Belly Dancing is Diminishing in Egypt and Thriving Abroad
I have a Czech friend who told me she is taking belly dancing class and that she so thrilled by the experience. I smiled with happiness and amazement. I had never heard of belly dancing classes in Egypt. I guess we grow up with, never thinking about it too much.. And it just happens to be in our blood or genes. I had three experiences with belly dancing in the United States.
Let me tell you first about this class. My friend told me why do not you come as an observer and watch how we are doing it. She talked to her instructor for permission. Her instructor welcomed me. I sat at the corner as the class was beginning. To be honest, I did not have high expectations. I saw so many non-Egyptians dancing. They dance nicely but there is always something missing. I always thought Egyptians are the masters of the art.
I talked to the instructor before the class after she put on a very nice glittery outfit. It is not the traditional outfit that Egyptian belly dancers wear, but I guess it was something to fit the class that is meant for exercising. She asked me where did you take your belly dancing classes. I looked at her with surprise and I told her I had never had one. I am not an instructor or a professional belly dancer. I am just an Egyptian.
The class started. There were about six or seven students and all had a scarf around their hips. I was mesmerized by the instructor. She is doing it like one of the best Egyptian belly dancers that you would hire for a party and wedding…etc. She is so professional and serious. It is so apparent that she took the belly dancing so seriously that if I did not look to her face I would think she is an Egyptian one. Every job in the Unites States is taken so seriously including belly dancing classes.
I had never thought how belly dancing can be very difficult until, I saw others are trying to learn it. I could tell that the students who are of different ages are struggling to get one step or a movement right. It is such an effort, not to mention that they are completely out of rhythm. Belly dancing is not only about the movements but about mastering these movements with the music, while combing them together to present a nice dance at the end.
My second experience with the belly dancing was with one of best friends from Latin America. Everyone knows how Latin Americans are so good when it comes to dancing. I have never thought that belly dancing has sensual connotation in the sense that talking about in social gathering is not a very decent thing to do. That’s what my friend believes in. Well, I cannot agree with that 100% that depends on how the way it is done. But at the end of the day I am a woman and I only think about it as a dance, nothing else. One thing I know for sure that Egyptians start to dance it when they want to express their happiness and joy and this usually takes the form of some movements influenced by the belly dancing.
The last story here is about some male American colleagues. Celebrating the end of a fundraising event, there was a DJ. As a courtesy from all my colleagues, knowing that I am Egyptian, they asked the DJ to play Arabic songs so that the music not to be dominated by American or Latin American music only. Diversity is always respected. So many people of them cannot get the idea that belly dancing is for women only. It is not very much appreciated that the men shake their hips or move their belly. They tried to dance the belly dances. I tried to explain that you cannot really do that. It was too late because everyone wanted to do the belly dance. I did not know that it so popular and that everyone knows about it until that night. Everyone wants to dance it. I was watching with surprise. This does not mean that men do not dance, they do it but with different movements. However, I saw many Egyptian men doing the belly dancing but I had never thought that this is a very wise move or idea. That’s only my opinion.
I am a bit classical when it comes to belly dancing so my favorite Egyptian belly dancers are Samia Gamal, Tahia Karioka, Naima Akef and Soad Hosni (though she is an actress rather than a dancer). I believe they took their work seriously and that appeared in the way how they mastered it. And belly dancing in Egypt has different schools. There is the one that is influenced by the urban cities and that is a mix between the Egyptian and western music. And I believe that Samia Gamal could represent this trend. Such dancers are usually slim. There is also the belly dancing that is influenced by the rural areas. Belly dancers are not necessarily slim and they dance on more folkloric music. I like the latter school as well, it is just so Egyptian and full of art.
Belly dancing in Egypt is used in the movie industry since it started in Egypt. Egyptians bring professional belly dancers into their parties as a sort of a celebration. Some conservative families refuse to have belly dancers in their parties because they believe that the dancers’ outfits are too revealing and that they are not decent or “haram”, meaning forbidden in Islam. From their point of view, she is a whore, because women should be hiding in scarves not belly dancing outfits.
The modern wave in Egypt includes so many over weight belly dancers. I am not really fond of them but I do not mind them at all. I like to see them in Egyptian weddings.
I believe that belly dancing is an art, regardless of the fact that there are so many vulgar dancers who tried to impose themselves. Belly dancing has been always a source of joyfulness for Egyptians. The part of the belly dancing at any party is always critical. It is the only time you find the invitees stuck to their chairs in silence or clapping to the dancer. I am afraid so many are trying to kill this art as part of the Islamization wave that is attacking all aspects of life in Egypt. We (Egyptians) took belly dancing for granted until Egypt was invaded by foreign belly dancers from all nationalities that they left no room for the Egyptians. Foreign instructors as I have seen myself are proving themselves to be excellent instructors and they are earning their living and make a great business. If an American instructor is finding a Czech student. I guess that says it all. It is so simple, women are encouraged to work out in an entertaining way with exotic music. However, we are not losing it to all those foreigners, because foreigners will find their market anywhere in the world, but we (Egyptians) are losing the art to the Islamists who are totally against it in principle.