrated character that I CAN ONLY SEE A VAGINA when one of those vile dancers exhibit themselves in public.”

Reducing Oriental Dance to the belly was already bad enough – with all the negative connotations that come along with it – but lowering it to the navel and under it is something that speaks nothing about this dance, in particular, and a lot from the person who writes it and comes up with this “underbelly” term.

“Dear sir, I feel for you. Being sexually, emotionally frustrated in life is a heavy burden to carry by yourself. Reading between and under the lines (and even your own under belly so clearly exposed by your own force of expression!) and what professional actors know as “sub-text” (the things we are saying between spoken words and hidden intentions disguised in empty words), I can see your pain and how it must be so disturbing to watch a dancer and , thanks to your own depravity and unsatisfied desires, being able to see the only thing you have in your mind: the famous and so much oppressed “under belly”.
Reminding you, once more, that the word is VAGINA and it doesn´t bite (well…that can be discussed…yet not here, not now…:(J ), I suggest you find some really good dancer to watch (I will not suggest myself because it would look too cocky!) and some kind of personal, sexual, emotional fulfilment in your life in order for you to be able to appreciate art instead of feeling haunted by pornographic images of your own making.”

Right after the great title presenting the journalist as a frustrated maniac, here it is a group of wonderful bits from the article discussing what I should call plain hypocrisy.

“A plan to create a governmental institute to qualify belly dancers has raised eyebrows and drawn criticism in this conservative society.”
Creating such institutes will lead to more depravity in society.” (profered by Mr. Farid Ismail, member of Parliament).

Yeah, right…as if dancers were the source of all degeneration in the country.
In a place where most men (and women) cheat on their spouses and carry unhappy marriages all their lives for the sake of economic or social interests; in a place where men can marry until four wives, beat them and use them as a dolls at their own disposal and be protected by law; in a place where women are sexually harassed everywhere hardly finding a job – any job! – without selling their body once or more for that opportunity; in a country where even my assistant, a poor mother of three who works hard to support her family and sick husband is asked to have sex with a “pasha” in exchange for some thousand of egyptian pounds; in a place where I am perceived as a prostitute only for the fact that I´m a dancer and, in the end of each party, I seem to be the only woman who didn´t leave with a rich guy by her arm…it frightens me and revolts me to the guts to read such ignorant remarks about dancers.

Depravity is everywhere in Egypt – and the Middle East, by that matter – and there´s no need to see a dancer to check this is true.
I am harassed on my way to the gym by a sick man in a wheel chair coming out of the hospital and I assure you I am not wearing my dance dress, quite the opposite. I have a fast made pony tail, I am dressed in a sack of potatoes and Adidas snickers (impossible to look less feminine and sexy!) and my moves resemble a soldier training in the army. I am still harassed by the ill man…

“ A wave of Islamism has recently swept Egypt, manifesting itself as the majority of Muslim women in this country of 80 million wearing the hijab (headscarf) and the niqab (a full body garment covering the face).Official television no longer broadcasts belly dancing, which is frowned upon as un-Islamic. “

The article continues stating the situation of the country and forgetting to say that those veils and body covering devices don´t stop women from fooling around and deliver their phone numbers to strange men in rotten papers from under a long, respectful black sleeve.
It also doesn´t help women to be respected by men. Quite the contrary.
By covering themselves as bodies of shame and guilt, these women promote subjugation to male supremacy (why don´t men cover themselves too if their bodies are sexually appealing to women?!) and sexual harassment (the forbidden fruit is always the most desired), delivering to the ones who choose not to cover the poisoned gift of discrimination and a constant freedom fee you must pay if you dare to go to the street in a t-shirt during summer time!

“I see no problem in setting up an institute to train belly dancers,” says Dr. Mohamed Abul Ghar, a medical professor. “This won´t harm society. On the contrary, this move will keep this traditional art alive and stop intruders from damaging its reputation.”

Finally a wise voice rising from all the non-sense “under belly” maniac attacks!

“Pharaonic temples are inscribed with images of dancers,” he explains. “So dancing is part of our traditions, which we should protect from extinction.”

Amen. (This is me, not the illuminated doctor).

