Egypt – the belly dancer’s dream, but is it safe? Pt 1

I doubt there is a serious belly dancer that has not at least considered travelling to Egypt.

The shopping, costumes, culture, teachers, language beckons to us and when you throw in the last wonder of the ancient world left standing it is an intoxicating mix. Yet since the revolution enthusiasm has dwindled for travel to Egypt. There is even more fear about personal safety then ever before but how much is based on fact?

One of the best days of my life

One of the best days of my life – Jade in Egypt

I was lucky enough to travel to Egypt at the end of 2010. Before I left I was told by just about everyone that I would be treated badly, spat on by the locals and to expect extremely rude behaviour from the men. What I experienced was the total opposite. I was never spat on, almost all the men were super polite and friendly and I felt safe at all times. It was by far the best travel experience I have ever had.

I travelled with a group of belly dancers (all female) lead by Margaret Cunningham of Soul Dance Tours and we had a great time. One would expect that travelling in a group of all females would attract the sexism that I was told was rife but it didn’t eventuate. It seems so much of what we hear about the Middle East is based on rumours. I even spent the better part of 2 days shopping and sight seeing on my own and had no problems what so ever.

So have things changed since the revolution? Is it possible to experience Egypt and expect a good experience?

The following are exerts that I am publishing (with permission) from what Margaret has dubbed her “Shisha diaries”. She is in Egypt right now with her friend and dance colleague Helen and is reporting the reality of what travel is like in Egypt at present.

THE SHISHA DIARIES – Exploring the safety of Egypt, one Shisha Cafe at a time.
20 March Day 1
“Well, we’re here! I am sitting on our hotel balcony sipping coffee, wrapped in a blanket and overlooking the one, the only Nile River. I hear, from across the river the traffic rumble accented endlessly with horns. It’s early for Cairo – only about 7am. As loud as the horns are, the birds singing loudly in the trees around the hotel are winning! Zamalek, the area where we are staying is considered a ‘flash’ area and there are more trees and gardens around here than in some other neighbourhoods.
View of the Nile from Margaret's hotel

View of the Nile from Margaret’s hotel

It is so strange for me to be here without one of my beautiful tour groups. Usually, at this moment, I would be getting ready for a day of ‘nursing’ wide-eyed apprehensive travellers through their first day. I would be checking today’s itinerary, making last minute phone calls, trouble shooting any issues that have arisen with tour members; lost luggage perhaps or forgotten medication; perhaps someone’s global roaming hasn’t kicked in and they are tearful they can’t let hubby know they have arrived safely; perhaps someone has already been down to breakfast and is now knocking on my door concerned that there are no ‘gluten-free’ options on the buffet.
Well, here I sit responsible only for myself, in my PJs, knowing I can sit here soaking up this river all day if I want to. The other times I have come to Egypt without a tour group in tow I have missed them terribly the way a parent would feel if they can’t watch their children open presents on Christmas morning. Witnessing the love affair grow between Egypt and my adventurous travellers is a gift I treasure and am humbled to be a part of each and every tour.
But tell us about the trouble I hear you calling from across the planet! What about the riots, the chaos, the danger? Well, sorry to disappoint those of you who insist Egypt is a ‘no-go’ zone right now but life is going on as it always does here. Over the next 5 weeks I expect there will be protests and flare-ups at times but will they effect us? Perhaps I won’t be able to go shoe shopping Downtown (near Tahrir Square) or maybe our planned night out to the Zarr Folkloric show (also Downtown) will have to be put off until tomorrow but, as I always explain to people at home, Cairo itself is so huge any issues when and if they arise are easily avoided and there is so much to do and see- so what if shoe shopping has to be replaced by fruit cocktails overlooking the Pyramids of Giza?
Shoes in cairo

They really know who to make use of their window space!

