What are the positive things about being a belly dancer in Egypt?
Personally, it’s very fulfilling to be doing what I love for a living. I’ve always been a dancer, but I’m just taking it to another level; from ballet to belly dancing.
How and when did you get started? Has belly dancing always been your dream?
I was a classical ballerina since the age of 15, so I have always been in the dance career that I have been training for since I was around five. Alongside ballet, I studied all kinds of choreography including jazz and contemporary dance. When I tried looking for a belly dance teacher, however, I could never find a place where I could take classes in Egypt. Then one time when I was in Istanbul, Turkey, I got invited to a nightclub there, and I remember watching a spectacular belly dancing show and realising that we’re missing out on so much back in Egypt; we did not have this kind of venue here. I went back to re-embark on the journey of finding a belly dance teacher, and I found Raqia Hassan, who happens to be the most famous teacher of all the belly dancers in Egypt. I started taking classes with her a few years ago and that was when I made this shift from ballet to belly dance.
Which dancers have been influencing your dance?
I’m a little old-school when it comes to the belly dancing industry, so I’m a big fan of legends like Samia Gamal and Soheir Zaki.
What are your earliest memories of belly dance?
Belly dancing has always been a part of mine and my mum’s life. We used to live abroad, and my parents would throw galabeya parties at home which was basically just a grand celebration of being Egyptian. Also my mum, being a big fan of belly dancing herself, used to go to Egypt every summer and buy tapes and DVDs for Soheir Zaki, Nagwa Fouad, Fifi Abdou and all these belly dance icons of the 70’s and 80’s. I would always watch with her and it was a huge influence on my life, but the main obstacle remained that there were never any access to classes.
How would you describe your style of dancing?
I would say I’m very classic, but I’d also like to think I’m quite versatile because I have studied all kinds of dance. However, my personal preference is lenient towards classic oriental dancing.
What are the obstacles that a professional belly dancer goes through behind the scenes?
It’s a very difficult career, especially in Egypt where the belly dancing scene is very male dominated. You’ll often find women being objectified or having to agree to terms they’re not comfortable with, which is more prevalent at the lower end of the scale, not necessarily at five-star hotels. Dealing with band members and musicians is also very difficult because most of them prefer to just slack off and still receive their usual pay.
What has been your biggest obstacle in your shift of careers?
It was very challenging to shift from ballet to belly dancing. A ballerina is very spoiled; you’re working in a company where everything is set up for you. You go to the heated dance studio in the morning where the coach is going to lead you to every single step of your dance routine including where to look! There’s always time for warming up before the show, and afterwards there’s a cooling-off break where the physiotherapist can help you. As a belly dancer, you run from one show to the next, you’re in a perpetual cycle of warming up, dancing, cooling off, and repeat. It’s constantly taking a toll at my body and it’s a lot more overwhelming than ballet.
Do you ever miss ballet?
I miss the organization of it as opposed to the chaotic lifestyle of belly dance. Everything was always planned for me and I felt spoiled compared to how chaotic life could be as a belly dancer. Especially with how overwhelming the schedule can be.
Who do you consider an eternal legend in ballet?
A ballerina I have always looked up to is Natalia Makarova. I first watched a video of her when I was still a baby, maybe around two years old. I tried to emulate her and dance on my toes and my parents would always fear I’ll hurt myself, so they sent me to a ballet academy almost just to quiet me down.
What is a common misconception about belly dancing in Egypt?
There’s always an attempt to hide the belly dancing scene and keep it underground, regardless of how every Egyptian of either gender exercises the art; it’s part of every Egyptian home. The misconception is that Egyptians don’t like dancing, but it’s actually the exact opposite. I think it has become part of our culture to just deny loving the things that we love. When I look at the beautiful belly dancers in the age of golden cinema in Egypt, I really wonder how people end up rendering this beautiful art shameful.
What do you believe is the future of Egyptian belly dance in the coming years?
Belly dancing in Egypt is very underground; it’s not acceptable for children to watch this form of art, unlike ballet, even though the latter is Western and not part of our culture. It’s so easy for parents to take their kids to a private ballet school or a government owned one. Whereas belly dancing is too underground to learn or find a professional to teach you with this ease. So I would like to see it more culturally integrated in the near future and to see the denial of loving this art lifted. It’s really common to see a mother bringing a belly dancer to her son’s wedding, yet the same person would freak out if her son told her he was marrying a belly dancer. These practices are quite outdated and even ancient, so I would love to see people move on and accept that this form of art is mentally and physically good for you aside from being a great way to express yourself. I hope people just focus on the positive side of the belly dance industry.
How do you choose your outfits?
I design my own outfits. I’m very lucky to have the most professional costume makers: My main costume maker would be Raqia Hassan’s personal atelier, who was also my teacher; the other one is a lady responsible for the wardrobe workshop of the Cairo Opera House. As for how I design my outfits, I’m so easily inspired by everything around me, even when they have nothing to do with belly dancing. I try to incorporate my muses into my costumes accordingly. In summer, for instance, I like to assimilate flowers, birds and butterflies in my outfits, and then in the winter it’s a little more classy.
What is your favourite piece to dance to and why?
My two most favourite pieces are Jabbar (Mighty) by Abdel Halim Hafez and Ana Fi Intizarak (I’m Waiting For You) by Umm Kulthum, and I acknowledge how unconventional it is to dance to such classic pieces; usually bands are shocked when I tell them I want to dance to them but I always love to experiment, and as a result they have become my two most in-demand pieces.
Any news you would like to tell our readers?
I’m very excited to announce that I have signed with a new manager, Hossam Khalil, who also manages Tamer Hosny. He’s very professional and this is going to be a great step forward for me and, hopefully, for belly dance in general.