Besides the wise remarks (someone with a working neuron, for a change!) , there´s an allusion to the tactics able to avoid the “foreigner dancers invasion” (thank you very much as far as I´m concerned…) and still another cave man whom identifies the setting of the institute as an open door to immorality finishing his illuminated remarks by saying the following magic sentence:

“ It´s strange that while the West is interested in promoting research and high technology, we are interested in sensual and depraving dance.”

Wow… That one hit me hard, honey!
My condolences go to this cave man and so many others who can only see the “under belly” matter (it´s VAGINA, dear gentlemen, VAGINA, for God´s sake!!!) everywhere.
They cannot see ART or even realize they are speaking about one of Egypt´s oldest – if not the most ancient of all – traditions : DANCE. They forget that the amount of cloths you have hanging on your body does not define your moral or intellectual standards. They also forget that dancers use their body as their instrument and, therefore, their instrument has to be exposed.
They do NOT forget that Dance is a great way of female empowerment and for THAT they ´re against it.

Forget the easy scapegoat for a second – RAKASAH, DANCER! – and speak it out loud as it is:
The underbelly is everywhere (in your neighbour´s wife whom you lavishly observe when she hangs the wet sheets on her balcony, the co-worker you subtly harass during common shifts, the women in the street, veiled as well as unveiled, to whom you speak as if they were your own private prostitutes, etc).

***Final consideration on the vagina article:

I am a dancer performing and living in Cairo. I know of what I am
speaking about by my own personal experience.
If it is true that most dancers – as well as singers, actresses, all kinds of public performers – prostitute themselves (feeding a vicious cycle that demands that same finger pointed prostitution), marry convenient impresarios and managers in order to have more/better work and rise up in their careers, there´s also the ones – like me – who totally reject any kind of male dominance and grow in their profession due to their talent, hard work and audience approval, love and respect.
DANCE itself cannot define all the misuse you can make of it.
If I ever needed to seduce a man (and I never did, thanks God!), I would not dance for him.

Dance itself is an ancient ART that connects music, movement and feelings uniting musicians, dancer and audience in a common emotional and even spiritual experience that does, indeed, makes us closer to each other as human beings and, ultimately, closer to God!

*** If only men around here could be more satisfied – with their sex lives, their families and wives, their lives in general and the female body in particular– then I guess they would not carry the “under belly” image in their minds ALL THE TIME.
They see a guava, here it is the under belly.
They see a skirt, here it is the damned under belly.
They see an ankle, here it is the most wanted under belly.
They see the tit of a goat, here it is the under belly.
They see a strawberry, here it is the under belly ( fruits and oriental dancers seem to have a common great power to arise the “under belly” allure ).
They see a dancer, here it is the OFFICIAL under belly.
Uff… under belly everywhere.

*** Another suggestion (free of charge!):

"Dear Gentlemen, you may as well work harder to have a real woman to love and share pleasure with (preference for your wife). You may work harder on being a competent lover instead of a clumsy globe trotter and, therefore, receive from your lady the joy and pleasures you wish for yourself. Give it before you receive it (she will appreciate it and you´ll be rewarded for it).
Re-learn the concept of sexuality and love, distinguishing both from animal thrusts and lust (respectively) and dig deep into the subtle nuances of how to deal with your woman. She´s not your property or your servant but your partner for life.

You may also check on some anatomy books to get acquainted with the female body and sexual organs. You can get a science class skeleton (with pink nipples on it, if available) or a rubber doll and just stare at it, shake it up and down, learn about it, educate yourself about the subject, get it out of your damned system and, hopefully, next time you see a dancer performing you´ll be able to appreciate the art, beyond your own sexual frustrations (from the past, dear gentlemen…from the past!) and ignorance. When you´re hungry, all you can see in front of you is FOOD (even if what you see is clear, pure water). Got it?
Thank you very much for your sexually charged attention..

