Friday, May 03, 2013

Has the Egyptian Government made things difficult for their country's bellydancers?

People are always asking me this question- so I thought I would give you my viewpoint!

As far as I know, no legislation has been brought out against bellydance or anything of that ilk since the Muslim brotherhood came into power last summer in Egypt.  Thankfully!

However, work for dancers is down over all.

Partly due to the still very low numbers of tourists, both Western and Arab. This affects all the hotels and boats and cabarets that have dancers. The competition is high and it’s harder now for even Egyptian girls to get work, never mind for us foreigners! For new dancers starting out or coming to Cairo hoping to live their dream of being a dancer here it is near impossible.

The other thing which has lowered the amount of work available, and has affected me personally in recent months is the attitudes within some of the audiences.

I am really lucky to say that the vast majority of audiences I perform for have been fabulous. Mostly Egyptians, but a handful of tourists too. However, I have had two shows cancelled within the last two weeks because there were members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the audience and they didn’t want the bellydance to go ahead. The rest of the music program, fine, but no bellydance, because it is Haram (forbidden!).
In the seven years since I have been dancing at the Nile Pharaoh this has always happened from time to time. Usually because the entire deck on the boat has been booked for a corporate event and they want to do a speech or something instead of having the dancer. Fine. That’s work and I understand that.  Other times, it would just be one table perhaps, or a couple would leave when I started to dance and go outside while the dancing was on if they didn’t want to watch. That’s fine too. I do understand. It is not for everyone. 
However, I get annoyed when the entire deck has been booked for a wedding and because one man creates a big fuss, I don’t dance. We get paid per show, so that means no money for me or my band. It also means all the other guests, who do want to see the dance, miss out.

This week I had a lovely old lady, a professor at Cairo University seemingly, who was with a group that had declared me ‘Haram’ so, ‘no bellydancers today please’. She was really upset not to see me dance and she was embarrassed by her colleagues’ decision to cancel that part of the entertainment. It was quite sweet really. I felt for her. As I always do when some people decide what is right and wrong for others. You don’t like dance, for whatever reason, you leave the room or just don’t watch, but don’t take away the opportunity for others to enjoy.

This is what I see as the real danger to bellydance in Egypt these days. Not that the government will stop us working (although of course, it is a possibility I won’t deny that) but that the general public will start changing their behaviours and attitudes just to fit in with what they are told is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. If it becomes ‘wrong’ in general public opinion, then there wouldn’t be a big fight if one day it was banned, would there?

Thankfully, I have also seen the opposite too. The attitudes of the Egyptian people are being polarised. There are those who are happy for it to become a more Islamist country and those who feel very strongly that it shouldn’t. Many of those that are against this are making sure that they partake of their freedoms as much as they possibly can. Those who drink, are drinking, those who like dance, are dancing and going to watch dance. I’ve even seen a few new venues that never used to have bellydance as part of their entertainment introducing it to their venues. This is the good news, but it always feels like there is an element of desperation in the air too.

It is almost though they fear that if they don’t use it, they will lose it.

I hope they don’t.

I hope I don’t. Bellydancing in Cairo is my life, and I love it. I would hate to lose it.

I hope that because of these people, and for these people, who really do love their cultural heritage, Cairo will continue to be the heart of bellydance in the world.