Day 2: Learning about the Awalum, the really long nap, and what am I doing here?

Today was a wonderful first day of the festival. Our cover photo is from one of my favorite performances last night at the grand opening gala.

Today I took an Awalum technique class with Gamal Seif. It was beyond fun to learn something entirely new to me in belly dance and learn so much more about the roots that lead to the classical oriental style. 

I have never used a chair to dance in belly dance. I’ve related its use always more to burlesque performance or even jazz dance, but today was fun and left me feeling so inspired to bring back some of this into my belly dance repitoire.

The  Awalum were the expert singers, dancers, and actors in historic Egypt. They had a trade union-type organization. According to Gamal they performed in a variety of styles including the more familiar beledy style, and assaya. The Awalum were expelled from Egypt in 1805 due to the gypsy influenced style which also used prostitution  (I will add, most likely necessary for stable income during the time) and the dance form spread to Europe, especially Spain. Some awalum remained in Egypt and their activities moved underground and became more secretive. That’s the little history tidbit I learned today. I’d love to find some academic sources on the subject if anyone has any idea where to find them!

The routine we learned was really rather adorable and sassy and high energy. Gamal emphasized above all else, feeling the emotion of the music. He said no matter what this will capture the audience and draw you into their heart.

I’ve decided one 3 hour workshop is really enough per day when dancing a week long festival. The girls and I are running on about 6 hours of sleep because gala shows go late and classes start early. We took the afternoon off for a much needed long nap. 

While they slept I took a little time to myself to sit on our balcony with a glass of wine and watch the swimmers drift in the lazy river. I reflected over my trip so far, and journey I’ve been on in this lovely art form that brought me here. It truly has shaped my entire life since the moment I took my first lesson.

Although I say I picked up belly dance in college, my introduction was actually much earlier. In junior high school I remembered seeing advertisements for Arabic dance at the local recreation center in my home town. We couldn’t afford the classes, but it’s all I could talk about all summer. I blew my summer allowance on a “teach yourself to belly dance book” at Barnes and Noble and memorized the pages. 

While visiting my dad and his wife for the summer they took mercy on me. My step mom found belly dance classes in Austin and started driving us twice a week to a tiny studio there to take lessons with a woman named Lucila. I was so sad to leave at the end of the summer. It would be a long time before belly dance came back into my life, except for my belly dance workout DVD that surprised me at Christmas time. 

4 years later I was a sophomore in college. I saw raqs sharki listed in the dance curriculum for my dance minor. I googled and realized it was belly dance. From the first semester I was hooked and took belly dance ever semester on repeat until I graduated. I started dancing at the local farmers market on the weekend, in my dorm room, in small local festivals. I just needed to dance. Without a sewing machine I pieced together costumes with hot glue and hand stitches. I worked so hard to save every extra penny to purchase my first professional costume.

When I finally found enough money to make a down payment I started searching on Facebook for costumes in my size. I found the first costume that captured my heart. It was a red and gold fringe bedlah with a red and black skirt. I messaged the seller to ask if she would take payments from me, because she was an arizona local. She was more than happy to do so. Even more so I explained I didn’t have a safe car to come try on the costume, she offered to drive to my dorm room to let me try it on. We arranged a date.

She showed up in the dorm parking lot with the red costume in tow. We pinned and tried it on in my room. She offered to add in alterations to the price and we had a deal. I was so excited I couldn’t stop telling people about the costume that would someday be mine. 

The costume was purchased loved and has since moved on to a new home as of last year. I actually saw it in action being loved by another belly dancer at the Las Vegas belly dance intensive. But what hasn’t moved on is my friendship with the kind hearted dancer that sold it to me. Because that’s my dance buddy Melissa. We’ve danced so much with each other since that day. We’ve traveled to vegas and now half way around the world to Egypt. Why? Because we love it. Dance is our heart and soul. It’s our food and our sleep. 

After college I started teaching sometimes as a substitute at a local studio and at community colleges for my dance teacher and mentor. Although I am backing off of teaching now to spend more time on my capstone and perfect my own skills in dance (as if you can ever stop learning, no.)  I really enjoyed passing this art along to others.

So I’m in Egypt because I just can’t stop. I love Egyptian dance, and music and now I’m in the country that calls this dance home. So many Egyptians have told me “welcome home” when I visit their shops and browse their costumes and tiny pyramid replicas…it might just be a line in the hopes I go home with some of their treasures and leave my money behind, but feel its truth. I do. 

And then. It was my turn to take a really long nap too, and on with the show!

*while in Egypt, I only have my phone and slow wifi. Grammatical errors are likely and will be corrected when I’m home in August.

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