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The Egyptian Oriental Belly-Dance: Beauty Expressed in Movement
Saturday, May 15 (Issue 8)
by Andrea Nader

CAIRO ( - “Life is like a ghaziya (an oriental dancer).She dances briefly for each” - old Egyptian proverb.

Vitality and sensuality, fun and light-heartedness are at the heart of the Egyptian oriental or bellydance (known in Arabic as Raqs Sharqi). Giggling young toddlers first begin the dance listening to the upbeat tunes which are heard in every Egyptian home. It is not long before they have emulated the skill of their older siblings or family members and can dance with amazing skill, moving their body as if charged with electricity!

Foreign belly dancer dazzle Egyptians
Foreign belly dancer dazzle Egyptians

Westerners know the dance as the “bellydance”, but this is a misnomer and a term coined by the colonial British. It is danced with the whole body, not only the stomach and is a dance of grace, of dignity and of vitality in action. It is more than a kind of oriental striptease, which is how it is often depicted in western films. True, it is sensuous, but Egyptians dance as a way of celebrating life itself. It is as a way of showing loved ones they are happy and they dance also in order to show off their skill in this ancient art form. It is quite common to see young men on a boat trip along the Nile, dancing to the beat of a drum one of them has brought along for the day. They dance for fun with their male friends-nothing to do with women or the dating game. An old grandmother will dance at a wedding party, alongside her blushing bride granddaughter. She will dance to show the family what fun she is having and how she is still young enough to “cut the mustard”. Young females may dance to entrance the one they love.

Originally danced as a fertility ritual, the dance has been adopted by Egyptians of all ages and sexes, shapes. If an Egyptian family has a clever dancer among them, they will be invited to dance at neighbourhood weddings and will become famous in their area. In today's Egypt rich families hold wedding parties in top class hotels and pay famous dancers hefty sums to demonstrate their skill to the guests.

Nightclubs along the Pyramids road in Giza hold wonderful performances of these top-class dancers. Some of them are legendary, such as Fifi Abdou. Now an entrancing–looking woman in her early forties, Fifi left home at a tender age, after her mother remarried to a man she did not like. She danced to feed herself and in order to survive, although she soon became famous. Although she never learned to read or write, she is arguably the richest woman in Egypt tales abound of her armour -plated cars and a lift in the building where she lives which takes her car up to her apartment (probably rubbish!).
Some Egyptians say she is so rich that if her money was stacked up it would reach the top of the Cairo tower! Silly anecdotes aside, Fifi has mastered the dance in a way that her mentor Taheyya Carioca. Fifi is known the length and breadth of Egypt and even if she tries to disguise herself she is detected by her low sensuous voice, perfect figure and dark smouldering looks.

ut the dance is for everyone, in Egypt, not only the rich and famous. If you take a stroll through Egypt's densely populated neighbourhoods in the summer, you will probably see many wedding parties. If the guests spy you are a stranger or a foreigner you will be called over to join in the fun, whether you like it or not, Egyptians don't take shyness seriously -you have been warned!

. Food Habits in Egyptian Key Events (issue 1)
. Egyptian Matrimony: Man Got to Do it All (issue 2)
. The Egyptian Identity: Pharoahs, Moslems, Arabs, Africans, Middle Easterners or Mediterranean People? (issue 3)
. Egypt . Glimpse over its Society, Language and Religion (issue 4)
. Egyptian Traits - Part I: Inshallah (God Willing) (issue 5)
. Om Kalsoum: Legendary Singer and Mother of the Egyptian Nation (issue 6)
. Egyptian Traits - Part II: Greetings and Hospitality (issue 7)

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