Wednesday, 23 July 2008

"Of course it's exhibitionist, but all girls like to feel sexy."

Dancer Keti Shariff talks to Yoga Travel.

Keti Shariff trains belly dancers in Cairo and travels all over the world to dance, although not in Egypt. She is booked by clients for shows or weddings, then flies out to perform. We sit in the opulent surroundings of Cairo's Marriot hotel.

What does belly dancing mean?
"It's about many things - physical, sexual, sensual, fitness. It's about female empowerment, and about feeling sexy. And of course it's about glitter and dressing up. But originally the shapes and postures used in belly dancing were representations of nature, to worship god. In fact, one of the early stars - Tahira Kareoka - her father was a sheik in a mosque."

Is it exhibitionist?
"Of course, but all girls like to feel sexy. You know, in some ways it has never left the harem. It's always been about women dancing amoungst themselves. There's a group of you and you dance together, you show off what you know. It's not at all for the men - it's for us."

Why don't you dance in Egypt any more?
"I realized that I didn't want to dance any more in Egypt when I was dancing at the Nile Hilton. The manager took me aside and told me I had to get an AIDS test. He explained that they like their customers to stay for a long time, to spend a lot of money in the hotels, and to make that happen the dancers, you know, we have to get close to them. He said it because he knew that I was new to dancing, and to let me know that it's not always a clean business. But that was it. Now I don't dance in Egypt any more."

What do people think of you as a dancer?
"When I tell Egpytians that I'm a dancer they look at me a bit strangely and their eyes go wide. They can't really understand. But when I get talking to them about the old stars of the past and they're like 'oh yes, they were the greats', then they know that I'm doing it for the love of the dance, not in a sleazy sense."

What is the state of belly dancing in Egypt today?
"Most Egyptian girls get into it because they want to become actresses. Or to get onto TV. They see people like Shakira and Britney belly dancing and they want to be like them. But the dancers here are not the role models they used to be. In the 40s and the 50s there were really big stars, people still talk about them today, that was the golden age of belly dancing.

"People are interested in different stuff thess days. They don't book dancers for private parties so much any more. Younger couples getting married don't automatically look for a dancer at their weddings. These days they look for something different - maybe a jazz band. Belly dancing just isn't on their radar.

In some ways it's going back to its roots - it's always been a hidden thing. Maybe in ten years time it will re-emerge again into the glamour of the old days, when the young girls start seeing the big stars and saying - I want to do that."

Source: YogaTravel


  1. "It's not at all for the men - it's for us."


    Men should also be able to enjoy Oriental dance. There is no need to fear performing in a mixed audience. If it is modesty that you wish to preserve, wear fuller costumes such as:

    And feel free to wear a face veil.

    When in all female company, wear:

    Or other sexier outfits.

    I believe that the more modest outfits are more suitable when performing in front of men. Therefore, please accept the notion that belly dance is or can be suitable for men.


  2. Hi Trippler, thanks for your post.

    The opinions expressed in this (or other) article(s) do not necessarily reflect those of the blog's owner. :)

    I'm a dancer myself, and I perform for mixed audiences of all ages (but not all-male ones). I wear costumes like those worn by the bellydancers whose pictures are posted on this blog.

    I believe that it's up to the dancer what she should wear when performing, but I also believe that the costume should not be overly revealing, as the audience should be focusing on the artistry of the dance rather than how the dancer is dressed (or not!).

    This is a beautiful dance, and I think that it should be accorded the respect it deserves.

  3. "the audience should be focusing on the artistry of the dance rather than how the dancer is dressed"

    Excellent. Yes, Oriental dance is a beautiful art form - a Divine gift if you please. I have seen several writers say that it is sacred. I, for one, would not quarrel with such a view.

    Being that it is an art form, the performer is therefore free to wear customing as she pleases. Any effort to restrict her is tantamount to suppressing art and we in an open society must take precautions against censorship. But as an artist you do have some obligation to give the audience what they want. Otherwise they may not be inclined to return to see your work.

    Therefore, a performer should know her audience and their particular desires. And if she is going to perform in front of men she should endeavor to wear fuller covering clothes as this is far more desirable and pleasing to men.

    As for me personally, I have noticed over the years that when she is fully covered (I prefer that only her hands and face be uncovered with full covering for everything else), my attention is focussed on her eyes and facial expression. This gives greater artistic meaning to her work and makes it more enjoyable.

    Conversely when her garments are revealing, my attention is focussed her appearance rather than her art work. Because of this, her artistic meaning is lost. And that is something nobody wants!

    Thanks again for your thoughts. Continued success to you!