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Belly dance stars in Egypt in the 1980s and 1990s

1980s and mid-1990 Raqs Sharqi (Belly Dance)

The timeframe between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s sees a flourishing of raqs sharqi in Egypt and abroad (in countries such as Lebanon and the UAE but also in London, as we will see).

I have found fewer clips with dance scenes from movies for this decade in comparison to previous timeframes, but I found a lot more videos of live dance from TV shows or nightclub performances.

Live shows are still performed in expensive venues (hotels and nightclubs) with big orchestras. In the mid-1990s, however, there was a sharp drop in the number of performances and it seems that Fifi Abdou, Lucy and Mona al Said were the last big stars of Egyptian raqs sharqi.

This sudden decline seems to be due mainly to economic and political reasons. Morocco (Varga Dinicu, 2013, p. 171), who took groups of dancers to Cairo from 1987 to 1993 writes that ‘in mid-1993, the fabulous dance scene, growing since the late ’60s, virtually disappeared almost overnight’.

Changes in the Audience in Egypt

Morocco (ibid) explains that the nightclub dance scene declined in the early 1990s because, before then, the clubs were attended by wealthy, older, male tourists from the Arabic Gulf countries and by Lebanese people who could not go back to Lebanon because of the civil war.

When the Lebanese civil war ended, the Lebanese businessmen went back to Lebanon. As for the tourists from the Gulf, when the first Gulf War started, older men from the Gulf did not travel, as they were too busy restarting the economy in their own countries, while younger tourists and women were not interested in old style nightclubs.

Egyptian locals could not afford the high prices charged in these clubs, so many of them closed down. Social tensions within Egypt and increasing religious conservativism must have also played a part, as clubs in Pyramid Street were burned. According to Van Nieuwkerk (1995, p. 64):

As in 1977, when twelve of the fourteen nightclubs on Pyramid Street were burned down, corruption and wealth have again provoked anger. On 25 and 26 February 1986, poorly paid soldiers who were quartered nearby sent several nightclubs up in flames.

Van Nieuwkerk (1995)

This discontent alone would not have brought down the industry, as in the 1970s the nightclubs were still thriving.

However, in the late 1980s/early 1990s, the lack of customers due to the change in the type and number of tourists visiting Cairo, considerably affected the number of raqs sharqi live performances.

Yasmina of Cairo paints a clear image of the change in the Pyramids Road area (Sullivan, 2002, para. 4):

Cabarets . . . once made up the bright lights of Pyramids Road in its heyday. A time when the street was lined with expensive villas—most now demolished to make way for blocks of flats—and nightclub audiences were still comprised of the Basheraat; the cream of Egyptian society. Later into its history, when Sohair was in her prime, the cabarets of Haram Street grew in number to cater to rich customers flying in from the Arab states. Now the lights are dimmer, many of those venues have gone.

Sullivan (2002)

In the late 1980s, Raqs sharqi was not only disappearing from nightclubs, but also from TV, due to increasing religious conservativism. As Soheir Zaki declared in an interview with Yasmina of Cairo (Sullivan, 2002, para. 28):

One of the saddest days of my life was when oriental dance was taken off the television . . . I remember hearing on the radio the announcement of the television anniversary celebrations, and there was to be no dancer. I had appeared at that event every year since it began.

Interview involving Yasmina of Cairo (Sullivan, 2002, para. 28)

Shareen El Safy (2001, para. 30), an American dancer who performed in Cairo between 1988 and 1992, gives further insight into what it must have been like:

In the early 1990’s fallout from the Gulf War had created a dearth of nightclub patrons. I was working as a dancer in Cairo at the time . . . economic woes plagued Egypt as unemployment rose and the cost of living tripled.

Shareen El Safy (2001, para. 30)

A climate of fiscal and religious conservatism crept in. . . . Wealthy patrons now chose to entertain lavishly and privately, and nightclub hopping did not hold an attraction for the younger generation . . . most hotel nightclubs were closed and dancers retired in droves, including Sohair Zeki and Nagwa Fouad. (El Safy, 2001)

The Best Dancers in the 1980s and 1990s

The greatest dancers of this age were:

Their careers peaked in the 1980s, before the economic crisis of the early 1990s changed the dance landscape in Cairo.

Next Page >> I analyze these 3 famous dancers Fifi Abdou, Lucy and and Mona al Said >>

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Hi - I'm Dr Valeria Lo Iacono and I am a dance researcher with a PhD in dance as a form of living heritage. I also teach belly dance and love to travel to discover new dances around the world. I have worked also as an academic and in the UK and in Korea. Thank you for visiting my site.