An introduction to the planet s most evocative art form
CAIRO: The author Anne Rice has a famous book, Interview with a Vampire. I’ve had an enlightening afternoon that can match that: Interview with a Belly Dancer.
Belly dancing is arguably the planet’s most evocative art form, conjuring up images of Bedouin tents, plush cushions, banquets and the dance of the seven veils.
Though my interview wasn’t with an Arabian dancer, it was with a Scottish one, who sees Cairo as the BDU – Belly Dancer’s University.
“Dancing is my life, says Lorna, who wasn’t wearing any veils. “I am obsessed with the movement, the music and culture that surround it.
Lorna is tall with an athlete s physique. She is wearing a simple cotton orange top, jeans and sparkling slippers. She takes another mouthful of chocolate cake.
“Dancing 30-40 hours a week, you can eat what you like.
I suck in my belly.
She tells me that the ban placed on foreign dancers three years ago has been lifted and that the Brazilian Suraya is performing at the Sheraton in Dokki, the Argentinean Asmahan is at Mena House Oberoi, Otti from Finland dances on the Nile Pharaohs Boat and Layla from the US is also making her mark.
“There is a real hierarchy amongst belly dancers, Lorna says. “The best are maybe Randa Kamel who is often at the Marriott in Zamalek, and of course Dina may be seen performing at the Semiramis in Garden City.
“When I have friends visit we see it all. I start at the bottom with the clubs on Alfi Street – Wust El Balad [Downtown], maybe a dinner cruise and then one of the big hotels which can start around one or 2:00 a.m.
“Traditionally there is a stigma surrounding dancers, that it is seen as something not respectable. But in my seven months in Cairo, I am seeing a revival. There are dancing classes at Gold’s Gym in Dokki, where it is mainly Egyptian women, and Studio in the Sky in Maadi, where expats go barefoot and are proud to shake their hips.
“In Cairo there are the best teachers like, Raqia Hassan, and for the price of a LE 50 hip scarf, anyone can tap into the culture for a night or a lifetime.
“One of the most famous of all dancers is Fifi Abdu. Fifi danced into her 60s and is said to be one of Egypt’s richest women. People say that she may have been vulgar, but if you wanted your party to go off with a bang, you booked Fifi Abdu, Lorna says.
Top dancers can charge thousands of pounds, which is understandable. The badla, or belly dancing costume, can cost anywhere up to $500 (almost LE 3,000).
Lorna has about 40 costumes, though many are back in Scotland.
“The badla is very important. It makes you feel the part. It is mostly made of body hugging lycra and the time it takes to sew on the rhinestones and sequins is where the money goes, explains Lorna.
“Women love the belly dance. It is a chance to get dressed up, it builds confidence and when you tie on the hip scarf it defines your shape.
Lorna says that Egyptian women have an innate sensuality that can be observed in any coffee shop.
“Part of my studies at the ‘Belly Dancing University’ is to observe women in public. Even in a café, the way Egyptian women sit, or the way they flick their hair creates interest without leading people on.
“When I dance, I try and take pieces from these observations and the great dancers of the past. I admire Fifi Abdu who had fantastic power and strength, Samia Gamal who was very beautiful, elegant and classy and Soheir Zaki for her skill and poise.
“I also find young Egyptians very proud. And if it is the growing number of belly dancers on music videos or girls of eight and nine knowing the latest moves, I think it allows people to express every aspect of their personality, and at the same time remain proud of being Egyptian, Lorna says.
Lorna, like students everywhere, is paying her own way through her ‘university’ degree. She supports herself through her savings and of course harbours ambitions to dance at the five star hotels. She keeps a blog of her experiences and speaks daily to her Moroccan fiancé, Khalid, who is back home in Edinburgh.
So watch this space, because one day it just might be Lorna who gets the party started with a bang.
Peter A. Carrigan studied journalism at New York University and has been fortunate enough to have traveled widely and married wisely. Having lived in Egypt for three years, he counts amongst his best experiences hiking in the Sinai Mountains, seeing the total eclipse of the sun on the Libyan border and being harassed by dolphins in Dahab. He will be contributing a weekly column to THE DAILY STAR EGYPT.
Writer and historian William Dalrymple is speaking at AUC on Nov. 16 and at Maadi Community Church on Nov. 18. His book, From the Holy Mountain, re-traces a journey through the Byzantine Middle East.
Cairo Rugby Club: Halloween Disco on Nov. 2 with music by Ahmedito. The team also suits up against the Alexandria Rugby Club on the following day at Victory College (Phone: 010 638 3080).
BCA Mohandiseen: Live Cricket from India – ICC Champions TrophySouth Africa v Sri Lanka – Oct. 24 New Zealand v Pakistan – Oct. 25India v West Indies – Oct. 26Pakistan v South Africa – Oct. 27England v West Indies – Oct. 28India v Australia – Oct. 29