Egypt // Cairo and the Pyramids //

Bellydancing: a brief history

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The European appetite for exotica in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did much to create the bellydancing art form as it is known today: a sequinned fusion of classical raqs sharqi (oriental dance), stylized harem eroticism and the frank sexuality of the ghawazee (public dancers). During the nineteenth century, many ghawazee moonlighted as prostitutes, so even though most dancers today are dedicated professionals – and the top stars wealthy businesswomen – the association with prostitution has stuck, and the resulting social stigma is deterring young Egyptian women from entering the profession. As a result, most up-and-coming bellydancers today are foreigners. Meanwhile the Islamist parties which rose to dominance after the revolution are staunch critics of bellydancing, and many of their members would like to see it banned – whether they will act on this remains to be seen.

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