Raqs sharqi musicians including drummer and singer.

Moving from the 1990s to 2000s

From the early 1990s, there has been a decline in the number of big raqs sharqi stars in Egypt and the Middle East, for a variety of reasons, as discussed.

Since then, raqs sharqi has almost disappeared from Egyptian movies; many of the nightclubs where it was performed for wealthy Arabs have closed down, and there are fewer Egyptian professional dancers than there used to be (at least in the more upmarket circuit).

However, raqs sharqi has not disappeared and new opportunities have emerged for its transmission.

Shaabi – A New Popular Form

Raqs sharqi is still part of Egyptian heritage, as well as its social form baladi, which has now developed into a new popular form, called shaabi. Shaabi, as Lo Iacono (2014) explains, means “of the people” and it is a type of music emerged from the 1970s in Egypt.

Egyptian Shaabu dance by Maryam

Its songs can be about politics, personal life or have no meaning at all. Shaabi is associated with the working classes of urban Cairo and a type of social dance has developed with the same name, based on the same traditional movement vocabulary of baladi.

There are films with dance scenes that use shaabi music, in which dancers such as Dina (TheCaroVan, 2014c) and, more recently, Sahar Samar (Cairo Mirage Official, 2014) have appeared.

At the same time, raqs sharqi has become an international form of heritage, which has spread way beyond Egypt thanks to diasporas, mass travel, mass media of communication and the Internet.

In the following section, I will explore the contemporary developments of raqs sharqi in Egypt and its international impact.

1990s and the International Impact of Belly Dance

In this timeframe, Raqia Hassan, Dina, Dandash (whose dance I analysed but I did not include it in this thesis, as there are not enough videos available of her to watch and compare) and Randa are the most established artists in the raqs sharqi scene.

As for the younger dancers, it is difficult to know who the new emerging talents in Cairo are, without spending time in Egypt.

I will base my analysis on those dancers whose names and videos have appeared online on English language sites.

There seem to be certain trends. Some dancers perform and teach folkloric style dance and raqs sharqi to international audiences at festivals and workshops in Egypt and abroad.

Many of these teachers are men and they mainly perform folklore (but teach also raqs sharqi); I will cover more about them in 5.7.8.

Others appeal to a section of mainstream Egyptian society and they appear in shaabi music videos. A third group appeal to the Egyptian upper classes, wanting to represent a ‘refined’ version of the dance.

In addition to Egyptian dancers, in Cairo, there are several non-Egyptian dancers, from many different countries, who moved to Egypt to work as dancers, not out of necessity, but out of passion for this dance and the music.

These are key to the spreading of Egyptian dance worldwide, as they stay in touch with people from their own countries, they write about the dance in their own languages and, when they go back home, they take back with them a deep knowledge of Egyptian dance, which they then teach abroad. I will discuss more about them in 5.7.7.

Sources and Younger Generation

My main sources for gathering data on the youngest generations of performers and teachers in Cairo today, are the websites of three big yearly oriental dance festivals in Cairo:

  • Ahlan Wa Sahlan (Ahlan wa Salan Festival, no date), run by Raqia Hassan, where one of the main teachers is Dina
  • the Nile Group Festival (Nile Group Festival, no date), where two of the master teachers are Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy
  • Raqs, of Course (Raqs of Course – Egyptian Dance Festival, no date), organised by Randa Kamel.

From the teachers’ lists on these sites, it emerges that there is a big variety of teachers from different countries.

There are folkloric dancers, as well as raqs sharqi dancers and some are from Egypt, some are non-Egyptians working in Egypt and many are non-Egyptians who live and work outside of Egypt, but train in Egypt.

The countries of origin of non-Egyptian dancers are very varied including, for example, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, UK, Ukraine and USA.

Of the Egyptians, the majority are men, who, for the most part, teach folkloric dance.

The lists of dancers in these festivals websites are certainly not exhaustive of all the dancers who perform in Cairo.

However, these are teachers who are more likely to be known on the international circuit and, therefore, more likely to influence the transmission of Egyptian dance on a global scale, both by teaching in person and by making dance videos aimed at practitioners.

Out of the very few Egyptian women who dance and teach at these festivals, I have selected two for the analysis, based on the number of videos of their dance available online (as they are enough to allow me to gather some meaningful insights) and the fact that they can be considered primarily raqs sharqi performers, rather than predominantly folkloric. They are Camelia and Sahar Samara.

Next Page >> Analysis of Raqia Hassan (1990s to 2000s Raqs sharqi stars).

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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.