Kurt Galalah meets with Cairo's resident Scottish belly dancer as she puts on empowering classes for women.
While belly dancing has become a somewhat passé form of entertainment in today’s nightlife industry, a large part of Egyptian society still judge it as a lesser profession. We’ve all heard people complain that it’s slutty and scandalous, while traditional Egyptian cabarets are continuously looked down upon. Though some of the stigma attached to the form of dance and, more specifically, the places where it’s often performed, is warranted (a dark place where men throw money at women gives way to caution), the art of Egyptian belly dancing goes back decades and should hold a dear spot in the hearts of our nation. One woman determined to see modern Egypt accept belly dancing as both an art and a sport isn’t even Egyptian. I met up with Lorna of Cairo, probably the only Scottish belly dancer working in Egypt, as she hosts Women by Design at Maadi’s ACE Club – a special dance, fitness and beauty class she leads.
How did Women by Design all start?
I was hanging out one afternoon with fitness expert and the owner of Body by Design gym, Anna Louise. She told me she wanted to do something different, something for women, and that’s when it all happened.
Does Women by Design only focus on teaching women how to belly dance?
No! It’s not just about belly dancing and fitness. There are fashion talks, consultations with nutritionists, yoga, make-up lessons and more.
How is it being a belly dancer in Egypt?
It’s fabulous, wonderful, glamourous, frustrating and annoying; it’s everything extreme. I was also a dancer in Scotland - which is where I’m from - and taught belly dancing classes for nine years. Being here, the things that I thought would be difficult haven’t been that bad, while things that I haven’t thought about at all actually are difficult. It’s such a man’s world here in Egypt. All the managers and agents are men. It’s really hard to be a woman in any industry with all these men in power. Plus a belly dancer, unfortunately has a quite a stigma. So that’s tough.
Do you think that stigma will ever be removed?
Getting rid of the stigma won’t happen one class a week in Maadi, but it’s definitely good start!
What is the best thing about being a belly dancer in Egypt?
When I go on stage, people assume that I’m Russian, but the second I start to dance they go, “No, no, she’s Egyptian. Heya Masreya begad!” That’s where all of the stresses go away. So changing people’s conceptions of what belly dancing is about and getting them to appreciate it for the art that is, that is the best thing. I think a lot of Egyptians still today have this image that belly dance is seedy nightclubs, money showers, something close to prostitution in a lot of ways, but once people come see a show, that changes instantly, and that’s why I do it.
For more information about Woman by Design and how to sign up click here.
Photography by Mahmoud Asfour.