Shoe shopping in Cairo is an unexpected delight

Shoe shopping in Cairo is an unexpected delight

To be honest, it is easy to be sitting here on my first morning in my hotel room bubble and say how things are fine….that’s why I am going to reporting back regularly from everywhere I go over the 5 weeks I’m here from the baladi neighbourhoods, to the tourist sites, to Tahrir Square (yes, even ground zero itself). I need to show you this place is safe.
It’s ironic that since the 90s there have been frequent deadly attacks on tourists here as a way to threaten the government but since the revolution that deposed this depised government, there has not been a single organised act of violence against a tourist. And NOW tourists are avoiding the country? Go figure!
I have to do my best for this country which has changed my life forever. It has given me my art; the creative passion I am wholly devoted to. It has given me my livelihood; my dance school, Soul Dance through which I have met the women and men who grace my life on a daily basis. It has given me the only place on earth where my soul comes alive, where it truly ‘dances’. I know my efforts to convince people to come back here and support this miracle of a country are but a drop in the ocean, but this is what I have to do.
I already have 6 beautiful souls booked into my October/November tour, but I would love more. I am hoping that, if anyone is reading this and wavering that my on-the-ground reports will help to assure you that Egypt is very much able to offer the safety and warmth is always has. Stay tuned over the next 5 weeks – I promise to present an honest, objective appraisal of what it’s REALLY like here. I promise to leave my rose-coloured glasses back in the hotel and help you make an informed decision of the viability of travel to Egypt.”

Margaret has her own website for her dance school and tours that can be found here. It is my intention to travel with Margaret again with her October / November tour this year, so if you are interested in joining us please mention Jade Belly Dance when you ask for more info through Margaret’s website or you can contact me and I will forward you the tour newsletters to date (jadebellydance@hotmail.com)

Stay tuned – Pt 2 to be published tomorrow.  Have you travelled to Egypt? Were you interested in Belly dance at the time or has that come later? I would love to read about your experiences. If you have any questions you would like to ask Margaret about the safety of travelling to Egypt then ask away and I will forward them on to her. Just comment below.

 

Dance classes on holiday – how to make it easy.

When taking holidays – is it worth squeezing dance classes into your schedule? With flights accommodation and organising what sights to see, does adding dance classes to your itinerary just slow you down?

Recently I had the good fortune of travelling over to Bali with a friend. It was a short trip for leisure, sightseeing and shopping. I briefly toyed with the idea of offering my skills as a belly dance teacher for a workshop or 2 but decided against it. It would have been good to do for promotion etc. but one has to have some down time! I wanted to refill my cup and return refreshed.

That’s not to say I had a trip devoid of dance – of course not!!! I love dance!

A belly dance show at a resort – kuta beach, bali.

When asked what was the highlight of my trip – it was the dance classes I took and the shows I saw.

It might be easy to think of this as a crazy response – e.g. the temples are incredible, the climate was perfect, the food inexpensive but I found dance as a way to experience the culture a little better. I took private classes in Balinese dance and even got invited back stage to a performance as a result. I took a great “Shakti” dance class (it’s a derivative of belly dance more on that in a post to come) and managed to catch both belly dance and Balinese performances.

I was happy to join in the show!

While Bali was great

– anywhere you travel could potentially offer you unique and fulfilling ways to experience the place through dance.

Belly dance is so popular throughout the world that even some very small towns have a vibrant belly dance community. Most teachers are happy to have an enthusiastic dancer drop in.  Don’t be shy to try a different dance style that takes your fancy too. If the locals have a dance style then taking a class is a great way to meet the real people and get off the tourist track. You may even come up with some great fusion ideas from the experience.

3 tips to incorporate dance into your holiday schedule with ease

Research ahead of time

It’s a pain in the bum to find out where and when everything is if your accommodation doesn’t offer free wifi or if the connection is not great. It can be really expensive to use your phone connection for data while overseas too. Try a simple Google search or having a look on facebook and save the findings in a note on your phone (include times addresses and phone numbers). Before I left I got in touch with some Balinese belly dancers via facebook to find out about classes etc. Thank you a million times over to Allison Mulroy who answered so many of my questions about the who, what, when and how of Bali belly dance. She is doing a great job of promoting the dance style for everyone and strengthening the sense of community.

It is common for there to be a multitude of dancers and musicians at these shows that run nightly in Ubud. Well worth supporting!

Don’t do too much

It’s a holiday! Unless you are travelling with a bunch of equally enthusiastic dancers that don’t want to see the sights then it’s likely you won’t be able to experience everything on offer. If you are travelling with kids then definitely go easy. Pick classes they can join in on too or performances that you think they may enjoy as well. Doing too much will only wear you out and possible cause tension with your travel buddies as you rush from one class to another. Pick a class that fits in with your time schedule with the most ease and enjoy it.

Don’t worry about difficulty level

Trying to remember the Balinese dance positions to the cheers of locals!

If you are a complete beginner then try and find easier classes for sure but if you are a bit more experienced then don’t stress if the only class available is an open or beginner one. Everyone teaches differently and chances are you will learn something new.

