One of my first blog posts from Cairo last Fall described an encounter with a special man and an initial tour of the High Institute of Ballet. He had made an impact on my impressions of this place.
“The office, which had been abuzz with activity of both female and male faculty rushing around negotiating student files, now becomes unusually still and quiet as the Director of Cairo Opera Ballet enters. He is a bit of an aloof and cultured character. I cannot figure him out just yet but am impressed just by the aura. He wears a brown vest and light wash jeans, is gallant yet slim, and when introduced to me, says nothing, kisses the back of my hand, slowly and certainly.
Prestigious. A long tradition of it.”
Last week, I attended the final performance and the final exams of the students I taught this Fall. I hadn’t seen them since January. For the performance, the students took to the grand stage of the Cairo Opera House. Audience was invitation-only, parents and afficianados. Flamenco, traditional dances from Upper Egypt, male ballet students flying through the air, special appearances by elite professionals, and a high-energy all-girl take on Gangnam Style.
But during Act II, the recital rook a somber turn as the High Institute remembered a special man who had recently passed. An enormous portrait was lowered onto stage as a backdrop. This was the same man I had met during that first visit to the Institute office. Abdel Moneim Kamel. The esteemed director of the Cairo Opera House for decades, a first-rank ballet dancer, and a loved dance educator.
May he rest in a dancing peace.
A few days later I returned to the Institute to watch the examinations of my former students. I hadn’t seen them since the end of the first semester. If you read my previous post about my feelings of the exam process, you know this was a pedagogical challenge for me. I wasn’t sure what sort of impact I had had. Was this Fulbright experience worth it? Worth anything? For them, the other teachers, for me?
As I watched the students, I definitely saw more bolder movement and a willingness to step up to the lead even if they weren’t the best dancer. Those are two things I had hoped to bring to the Institute: an equality of expectation and a push to dance with full capacity. Then the students performed one of the routines I had choreographed (but this time to techno music instead of The Decemberists).
The backdrop for all this was a bit of disturbing news for us foreigners in the city. An American citizen and director of the CASA program being stabbed in the neck. A planned bomb attack thwarted. Some of the same alertness that we had here in September following the events at the embassy. This time around, I am in love with the people and the good I am able to share.
I am also still leading dance activities at 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt and today was the best dancing day at the hospital ever! I wish I could have stopped and taken a picture. The outpatient playroom where we dance every Tuesday was packed. No one was sitting out, which typically happens. And when a young boy with a mass of a tumor growing on his jaw grabbed my hand to try his first leap-turn combination, I could actually feel his joy. Staff and parents were fully supportive.
My plan has always been to build a more sustainable dance program at 57357 with other dance practitioners. I don’t want the dancing to end when my time here does. But this has been more difficult than expected. Dancers here are incredibly busy. Plus there is little history of dancers and artists in hospitals, schools, and other public places. I led one professional development workshop in December, but most of the participants were too young, there was no translator, and nothing ever came of it.
At least I thought.
Today I walked into the volunteer office inside 57357 and a woman says, “Hi Shawn! Great to see you! Do you remember me?” (translated from Arabic). I had found her face familiar but wasn’t able to place her. Turns out she is a graduating student who was at that workshop in December. She had decided to follow-up on those ideas and was there at the hospital today to start her volunteer application process!
Hopefully she will be one of many dance practitioners at the 57357 Volunteer Appreciation Day next year.
I am ending this blog post with an appeal. Every year, a few times a year, I raise funds for different causes. My Facebook friends have come to expect year. Like a cycle, I have raise at least $3,000-5,000 for the past five years. But this year is harder for several reasons. My goals are binational, both monetary and terpsichory.
Please click here, read what we are trying to do, and donate what you can. Any amount. Any currency. Doing good is not a one-time thing, not linear; it is a repetition of dancing circles.