Outi in her work


Greetings from Cairo part II
Published in Ishtar 2/2006

Dancing in Cairo

I know that all of you would like to know, what it's like to dance here in Cairo. In a word: different! Everything is different, performing as well as the dancing itself, and the audience too. Some of the differences are very abstract and hard to describe, they can be felt rather than named. On the whole a dance performance consists of various different levels, which intertwine and are difficult to separate from one another.

The most visible and obvious component is the dancer herself. Her persona, movement vocabulary and skill create a unique frame for the interpretation of music. This of course is nothing new and applies for the rest of the world aswell.

The first major difference from dancing Finland and plenty of other countries is the live band. Dancing with your own musicians is wonderful. It adds so much to the energy to have other artists onstage besides the dancer. Even though the dancer is the Star and the musicians are there to support the dancer, creating something together is very inspring! When you work with the same people for weeks and months, you learn each others' habits and can predict the coming patterns - the orchestra of the dancer and vice versa.

The connection between the tabla player and the dancer is especailly crucial. I have now worked with three different tabla players. They are all a bit different. They pick up slightly different things from my dancing and at the same time give me new ways to listen to the same music. Sometimes an idea comes to my mind of a new combination and the drummer plays the exact same accents at the right time. Moments like that are incredible. Telepathy works, even without a common language - my Arabic is still very limited.

All of this can somehow be understood without much experience, but the biggest and the most surprising difference is the audience. This is not easy to put into words. There are so many nuances to the audience, that understanding it takes close examination. Roughly put there are three kinds of audiences: Arabs - both locals and tourists, othe tourists, and dancers. There are tourist lunch cruises, where the food and the Nile shore are much more fascinating than me or the great artistic endeavour I'm presenting. One time the upstairs of the Golden boat was completely full. It fits about a hundred people. This time nobody - not a single one - tourist as much as glanced at me during the entire ten minutes. I had to hold back from laughing. On the other hand a part of tourists get really excited. Some want to join me to dance, and one time and older lady rushed to the stage in her jingling hipscarf.

Mostly my work is at night and these trips are completely different. The later the show, the more the audience consists of locals and the better the atmosphere. I love to watch how the Arab audience responds and enjoys the music as well as the dance. I feel privileged being able to peek into their experience. In this puzzle I am the odd piece, a westerner, this dance and form of entertainment is a part of their culture and lives. I find it really rewarding when they like the way I interpret their music. Many come to chat with me in Arabic and of course I don't understand a thing. Fortunately a suitable interpreter is never too far. Some of the guests are very shocked to see that I'm from Finland. And I don't even know the language!

The dance tourists are somewhere in between the other two types of audiences. A part of them is very critically watching the technique and others just feel the music like the Arabs. They generally have more knowledge than the average tourists, but their cultural background is totally different from that of the locals.

All these factors combined create unique situations. Teamwork with the band and contact to the audience result to the perfect circumstances for improvisation, which is absolutely vital. I can now understand how the local dancers cannot put together choreographies or keep changing them time and again to the misfortune of their western students. Living the music and interpreting it simply change at different times and under different circumstances.




Photo by Päivi Arvonen

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