Why do it?

Get to meet the locals

Most classes are attended by locals and ex pats. Often when you are travelling you only get to meet those in the tourist industry and it can be hard making a connection with a ‘real’ person, not just someone trying to sell you stuff.

Learn new moves and /or teaching methods

There is so much variety in Middle Eastern dance- after 13 years I still am learning new moves and approaches to teaching. Different areas often have their own approach or style and it can be fun trying something new.

My lovely Balinese dance teacher Debbie and myself – she was an excellent teacher (go to the library near the soccer field in Ubud). I didn’t even realise I was such a giant next to her until I saw this picture!

Make new friends with a common interest

You never know – you may make a lifelong friend!

Keep fit while you travel

When travelling it is great to break routine but some elements of routine are really good for you. Like exercise! The odd dance class can help keep your bod in tip top shape!

Support dancers the world over

There are very few dancers that have made a lot of money from dancing. Most teachers do it for the love. Supporting dancers by going to their performances and classes means you are supporting artistic and cultural pursuits and a flourishing dance scene helps us all.

Dance performance, Ubud

So is it worth it?

It turned out to be the highlight of my trip. What are your thoughts? Would you take a class when on holidays? Would you like the occasional traveller dropping into your class? Please comment below.

Gluten Free Snacks for Travel (& Dancing!)

What are the best snacks for the travelling Belly Dancer or basically any gluten challenged traveller?belly dance and coeliac

With our strict ‘no fruit and vege’ policy for interstate travel in Australia, having an appropriate snack with you on your way to events is pretty handy. On my trip to Perth last month I bought several pre-packaged gluten free snacks to get me through awkward travel times and not knowing what food was available and where. I thought I would share my findings with you because I am sure I am not the only one that is not a habitual eater of packaged foods that finds themselves forlornly staring at the so called ‘healthy snacks’ section of the supermarket and wondering what is truly edible and what is so sweet that you can feel your teeth rotting as you chew. I bought most of these at Woolworths (one of Australia’s biggest supermarkets) so they should be relatively easy to find or order in most places in Australia. I will include website addresses for international readers. Chick nuts were the best find by far! I am pretty positive about most of the products but for the record I hardly ever eat this kind of stuff. I prefer fresh food when available – but when it’s not….

Chick Nuts, Roasted Chickpeas lightly salted by partner foods

This 100% Australian made product is manufactured up in Maleny QLD. I bought a 200g pack and was impressed. They are really tasty, I offered them around to other dancers and everyone seemed to like them and want more. Gluten Free, 21% protein, with iron, prebiotic, 16% fibre and Low GI, if they were organic too then they would be perfect!!

Consuming protein after exercise helps stimulate muscle building and repair. A review found that consumption of 20–25 g of a rapidly absorbed protein, helps to maximise the effect. I believe whey protein had the best results but any decent protein is a good thing. A 50g serve of chick nuts delivers 10.5g of protein (and only 1.3g sugar). About a quarter of a pack is the most you could probably handle eating in a sitting. They are super tasty but you get quite full and loose the desire to eat them after that. A 200 gram pack is great for sharing or if you have a long day of dance ahead and need to snack. They also come in smaller individual packs that may be more convenient if you don’t have anyone to share with or if you live in a humid climate. I have recently also tried their “Fav-va” nuts (roasted broad beans) and found them just as delicious. One note of warning – make sure you have plenty of fresh water with you when consuming these. You need to re hydrate any way after dance and when travelling but a little extra is needed to wash these down.

I now regularly purchase this product. An excellent emergency snack food!

http://www.chicknuts.com

Frugo’s Clusters by Go Natural

“Crunchy creamy clusters of rice crisps and fruit flakes”. 150g

These are yoghurt covered little lumps with berry bits in them with no artificial colours or flavours. They are not wheat free however as they use gluten free wheat fibre in them.

