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A Bellydancer's Guide to Cairo

(or, What I Did on My Winter Vacation :)


January is a perfect time to go to Egypt, and for my second trip there, we really perfected the dates. We'd gone in February last time and it got really warm by the end of the trip so we had trouble sleeping, so the first week in January turned out to be perfect. It was in the 40's at night and 70's during the day.

I will be writing an ebook with the long version of the trip plus tons of great photos, contacts and do's and don'ts, so this is the short version.

We had 12 days in Egypt, not counting travel days, and this time we were planning on getting married there. The paperwork for marriage there is complicated and time consuming, and my friend Ahmed was priceless help in getting the whole thing done, and he makes for a great taxi service! So we spent about 3 days taking care of paperwork and running around getting the whole process done.

I'd made a promise to myself that if I didn't get down to my goal weight by the time we left, I would not have a custom costume made this time. I didn't make it. So, back to my favorite ready made shop for a try-on fest of costumes. However... that plan was quickly derailed by a few different things. First, the owner was out of town. His assistant is pretty good, but there's no replacing the master. Second, a buyer had been in there earlier in the week and pretty much cleaned out all the midrange sizes. Nice. Third, there were two other girls who'd been there ALL day trying on costumes, and there's only one small changing area. I hate having to use a common changing room when you're stripping to basically nothing, but I just shut up and did it anyway. Not pleasant. There were only a handful of costumes the assistant (I still don't know his name!) thought might fit me, and many of those were a no-go. I ended up getting one Egyptian dress in blue, and one 2-piece burgundy set. I wasn't knocked out by either of them, so I was very disappointed, but I had them fitted and the assistant told me to check back when I got back in Cairo to see if they'd gotten more costumes in.

So on my way out, I grabbed some zills, and arranged to have everything shipped home this time. Last trip, I carried everything home, and I was doing a lot more serious shopping this time, so it seemed like a good idea. We'd gone to a Beduin shop and bought a hand made silver filigree lamp and a Moroccan mirror, which we arranged to ship as well.

While we were in Cairo, we managed to have a really nice wedding dinner at the Hyatt revolving restaurant with our friends Ahmed and Nermeen. We also went on the Nile Maxim Dinner Cruise with bellydance show, and the dancer was the same one we'd seen on our last trip to Egypt, but this show was a lot better. Her 'dancing boys' were also much improved, and the show was very entertaining.

Ahmed took us out to Saqqara, Memphis and Dashur, so for the first time, I climbed inside a pyramid. It was the Red Pyramid, and you go in through a small shaft with about a 50 degree angle and 65 meters to the inside. I got about half way down and almost changed my mind, but was glad I went the rest of the way. Talk about claustrophobia. But, when all is said and done, it was one of the highlights of the trip. We also got to see the Bent Pyramid and the Step Pyramid. And I got to pet a puppy :)  (There are dogs and cats everywhere in Egypt but few of them are at all friendly).

After a week in Cairo, we headed by plane to Luxor. My poor hubby (yikes - hubby????!!!) was a little sick so I went to Denderah by myself - what a beautiful set of temples! I'll write more about the mystical side of that part of the trip in the 'long version' but it was incredible. If you get a chance to go there, do it.

Shopping in Luxor can be really fun, because it's not as tourist-heavy as Cairo, and the vendors, while hungry for sales, are very friendly. When I started asking about things in Arabic, prices dropped magically and the friendly factor went up exponentially. I bought all kinds of scarves, wood boxes, carved stone statues - tons of great gifts for my students and friends. I love Luxor, and the downtown is very cool. We spent part of a day at the Temple of Hapshepsut this time, and then some time at Karnak Temple. I know Karnak is one of the more popular temples, but I really liked the Luxor Temple better. We'd spent a good part of a day there last time, and it was really cool.

A quick plane ride and we're in Aswan. We spent half a day seeing the High Dam, the Unfinished Obelisk, the Temple of Isis at Philae. Then we checked into our gorgeous hotel then into town for an afternoon felucca ride around the islands. Aswan is at the part of the Nile where it splits into several rivers, so there are lakes and islands all over the place. The weather is mild, the area really beautiful, and the people exceptionally friendly. I bought quite a bit of silver jewelry there, and found a jeweler with not only a great selection of nice quality stuff, but he was absolutely charming. We stayed there quite a while, drinking the ever-present mint tea. We spent an afternoon just wandering through the shops, sightseeing and visiting with a couple of friendly cats. (my cat stories get pretty funny, but I'll save that for another time!)

