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Cairo Revisited:

Dancing into the ‘90s


by Najia Marlyz
posted January 15, 2013
Originally written for Caravan Magazine 1992 Vol.8 No.4

The one thing on which you depend about dance in Egypt from year to year is that everything slowly changes. I’ve returned to Cairo each year now for nine consecutive years, and last year my visit was just before the short war we had with Iraq in which Egypt was our US ally.  Cairenes seemed sad last year, because Cairo had lost most of its income from tourism, and many Egyptian nationals were returning from Iraq and Kuwait, where they no longer had employment.  I did not know what to expect this year, except the inevitable fact of surprising, yet subtle, change. 

Sahar HamdiAt first, it seemed that Egypt had return to normalcy; however, I found myself wondering if it was my imagination that there is, somehow, less of everything in 1991 — everything that he is, except people! 

Perhaps many of the nightclubs reflect the state of the entire world economy. Many have disappeared and the few remaining do not seem to be presenting the grand shows they with which they had attracted tourists previously.

Dancers who once headlined at one five star hotel at 1:00 am and then in a nightclub miles away at 3am now is doing only one public gig, and that one starts around 3 am!  I was shocked to learn that the Fifi Abdu had quit dancing sometime last year and now has become a movie producer and a part-time movie and television actress.  I had noticed an upward spiral in her dance career in the past few years, and I had thought she would be the winner of the top position when Nagwa Fouad, and Soheir Zaki retire (again).  I believe now that we’ll not be seeing that!  I hope that Fifi will find an opportunity to present Egyptian dance in some of the movies she produces.  We dancers can hope that she will use her knowledge and experience in dance to present it with better artistry than it has had in the past. 

Our main costume liaison, Mahmoud El Ghafar, has also changed his venue.  He now has a new shop in a new, fancier location, and he has taken his (soon-to-be wed) brother as his partner.  The two of them have also begun to work with many sources of costume tailors, and there is much more variety in costuming than existed previously.

Many of the nightclubs are dark or are presenting fashion shows or Las Vegas/American style T&A dancers.  There is some extremely poor dancing presented In floorshows on the Nile cruise dinner boat and in the lesser-known nightspots.  Still, an oasis with a folklore show for tourists and high quality dancing is at the Ramses Hilton

The current costuming seen on dancers in Cairo still include sequins and beads, with rhinestones becoming ever more popular, and the result ranges from glamorous and stunning to the worst costumes I have seen–ever.  I would still give Dina a gold medal for innovation in both costuming and dance, however.  She shares the Marriott nightclub with Iman Hamdi, who dances on Dina’s nights off.  Iman is a good, if dull, dancer whose lack of stage personality caused me to enjoy, with perversity, the show put on by Sahar Hamdi over at the Meridien hotel’s top floor nightclub overlooking the city.  Sahar has changed for the worse since I first saw her dance eight or nine years ago at the Sheraton

Gone is the flirty ingénue with her sweet face; she toyed with musicians and mouthed the lyrics of the songs along with the singers in a disgusting manner.  She looks unwell and dances in a tasteless way to a large and wonderful orchestra.

  Her costumes were like sausage casings, and her once brown hair is dyed jet black — or perhaps it was a wig.  In any case, it appears the woman has led a hard life since I first saw her and was enthralled with her quality of dahlah.  After asking me “Where you from?” Sahar made a mistake and asked me over the microphone what I thought of her dancing,  I gulped hard and said her dancing was “unbelievable–and so different from the last time I saw you.”  I tried not to lie but was glad not to have been hooked up to a lie detector…  Also, I was disappointed to see Dina’s dance at the Sheraton, after having been quite impressed with her last year.  Nonetheless, if she can keep herself together long enough, stardom of the dance world in Cairo could belong to Dina — eventually. 

That is all that I can report for now about the dance changes in Cairo that I have noted personally. Nevertheless, 1991 seems a significant harbinger of change for the Egyptian dance era that became so dear (and authoritative) to belly dancers world-wide in the decade of the ‘80s.

Nagwa Fouad dancing on a table at the Marriot in 1991

Sahar Hamdi and band

Iman Hamdi

Aida Nour



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  1. Barbara Grant

    Jan 20, 2013 - 03:01:37

    Thank you, Najia and Lynette, for publishing this article! I appreciated it.
    It seems that 1991 was a year of change for the dance scene in Cairo. Since then, Fifi returned to the stage and became a great, and Dina continued her success and became a major star.  We hear little, today, about some of the other dancers Najia mentions.
    I’d also note that at this time, several foreign dancers from Western countries spent more and more time in Egypt, and gained long-term contracts dancing there. I’m wondering if the presence of talented foreign dancers in Cairo might have helped to improve the quality of the dance scene there? Not that foreign dancers are necessarily better than native Egyptians, but that their commitment to the dance might have helped to keep the quality high (beyond the Las Vegas-style T&A reviews Najia mentions.)
    I wasn’t there so I don’t know: just asking!  But a very interesting article, indeed. Thanks.

  2. Sierra

    Apr 9, 2013 - 11:04:21

    Very Interesting Najia….even with the year this article was written in; it still explains what I experienced in Egypt in 2008 and 2010.
    I was very surprized, I did not go on typical dancers tour, yet I stayed at the Mena House, all 5 star hotels and a Nile cruise and I saw hardly any advertizing regarding a Dancer at night.  Mena House had one dancer….one show…late at night, non-Egyptian.
    The Nile Cruise show was not worth it……and other nice hotels had non-Egyptian dancers briefly  mentioned in a one show a week venue.
    Now, it is even worst.  They are trying to outlaw all dancing venues in Egypt, and the tourists have dried up tremendously.
    Be glad if you were around for the old days!

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