One small cluster tasted nice but by the second, the amount of sugar in them was making me feel ill. 45.3g of sugar per 100 grams! That’s nearly half sugar, I wish I had read the fine print before I purchased. What’s wrong with sugar? Well yes, sugar can give you a quick energy boost but it messes with your system. A lot of sugar is not a good idea for anyone serious about their health and it annoys me that so called “health” brands misleadingly market confectionery as good for you. This product is for hard core sugar-aholics only. Even my children refused to have more than a couple. I didn’t photograph the packet because after one try I decided not to bring them with me. I knew I wouldn’t eat them.

http://www.gonatural.com.au

Pumpkin Crunch by Mrs May’s naturals

This is an American product made in China; the version sold in Australia is a 142g pack. It’s cholesterol, wheat, preservative, gluten and dairy free and its vegan … so I would have to say most people could eat these. They are so yummy! Again I was impressed. They are sweeter than the chick nuts and for that reason I wouldn’t eat too many of them too often but gee it is tempting! Really tasty with 32g of protein /100grams, you probably couldn’t eat more than half that in a sitting but that’s still a respectable amount of protein. In her book What To Eat, Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at NYU, suggests that any food that contains more than 15 grams of sugar per serving is closer to dessert than anything else. This has 14g /100g sugar, or 4g per serve. I would definitely buy this again.

http://www.mrsmays.com.au

Walaby bites – dark choc 150g

Mmmm, very nice! Cold pressed, gluten, wheat and corn syrup free, this Byron Bay product is worth a try. Predominantly dark chocolate, cranberries and cashews nuts, they contain 41.8grams of sugar/ 100grams. Ouch! For this reason, I wouldn’t go so far as to say “the perfect little snack’ as it claims on the pack but they are delicious. Definitely only a ‘sometimes’ food but I didn’t feel as sickly after eating these as I did with the frugos. Best open only in the company of friends so you don’t eat the lot yourself. With protein levels at 4.4g/100g I can’t really recommend this as a recovery food. I am going to try not to buy these again because I just can’t control myself around them! Test your resolve with a pack and see if you agree!

http://www.walabysuperbar.com

Gluten Free macadamia shortbread by butterfingers

OK, I don’t think anyone would consider short bread a health food. It does have a high fat content due to butter but shortbread is such a comfort food. I have occasionally bought this product over the years but this is the first time I checked out the nutrition information. It has negligible protein at 2.2g/100g but only 16g/100g of sugar. This is a remarkably good result for a sweet biscuit (cookie). It’s still not something you should eat a lot of but as I am someone that is not overly fond of super sweet foods, it is probably why I have always liked them when I have decided to indulge. Again, this is not a recovery food but the packet is super compact making it easy to include with your luggage when travelling. It is nice to have something familiar to dip in your tea when away from home. I took a pack with me to Egypt and really liked having a safe (gf) treat waiting for me in my room since I couldn’t eat the traditional desserts available. I also find them settling on the stomach. (you can also get this product without the macadamia nuts but I like the one with them best as I can convince myself they are a bit healthy!)

‘The Old Colonial Cookie Company’ aka butterfingers, doesn’t have a website address listed.

Nut Free Ancient Grains Muesli Bars by Freedom foods

I will be to the point – I didn’t like them. Too sweet. They are gluten free (gf) and nut and wheat free and include some good ingredients but you couldn’t taste them through the all the sweetness. If I wanted to eat something sweet I would find something better than a muesli bar to chomp on! 5.4/100g protein or 1.7g per bar means it doesn’t really have any saving graces. 9.7g of sugar per 32g bar. Try something else.

http://www.freedomfoods.com.au

Brookfarm Bar by brookfarm

A gluten free 35g muesli bar with cranberries and macadamias. I am not a huge muesli bar fan but they are handy if for an emergency breakfast when you can’t find more appropriate food. This bar is the nicest one I have tried yet. No additives, preservatives, wheat or gluten and Australian made. It is still sweet (as all muesli bars seem to be) but less so than the freedom foods offering above (8.2/35g serve).  With 9grams per 100grams of protein, it makes it the superior muesli bar choice.

http://www.brookfarm.com.au

Traditional Dolmades – Woolworths select

While nothing can match the taste of freshly made dolmades, a tin of dolmades in your luggage can stave off hunger. This tin was 280grams and thus a bit heavier than some options. It is the only easily eaten, moist product in this list and if you have other suggestions I would love to hear them. I ended up eating these in Perth when the cafe that was supposed to be open at the dance studios, was not open. Again, a bit hard to eat a whole tin on your own but a nice and filling travel food or offering in a shared food situation. Greens and non sugar based carbohydrates help make it a relatively healthy emergency choice (only 1.8g sugar per 100g). There are plenty of brands available and as these were made in Greece, I am sure something similar is available in Europe and North America.

I know, of course you can just take a bag of nuts or sealed dried fruits with you but now you have some other options too. Do you agree with my comments? What do you take with you to snack on between workshops? Feel free to comment below.

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