Friday, 24 September 2010

Bikini belly dancer shocks -- shocks! -- Egyptian sensibilities

By MARIAM SAMI, The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt (May 2, 1997 3:38 p.m. EDT) -- Twenty-two agents of the government's Artistic Inspection Department prowl nightclubs and discos to ensure that the ancient art of belly dancing isn't tainted by racy gyrations. So conservative Egypt was shocked when a leading performer, Dina, traded the traditional glittering gauzy garb for biking shorts and bikinis.

The Al-Maydan weekly dedicated almost a page to Dina's garb, noting that the dancer -- who like many in her trade uses only one name -- even appeared with gold chains wrapped around her waist.

These costumes may seem fairly tame in a world of go-go girls and online sex. But for all kinds of reasons they were guaranteed to cause a stir in Egypt.

For one, the belly dancer's costume is not only traditional but partly prescribed. Some insist the belly must be obscured by a lacy net. A 1920 law forbids showing the navel -- a possible genesis for the navel jewel.

Egypt also is a conservative Muslim country where religious women cover themselves in robes and veils -- showing at most their face and hands. Women tourists who show too much flesh are frowned on.

Disapproval does not dampen curiosity, however. Egyptians look for every tidbit in gossip columns about Cairo's celebrity belly dancers -- their travels, tiffs, amours and astronomical wealth.

So reports that Dina was hauled in for questioning over her costumes had a ready audience.

Ahmed Abou el-Fattouh, the chief inspector, would not confirm the reports of Dina's detention, but conceded he admonished one performer -- whom he wouldn't name -- for both her dress and demeanor.

"The dancer was wearing a bikini. She bowed, showing her back to the audience, and moved it in such a disgusting way," he said.

Dina said she was far too busy redecorating her apartment to take the time for an interview.

Two other top dancers, Fifi Abdou and Lucy, have reacted to the scandal by declaring that the original costume is the best way to show off the intricate belly and hip movements of their art.

Lucy, in an interview with The Associated Press, denigrated more revealing dress as an amateur's trick meant to shift attention to her body -- and away from bad dancing.

"As long as I can do the moves, why should I show three-quarters of my breasts?" she said.

Almost all of Lucy's 600 costumes are traditional models, given variations for color, number of sequins and a slit here or cut there.

Six hundred costumes? That's nothing. Newspapers have reported that Fifi Abdou -- Egypt's most famous belly dancer -- owns about 5,000.

It's all part of the media attention to the dancers' earnings and spending habits.

Last year, papers buzzed with reports that Abdou bought an apartment overlooking the Nile River for $14.5 million. She denied it.

The Arabic daily Al-Hayat reported recently that Egypt's 12,000 registered belly dancers paid $250 million in income taxes last year, making some among the richest people in a country where teachers make $90 a month.

Newspapers say Lucy earns up to $4,400 for a 45-minute performance at a party or wedding. She says her costumes cost $900-$1,500 apiece.

Speaking of costumes, Farouq Salem, head of the Artistic Inspection Department, stresses that a dancer's dress is not the only criterion his inspectors use in determining whether she is sullying the dignity of belly dancing.

"We also watch the whole performance: her movements, the music, the lyrics, the whole package," he said. "A belly dancer could dress like a veiled woman, but perform movements that make her really sexy."

Source: DesertMoonDance