By Dahlia Ferrer
Hurghada is one of Egypt’s most popular holiday destinations and tourists from Europe and beyond flock to the scores of hotels the seaside town has to offer. But the year-round sunshine, endless beaches, world class diving and many other water sports that have made Hurghada a favourite vacation spot are not the only thing that is on offer. At any time of day and night the seductive sounds of different music are heard all over town, from daytime chill to the latest that the DJ scene has to offer. Hurghada does many things well, but above all, Hurghada dances.
Maybe you are a Type A and dance has been on your bucket list for at least half a decade. Will you ever get around to it? Maybe with the many hours you work you will not manage to do so at home, so the only way to kick-start dancing is to get away from it all and follow your dream in a different location.
Maybe you go out dancing every weekend and you fall into category B. Once dance entered your life you have been addicted and it is the one social event and exercise that you hope you will never let go of. To the point that you even want to take it with you on a vacation by the sea.
And then of course you could be a Type C and you do not want to dance. It happens and there is nothing wrong with it, but then this article is probably not for you.
The budding dance community on the Egyptian Red Sea is becoming more popular as the host for small, exotic, inexpensive dance getaways for both the experienced and the novice dancer. And the close proximity of Hurghada to Europe and other Middle Eastern countries and the relatively cheap travel packages makes it an excellent spot for a holiday where you can dance to your heart’s delight.
Latin dancing for pros and beginners
Several international dance groups have chosen Hurghada as their international base and have arranged dance holidays in the Red Sea resort town.
A United Kingdom-based group, lead by resident British DJ Paolo, designed a perfect combination of sun, sea and dance trip in a five star hotel in nearby El Gouna. During the day the participants laze their days away on the beach. But as soon as the sun sets, they head home, put on their dancing shoes and take a few dance lessons in the evening. Around 10pm the group takes over the restaurant and hosts a swinging salsa night, taking care of the music and the enthusiasm. And all of this on a budget!
Hurghada also boasts two experienced Egyptian teachers, Miguel Mauricio, who is a full time resident and Ahmed Baher, who divides his time between the resort and Cairo. Occasionally they organise workshops with teachers from abroad that attract dancers from Egypt and beyond. The Salsa Factory Hurghada has just had a successful grand opening event of their permanent dance studio and many dancers from Cairo flocked to celebrate the inauguration.
Besides the events and workshops, both teachers offer classes for beginners and organise regular dance evenings where everyone can try out their newly learned moves in a friendly, festive and unintimidating atmosphere. As Mauricio said, “all of the dance parties are pleasant and people behave decently. We do not allow outlandish behaviour.”
For those who feel the itch to dance during the day head over to the Old Vic where DJ Bido, (who also moonlights as a singer), will get you showing your moves on the beach. Bido really looks to see who feels like dancing among the occupants on the beach and matches the music to their mood. The Old Vic beach stands out among the rest of many other private, pay-for-day-use beaches in Hurghada because it is not as small as most. The price is just about right at EGP50, although if you get there late you will mostly likely miss out on a beach chair and umbrella. The beach-goers are a good mix of relaxed, happy locals and expats and DJ Bido willingly takes requests, especially if you are among those that are cutting up the rug, er, sand. Bachata, salsa, house, R&B, Arabic, European pop, oldies; Bido entertains and energises the dancers with every style you can think of.
The neighbouring beach, Paradise, is also a well known, daytime dance spot but the DJ dictates the music and is not very flexible when it comes to taking requests. Beach is a bit of a grand word to describe the place with only a small sandy area to enjoy; a sort of pedestrian pier takes up most of it. Still, it is popular and for many 20-somethings it is the place to spend the day.
The two beaches are right across the street from one of Hurghada’s favourite local eateries, Bulls. During the day you can enjoy their freshly baked own apple pies and other desserts, and Bulls serves great breakfasts and pays attention to the little details in all of their rather basic but good food.
