The bellydancer who saves animals

Caroline Evanoff is an Australian belly dancer living and working in Egypt

Caroline Evanoff is an Australian belly dancer living and working in Egypt

I was able to interview Australian born belly dancer Caroline Evanoff who now resides in Cairo, Egypt about living in Egypt, staying safe, and her work with animal welfare agencies in Egypt.

How did you come to live in Egypt?
I caught the traveling bug years earlier while backpacking around the world, and particularly enjoyed my stay in Egypt. So years later, after studying belly dance in Sydney, I found myself with an affinity for the dance style of Raqia Hassan, who I had on VHS tape. After wearing it through from watching, I found it hard to find a teacher in Australia who specialised in her style of dancing. So I decided to go to Egypt for three months to study. This turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life, as I went for a short stay and moved there for good instead! In fact everything just seemed to fall into place. I met up with a dancer who then introduced me to Raqia, then very soon after I was offered work, I didn’t even have a proper performance costume but was introduced to Eman Zaki who agreed to make one for me and I could pay later. After that I never looked back, being in constant work ever since.

What can you recommend for tourists wanting to come to Egypt, is it safe?
People have always been scared of coming to Egypt, but since the revolution, people seem to be even more scared. As long as people take normal precautions, it is as safe as anywhere, and much more safe than a lot of other cities in the world! Petty crime has increased since the revolution, so avoid wearing lots of gold, wear a shawl and dress modestly, but you don’t have to be completely covered up either! It is fine for tourists to come, especially if you are there as part of a tour or stay with a local.

The Egyptian bellydance festivals are still running, and while the numbers are down, there are still a lot of people coming to them, if it was unsafe they would have cancelled them. Festivals such as the Nile Group Festival, Sphinx Festival or the Ahlan wa Sahlan Festival run by Raqia is the one I’m involved with runs each June, she also runs a Winter Teachers course in December.

I  also run a holiday program in Dahab on the South-East coast of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, where the focus is on a holiday and some gentle belly dance using Khalleegy, because that is the local dance style. The focus is on relaxing, enjoying the beautiful Mountain Sinai and the Red Sea.

Belly dancer Caroline Evanoff is passionate about animal welfare

Belly dancer Caroline Evanoff is passionate about animal welfare

I hear you do a lot of animal rescuing and encouraging others to do the same?
Yes, I am a volunteer at ESMA (Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals), Touch of Life Organisation and when I go to Dahab, I support “Help Dahab Dogs”, plus all my personal rescues. I have seven cats [unfortunately, one of her cats, Sami, died not long after her return to Egypt after prolonged liver problems]. I go to the shelter and visit but I mainly focus on fundraising. When I travel, at least one of the places will hold a fundraising night so I can take the money to Egypt. You are unable to have a Paypal account in Egypt which makes it hard to donate otherwise, so I collect it and give it to them. Also on FB someone will post that a dog has been run over at such and such corner and direct people to help. I also do a lot of walking around Cairo, so if I see an injured animal regardless of what it is, I will want to help; dogs, cats, sheep, donkeys, goats, foxes, and once there was a crocodile!

I live in a shaabi neigbourhood, and the local children used to torture the animals in fact one of my cats, Frankie, was dipped in car oil and left to drown. Now after 6 years, the children will be the first ones to run to me if they find an injured animal, or a dog has been beaten or they find kittens, and get quite angry if I don’t take them in straight away. But I have a policy of waiting for the mother to come back to the kittens. So they are really on to it, and I am really happy about that. They are the next generation so it is good to see these changes occur now to them while they are young.

This interview first appeared in OMEDA‘s The Shimmy Newsletter December 2012

Warda’s ex-husband Baligh Hamdy arrested for bellydance TV station broadcast!

Right on the heels of my last post about the sad news of Warda’s death, comes news that the owner of ElTet TV station in Egypt, Baligh Hamdy (or Hamdi) has been arrested.

Baligh Hamdy and Warda

Baligh Hamdy and Warda were not only married, but worked together for many years as he composed the music she sang.

He had been operating it for about a year and started by using free Youtube videos and broadcast them via satellite from Bahrain and Jordan into households 24 hours a day. (Quite hilarious actually, as he used a big mix of professional videos from concerts to the “at home” filmings of people doing a version of a choreography or just trying out some moves, if it was on Youtube, it was fair game!) The inside gossip is that his station was becoming more and more popular as the competing stations are showing news, weather and very conservative shows. By turning to his station, locals were able to see something fun and familiar. He started filming local girls and helped them to become popular.