Eternally yours,
Miss Vagina

Cairo, the 15th July, 2009

“Readings of DELIGHT”

*** Right now I am immersing myself into two marvellous books I recommend everyone, no matter your own personal interests:

Agatha Christie, an autobiography , by the author herself.
I am not even a fan of Agatha Christie. I never read anything from her and yet my intuiton led me to this book and I was not disappointed. Beautifully written, honest and so endearing in the way she describes the process of writing and LIVING in order to be able to write.
This particular notion of the absolute need to LIVE in order to write came to me for the first time when I entered the Superior Acting School and one of the boys auditioning (with me) was refused due to his age (17 years old).
I was eighteen (would a year of difference matter?) and couldn´t understand why they would refuse the boy to audition under the pretext that he was too young and, therefore, he hadn´t lived enough to be an actor. I can still see the one who ended up being my favourite teacher of all times (João Mota, founder of the “Comuna” theatre and one of the biggest names of all times in Portuguese performing arts circuit):
“ACTORS need memories, sensations they gather from their own personal experience, life with a rich palette of all its joys, sadness and particular turning points. With 17 years old, he knows nothing about life. How can he act?! “

I remember this wise sentence from my teacher while reading Agatha Christie´s life story written by her own hands. It reminds me that artists and their fuel is, indeed, LIFE itself. Thanks to all the pains, joys and tears I´ve shared in my life, I can dance Om Kolthoum so all the men that hurt me and/or loved me were, in some wicked way, my masters.

I loved you for your voice, Sélim Nassib
Oh…What a pleasure… This is the ultimate book about my beloved Om Kolthoum. Her life written in fictional style and told by the voice of Ahmed Rami, the poet-librettist who wrote so many of her songs and loved her in vain (he was never corresponded in his love).
A MUST READ for all those who love arabic music and are curious to know about the clever peasant girl who came from the countryside to make the world fall in love with the eternal “tarab”.
As a living artist in Cairo, this book inspires me much more than it could do to any Government employee. The competition, the envy between singers/composers/artists, the dirty games to defeat rivals and the absolute thirst Om Kolthoum seemed to have for her art remind me of my own passion for dance and the kind of life we still lead here, so long after her death (1974)!
It´s still a dirty world as it was in Om Kolthoum´s times and she was no saint or dumb girl. Her incredible ambition, as well as her gift, took her to the place I totally agree it´s hers and no other: the TOP..
Through her life´s story, you read about all the great composers, poets and artists who worked with/for her, inspired her or teased her (she was a devil on her own right!). Mohamed Abdul Wahab is one of the recurrent names in the book not only due to the turbulent, fertile relationship they had with each other but also because he was, by her side, the biggest star of the Orient in those days. Contemporary divas, I must say.
I am in love with this book and the fact that the book makes you aware of Om Kolthoum´s human flaws, that doesn´t erase her divine talent and how much I adore all her repertoire.
It also reminds me, in the end, that Om Kolthoum (like all the rest of us) may have been born with a divine gift (her voice, her soul, her ability to insert honest life into each word she pronounced and touch people´s hearts ) but she was, in reality, a simple human being with many flaws and dark spots.
Her humanity is clear in this book. She´s still my diva, anyway…

Cairo, the 15th July, 2009

“Sleepless in Cairo – great…I mean GREAT shows and musician pajama party at Mohamed Ali street…and I´m growing…”

*** Lately I´ve been arriving from work so excited and full of adrenaline that I cannot go to sleep, no matter how exhausted I may be. I´m stretching myself further and searching for ways to get better at my work – as well as in my private life – and no camomile tea or lavender oil bath can make me sleep before 4 or 5h in the morning. Being a productive maniac, I read or write, I even coreograph in the middle of these sleepless nights when the energies of the stage are still lingering on me with such strength that I can feel the audience´s breathing and cheering on my skin.

*** I pray for me to be able to enjoy without criticizing myself too much. It´s good to be self-conscious and long for constant improvement but forgetting to enjoy the present conquests and the pleasure of doing what you´re actually doing – I still don´t believe it! Am I dreaming?! – takes all the meaning for what you´re achieved.
My current mission is not only to improve at every shows but to enjoy the shows as well, no matter how much path I still have ahead – thanks God!

