Impressions and Observations of Dance & Costumes

Dance Shows - for a page of photos - click here.

The dancing – I know that’s what you really want to know about. Okay, I saw four belly dance shows. Each had a belly dancer, then tanoura, then the belly dancer would return – usually for a folk set. The quality of the dancers varied from good to poor. The best belly dancer spent much of her time posing with the guests rather than dancing – which was a pity. The worst included tit shaking in men’s faces, lap jiggling, and legs wide crutch to the audience floor work. One mediocre dancer who felt insecure wanted to prove she was better than a bunch of tourists. So after struggling to out dance a number of guests decked out in beaded crocheted dresses and hip scarves, she picked the least threatening. An older woman in glasses and a jumper. (Those from the Gold Coast found Cairo cold at night.) Yes, she tried to restore her ego by shining against Elenie. Elenie didn’t like her attitude and matched each of the difficult moves she performed – and then topped it. The dancer kept trying to up the ante but ended up only looking worse – and a poor sport.

Tanoura means "skirt" and is sometimes called "whirling dervish dance". It is related but is an Egyptian adaptation for stage. It is secular rather than religious. All the tanoura dancers we saw were men. They have large skirts with weighted hems that they spin for a long time (15-20 minutes?). The top skirt is double sided so they can form three triangles. One point up (where their head is), one point down (at their waist) and the third like a normal skirt. They also manipulate objects, strip, wave Egyptian flags, wander around the room – all without stopping spinning.

We also got to see some social Nubian dance which was fun. One highlight for me was in the Nubian museum. I have never liked the Reda muumuu dresses used for Nubian. But the party clothes displayed in the wedding scene showed a sheer overlay with discrete smocking joined to lightly gathered skirt. Very subtle.

Some of the group also got to see Lucy. They said it was great and they now have photos to prove they danced with Lucy in Cairo. It wasn’t the cost (about NZD100 for the show only – no dinner) but rather the timing which decided me against it. The show started in the early hours of the morning on the day we were leaving Cairo. This meant there was no option to give a day’s sightseeing a miss. Those who went to see her returned to the hotel at 6:30am and checked out – for some there was no sleep until noon the next day.

Costumiers - for a page of costume photos - click here.

On the second day of the tour we went to Madame Abla’s to order our costumes. You’re thinking perhaps a small shop? Perhaps discrete, considering we are in a city where I only saw three local women with uncovered hair (our guide Rania, Aida Nour, and Raqia Hassan – didn’t I mention I sat next to Raqia for dinner on the first night?). No, not a shop. Not even a sign. Down a narrow street of shabby old Cairo houses and businesses. Sharing the road with vans, bicycles, and horses. Duck into one doorway. Up several flights of stairs. A collection of shoes on the mat – Madame has a dozen or so women who do the sewing in the back rooms. Then twenty-five of us in three small – but beautiful - public rooms with several racks of costumes. Fortunately Ali had organized a second bus to take the men to Khan el Khalili Bazaars so we had a little more space.

Some were lucky enough to be able to take costumes straight off the rack (click to see Elenie making a fashion statement or Deborah with Madame Abla). Some only needed minor adjustments to the fit or a change of decoration – such as moving fringing or changing looped to straight. Some wanted copies of costumes grabbed by quicker members of the tour or existing costumes in different sizes or colours. Some, like me, wanted variations on what was available (click to see one of these). We tried things on and ordered (sounds short written like that but it was about 5 hours). The idea was they would be ready before we left two weeks later. Some were. Both the pieces I ordered were ready, the right style, and fitted well. However, a number of people were not so lucky. The costumes were not ready at all. Or the alterations hadn’t been done. Or they were the wrong style. Or they didn’t fit or sit right. For the sort of money we were paying, you don’t want to take it home and fix it up yourself. However, in the end I believe most people (but not all) had their costumes, as required, before we flew out.

A couple of days later we went to Aida Nour’s. This was much smaller establishment. Aida’s costumes displayed an original flair and her prices were very good. However, committed to two costumes from Madame I couldn’t contemplate another from Aida. Except, perhaps, a white silk galibaya - like Fifi (as shown here by Maria). But some did weaken - and ordered yet more beautiful costumes. These to be picked up when we got to Alexandria.

There were many other costume options. The "Haberdashery Shop" in Khan el Khalili sold costumes, hip scarves and fringing of good quality. But more variety, and a better price, could be found round the corner at Mahmoud Abd el Ghaffar’s – five floors of costumes from dresses, to hip scarves, to bra & belt sets. Again good quality – and excellent value if you could buy off the rack. Near-by Yasser’s specialized in bra and belt sets. And if you wanted student level costumes you can buy them very cheaply from many stalls in Khan el Khalili and even some street vendors would try and sell you hip scarves.

For addresses & phone numbers check out Meissoun's Successful Shopping in Cairo
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