I have closely followed two Egyptian dancers from the beginning of their solo careers whose commanding stylist approaches are now on the cutting edge of the ever-evolving Oriental form—Dina Talat and Randa Kamel. They have individually spurred the field on with their near-impossible choreographies, dramatic daring and grace, and tenacious dedication to their art despite sometimes daunting circumstances in their personal lives and professional environments.
I am reminded of an observation by the legendary choreographer, Ibrahim Akef, when speaking about the difficulties of being a dance artist: “The dancer has to love this art. She has to believe in raks al sharqi, because it is one of the most difficult dance forms in the world.” (“Cairo Unveiled,” Nat’l Geographic Television, 1992)
And now they must also contend with the harsh economic realities of post-revolution Egypt and the sharp decline of dance opportunities there since January 2011. Tourists may still be trickling into the country, but foreign dance students continue to seek out their Cairene idols in their home studios and ateliers. Egyptian stars also travel outside the country to teach and perform, most recently this March at Little Egypt’s Egyptian Dance event.
It was in Randa’s master class in Oriental Choreography that the first hint of her evolutionary stylistic leaps in the form became evident to me. To say that most of us were challenged by her high-energy, intricate combinations and demanding choreography would be an understatement. However, that in itself is typical of Randa’s teaching. Rather, it was a new-found expressiveness, an open-hearted vulnerability that vibrated the air around her. And then, Saturday night’s showstopper—how to describe the ineffable effect, the unlimited essence generated by one dancing body and soul?
Still stunned by the intensity of her focused, exacting technique, her courageous abandon and emotional honesty, I went to her room at the top of the high-rise hotel overlooking LAX to speak with her after her show. I was intrigued: “What’s happened to you since I studied with you just a few months ago in Egypt?” She explained that there is nothing else in her life right now as there is very little dancing in Cairo. Instead, she’s having her own revolution, it seems, pouring huge amounts of energy into her technique, movements and expressiveness. It’s as if she’s taken up the popular call for liberation and internalized the vast potential that lay hidden inside the dance.
I gushed, “There are no limits to the dance; you’ve opened the doors. Now anything is possible.” Tears welled up in our eyes in empathetic resonance. Randa leaned towards me, suddenly very quiet. Slowly, earnestly saying, “I have this dance only, only.”
Shareen El Safy
Santa Barbara, California