Posted on July 9, 2018

Foreign Belly Dancers? Egyptians Shake Their Heads (and Hips)

Declan Walsh, New York Times, July 8, 2018

When undercover police officers in Egypt swooped on an upscale nightclub on the Nile last spring and arrested a Russian belly dancer, the focus of their investigation was her costume — and what, if anything, lay beneath it.

Was the dancer known as Johara, whose sizzling video had become an overnight sensation, wearing the right “shorts,” as modesty-protecting undergarments are officially called? Were they the right size? The appropriate color? Or was she, as some feared, wearing no shorts at all?

Johara, whose real name is Ekaterina Andreeva, 30, insisted on her innocence, but still the police marched her off to jail, where others argued over her fate.


After three days, it seemed she would be deported. But at the last minute, a mysterious white knight intervened — a Libyan businessman with powerful connections, she was told — and she was sprung from jail.


In recent decades, belly dance has inspired conflicting impulses among Egyptians, who see it either as high art, racy entertainment or an excuse for moral grandstanding.

But Ms. Andreeva’s plight also highlighted a rather touchy issue: If Cairo is the global capital of belly dance, then why do its hottest new stars come from everywhere but Egypt?

Kiev to Cairo


Foreigners have dominated the top flights of Egypt’s belly-dancing scene in recent years — Americans, Britons and Brazilians, but especially Eastern Europeans.

The foreigners bring an athletic, high-energy sensibility to the dance, more disco than Arabian Nights. Their sweeping routines contrast with the languid, subtly suggestive style of classic Egyptian stars. Some are overtly sexual.

{snip} Ms. Kushnir, 33, {snip} appeared on a TV show, “Ukraine’s Got Talent,” with an extravagant belly-dance routine that set her on a new career path.

In one performance, she wore a black veil with a tray of burning candles on her head; in the other, she writhed in a pool of water supported by semi-naked men.

Then Ms. Kushnir moved to Cairo, the Broadway of belly dance, where she became a true star. She sometimes performs five times a night at upscale weddings and ritzy parties, where top performers can earn $1,200 or more. One of her videos has nine million views on YouTube.

Purists bemoan the foreign invasion as a cultural travesty. They accuse the outsiders of trampling on Arab heritage for profit and pushing the dance form in a brash direction. Even some foreigners agree.