Secret Egypt Reviews

(Two “takes” on two great trips, by two Lindas)

I. by Latifa / Lynda Wilkinson in the Washington Area Middle Eastern Dance Association (WAMEDA) Newsletter, March/April ’88

During 1988, my husband David and I were lucky enough to visit Egypt. We took Morocco’s “Secret Egypt” tour to Cairo and Luxor for two weeks, then spent an additional week in Aswan and Cairo. This was our first experience with taking a tour to Egypt (we had been there on our own before), and I highly recommend Rocky’s tour, especially if you’re planning your first trip to Egypt.

Because of Rocky’s hard work and planning, we not only saw all the major tourist attractions during the day, but also saw wonderful dance shows every night. I could rave about this trip for several pages, but that would make the cost of the newsletter prohibitive, so I’ll just comment on a few aspects of the trip.

Travel & Accomodations: We flew Royal Air Maroc to Cairo via Casablanca. On our way over, we were scheduled to have a longer-than-usual layover in Casablanca, so Rocky talked the Air Maroc folks into providing us with a brief tour of Casablanca.

It was a nice bonus, although the Moroccan passport control personnel were incredibly unpleasant, and that cast a pall over our mini-tour. On the plus side however, the food on Royal Air Maroc is usually tastier than the imitation food on U.S. airlines, and Morcoccan wine is free. (The red wine is pretty good.)

We used Egypt Air (also called Misr Air) for our trips to Luxor and Aswan. Overall, it seems to be a good airline, although Egypt Air pilots do their take-offs and landings with a real sense of adventure. And Egypt Air kitchens evidently only prepare one meal, since we had the same little “box lunch” on every flight.

If you’ve never traveled on a Middle Eastern airline, you may be unprepared for a couple of things: most flights do not have assigned seats, so you have to be nimble and determined if you want a decent seat, and no matter what the crew says, there’s no such thing as a no-smoking section. One side of the plane is usually called “non-smoking”, but the Arabs who sit there will probably smoke.

We stayed at the Victoria Hotel in Cairo. It’s a charming, inexpensive hotel in the heart of town, within walking distance of museums and shops. There were a few days when we had problems getting enough hot water, but that happens at the luxury hotels too. The staff at the Victoria is friendly and attentive (with a few exceptions) and the manager, Arthur Smith, is worth his weight in gold.

Sightseeing: We saw the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Egyptian Museum, the major mosques, and, in Luxor, the valley of the Kings and Queens ( including Tutankhamun’s tomb) and Luxor and Karnak temples. We had excellent, knowledgeable guides for all of the tours.

Dance: I’ve saved the best part for last. One of Rocky’s selling points is that she provides a different show every night. This lady really delivers.

We started out on out first night by seeing Suhair Zaki at the Nile Hilton in two incredibly exciting shows.

The next night we went to the Ramses Hilton to see the Hassan Hassan Folklorique Troupe do a series of theatrical ethnic numbers marked by high energy and precise technique. If you can only see one show in Cairo, this is the one to see.

We went to the Marriott to see Nagwa Fuad do an amazingly long show in which she danced very little but changed costumes a lot. This is not a show I would recommend unless you’re an ardent Negwa fan.

We also saw shows by Shu Shu Amin (excellent), Nadia Fuad (very nice), Nadia Hamdi (one of the best), Sahar Hamdi ( who is famous largely for her vulgarity), and a young dancer named Wassal who may not go far.

In addition to the shows, Rocky arranged a dance party at our hotel in Cairo with an Egyptian band and arranged a dance party with the Banat Maazin in Luxor (the high point of the trip for me!).

We also had seminars with Mahmoud Reda and Dr Hassan Khalil. Remember, this was all in two weeks!

The Trip: Was everything perfect? No. But most of the glitches were unavoidable and stemmed from the Egyptian in sha Allah bukra attitude.