After two days in Aswan, we were back to Cairo for a couple of days before going home. Since it was now our honeymoon, I'd gotten us a Pyramid View room at the Mena House - absolutely the most stunning hotel I've stayed in. We went to pick up our wedding certificate, in Arabic, of course! and do a bit more shopping before heading home. So, back to the costume store, where nothing new had arrived, but we were able to find a couple I hadn't seen before. I did either a very rash or very brave thing - I bought them without trying them on! And, when I finally DID try them on at home, they fit PERFECTLY!!! That doesn't happen to me, usually. I also bought a bunch of hip belts and other goodies for the dance company. Then back to Giza for a lovely dinner at the Mena House, accompanied by the absolutely worst folkloric bellydance show in history. Ok, maybe not the worst, but it was hokey and juvenile with moments of adequateness. Not what I'd expect from such a nice hotel, and nowhere near as nice as the last time we were there. Quite a disappointment. We also had a reservation for the cabaret dance show later that night, but 1:30 am on top of a full day of running around...we tried, but we couldn't make it. Sigh.

Ah, there is so much more to tell, but it's late and I need a night-long nap :)

Let me just mention that when I go back next time, I'd love to take some other dancers along. I know the area and the language, all the great places to go (ok, not all - there's always more to discover!!), and have some wonderful friends there too. Interested in going, email me and let me know. Tentatively planning to go back 1/2009 if not sooner.



Fitness For Life: An Exercise Guide for Dancers

By Jana E. Beeman


Exercise Basics:

**Before you get started, be sure you’ve discussed your exercise plans with your doctor.

Always be sure to drink enough water throughout the day, and especially during your workout. A minimum should be 8 8 oz. glasses of water per day, and depending on your weight and training schedule, you may want to drink more than that. A good rule of thumb is 8 oz. per 20 pounds of body weight for starters.

Dress warm during the warm-up (but no socks – they slip!) and take off layers as you warm up. It is not a bad thing to be a little too warm during the warm-up. It will help your muscles loosen up to better support your workout. Do not wear a hip scarf or belt during the warm up. You want to feel free to move in every way, and your clothing should stretch easily with you.

You may feel mild to fairly intense muscle soreness and fatigue when you start a new exercise program or when you start to take it up a notch if you’re already active. You have two choices when this is the case: ease into it slowly, or go for it, knowing you’ll be sore for a few days. While most people use the slow method, I don’t think there is any problem with jumping in, as long as you’re not pushing TOO hard. You’ll have more muscle fatigue and soreness, but if you continue to work through it, you can get up to speed quickly and get the ‘burning in’ part behind you. A good method can be alternating push and no-push workouts, so your muscles have a little more time to recoop, but not enough time to lose the work you’ve put in.

Keep in mind that belly dancing is going to be an entirely different kind of workout than what you’ve done before, UNLESS you’ve belly danced! It uses the delicate muscles that run down your ribcage, upper and lower abs, pectoral muscles, scapula muscles….basically, belly dance uses all your muscles, but in a much different way than your typical gym workout. If you’ve had other kinds of dance before, you’ll have some similarities, but belly dance is all about isolation, then combining movements back together, and working the muscles against each other. That will create an entirely different dynamic in your body than what you may be used to.

There are certain areas in the body that work hard in belly dance, and you may need to work up some strength before the moves really start coming together. You might take a look at my body conditioning video if you really feel you need to get up to speed faster. Honestly, just do the workout clean and ALWAYS warm up – never go straight to the moves. The warm-up is designed to prepare and strengthen your body.

BE CONSISTANT in doing your program. Once a week at the very minimum, more if you have the time. The more you do the moves, the faster they get into muscle memory and become much easier to do. Keep in mind that since this dance uses muscles you may not normally use, you will find areas in your body that refuse to move. Don’t give up or get frustrated, just be patient and take it slow.

