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  1. #1
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    Default Lower class dancing in Egypt

    As the result of several Facebook threads on the range of dancing in Egypt, and especially on lower-class dancing, I came across the documentary "Dancers." It's... quite sad, but very much worth watching. I have a few thoughts on it here:

    http://atisheh.com/2015/01/06/some-t...an-performers/

    I'd love to hear the thoughts and experiences of board members. I've never been to Egypt, and am generally pretty okay with the sexual aspects of the dance, but I did find it sad how joyless and forced so much of the dancing in this documentary was.

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    V.I.P. Aziyade's Avatar
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    I think this exemplifies the vast differences between the indigenous cultures of contemporary Egypt and that of the west.

    We in the west LOVE the pretty frilly picture of the belly dancer. She's practically a princess! Some costumes even come with tiaras. We fantasize and idealize the profession because we CAN. Because it's cool to be a belly dancer here. It's counter-culture. It's something college-educated women do to express their sexuality and personal creativity during their free time. We don't HAVE to do it. We choose to do it, and we choose our audiences. It's not work; it's fun. Belly dance in the west is a luxury activity, both for the performers and for the audience. It's a pretty big industry that is self-supporting.

    It's NOT a luxury activity for many Egyptians. It's a very difficult way of putting food on the table.

    I mean in a way, this dichotomy is similar to the vast difference between sewing your own clothes for fun and working in a sweatshop, isn't it?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Aziyade View Post
    It's NOT a luxury activity for many Egyptians. It's a very difficult way of putting food on the table.

    I mean in a way, this dichotomy is similar to the vast difference between sewing your own clothes for fun and working in a sweatshop, isn't it?
    Yes, yes! It's one thing to be genuinely interested in something and to do it on your own terms, even if it is hard work when you do it. Quite another to do something whether or not you had an inclination for it, and be forced to do it a lot to make ends meet.

    You got me with the tiara thing... it is a princess fantasy of a sort, isn't it?

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    V.I.P. Aziyade's Avatar
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    I've thought about that a lot. Belly dance is kind of like the adult fantasy princess dance in the way that little girls view ballet. I mean, just LOOK at our costumes! LOL! Dripping with beads and sequins and coins and gorgeous swirling fabrics. It's the one dance we can do that doesn't require a partner or 14 years of daily classes.

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    Member Jeanne's Avatar
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    For anyone interested in this topic, "A Trade Like Any Other" is a must-read.
    http://www.amazon.com/Trade-like-Any.../dp/0292787235

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    Senior Member Sophia Maria's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeanne View Post
    For anyone interested in this topic, "A Trade Like Any Other" is a must-read.
    http://www.amazon.com/Trade-like-Any.../dp/0292787235
    I actually just got it for Christmas and am looking forward to diving into it!

    This is a great topic, and something I've thought a lot about.

    I think the sewing analogy is very legitimate. Especially in a country where the job market is already poor, education is not it's best, and opportunities for women are scarce.

    What I'm actually very interested in is perhaps an explanation of how dancing got to be far more accepted in America and Europe, because as we know, at one time ballerinas were pretty much assumed to be "women of the night", so to speak...(the men as well, actually). I'm wondering if the Middle East will follow suit at some point, or whether the contexts are way too different. For America and Europe, I'm trying to think what it was... Feminist movements?

    I'm thinking perhaps changes in the functioning of the business itself can also have a big impact on the art. Maybe if a society has more funding or endowments for the arts, artists don't have to scrounge as much for anyone who will pay. Also, I feel like there's also a huge difference in the business in terms of classes vs shows. At least in the states and in France, classes are the main business for a dancer, often daily or weekly, whereas shows are less frequent. Perhaps this allows the dancer more freedom to choose her venue or not "sell out", so to speak. If a dancer depends on booking as many shows as possible because they are his/her only source of income, he/she may end up in uncomfortable or compromising situations.

    Letting my mind wander...

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    Moderator Shanazel's Avatar
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    Things have changed just in the decades since I took my first classes. Working as a belly dancer in the northern Rocky Mountains even part time in the mid-seventies gave one a reputation of being a bohemian with loose morals, at the very best. I can't tell you how many times I was approached about providing sexual favors as well as a dance performance. Some folks simply assumed sleeping with the groom to be was part of the package which is the exact reason I never did bachelor parties.

    I usually had another job while I was dancing; not only was there not enough business in my part of the world to keep me employed 40 hours per week as a dancer, but having that other job made it possible for me to turn down jobs that I knew would put me in danger- the University of Wyoming's rugby team parties come immediately to mind. NO dancer in her right mind would dance for those guys in 1978.

