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(Raqs sharqi stars from the 1990s and 2000s)
Profile and Background of Dina
Dina (دينا) has been considered the last big Egyptian star of raqs sharqi and indeed she is the last one who has starred in a considerable number of movies and TV programmes from the early 1990s.
I have found most of the details about her life in Dina’s autobiography (Talaat and Guibal, 2011). She started dancing from the age of nine in a folkloric troupe.
However, her father did not agree to her dancing raqs sharqi.
Dina said in an interview to El Safy (1993b, para. 9): ‘When I started belly dancing it was a big problem. Now my mother and father speak to me after three years’.
Dina comes from a wealthy Egyptian family and she has a degree in philosophy, so her background is different from that of most dancers of the past, who came from a poorer background.
As Dina explains in her autobiography (Talaat and Guibal, 2011, p. 134):
My Facebook account is full of fans’ messages. . . . Once again, I see the same words that appear: “Dina, I heard you yesterday on television. Obviously, you are smart, you have credentials, you come from a decent family. How did you become a dancer, such a waste. . . . You did not have to do that. “No, I was not obliged ” . . . I come from a wealthy family, I studied up to the university . . . I danced because I wanted to. I am an artist. . . . This is our heritage and I am, unfortunately, probably the last guardian.(Talaat and Guibal, 2011)
Dina’s personal life has been tumultuous and she has often been at the centre of celebrity gossip in Egypt and vilified because of her profession.
My Freedom to Dance
However, she has always defended her right to dance, in spite of everything, and the title of her autobiography, My Freedom to Dance reflects her feelings.
Dina is very famous in Egypt because of her acting work, but, unlike with dancers such as Tahia Carioca, Nagwa Fouad or Soheir Zaki, who performed in front of international heads of state and who were presented proudly as an example of Egyptian heritage, many Egyptians do not seem to be as supportive of Dina or they seem divided in the appreciation of her dance.
For example, in 2015, she was hired to dance at a party for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and, as reported by Gulf News (Al Sherbini, 2015), the members of the Egyptian Football Association walked out in dismay when her performance started and went back in only when it finished.
Dina and Egyptian Society
The reaction towards Dina’s dance reflects Egyptian people’s ambivalent attitude towards this dance, and this attitude may have worsened recently because of a more conservative attitude in Egyptian’s society.
However, in addition to this, many Egyptian people may not like Dina’s subversive persona and style.
Dina has been an innovator in terms of her dance style, the costumes she wears and the intensity of her expression.
Among raqs sharqi dancers worldwide, her innovations have been imitated and she is admired for her personality and her dance ability.
Five out of ten of my interview participants have mentioned Dina as being one of the dancers who influenced them the most. Elindia said: ‘I like Dina . . . it’s like . . . she has no bones, she is like jelly but she moves so beautifully and relaxed. But you can see there’s a lot of work going on’.
Sociological and Choreological Analysis
Dina’s career exemplifies the dialectic between agency and structure and also how social agents try to assert their power across different fields in society.
Dina’s social background (middle class and educated to university level) could be considered privileged. Yet, it was the strongest obstacles against her starting a career as a raqs sharqi dancer because, according to the rules of Egyptian society, it seems that only financial needs justify a career as a professional dancer.
Dina though went against those rules and found the resources to pursue her chosen career.
She found her place in the field of cultural production of Egyptian raqs sharqi, accumulating economic, social and symbolic capital and prestige (at least in the eyes of the international raqs sharqi community).
In Egypt though, the values and interests of other social actors, who move within other fields of Egyptian society, clash with Dina’s values causing conflict.
Like Raqia Hassan, Dina too uses artefacts as resources to assert her agency and influence the field of Egyptian raqs sharqi.
Raqia used DVDs to influence the movements of the dance, while Dina uses costumes (with new materials and designs, often aimed at challenging the moral rules of society) to innovate and show her agency within, and also outside, the field of Egyptian raqs sharqi.
Dina designs her own costumes and she chooses new and innovative styles and cuts. Dina expresses how important costumes are and how much she wants to distinguish herself by writing (Talaat and Guibal, 2011, p. 74):
The costume is important, it is part of the show. . . . It is there to enhance the body’s movements . . . . I do not want an ordinary costume. I do not want to be like all the other dancers.Talaat and Guibal, 2011)
The fact that lycra started being used for making costumes, as opposed to chiffon, opens the way for innovations.
According to the costumier Hallah Moustafa, who is based in Cairo, ‘the advent of lycra could stretch fabrics that really work for movement’ (Sullivan and Farouk, 2006, sec. 40:23).
After Dina, fringes and chiffon were used less and less for costumes. Luna of Cairo (Esposito, 2012a, para. 9) comments in her blog that ‘with lycra, the possibilities are endless.