Literally, this means “God willing, tomorrow”, but it really means that something may happen at some time in the future, after today, if it’s meant to happen. We’re so tied to our schedules, deadlines, and Day-Minders that it’s hard for Americans to get used to this attitude.

The major disappointment to many of the tour members was Mahmoud and his Haberdashery shop in Khan el Khalili, which is the major source of fringe, costumes and accessories for American dancers. This time, Mahmoud was so over-extended that he couldn’t keep up with demand.

Many of our tour members had sent in special orders ahead of time (in some cases, six months ahead of time) that were not ready when we arrived. Mahmoud kept promising that the costumes and fringe would be ready by the time we left. In some cases, it was, but many people were disappointed.

Mahmoud’s shop had been picked over and cleaned out by a tour of German dancers right before we arrived, and evidently work had been suspended on our tour’s costumes to try to get some new German costumes done. Rocky started the tour off referring to Mahmoud as “Marvelous Mahmoud”. This quickly deteriorated to “semi-marvelous Mahmoud”. Now the kindest thing we can call him is “Over-Extended Mahmoud”. There was a lot of bitterness among the tour members over these problems with Mahmoud.

Minor problems aside, Egypt is wonderful, and just being there and seeing the culture and dance can make you a different dancer. The Egyptian people are my favorite people in the world — so warm and friendly, with a delightful sense of humor. If you’re planning a trip to Egypt, consider going with Rocky. You’ll have a great time — we certainly did. I’m already saving my pennies in hopes of going again!

II. by Linda Garfield in Habibi, vol. 9 no.3

Camel rides, evening Nile cruises, ancient tombs, pyramids, dance stars — the kind of romanticism I’d heard about but didn’t think I would ever see for myself.

I had heard disappointing reports on Egyptian dancers and wondered if a long, expensive trip to Egypt would be worth it. But my desire to learn all I could about Oriental dance kept me moving in that direction.

Throughout my eight years’ involvement in Oriental dance I’d heard, “Well, my dear, you must be Egyptian to do this dance correctly — you must see the dancers there”. I started to order videos of Egyptian dancers and saw some wonderful dancing and also some very bad dancing. Yet after viewing them, all the more voracious was my curiosity, and I decided if I were to look for the “soul” of the dance, I’d have to see it live and in its home setting.

So, last January I and twelve other women (plus one very happy man!) embarked on what for most of us would be our once-in-a-lifetime adventure to Egypt on Morocco’s super dance tour. I can’t say enough nice things about Morocco, and I highly recommend her tour.

You go during the height of the season, and it is the only tour to my knowledge that includes dancing every night.

On our long plane ride, we caught glimpses of some of the exotic sights that awaited us: tattooed women, men in flowing white robes. There is a faded grandeur to Cairo. Dust settles on you from all directions, a gritty film invades your hair, eyes, ears and nose.

You see Egyptians of all colors, women wrapped in black, men smoking water pipes, myriads of tiny shops, and hundreds of people moving in all directions. You’ll constantly hear an ongoing siren of honking cars, and the wailing moving call to prayer.

The Egyptian people are warm and hospitable and when touring the sites, the childen love to practice their English. The look of poverty is everywhere. What a contrast to the atmosphere in the fancy clubs!

By day we saw spectacular sites, and at night we eagerly climbed into our mini-bus to be taken to see the “real thing” at ringside tables. The nightclubs Morocco took us to were beautiful and modern, and the hotels that house the dance clubs are the equivalent of a Hilton or a Ritz in the States.

I saw some slim dance bodies, but most were in the voluptuous to outright fat zone! Facial expressions were never short of smiles, always looking joyful. Costumes were glitzy, glittery and elaborate with super-long fringe whirling and hanging from bras and belts. Dancers were either barefoot or wore slippers of gold and silver.

Save your pennies! Rocky has a great place in the bazaar to take you to where you can buy all sorts of great dance goodies. The age of the top dancers we saw was well into the forties, which somewhat surprised me as Middle Eastern culture so admires young women.