    Had it been my only source of income, I shudder to think of the conditions I'd have faced. When I was watching that very excellent documentary, I was reminded of my friends and acquaintances who were exotic dancers and whose histories were appalling like the dancers in the film. Abused children leaving home early, taken in by supposedly benevolent men and women who sooner or later put the runaway children to work... if I was a film maker, I'd make a documentary about exotic dancers in America- not the ones who choose to dance but those who have had to.
    "Well, now that we have seen each other," said the unicorn " if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you."

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    Senior Member Sophia Maria's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shanazel View Post
    the University of Wyoming's rugby team parties come immediately to mind. NO dancer in her right mind would dance for those guys in 1978.
    Or in 2015!! I mean, for me personally, dancing for only women is ideal, dancing for mixed audiences is fine. Never men only--every time I think about that, I think about that Haifa and Hakim video and go eww...

    But it's kind of the sad thing, though, that often money has the last word. Entertainers have done pretty much all these things because they felt like they didn't have another choice. That's why people in many societies have those thoughts about dancers, because while their thoughts may be unfounded in your particular case, they are certainly based on reality.

    Interesting point about dancers in America. I have known people who have worked in stripclubs, because they needed the money for things they needed, like food or education. I supported them because it gave them independence, but it always seemed sad, because they were not concerned with dancing, they were concerned with the money and power it could give them. (Important note: they both chose this)

    The choices that freedom and independence give you are so important. I've never worked as a dancer, so I don't have direct experience, but even among my friend groups I noticed a certain aspect of being a dancer which is important--do you or do you not choose your audience? When I first started out, I was so excited about it that I would dance whenever and wherever, for whichever friends or acquaintances (I mean, still never only men, but), even if I realized that for some reason some part of that situation was uncomfortable. In the past couple years I've learned when to get up and "raq" out, and when to sit still and decline politely. I find that really changed the level of respect I got from friends and acquaintances, both arab and non-arab. When you choose and decline certain audiences, even on an informal level, you show that you really are all about the dance, not just about impressing or catering to people. Some people don't have that freedom of choice.

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    Moderator Shanazel's Avatar
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    No, they don't, unfortunately for them. I occasionally danced for all male audiences way back when (I'm pretty sure I spotted Noah in one crowd) but when I did, I took my very own pet biker with me for body guard duty. I was told his presence probably affected my tips but I was more concerned with my safety. My day jobs at that time all involved outdoor work and for several months during each winter, I depended on my dance money to supplement what I'd managed to save during field season. Finances were pretty thin back then so I did a few things I'd rather not have done.

    But no rugby teams. When the bumper stickers say "Rugby players eat their dead," I believe them.
    "Well, now that we have seen each other," said the unicorn " if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you."

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    V.I.P. Tarik Sultan's Avatar
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    Wink Hate to say I told ya so......

    The article was short and to the point. This is pretty much what I've been trying to get across to people, (often times on this very forum), for years. There is a world's of diference between what we do and the fantasy as seen in the old movies etc. Is the dance an art? Yes it is. Does it have artistic merit? Absolutely. However, the reality of the context in which it exists in Egypt is often overlooked. The Fifi's and the Sohairs are only a handfull, the overwhelming majority.... quite something else. I've stressed over and over again that there is a big difference between social dance and professional dance. This is one of the reasons why I keep saying if you really want to know the dance, you have to first look at the social dance. The professional dance is only one small aspect and often times, not the best representative. They are not appreciated as artists, nor are they hired for their talent. Sad fact but true.

    There was one sentence which I found very poignant, that the men danced better than the entertainers. Well, as you all know, I've been a leading advocate for the fact that the dance is inherantly unisex, but here's the thing..... Of course they were better, they were dancing from a place of joy, which is what the dance really is, those dancers are not. How could they be? In an environment where they are not even seen as human beings, how could they be joyful?

    We live in a world of multiple realities and possibilities. This applies not just to dance, but everything in life. When you look at a person, you are looking at raw potential. It's like a plant, put it in an environment where it has fertile soil, sunlight and clean water and it will flurish. Put it in the dark, in poor soil and inadequate water, it will struggle to just survive. The potential of what the dance can be at its best and what we see in the Cairo back streets is the difference between a pure mountain stream and a sewer. Sad, but true. We humans have a talent for taking the most beautiful things in life and polluting and disfiguring them.. To dance in that environment, is a wonderful thing full of light and joy, to be a dancer, more often than not.... not so much. Why? because of the limitations of the visions and minds of the majority. Very few people that you will ever meet in life have the ability to think outside the box or to see the hidden potential in the things or people around them. We are all like the seeds of the most beautiful flowers waiting under the concrete for a crack to grow. Some of us are just lucky enough to live in abandoned parts of town!;-)

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