His arrest was allegedly on suspicion of operating without a licence, inciting licentiousness and facilitating prostitution. Some Egyptians are wondering if it is because he was becoming too popular in an ever-increasingly conservative society, and with elections coming up, didn’t want anything to sway the vote.

Either way, the poor man must be reeling, he had a close relationship with Warda even after their divorce, so must have been already upset about this news when arrested.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tek_KpsRV1Q&feature=related

More news when it comes to hand!

Great Arabic singer Warda dies age 73

The sad news has been announced that Warda died on May 17 of apparent cardiac arrest in her home in Cairo.

Warda,, the great Arabic singer, has died age 73 on May 17 2012

I defy any bellydancer who has not danced to, practiced to or listened to one of her songs as there were many. Her style has had an influence on many especially the work she did with her second husband, composer Baligh Hamdi. I am attaching a Youtube video of one of my favourite songs; Batwanis Beek.

Farewell, Warda, you will be missed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZFQgyeJ-OA

Farida Fahmy: review of the film produced by Keti Sharif

“Farida” film viewing Sunday March 23 2012 at RMIT Melbourne

Charni from Belly dance Lessons Online reviews the DVD "Farida"

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online reviews the DVD "Farida"

Hosted by Keti Sharif who also produced it, this film chronicles the life story of Farida Fahmy through interviews with Farida and her brother-in-law, Mahmoud Reda, enhanced by photos and footage from the Reda Troupe of which Farida was principal dancer for 25 years. It was fascinating to hear about how the Reda Troupe started and about the three great influences of Farida’s life: her father, her husband and her brother-in-law Mahmoud Reda.

Her father, a Professor at Cairo University, was very advanced for his time (for any country let alone a conservative country like Egypt). He encouraged both of his daughters to study and do sports and follow creative pursuits, Farida with dance and her sister, Nadeeda, with painting. He withstood much criticism for this. It was through this support and his good public standing, that helped pave the way for dance to become a legitimate profession at a time when it was deemed socially unacceptable. As Farida puts it, he encouraged her to always find out “why” something was the way it was in order to gain greater depth of understanding.

Mahmoud met Farida’s sister at a sports club when Farida was only 13 so he saw her grow up. When she got older she married Mahmoud’s older brother Ali who was already a dancer. Ali was a great husband and supportive of her dancing career. Her husband went on to direct her three films with the Reda Troupe: Agazet Nus El-Sana (Mid-term Vacation, 1963), Gharam Fil Karnak (Romance at the Karnak, 1965) and Harami El-Waraqa (Thief of the Lottery Paper, 1970). The first two are the only ones referenced in the film and are apparently shown on Egyptian television almost every week! They were key to Egyptian cinema as they were the first to incorporate the music and dancing into the storyline, rather than stopping the story to have a song and dance!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mL_QBvJtsuE

Mahmoud told a funny story about filming the movie “Love in Karnak” where Farida had to kiss Mahmoud. He found it very awkward as that was his sister-in-law and didn’t feel at all romantic about having to kiss her in front of her husband who was directing the movie and telling them to kiss! When filming they had to do 23 takes as something kept going wrong!

Farida has a confident, humble style to her reminiscing about the Reda Troupe. I know that sounds a contradiction in terms, however, she says that she was such a success because she had complete and utter trust in Mahmoud and did what he told her, but also acknowledges that she must have had the talent inside her to express what Mahmoud wanted her to. While Mahmoud talks about her amazing dedication and professionalism, she says that she felt she had to set an example of how to behave for the other girls and just did what was expected of them.

Farida also very carefully sorts out some of the misconceptions about dance and origins as opposed to theatre. She talks about the different styles, and the costuming (the first ones were designed by her sister) and how they were not being “authentic” as it was all for the theatre; for an audience sitting in their seats wanting a good show, not a gathering at a party, which is a different audience. It was very illuminating.

The interviews were conducted in Cairo during 2011 (a very tumultuous year in Egytpain history!), and I love how you can hear the constant horns, yells and cries from the street when Mahmoud is on the screen.

I highly recommend this film for anyone interested in raqs sharqi, the Reda Troupe, Egyptian cinema, belly dance and a story of real people who got a dream to materialise and changed a country in the process.

The DVD can be bought through either Keti or Farida‘s websites. Charni was neither paid nor receives payment for her endorsement, and in fact purchased a ticket to see the film.