*** 1.30h in the morning, Mohamed Ali street – I was invited by some musician friends to attend one of some regular reunions of famous artists in Mohamed Ali street. Famous musicians get together on regular occasions to play together. Each one arrives with his instrument or simply grabs one laying there on the floor, clearly expecting to be used. I am the only girl there and I´m treated like a princess. Some of the musicians have heard my name and are not shy to express their respect and admiration. I feel great surrounded by music and all these creative minds who join just for the sake of sharing their music. I wish dancers were like this!
They improvise, joke between songs and generously play the themes I asked them to interpret for me. I am in heaven…
Outside the windown, I can still hear the endless parade of cars, people and all kinds of lights which will not stop until the morning. It´s kind of a hell out there and yet, just a few meters away from that same hell, there´s an improvised haven of music and creativity that I receive as a major gift.

*** I recognize talent in each one of the musicians. It´s great when, in any artistic area, there´s that moment when an artist recognizes another artist. That sparkle, the second when he/she does something so great and unique that you know you´re the in presence of an artist, beyond all classifications of musician, dancer, actress, painter, whatever…
As the musicians play, I recognize that sparkle in each one of them, again and again…there´s a silence between one song and the other. We´re all aware we´re building a religious temple here. No walls, priests or holly books required: just God being present through the cords, the skin of the tabla, the voice of the singer who is doing it just for himself and for all of us, the silences between notes played with such feeling and truth that I have to hold back my tears from flowing on my face like a strong river.

*** I´ve learnt much from some of my dance masters. I even learnt from non professional people from whom I took a gift or two but no one has taught me so much about arabic dance as egyptian musicians. I am grateful. GRATEFUL.
Cairo, the 14th July, 2009

“Fi delivery, ya tante!”
Women as merchandise, again and again and again…

*** Another educational conversation with my assistant – who follows me in my work, gets me tea and helps me pretty much in everything I need, even answering my phone…- who´s caught in the middle of a very common arabic dilemma: marrying – or not – her 18 year old daughter.

*** She´s receiving proposals of various suitors who take a glimpse of her daughter and decide – with no further ado – they want her for their wife. I call it lust and the catastrophic event of being so horny – and unsatisfied – that you´re willing to marry a girl just to legally sleep with her. They call it respectful marriage.
The girl doesn´t know the boy and he doesn´t know her but he has seen her sweet smile and hips and she, for her turn cause nothing comes for free in this life, has seen his professional background, his flat and car and the dowry he´s willing to pay to have her in his house and…(drums dramatically playing here…) in her bed!

***I ask my assistant what´s the take of her daughter on these suitors and what she will do in case she accepts to marry one of these strangers. I receive a bland, conclusive answer : She will be home and give him children. She will learn how to take care of her husband, babies and home and stay in.
Waw! What a promising future for a 18 year old girl!

*** I tell her that the girl is still a “girl” and she doesn´t even know the suitors. Hoe can she accept a marriage proposal based on the flat he´s saying he possess?! She´s not marrying the flat, the car or any of the material possessions he proudly exhibits, she´s marrying HIM! Is there a cathalog of possessions enough to commit her daughter to a stranger?!
How can she marry a stranger and live with him, sleep with him, wake up every day by his side?

*** She tells me yeah, I have a point but she must marry until she´s 20, 24 years old at the maximum. After that age, she´s expired (like a bag of fresh vegetables which no one wants after it´s rotten…) and no one will want to marry her. The suitors appear from behind the trees and fall from the clouds until a certain age – not more than 24, God forbid! – after that, she´s out the market and she´ll end up like her barren aunts and uncles, unmarried and the target of jokes from family and neighbours who presume there must be something very, very wrong about these unmarried weird characters.
My assistant doesn´t want that sad destiny for her daughter. What to do?!

*** I try to tell her that the girl should move on the university, get a superior education (knowledge is power) and know that she´ll find a good man who really loves her – maybe a foreigner! – but , somehow, I don´t believe myself because I know only a huge strike of luck would give this girl a great job opportunity after university (it doesn´t happen for most egyptian men, much less for women) and, in fact, if she´s older, educated and professionally active, she will most probably end up single (the terror of any egyptian, arabic girl). Most arabic men fear the power of an educated woman with a career of herself. Wives are still supposed to be motionless dolls caught inside the walls of a home the husband supports, taking care of the man and the children.

