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The Hafla for Haiti was a lot of fun and best of all has raised, so far, £845 for Children in Need’s work in Haiti! Well done to Irene Hogg for organising it, Revolution Bar for hosting it and all the performers and audience members for coming along!

There was bellydance of all different types – Raqs Sharqi, Modern Egyptian, Classic Egyptian, Tribal and Tribal Fusion. There was also burlesque (two strip-tease artists), a poledancer, a flamenco dancer, a salsa couple and a couple of comedy bellydance/burlesque acts. It was really great to have such variety.

Here’s a clip from the night of Elspeth’s stick dance (very sassy!)

Also, it seems we’re not the only place to have this idea. Chattanooga – my home away from home – had a benefit night called ‘To Haiti With Love’ on Saturday. Like the Edinburgh event this had a broad variety of performers including musicians, poets and bellydancers with the lovely Mirabai troupe performing. Go bellydancers!

In other news… We’re having a hafla for Lorna of Cairo! Put the date in your diary – Thursday 18th March, 7-10pm, Teviot Underground at Bristo Square. Tickets are £8 in advance or £10 on the door. You can buy tickets in advance from myself, Elspeth or Caroline (of Bellydancingdivas).

In addition to the more local talent, Lorna will be dancing for us. Lorna is a local girl who moved to Cairo several years ago and now makes her living as a bellydancer over there. Here’s a short clip of one of her recent performances:

I’m looking forward to seeing loads of you at this, and if you’re interested in performing give me (or Elspeth or Caroline) a shout.

I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity of late, and not just because I’m a milk-bottle white, auburn haired Scot who runs around teaching and performing a Middle Eastern/Egyptian dance.  That said I have had clients mistakenly think I was Turkish and one other who thought I was Israeli.  I presume that’s because expectation can play such a huge role in how we perceive the world, but who knows.  Maybe pale skin, blue eyes and auburn hair is more common over there than I imagined.  Maybe my makeup is just really good.

But seriously, there’s a lot of it around. There is definitely a thing whereby dancers have increased status as both performers and teachers if they can lay claim to one or more of the following:

  • been taught in Cairo – bonus status if it was by one of the ‘Greats’
  • been taught by a native of the Middle East (preferably Egyptian)
  • they themselves are actually from the Middle East, or of Middle Eastern parentage
  • they currently, or have in the past performed professionally in Egypt

As a caveat, this perception of status mainly applies to Cabaret, classic Egyptian, modern Egyptian, Raqs Sharki and (to some extent) Egyptian folk dance audiences, students and practitioners – tribal and tribal-fusion has it’s own set of standard for authenticity too I think, though I’m not as familiar with them.

I wonder how things will change, as they will certainly have to.  Foreign dancers make up an increasingly large proportion of the dancers in Egypt-  a move that had the Egyptian government ban foreign dancers back in 2004 (this was revoked later in the same year). Wikipedia (and others I’ve heard) have claimed that a majority of the professional performers in Egypt are now foreigners (though I’ve not seen any stats one way or another so I can’t be sure that it’s true). There’s certainly an influential element of society there that feels that bellydance goes against the country’s moral values (see this article and/or the book ‘A Trade Like Any Other: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt’ by Karin Niewkerk on amazon or google books) and I’m sure this can’t help but discourage Egyptians from getting involved, leaving a gap in the market for foreigners to fill.

Workshops that offer the latest Cairo moves intrigue me; I wonder how much of it is ‘authentically’ Egyptian, and how much has a foreign influence.  It doesn’t bother me in the sense that I’m not a purist or particularly concerned with authenticity, but it does interest me.  Bellydance has such an inauthentic history.  Even it’s name is a misnomer that has just stuck with it and the sequinned two-piece costume that’s now considered typical Egyptian “cabaret” came about due to the influence of Europe/the USA (Badia Masabni apparently introduced it to Egyptian performances, inspired by Hollywood movies).

There’s so much more to do with authenticity bubbling about in my head, but I think I’ll stop here and let the rest percolate a bit more before I write about it.

A Trade Like Any Other: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt (Paperback)

by Karin Niewkerk (Author)

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