Foreigners shake up Egypt's belly dancing scene

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Thursday, June 13, 2024

Foreigners shake up Egypt's belly dancing scene
In this file photo taken on December 12, 2012, a Chinese dancer warms up before performing at a belly dancing school during a festival in the Egyptian capital Cairo. Regarded for centuries as the origin of belly dancing, Egypt has seen its dance community shrink, largely due to the profession's increasing notoriety, and the authorities' broadening crackdown on freedoms. The profession took a further hit as the COVID-19 outbreak forced the temporary suspension of large weddings and the shuttering of nightclubs, though many dancers have continued to enthral audiences by posting videos online. PATRICK BAZ / AFP.

by Menna Zaki

CAIRO (AFP).- At a Cairo wedding hall, Russian belly dancer Anastasia Biserova shimmied to the dance floor in a bright, high-slit skirt and an elaborately sequined bra top.

She swirled her diaphanous pink shawl and glided through the hall as a band pumped out music, while the crowd broke into rapturous applause -- all captured in a video posted online.

"There is no country around the world that appreciates belly dancing like Egypt," she later told AFP.

"Here, there is a growing trend to invite foreign belly dancers to weddings, nightclubs and other events."

Biserova came to Cairo more than four years ago and has built a solid name for herself.

Belly dancers from Eastern Europe, Russia, Latin America and elsewhere have dominated the scene in recent years in Egypt -- long regarded as the birthplace of belly dancing.

But the North African country has seen its community of homegrown dancers shrink, largely due to the profession's increasing notoriety as the country has become more conservative over the last half-century -- and to a broadening crackdown on freedoms.

The profession took a further hit as Egypt's novel coronavirus outbreak forced the temporary suspension of large weddings and the shuttering of nightclubs -- though many dancers continued to enthral audiences with online videos.

Conflicted views
Belly dancer Maria Lurdiana Alves Tejas said it took her some time to come to terms with Egyptians' conflicted view of her profession.

The Brazilian, known as Lurdiana, said she had performed to enthusiastic crowds at weddings and nightclubs, and had even taught at gym classes.

"But there are some who do not see me as a professional -- or (who think) that I did not have a proper education and am only doing this to show my body for money," she said.

"It was very difficult and sad because I spent years learning."

Egypt's belly dancing scene thrived last century, when icons like Samia Gamal and Tahya Carioca rose to fame on the silver screen.

But researchers say Egyptian society has largely seen the dance as entertainment, to be watched but never taken up as a profession.

"This view was bolstered by popular culture, and movies which depicted belly dancers as coquettes, prostitutes or home wreckers," said Shaza Yehia, author of a 2019 book on the history of the dance.

Arabic terms for dancers -- raqasat and awalem -- now often bear offensive and racy connotations.

Recently, authorities have targeted dancers, pop divas and social media influencers who have posted videos online.

Often loosely worded charges against them have included violating "family values" or "public decency".

Foreigners have not been spared in the crackdown.

In 2018, Russian belly dancer Ekaterina Andreeva -- known as Johara -- was briefly arrested for donning a costume deemed too revealing, after a video of her performance circulated widely.

'Stirred imaginations'
According to Yehia and other researchers, belly dancing in Egypt is believed to have especially flourished during the 19th century.

"Performers at the time were called 'awalem', or the knowledgeable, in reference to their ample knowledge in the arts of singing and dancing," Yehia said.

Its modern-day manifestation was in part shaped by Westerners during colonial times, she added.

Some even argue that the term "belly dance", or "danse du ventre", was originally coined by the French.

"Foreign writers and painters portrayed their own fantasies about Eastern belly dancers," Yehia said.

"These views stirred imaginations in the West, which later sought to turn them into reality."

International dance moves were incorporated into the Oriental dance, and costumes altered to appeal to popular tastes.

Now, conservatives and traditionalists view belly dancers' gauzy skirts and glittery bra tops as too revealing, and often accuse them of being "vulgar" and "overtly sexual".

Dancers performing to classical Arabic music have also become a rarity, instead usually preferring popular electro street music, known as mahraganat -- a genre with fast beats and improvised vocals that purists view as overstepping moral boundaries.

Despite the apparent contradictions, foreign belly dancers in Egypt say coming to the country was the right choice.

"Foreigners have to come here to fully understand, perform and practise," said Ukrainian belly dancer Alla Kushnir.

"Egypt is simply the land of belly dancing."

© Agence France-Presse

Today's News

December 25, 2020

Seeing the Met's greatest hits as artists painted them

FIFA lodges criminal complaint against Blatter over museum

The Cleveland Museum of Art announces new acquisitions

Los Angeles based artist John Outterbridge dies at 87

Leslie West, 'Mississippi Queen' rocker, is dead at 75

Art Paris to take up residence in the Grand Palais Éphémère

Scientific team finds surprising connection between dinosaurs and mammals

Estate collection of rare rock concert posters to be auctioned Jan. 1 by Stephenson's

Virginia Shackles, painter of vivid scenery, dies at 99

Israel's violin genius Gitlis dies at 98

Three new exhibitions at Asian Civilisations Museum spotlight the people behind the museum

Amazing and spectacular original comic book art in Heritage Auctions' January event

A new Pinocchio film returns to the tale's dark origins

"Travelling across the Italian Art" exhibition opens at Ottocento Art Gallery

New publication brings together a variety of authors and artists reflecting on darkness

Ayyam Gallery exhibits works by Mouteea Murad at the Roger Dubuis boutique

After catastrophic year, Bollywood hopes for a 2021 comeback

Foreigners shake up Egypt's belly dancing scene

Museo di San Marco opens Fra Angelico Room with new layout and enhancements

This band is fun on TikTok. In Belarus, it's serious.

With a beloved cafe threatened, Broadway stars put on a show

'Blue' Gene Tyranny, whose music melded genres, dies at 75

Aristocratic British model Stella Tennant dies at 50

The year of Telfar

Long Island Exterminator

Importance of Clothing Labels (and Popular Materials Used for Them)

Musical instruments and History

Stylish Neon Signs - Ideas for Your Home

The Best Art Museums To Visit In New York

How to Style Aztec Rugs for Inspired Living

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful