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Belly dancing: a dying art?
Traditionalists in Egypt have targeted cabarets that feature belly dancers, and many Egyptians fear that the art is dying.
July 23, 2009 8:28 by Dana El Baltaji
However, in the last few years the country has undergone a soft revolution, where a surge in conservatism for many has coincided with an increasing movement toward Western lifestyles and liberal practices for others.
“There is a new soft revolution in Egyptian society. You can see this trend of new magazines and shops and people returning to belly dancing. There is also a Westernization of the way of life, of the new upper-middle class and businessmen,” says Fattah, who maintains this has happened in tandem with increasing observance of conservative Islam.
Belly dancing is the English name given to the art of raqssharqi (oriental dance) or raqsbaladi (country dance). The practice spread throughout the Middle East but took a greater hold in Egypt than the rest of the Arab world, finding its place in wedding celebrations, private and public performances and, most recently, in tourist establishments.
Around midnight, customers begin to take seats near the stage at Club Miami. The clientele remains the same, mostly middle-aged Egyptian men. The band continues to play as the second dancer, Suhayla, takes the stage under a small disco ball. Tamer, Club Miami’s manager, who asked that his real name not be used, says in the winter the club attracts foreigners and in the summer it fills with Gulf Arabs. But most of their clientele is Egyptian.
“We get the rich and the less fortunate,” says Tamer. “Thursday is the busiest day of the week. We start the night at 11pm, but it doesn’t get full before 12 or 1am.” He’s been working in the industry for 10 years and says he’s seen a decline in the number of visitors in the last decade. Despite the influx from Gulf tourists, places like Club Miami are not seeing an increase in customers.