*** I know by personal experience that the typical arabic man will not even respect a woman´s ability to go out in the world, build a career and do something productive outside of the home. I´ve been told – in an extremely criticizing way – that I am not the “home type” woman, the respectable lady whose eyes are only for the family. Any foreigner man in the world would kill to have me as his woman and, in fact, admire my ability to work, succeed and fight in a respectful way for all my goals. Being a warrior and an active person has never contradicted my condition as a woman or so I thought until I met some arabic – cave – men!
Going into the public sphere and producing – maybe more than the man – is seen as a shameful way for a woman and most men would not accept it so what am I advising my assistant to do?! I just don´t have a wise proposal to solve her daughter´s problem.

*** One of the suitors takes my assistant to his newly bought flat in a very remote village outside Cairo surrounded by desert and a few rustic grocery shops. According to his own standards, this remote flat is the proof of his financial stability and a major reason for her to deliver the girl´s hand – and all the rest – to him!
She tells him that her daughter is young and likes to hang with her friends, go to McDonalds and cloth shops, the cinema and all kinds of places where 18 year olds like to go.
He blandly tells her: “Fi delivery, ya tante!” Meaning: “There´s home delivery, aunt!”
Anything she wants, we can order home. That way, she doesn´t have to leave the house and expose herself. Great! I say GREAT! Now I´m convinced.

*** I never stop to amaze myself with the discrepancies between men and women in the Middle East. A 50 year old, fat, bald, ugly, stupid, mean man sees himself as the reincarnation of Marlon Brando but a 24 year old girl sees herself as a left over on the death row path.

*** When will women be treated like human beings and not like date expiring milk cows?! This is my only question.

Cairo, the 13th July, 2009

“Addictions made in Egypt”

*** In a country where everybody seems – and absolutely needs – to relax and forget daily life hardships, addictions (licit and illicit) seem to be the theme of the day.
Haxixe is everywhere and has become a mainstream tool of relaxation and entertainment quite like opium once was for the high society of a couple of centuries ago.
Not even the constant and omnipresent police search for drugs seems to frighten poor and rich from all walks of life from getting, smoking and sharing this popular drug. Epidemic would be not enough to describe the presence of this drug everywhere. I watch all kinds of people smoking it in various contexts with the naturality I can watch someone speaking on the phone. Frightening.
Tea and coffee – Turkish coffee, specially – are yet another quite innocent tools of survival in Egypt only paralleled to sexual harassment – this is a major addiction in this country! – and music ( being rapidly substituted by the Holy Koran playing everywhere, at any time as a background music for all kinds of activities).

Gossiping is another national addiction and I attribute this one to the unemployment rate and a large amount of empty brains with no direction in life or substantial subjects to mind about. Both women and men seem to think they´re born with the divine right to check other people´s private lives and freely fantasize about them, creating some of the best fiction pieces you can ever be in touch with and spreading rumours all over this small village that is the monstrously over populated city of Cairo!

Ful and tameya (two of Egypt´s obligatory fast food delicacies composing, I guess, most of the meals any common egyptian from the massive low class can expect to have in a day). More than addictions, these two are simple necessities as most people don´t earn enough to afford other kinds of food.

Music and dance used to be typical egyptian addictions but late developments in egyptian culture show that these ancient tools of survival, relaxation and spiritual connection are being treated as capital sins and activities to avoid both in high and low classes.

Shouting and working all kinds of horns in any vehicle with two or more wheels.
The constant noise in the streets of Cairo attests this addiction and it´s part of the city´s charm(???), fun and disgrace. People will shout for no reason (decibels, decibels, decibels…) and horns will be honked in all sorts of circumstances (to call attention, to say hi, to tell a girl she´s hot, to communicate with another car, to celebrate the loud, constant wedding parties going on all over town, etc…).

Licit and illicit sex (meaning inside of marriage sex and outside of it). This is not only an addiction but a general disease consuming most egyptians – both men and women – who are not allowed – by society´s blaming eyes and by law – to mingle and relate outside of the marriage context. Adding to that fact, there is the despair of thousands of men who cannot afford to marry – dowry, flat, car, a consistent job and finances stable enough to support a wife and the children they are expected to have right after the marriage) – until very late in life and, therefore, are left to their own natural sexual urges with no means to satisfy it unless they turn to pornography on the net or illicit sex with girls so desperate for human contact as they are.

