Register Friday | September 21 | 2018

Belly Dancing Blues

Belly dancing is Egypt’s greatest cultural export. So why are there so few Egyptian-born belly dancers?

A matron stands barefoot in the middle of a large hall. She is dressed in a gold coin bra and belt, a blue chiffon scarf draped around her round shape. As she starts to count, a young man keeps time on a drum. Thrusting her hip to the beat, she swivels on the ball of her left foot. Then, in a single motion, she steps forward to slowly extend her arms out and up.

A sea of arms extends as nine hundred bodies mirror her move. Then the drumming stops, and the women’s voice floats above the tinkling of coin-laced outfits coming to rest. She looks around: Slavic waifs, olive-skinned Latin Americans, petite Asians, middle-aged Westerners, and here and there, men. She counts again; bodies pivot and shimmy.

We’re inside Cairo’s glittering Mena House Oberoi Hotel, at the afternoon seminar of Raqia Hassan, belly dancing’s leading ...

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