Dance-saturated conference in Hurghada: AfroLatin festival
The AfroLatin Congress offers three days of workshops in Cairo in Latin and African dances, salsa, kizomba and bachata, with professional teachers from around the world. The festival kicks off with a pre-party on Thursday 25 October in Cairo at Bian Cafe, a local dance spot in Mohandessein.
The classes start on 26 October with one room dedicated mostly to Salsa and the other to kizomba. The dance parties will surely be a hit considering dancers of all styles and countries, including the teachers, will be participating. The dance nights are scheduled to start every day around 9:30pm and are expected to continue into the wee hours of the morning.
This is the second year this festival is held and the organisers expect around 150 people to attend. Participants will hail from everywhere: Belarus, Finland, Sweden, the United States, UK, Russia, France and Poland to name a few. The teachers that are bringing their expertise tare mainly Latin Americans who are living abroad.
Egyptian Amr Kasseb will be teaching Kizomba, but will be giving centre stage to the renowned international teachers from the AfroLatin Connection from Portugal and elsewhere.
One of the expected highlights of the festival will be the classes taught by Alex Lima, a lalsa and lambazouk superstar born in Sao Paolo Brazil, but long-time resident of France. He contacted the AfroLatin Festival organisers after the first festival and says, “they told me that maybe they will contact me for the second edition… and they did! They invited me to teach and to perform in the second year.”
Other internationally renowned teachers include Seemore Johnson and Cristina Pujol (Costa Rica/Spain), who have 20 years of experience in almost all fathomable Latin dances, and Diana David from Colombia.
Actor and teacher Hélio Santos’ roots are in Cape Verde, but he is based in Lisbon. He is a talented dance performer, skilled in both partner dances and contemporary, and one of his latest dance-related projects is the launch of KizombaExtreme
Another one not to miss is El Salvadoran Jose Santamaria, who opened his studio and cross-cultural centre JAS in California in 2011 and has participated in The Latin Grammys, the TV programme Muy Caliente and major Salsa congresses throughout the world. “At the San Francisco Bachata Festival in July, Amr [Kasseb] and I got to talking and he invited me to join the [teachers'] line up. I’m very pleased about the second festival – it means that the first one was a success.” he said.
International DJs will set the pace and dance contests will keep the energy and enthusiasm flowing during the festival.
After the three days of classes and night dancing in Cairo, the AfroLatin Festival moves the party on to Hurghada for four days for sun and lots of fun at the Sonesta Hotel. The 360-room resort boasts large pools and access to some of the most crystalline beaches in Hurghada.
A VIP pass to the festival includes a day of diving/snorkelling on one of the world famous reefs of the Red Sea. The day on the boat will not mean that dancing is left onshore; the captain will play music and you have the choice to dance on the deck.
A safari to the Badaweya Camp in the Red Sea desert is also on the list and this will be the perfect chance to spend some hours contemplating the beauty of the surrounding landscape.
And of course there are parties, both pool parties and beach parties are scheduled for Sunday and Monday night.
A one-day pass is €70 and gives you entrance to the workshop and the party on the night of the day that you paid for.
The full pass is €130, which gives you entrance to classes and parties on all of the nights the festival is in Cairo.
The VIP pass, at €495 includes the full programme of classes, parties, sightseeing and activities in Hurghada as well as the hotels in Cairo and Hurghada. Passes to the festival will not be sold at the door, so it’s necessary to contact the organisers beforehand.
When asked what inspired them to organise a festival like this, Amr Kasseb, sais, “salsa has been around for a while [as well as bachata] and we wanted to bring something new to Egypt. We found kizomba.”
So what is kizomba? Fresh from a seminar with the father of kizomba, Kasseb was able to highlight some of the points in the development of this genre. With roots in Angolan semba music, singer Eduardo Paim fused it with music from the French Antilles in the Caribbean, zouk, around 1983. This then new genre, semba/zouk became the precursor to kizomba.
Semba (meaning “contact”) is when dancing the couple hold each other in a medium-close embrace and move in three simple steps, tapping on the fourth. The music fused with the much slower-paced zouk to give kizomba its characteristic sensuality.