*** As far as I am concerned and after receiving another reproach for being such a nerd – no drinking, no smoking, no fooling around, no cheating or flirting with men, no coffee, no fast-food or meat and, so it seems according to some of my friend´s eyes…no fun! – here I am calling a list of my own addictions dedicated to my beloved critics who seem to forget the simple fact that there are many, many pleasures in life and ways of having fun and not all of them have to be destructive or inclusive of pot.
Here we go (My addictions made in Egypt):

1. Dancing. This is an obvious one as I´m a professional dancer performing, teaching and choreographing all the time. After so many struggles and tests to this natural born addiction of mine, I can still say I am totally addicted to DANCE. It´s my profession and yet so much more than that: my first love (and probably my last) and my biggest escape goat from all the pressures surrounding me.

2.Music and silence. Both are the same and containing each other. Two faces of the same coin. Listening to silence with your full focus, you can reach a point when you´re actually listening to music. On the other side of the coin, you are able to listen to the silence beneath any kind of good music and appreciate the powerful expression of a pause (when silence says more than the music itself). I just love listening to music or being in silence and live on the limbo between the two of them.

3.Food. Goooooood food. I´ve always been a natural born “gourmet”. I grew up very fast and was always a healthy child and, a little after that, a healthy adult and so much of it comes from my love of food. The GOOD FOOD.
I will happily spend in a meal what I wouldn´t spend for a fancy piece of cloth or shoes. Food made with art, knowledge and love is pure bliss and I´ve had an enormous list of nirvana moments in public restaurants (watching me moan of pleasure over a warm mean lasagna in a restaurant is probably one of the most embarrassing experiences anyone can have by my side but also a must because I just can´t help it!).
I associate appetite with joy for life, ability to enjoy the pleasures this world – and the parallel worlds as well – offers us and, ultimately, taking pleasure on being human, taking advantage of our senses and using them to bring us happiness.
I suggest one of my favourite books on the subject: Aphrodite, by Isabel Allende (sorry for other writers but no one describes sensuality, love or food so well as latin people). This book is a treasure to taste, keep and cherish as if it was a Mozart bombom ( my favourite chocolate bombom filled with marzipan and ingredients that melt in your mouth like honey under August sun…).
On the top of my list:
Sea food (anything from the sea, at any time of the day or night).
Indian cuisine. I can get to heaven and, possibly, return only by tasting really good Indian food.
Portuguese cuisine (the best fish, pastries and sweets in the world!).
Mexican and Thai cuisine.
(Not a fan of lamb´s brains and anything involving loins, ears and paws of exotic animals).

4.Evian water. This is a recent addiction but it´s becoming a major thing. This water is like pure Chinese silk slipping down your throat and it tastes like the mountain fountains of my childhood. For no reason this water is called the best in the world. My fridge is full of it.

5.Water. Bottled (Evian, Evian, Evian…more and more, please!), on the river Nile, on the swimming pool, on the beach (my all time favourite!), even on the gutter…water on my three daily showers and water on my winter warm salt peppered warm baths in the tub (I mix salts, flowers, oils, the most luxurious shower gels, everything you can imagine…). Contact wit water is an addiction and also a way of balancing myself as some of my astrologer friends would knowingly inform you after consulting my charts and announcing – not without some concern – that I have way too much fire and need to be surrounded by water and filled with it in order not to boil and, eventually, explode like a cattle forgotten on the stove for too long. It seems I am like a hurricane or a volcano ready to explode and only loads and loads of water can appease my internal fire machine.

6.Reading. All the time, book after book. Several books at the same time. Thirst for knowledge and a very curious mind searching for answers. That´s me. Reading in cabs, reading in the street, in the swimming pool, between shows and even while walking in the street only occasionally taking a pick at the floor to check for stones or irregular steps. Most of my money is spent on books – English, French, Spanish, Portuguese books – and any bookshop is a temptation for me as any cloth shop must be for most women. Yes, I am weird. I was told, more than once, that I am not a woman. I agree. I´m something else, or so much more.
Teas (my dear “chai latte” from “Cilantro” coffee shop is the equivalent to a box of chocolates to any normal “chocaholic”.