If you are working upper body and your hips keep moving too, try this:

1. Really bend your knees.

Tuck the pelvis under, pulling your tailbone down.

      Tighten your glut muscles (top of back thighs) and lower abdominals (under navel)

  1. Try doing the movements sitting in a straight chair where your feet are comfortably flat on the floor.

    Keep your ‘sit bones’ pressed down on the chair seat, and do your upper body moves.

  2. Kneel on the floor with your heels under your gluts, with your toes out behind you. You can separate your legs a couple of inches to give you more stability if you need it. Do your ribcage work here, and the hips are also well anchored. Make sure you’re not getting any hip sway – a few people don’t get enough stability in this position so it doesn’t work well for them, but it does work for most people so is worth mentioning.

When working hips and the ribcage keeps moving:

Find a normal inside doorway.

      Bring your arms up until your elbows are even with your shoulders and hands are up.

      Walk yourself into the doorway so the arms become ‘locked’ into position by the doorway. Make sure your knees are bent before you lock in.

      Check your tuck – make sure the tailbone is pulled down and your lower back is nice and flat.

Now you can work the hips without worrying about upper body.

      You can also use this if you feel you have too much shoulder involvement either with hips or ribcage work. If working ribcage, keep in mind you are anchored, and will not get the same range of movement you would if you were not locked into position, so do not push into your movements. Pay attention to your body and you’ll be fine.

During your workout, if your muscles get ‘crampy’ feeling, stretch them out a bit before continuing. Also be sure to drink enough water.

For knees: Pull foot back and grab with same side hand, pulling back behind you.

Calves: Step foot forward (2-3 feet), put your weight forward and bend front knee, pushing back heel to the floor.

To stretch hamstrings, stay in same position but bend back knee.

Back: Cat stretch your back – clasp hands in front of you at chest level, pull your back into a C curve pulling away from your hands, then extend arms up overhead and arch your back in a nice long stretch.

Tops of shoulders & Neck: Stretch arms up overhead, release head back.

If you consistently have muscle pain during workouts, try taking an antioxidant supplement with selinium, chromium, calcium, magnesium and zinc. This helps with muscle recovery and also helps alleviate muscle cramps at night.

As you’re doing your workout, start slow for the warm-up, but put energy into it so your muscles warm and you start breathing deeper pretty much from the beginning. As you start to feel your muscles relax, extend further into all the movements. In my Intermediate warm ups, we’ll start looking at perfect body positions in each stretch and how to get more from each movement, but for starters, just breathe deeply as you move, and reach out with your fingertips.

As you move into the isolations section, be sure to breathe all the way down into the abdominal area – don’t breathe from your chest, breathe from your stomach. Chest breathing is too shallow to support the work you’re doing. You want to fill your body with air, and release. When you first start with isolations, you’ll have some you just don’t feel like you can do. Relax. It takes a few sessions to get your muscles sorted out. What will happen is that after you do your first session, you’ll work a lot of the details out in your sleep. Your body and mind communicate while you’re resting, and next time, they’ll have a better plan how to make your body do what you’re asking. Every session gets easier, until you forget about the struggle. Allow your body to work it out, and it will be fine. Oh, yes, you absolutely TRY to do the move, but know it will get easier without you getting it perfect the first time.

Belly dance is a progressive style of exercise. First you stretch and start the limbering and strengthening process, start the basic isolations, then the body gets looser and stronger, the isolations get easier, we add more to them. Then you work at a higher level to stretch and strengthen, learn more complex movements, focus on cleaning up the movements, making them stronger and faster. Fast, however, does not mean proficient. I’m going to tell you a secret that most dancers never think about: Only REALLY good dancers can dance well SLOW.

What? Slow?

Yep. It’s a hundred times harder to do a movement slowly and clean that it is to push through fast move after fast move. No kidding. Newer dancers, or those who just aren’t too good, will always choose fast numbers because it covers up a host of problems, such as body weakness, sloppy moves…momentum carries the moves. How can you tell if a dancer doing a fast number is doing it to cheat? Watch the moves you’ve learned. Does the umy come up as it moves across the front? Is the hipwork clean and countable? Are the arms up or down? If down, probably a beginner. Not always, but often. My perfect test: ¾ shimmy. If you can’t count the hips going 123 123 123 123, it’s sloppy.