From newspaper print lycra to heavily sequined spandex, stretch fabric has stretched our imaginations to the extremes’.
However, not every dancer agrees that lycra is better. Soheir Zaki, for example, stated: ‘In my day, we wore romantic, voluminous chiffon skirts and looked like princesses.
Suddenly, everything was tight stretch lycra. When you spin, lycra doesn’t move with you, it clings’ (Sullivan, 2002, para. 30).
As well as using costumes made of Lycra, Dina started using push up bras with very rigid cups, which enhance curves to the extreme and which are now widely used by dancers in Egypt. In addition, Dina was famous for wearing, sometimes, the tiniest costumes, with very short skirts. El Safy reports (1993b, paras 13, 14):
Why does she wear such short (above the knee) skirts? . . . “I want to create something new, something different (as indeed every artist must). . . . Now I am changing the costuming of oriental dance.”El Safy reports (1993b, paras 13, 14)
As mentioned previously, Nagwa Fouad did not like Dina’s costumes and she said: ‘The costumes today are just horrible.
Today there are costumes that leave 3/4 of the body naked!’ (Adum, 2010, paras 1–6).
During a performance that Dina gave after a series of workshops, in Dallas, USA, in 2003, Amaya comments (2003, para. 10), ‘by far the most controversial costume was the last one. It was barely there. A bit of fabric here and there’.
According to Goodyear (2011, para. 5), raqs sharqi practitioners were mainly interested in Dina’ costumes at first, but were later captivated by her dancing style:
At first, it was . . . “What was Dina wearing?” “How short was it? How outrageous was it? How ridiculous? Where can I get one?” . . . later, it became, “How many people do I know who are copying Dina’s signature movements?Goodyear (2011)
Laban Analysis of Dana’s Dance Style
Elements of the Golden Age
As highlighted in Table 35 above, her style seems connected to the tradition, yet is innovative at the same time.
There are elements of her dance that are reminiscent of the dancers of the golden age, such as the step I pinpointed in connection with Naima Akef (5.3.3).
Dina studied raqs sharqi, after many years dancing folklore, with Ibrahim Akef and Raqia Hassan.
Ibrahim Akef, who was a choreographer for golden age dancers and Naima Akef’s cousin, must have provided Dina with her most classical and soft moves, while Raqia Hassan’s influence may be in the very internal belly isolations and intricate hip movements.
Amaya (2003, para. 7) describes these as ‘internal snap accents . . . some big, some small. She tightens her pelvic or hip muscles to cause tiny, tiny little contractions in her dance’.
Free Flow and Bound Flow
So far, other raqs sharqi dancers’ movement quality had free flow for the most part, but Dina is the first one who presents a variation of free flow and bound flow movements, for example by contracting and stopping the movements and then letting go (as it can be seen in her big hip circles, in her change of levels or in her walk).
Another dancer who used bound flow to increase variety in her dance was Nelly Fouad and, during the Golden Ages, I have observed that Zeinat Olwi also emphasized the contrast of bound and free flow in her hips and abdominal isolations.
Emma has written about Zeinat that ‘there is more contrast in her dancing than in Samia’s, more use of sharp movements and some very tight, controlled shimmies (Dina wasn’t the first to do them like that!)’ (Emma, no date, para. 14).
One of Dina’s earliest recorded raqs sharqi performances can be seen in the Egyptian movie Ba’ia al shay (The Tea Seller) from 1991 (TheCaroVan, 2014b). In this video, the dance style still seems quite traditional, but, towards the end, we can see one of her signature moves, which is a big hip circle but such that her bottom is facing the audience (min 05:37).
This is a new, quite daring, variation, which I had not seen other raqs sharqi dancers before her.
It seems that, for Dina, movements (as well as costumes as mentioned earlier) are resources to assert her agency against the restrictive rules of society.
Stomp of the Heels
Also, she does a little stomp on the heels at min 04:19. This movement has become very common now and El Safy (1993b, para. 15), pointed out about Dina that ‘Virtually all of the movements are on the balls of her feet, although she will deliberately tap her heels flat on the downbeat of the driving saii’di rhythm’.
I would add though, that Dina uses this movement not only for the downbeat of the saidi rhythm but also to show an accent in the music, regardless of the type of rhythm used.
Hip Circles with Stops
Another one of Dina’s signature movements I have noticed in this video is a big hip circle with stops along the way and heel stomps (min. 05:17). Wilkinson describes it as (no date, para. 7) ‘an almost robotic-looking hip circle, moving around in jerky little segments and often stopping in the back to add a saucy variation’.
The saucy variation mentioned by Wilkinson is usually a small movement of the hip sideways.