7.Oprah Magazine. The only magazine I ever take the time to read. It takes a long time to arrive to my hands (it´s part of its allure) because it comes from the United States and it´s sent to my home in Portugal from where I collect it every time I go there, someone comes to Cairo or my mum manages to send it to me by mail. As soon as I have a new issue of Oprah Magazine on my hands, a hurricane could open the floor under my feet and I assure you I wouldn´t notice!

8.The Gym and, in particular, the swimming pool from the gym. If I spend two days without going to the gym (even if only for a quick half an hour at the swimming pool), I start to feel stressed, ready to explode at any minute.

9.Kissing, hugging, doing all sorts of delicious stuff we do when we´re in love (you all know what I´m talking about! J ). I am addicted to them all.
I need to give and receive a minimum prescription of tender, passionate gestures per day and without those I just shrink like a flower in a vase with no water. I am addicted to love!

10. Learning. Observing. Listening to the ones and the things that matter. I was always more comfortable in the place of the student rather than in the teacher´s role. Being located by myself in the ignorant´s place opening up to other people´s insights has allowed me to grow faster than most women I know. Being taken as a beautiful, stupid girl has worked in my advantage most of the time. While others – who don´t really know me – may perceive me as least intelligent and someone who can be taken for granted, I delight myself on silently observing and learning from their own stupidity, pride and points of occasional knowledge. This was the way I learnt how to speak arabic by myself, no translators or any kind of help. Just listening and being taken for granted.

My curiosity for all that it´s interesting, intelligent and human seems to have replaced – thanks God! – the attention I once gave to people and subjects which were not worth my interest and energy. This is part of learning, I guess…knowing that this current life doesn´t last forever and it´s my duty to make the best out of the time I have available on earth.
This addiction has proven to be a blessing and it´s not strange if you find me listening to a beggar in the middle of the street as if he was Dalai Lama.
Light comes from the most unexpected, darkest valleys. Being attentive has become a great addiction which is also taken as a sign of ignorance by the real ignorants themselves (“Why would someone in her right mind listen to a beggar?!”)
Cairo, the 13th July, 2009

“Farah – popular egyptian movie”

*** “Farah” is the egyptian movie everybody I know is talking about. Most opinions are positive and lots of friends have insisted for me to watch it. Opposing – and still challenging - the infamous and much talked about egyptian censorship, there have been a series of movies, theatre plays, songs and books openly criticizing the state of the country and showing off its rotten spots, corruption at all levels and hypocrisy.
As far as I am concerned, that newly acquired freedom (or the illusion of it) to point a fair finger to the things that need to be changed in Egypt is a great step towards development and mind opening but I still see there is much confusion and prejudices in the heads of the ones who dare to unmask this strange system.

*** When I saw the egyptian movie “Cabaret” ( for which I was offered the role of the “rakasah” that I refused ) and checked the way artists were portrayed, I literally cried and would have happily punched the director if he happened to be in front of me. I thought it was unfair to portray ALL artists as prostitutes and pimps and pass the idea that those who are involved in music and dance will burn in hell. It sounded childish, narrow minded and so full of ignorance that I couldn´t believe a director of this generation would put such a crap on screen.
Cinema and all arts should serve to develop society into a more modern, intelligent, developed state and not to make it return to the Middle Age and its Inquisition (witch hunting being replaced by dancer´s hunting as the ones to blame the most for the depravity of the country! What a hypocrisy!).

*** Then I saw “Farah” and had the same disgust previously felt in “Cabaret”.
In this new movie – showing now in egyptian cinema theatres – the main subject is the current of tragic events following a major decision from the patriarch of a “baladi” family. There is a wedding (“farah”), the bride is running to the doctor to restore her “virginity” and avoid disaster in her first night with her husband (she´s supposed to show a sign of virginal blood to the families on her first night with her husband but she´s not a virgin anymore) and the mother of one of the male characters ( and the wedding organizer) dies in the night of the wedding leaving him with the decision of proceeding with the party or cancelling it due to respect to his mother´s unexpected death.
The fact that he decided to continue with the wedding unleashes a series of tragic events that leave most characters in the utter most disaster.
Before dying, the mother of the wedding´s organizer receives two dancers who come for the party. The first dancer – young – is put to run real fast by the old lady who reproaches her son for bringing a “rakasah” into her respectable home. She asks her son if his intention is to destroy her by bringing beer, haxixe and dancers to the wedding. All in this order and coming in a single explosive “sinful pack”!