If you really want to become an excellent dancer, WORK IT SLOW! Every time. Then speed it up too so you have that, but always start your moves slow, focusing on making them big, clean, pretty and strong. Put TENSION into the moves, using muscle to resist the movement a bit – that creates so much interest. Now, as you speed them up, don’t lose the range of movement, strength or cleanness. Just release a bit of the tension to allow the moves to work faster.

As you get into the drilling part of the workout, really breathe deep into your abdomen. Check your tuck, keep your energy up. ENJOY the music! Once you’re sure you’re doing the moves correctly, focus on fullest range of motion, then allow yourself to play with the moves a bit. There is no such thing as a bad move – just one that may or may not look good and work for the dance. In choreography, that’s a different case, as you’re going for conformity, but when drilling or dancing freeform, experimentation is great.

When you’re done with the session, I really suggest you do a cool out stretch session. There isn’t time on the DVD’s for me to do one without increasing the cost of the product, but you can make up a stretch out on your own, or repeat the first few minutes of the warm-up. I also have a great cool-down on my body conditioning video.

Cover up again immediately following your workout – do not wait for your body to ‘cool off’ or you may have muscle contraction that could lead to injury or unnecessary stiffness. Try to continue to stretch a bit as you cool down – it will really help with muscle recovery. If possible, take a hot shower or bath after your workout, especially when you’re just getting started with belly dance, to reduce soreness. Putting some epsom salts into your bath water is a great way to relax out the muscle fatigue. You should not have any PAIN, but muscle fatigue and some soreness is to be expected while you’re learning any new form of exercise.

If you have any body issues – old injuries, strained muscles, weak spots – feel free to email me for some tips on how to slightly revise movements to work better for you.


Just remember to relax, have fun with it, and know it will take about 6 weeks of consistent work to feel like you’re getting the moves. The more you practice, the easier it will get.

This article is the property of Jana E. Beeman, copyright 2006, all rights reserved.

You may share or print this article as long as it is sent in it’s entirety without making any alterations, including this section and contact information.

Jana E. Beeman

Enchantment Unlimited Entertainment & Essence of Egypt Dance School

www.HowToBellyDance.com enchantmentunlimited@prodigy.net

360/ 263-5800


Arabian Spice Article (click to read)

Our Tips and Tricks Archive

Don't work out without warming up!

Since I've torn a tendon in my leg, I've come to realize even more acutely how important this is.

I KNOW how it is when you perform - sometimes it's just impossible to warm up at the performance. BUT, that has nothing to do with warming up beforehand! If you do either a full workout or a thorough warm up and some run-through's earlier in the day, and then while waiting to start dancing, stand and shimmy, maya, rib lift, and stretch out as much as you can. You can do ribcage stuff in the car. Also be sure and stretch your neck.

It only takes a few minutes to avoid weeks of being in agony. It's really worth the effort.




When you warm up, extend your arms out to the fullest and extend your body.

Warming up will give you the greatest benefit if you extend into the stretches. Keep energy in your hands and arms, and extend from the center of the ribcage during upper and full body stretches. During any of the moves that require you to bend, pull your upper body away from your hips, keep your back straight and breathe deeply.

If you keep energy in your body and really move into the stretches, you'll get much greater benefits from the moves. And always be sure to stretch out before working out or performing.




Feel free to call or email me directly:

Jana E. Beeman (aka "Amira")

Essence of Egypt Dance School is now providing beginning through pro dance and yoga classes in the Vancouver, WA area. Our private La Center studio is convenient to the Ridgefield, Woodland, Cougar, La Center, Battle Ground, Hazel Dell, Vancouver and surrounding areas. Check the schedule for other classes in alternate locations. Dance, yoga and costuming workshops and classes are also available in your location.

Enchantment Unlimited Entertainment & Essence of Egypt Dance Company

La Center Yoga

360/ 263-5800


Jana E. Beeman, President
Copyright © 1999 Enchantment Unlimited Entertainment & Essence of Egypt Dance Company/School. All rights reserved.