I can only speak of the music in superlatives! It was always hypnotic and beautifully played.

You cannot escape American music, though — they absolutely love it. Before each show we very impatiently listened to one or two hours of “our” music before the dancers performed! In a Luxor club, a young Egyptian boy did a great imitation of Michael Jackson to the record “Billie Jean”. When they were setting up for Negwa Fu’ad, the old rock and roll song “Shout” was blaring.

When it came to a heavy slow baladi, which is the high point of a dancer’s routine here, they just didn’t do anything special with it (except for Sohair Zaki, who beautifully posed, then did a strong lift, drop, lift, drop with her hip).

For taksim portions of the music there were lots of repetitions — mainly figure 8s — and this is also where dancers do intense, vibrating shimmies with feet firmly planted on the ground, a few inches apart.

Rocky took us to some colorful places: we saw Zar and Oriental dancers on evening Nile cruises, a dance troupe, and a nightclub show, and we had a wonderful private party in Luxor where we saw Ghawazi dancers, complete with live music, and enjoyed one of our few opportunities to get up and dance.

It is impossible to cover the scope and diversity of everything I saw, but I’ll highlight who, for me, were some of the dancers forever etched in my memory!

One unforgettable spot was an outdoor “casino” in Luxor, where a man danced for us with a cane. It was memorably raunchy, I must say! It’s across from temple ruins and with the rababas and doumbeks echoing into the night, it was quite an experience.

The troupe we saw, the Samer troupe, was quite lively. One lovely movement I remember is with their side to the audience, they did a hip roll, subtle shoulder shimmies with a slight drop and lift of the chest, then camel walked around in a tiny circle. Their bodies looked like dancers — slim, tucked-in pelvises — and they had a ballet look to their poses and posture.

We also saw four famous dancers, all with very different patterns of movement and feelings:

Fifi Abdou — she has a very pretty, sensual face, and a somewhat bold stage personality. She wore a strapless, tight dress with spike heels. However she basically told jokes and danced a nice taksim, but no more than five minutes. Frankly, I thought she was teetering on the brink of diving into a red hot Charo number. Much to our consternation, she kept cupping one of her breasts! She also refused to let us take pictures.

Nadia Hamdi — a very worthwhile dancer to see. The weight of her steps has a real “down to earth” quality. She has a very warm, unpretentious stage manner, and was extremely gracious in letting us take pictures, coming to our tables to pose for, and with, us. For her second number, she did a dance where she told a story with her hands and lovely facial expressions. (I realized how much one misses by not knowing the language.)

Sohair Zaki — She lived up to her reputation. Her punctuation and phrasing are excellent. She did more turns than any other dancer, great head tosses, moves with down chest locks, and lots of strong hip action. She’s just lovely in person and has a sweetness and refinement to her moves and personality. The club lighting was terrible though — they kept using flashing lights!

Nagwa Fu’ad — Her impressive band consists of thirty-five musicians, including seven violinists, and she had quite a few “chorus” dancers. She opened up singing and did quite bit of it through her routine and also had five fabulous costume changes! She danced briefly on a table near the stage and pulled up a female singer from the audience, who sang while she danced.

She radiates a Westernized sophistication and glamour, and even though in her fifties, she really projects excitement and has a beautiful, expressive face. She did a super number where her shimmies really vibrated at the top of her hipbone as she kept adding movements with her head, chest and arms.

At times we all said we were a little disappointed in the dancing as a whole, yet in observing firsthand the feeling and attitude in which the dance is done, I did find the stimulation I was looking for and saw steps, combinations, and arm movements I don’t see here.

After all my viewing, though, one lesson hit home all the more. While you can copy steps and styles, you cannot copy what makes a dancer special. Whatever it is that makes you you or makes your movement special, is a search that takes lots of hard work and practice on your part.

I thought Rocky’s dance tour was great fun — you see a fascinating country, meet interesting people and see those dancers who express the essence of the dance. It’s an unique learning experience I’ll always remember!