The second dancer – an older woman – is also criticized by the lady of the house and mocked at for her age following a pep talk about the shame of her path and the possibility of redemption through God.
She gets snapped on the face by the owner of the house –and wedding organizer- and then forced to dance with a tearful and purple face after the decision of proceeding with the wedding despite the matriarch´s death.

The party is portrayed as one of the worst kind of weddings you can see in Egypt. Everybody is drank and smoking drugs, harassing women and singing out of tune until the morning. Nothing and no ones seems to be clean and good. ALL IS BAD.

There´s an old outdated singer – out of glory and out of work – trying to make a come-back to the wedding business (with disastrous results) and a general sense of hopelessness and the dangerous idea that you have to choose between having fun/enjoying life´s pleasures here represented by the degenerated wedding party
( presuming that life´s pleasures HAVE to be sinful!!!) or a respectful, reserved, religious oriented kind of priest´s life in order to receive heaven´s blessing. Once again, prejudices, extremism and ignorance prevailing and passing on their flags to thousands, if not millions who will watch the movie with no educated mind of their own to see what´s right and wrong in the movie´s half hidden message.

*** Am I choosing to watch to wrong movies?! After “The Jacoubian Building” and “Dunya” (one of my favourite movies ever), all I´ve seen was a series of egyptian movies with strong images of some rotten spots of this society but also a message of fatalist choice between enjoying life – and being punished for it as if all pleasures had to be sinful – or turning to God and piety and being rewarded in this life and afterward. What´s going on???

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cairo, the 12th July, 2009

"Backstage photos, photos...enjoy.
Some pictures say more than a thousand words.I hope this is the case.

Most of these pictures were taken by my assistant - who loves cameras and has the soul of a frustrated artist - although others were also taken by my dancers or myself in some daring self-portrait. These are happy moments full of antecipation. Instead of sharing them with you speaking about nerves, excitement and concentration rituals, here are some images who say more than I could ever describe with written words.
No matter for how long I've been performing (first time public performance on television at the age of 5 years old! No kidding...:) ), I never get used to the exposure and the antecipation of doing what I love the most: PERFORMING!
Each time, more insecure. Each time, more excited and grateful. Each and every time, trying my best to move forward and grow as a dancer, a person, an artist. It's great to receive the opportunity to put myself to the test continuously. I bow to all these gifts. I bow in humility and joy...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cairo, the 11th July, 2009

"Backstage mania - PART 2 ...when working becomes a personal challenge I'm so proud of...!"

I cannot describe all that's going on with me. I have deserved every bit of magic and constant blessings and yet I cannot stop feeling some disbelief at the gifts I am receiving, more and more.

This is backstage mania - PART 2. Crazy photos to remind me of a turning point in my professional and personal life.

Before each blessed show, me and my orchestra gather and joke around, rehearsal (there's always something new on my mind) and sing along. The dancers watch in disbelief. They whisper in my ear- after those improvised musical lounge parties - I give too much confidence to my orchestra. I should be tougher on them. Let's see about that!

"Heaven, I'm in heaven...and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak...

And I seem to find the happiness I seek,

when we're out together dancing cheek to cheek..."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cairo, the 6th July, 2009

"Food for the soul...feeling GRATEFUL and BRAVE...those are the main keys to my - our - home..."

"When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love...

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you."

David Whyte, from "Sweet Darkness"

These are photos of moments (during shows) where I was totally grateful for the life I live. You can see it in my face showing the obvious pleasure of being an artist and fly with the stars through what other people perceive as my profession. Beyond all misconceptions - and conceptions - of Oriental Dance, much beyond the price I already had to pay for being a dancer there's something huge, bigger than our small minds and what they're able to cathalog in their endless arrogance.
These moments were moments of true happiness and BLISS.
These moments were repeated, in different ways, in the arms of men I have loved, within the kisses of the love - THE ONE - of my life, during my walks with my mum and our dogs, while surrounded by my best friends, while listening to the sea or watching children play. For this kind of happiness - the only one that counts for me! - I am grateful.