A breakthrough moment for kizomba was the popularity of a song called Kassav – Zouk La Se Sel Medikaman Nou Ni, which was still was very related to semba. Nowadays, many digitalised, modern songs that borrow directly from Akon sounds, have become popular.
A bit about salsa and bachata
There are many theories about the actual origin of salsa, but most agree it comes from Cuban music, including the Guaguancó, and over time it fused with a few other styles; influences from New York City music, from different areas in the Caribbean including Puerto Rican and Cuba, from big band brass. Eventually the swingy, spicy music started to be called salsa. The heyday of salsa was in the 1970s, known as salsa gorda, literally translated this means fat salsa. In the 1990s salsa started to become popular again and by 2000 the dance was back in full swing and these days people flock from all over the world to the various salsa congresses in major cities such as Berlin, New York, Madrid, and Marrakesh. Salsa is also still going strong in the places that helped originate the music, as witnessed by the Puerto Rican Salsa Congress celebrating its 15th anniversary last year.
Bachata is a dance from the Dominican Republic, mostly of bolero origin and influenced by Puerto Rican music from the countryside. The dance has been around for a long time and it was considered a bit vulgar at first, similarly to the history of the tango, but as with salsa, a huge interest for the close dance re-emerged in the 1990s.
House and R&B
All European-style DJ’s that Hurghada has to offer for a night on the town will entertain those that do not feel the Latin vibe. Here is a partial is listing of some dance spots.
The top two dance clubs in town, Papas and Little Buddha, are open every night.
“We stick with house, but, of course, people love the commercial stuff,” said one of the promoters of Little Buddha. Every Sunday is ladies night and on Thursdays an international DJ will feature as the main attraction. This upcoming weekend of Eid, a public Muslim holiday, DJ Katusha from Russia will make sure you will have a good time.
Papas is a pumping, on-the-beach pavilion with a ladies’ night on Mondays. The DJs delve a bit into R&B but stick mostly to house and pop.
The Hard Rock Cafe also plays house music every night, starting from 11pm, with ladies nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
White Beach is much smaller than any of these main night spots and is located on a narrow slit on the beach and is more a bar than a night club. They do have music almost every night though and generous ladies’ nights on Monday and Tuesday. Uniquely, they host an Arabian night on Wednesdays.
If you are in Hurghada and would like to explore some of the other night-time entertainment in town we recommend you check out the following:
Thursday, the start of the Egyptian weekend
- Low-key Latin dance classes in the Living with Art Guesthouse
- Latin night at the Caribbean Bar in Bella Vista Hotel
- Latin night in Café au Lait in the Memsha pedestrian zone
- House in Zoom
- Latin night at Moon Valley Beach (only during the summer because it is at night on the beach)
- Reggae Night in the Dutch Bar
- Ritmo Latino in the Famous Pub
- Latin music night at the Caribbean bar in the Bella Vista Hotel
- Arabian Night, (Bellydancer, Tanoura and Arab music, in White Beach
- R&B Night in Zoom
Where to stay?
Hurghada is stretched out along the beach for many kilometres and most of the huge five star hotels are on the same strip of beach. To get into town from these big hotels to where all of the action is you will have to take a 20 minute taxi ride, but never fear, the taxis are incredibly and they are everywhere.
If you want to stay closer to town then a great four star option is the Bella Vista hotel on Sheraton Road.
For overseas visitors, package holidays that combine charter flights and hotels are hard to beat.
Locals, ironically, sometimes have a hard time finding a good deal in one of the many large all-inclusive hotels. For anyone on a budget, palatable and economic lodging is extremely difficult to find, as Miguel Mauricio said. He recommends trying out the brand new, though very basic Heliopolis Residence. It is on the Sheraton Road, the major thoroughfare in Hurghada and has a small pool. Because it is new it does not suffer from the lack of maintenance that a lot of three star hotels are notorious for in Egypt.