In another video, with Dina dancing live at the Ramses Hilton in Cairo (TheCaroVan, 2014d), maybe from the late 1990s or early 2000s, her style has developed further and it is possible to see more of her signature movements.
For example, small hip drops with shimmies (min. 00:43) or going down halfway with hip vertical figure of 8 and then lifting again with a big hip circle, as though something is pulling her from above with a string (min 00:27).
Another peculiar characteristic of Dina’s style is the way she shifts her weight between one leg and the other and this feeling of contraction and release, whereby she seems to be losing her balance for a moment but she catches it back at the last minute.
She does the same with isolations of her upper body.
She sometimes moves on stage like this, in what can be considered a Dina walk, which Wilkinson (no date, para. 7) described as ‘she almost looks as if she’s stumbling around the stage–as if she’s hurrying and loses her balance a bit’.
Other times her walk consists in the ‘classic Dina steps – the walk with weight falling on a straight leg to jerk the body back’ (Sullivan, no date, para. 18).
Dina’s Signature Movements
In a more recent video of Dina (Belly Dance & Nice Dancers, 2013), where she is on stage dancing on her own with recorded music (maybe at a festival somewhere), it is possible to see some more of Dina’s signature movements.
In particular, there is a move in which she leans back with her profile to the audience and the weight on one leg, creating a straight oblique line from the toe of one foot and then move her hands and arms all the way from the knee up the body, as though shooting the energy upwards and creating a line from the knee to the fingertips (min 0:19).
Like Fifi Abdou, Dina mimics the song with her facial expressions and with gestures.
This habit of using gestures may be due to Fifi’s and Dina’s previous training in folklore.
Indeed, Fahmy (1987) relates that Mahmoud Reda observed the everyday gestures of Egyptian people and used them in his choreographies. These ‘unlike the Hindu dance gestures of mudras, in which each gesture denotes a specific literal meaning . . . evoke general connotations, the gist of which is readily understood by the Egyptian public’ (Fahmy, 1987, p. 37).
Strong Expressions and Emotions
Dina is one of the most expressive raqs sharqi dancers and she is the first I have seen who, instead of smiling all the time, sometimes expresses sad feelings with her face according to the song.
Previous dancers had a more serene and joyful expression all the time. According to Dina herself (Talaat and Guibal, 2011, p. 95) ‘Oriental dance . . . embodies all the faces of a woman: seduction, abandonment, love ecstasy, playing, sharing, generosity, birth, freedom. It symbolizes happiness, sadness’.
Many practitioners who have written about Dina, seem to agree on her ability to convey emotions:
Her dance was joyful, easy, did not seem choreographed or thought out at all. She seems very comfortable with her sexuality and femaleness. Her face is even more captivating than her costumes or her style. She seemed to almost be laughing out loud in happiness and delight.(Amaya, 2003, para. 11)
Her dances range from highly energetic, to flirtatious and dellae (coy, coquettish, spoiled) from fun and lively to emotional and above all, heartfelt.(Goodyear, 2011, para. 7)
My favorite part of her dancing was her expression. Sometimes she would smile at the audience like a naughty, impish little girl; at other times she seemed to be caught up in some strong private emotions that we could only wonder about.(Wilkinson, no date, para. 7)
In this respect, Dina’s attitude seems to be consistent with the importance given to feelings, emotional impact and kinaesthetic empathy in the Egyptian raqs sharqi discourse.
However, Dina takes this tendency further by emphasizing a whole range of emotions. The expressivity allowed by raqs sharqi seems to be another resource for Dina to show her agency, in spite of the rules imposed by society.
Emotional Impact of Dina’s Dancing
An example of Dina’s emotional impact is her performance at the end of the show Al Rakesa, in 2014 (Al Rakesa, 2014).
This is an instance of tarab, whereby the emotions conveyed by the music are expressed visually by the dancer and transmitted to the audience.
In this video, it is important to notice the relevance given to the music itself, with close camera work on the instruments as the camera zooms onto the kanoun , the drum and the violin.
Many Egyptian movies of the past, with dance scenes, also highlighted musical instruments in the same way.
The audience’s emotional reactions are also very telling. Dancer and audience all share the same cultural understanding.
They all know the song (an Um Khaltoum song) and the lyrics. So, even though this version is instrumental, they all know what every section means and can share their feelings.
Dina is an innovator who, however, draws on traditions and heritage. She innovates with new and daring costume designs.
Also, she brings innovation through the quality of the movements (i.e. rather than just devising new motifs, kinemes and allokines, she infuses them with different energy which, in her case, is the contrast between bound and free flow).
She also innovates by widening the range of emotions that she expresses in her dance; not just joy, but also sometimes sadness and other feelings.
1 – String instrument.