News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dance festival

The Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival has been a big hit this year

Hundreds of women of all nationalities sway their hips and twirl in time to the beat of a drum in a hotel ballroom by the pyramids in Cairo.

Belly dancing is said to have been practised in Egypt since Pharaonic times and now it has caught on around the globe.

It is well-established in Europe and the US and has recently spread to Asia. This year dozens of dancers travelled from China for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dancing festival.

“Because this is the land of dance, women have to come!” declares Raqia Hassan, the festival organiser.

“When she comes she can meet famous dancers and musicians. She can see the pyramids. Anyone who comes to Egypt one time, she cannot stop coming back.”

Japanese belly dance fan

Safa Bakr’s shop attracts women from all over the world

Raqia, who has taught many belly dancing celebrities, leads her large class through the basic moves of the dance putting together a routine.

“It’s fun and you can do this at any age,” says Ewa Horsfield from London. “You can express your own personality. It’s an individual dance. You just listen and respond to the music.”

Many speak of the fitness benefits of belly dancing.

“In China all ladies like for their health,” says Angel from Shanghai.

“This kind of dance began here. Here teachers [are] very, very good so all Chinese ladies want to come.”

Contradictions

Belly dancing is big business in Egypt thanks to the global market.

Designer, Safaa Yasser Bakr, runs a belly dancing costume shop in the historic Khan el-Khalili bazaar.

She helps a Brazilian woman try on a sky-blue sequinned bra and a matching skirt with a split up one side.

“In one show big stars change costume many times,” she tells her. “You need maybe five different pieces.”

Nowadays Safaa sells most of her alluring outfits to foreigners.

Safa Yasser Bakr

Safa sells her wares in Khan el-Khalili – Cairo’s Islamic heart

“I see people coming from France, Italy, United States, Argentina, Spain, Japan,” she says.

But in Egypt at large, many experts fear the dance is losing its appeal.

Society has become more religious and conservative over the past generation and belly dancing is not considered a respectable profession.

“I don’t like belly dancing. I don’t like to see a woman half-naked dancing and moving her body like that,” says one man on the street in central Cairo.

“It has a kind of sexual movement. That’s why I don’t like to watch it,” adds his friend.

An older passer-by remembers the famous dancers of the 1960s with affection but says he would not let his wife or daughters dance in public today.

“I liked the old belly dancer because you could not see a lot of her body,” he remarks. “They were very respectable – not like the new ones now.”

Enduring art

Dance historian, Mo Geddawi, accepts belly dancing is facing a challenging time in Egypt but says this must be seen in perspective.

“Forget about different governments and religion,” he says. “When Christianity and then Islam came the dance was taboo, but people continued to dance.”

“Sometimes in public it is less but the dance never died.”

For now though international devotees help to ensure the dance goes on.

Diana Esposito from New York came to Cairo on a scholarship to study the social and economic reasons for its decline but has become an accomplished belly dancer herself.

“The first time I saw it I thought the movements were so sensual,” she says. “I decided to try something new and it became an addiction.”

“I don’t see the dance being done properly anywhere else in the world. That’s why everyone flocks here – this is the capital of belly dance.”

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August 16, 2008

Madonna turns 50: Highs and lows

Madonna turns 50: Highs and lows

https://i1.wp.com/blog.mobiles.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/madonna300.jpg

Madonna – one of the most successful stars in pop history – celebrates her 50th birthday on Saturday.

Use our interactive timeline to find out more about the ups and downs of her career.

Full name: Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone

Born: August 16, 1958, Bay City, Michigan, USA

Also known as: The Queen of Pop, Material Girl, Madge, Esther, Mrs Ritchie.

Biggest hits: Holiday, Into The Groove, Like A Prayer, Vogue, Ray of Light, Music.

Quote: “A woman who pulled herself up by her bra straps and has been known to let them down occasionally” (Bette Midler, introducing Madonna at Live Aid in 1985).

1963 – MOTHER DIES

Madonna’s mother, also called Madonna, dies of breast cancer. The tragic event has a lifelong impact on the singer. “You walk around with a big hole inside you, a feeling of emptiness and longing,” the star later says.

1982-1985 – INITIAL CHART SUCCESS

Madonna moves to New York in 1977, where she studies with choreographer Alvin Ailey and works as a model.

Madonna

Early music demos recorded with her boyfriend Stephen Bray make their way to Sire Records boss Seymour Stein, who demands to meet her, even though he is in hospital with a heart condition. Impressed with “the drive, the zeal, the ruthlessness” of a young Madonna, he signs her on the spot. But her first few releases only make an impact in clubs.

Holiday becomes Madonna’s first breakthrough hit in the US, reaching number 16 in late 1983. Her first top 10 hit comes a year later with Borderline, a song she later disowns. She is more proud of the subsequent, career-defining hits Like A Virgin and Material Girl. The sell-out Virgin Tour begins in 1985 with support from the Beastie Boys.

1985 – MARRIAGE

Madonna receives rave reviews for her role in mainstream film Desperately Seeking Susan (she previously made low-budget sexploitation movie A Certain Sacrifice in 1979).

She also hits number one with Into The Groove, plays Live Aid, and marries actor Sean Penn on a Californian clifftop, their vows drowned out by the roar of press helicopters circling overhead.

1986 – TRUE BLUE

True Blue

True Blue was the first time Madonna had a writing credit on every song.

The album True Blue, with its iconic Herb Ritts cover, cements Madonna’s reputation as the first lady of pop, reaching number one in 12 countries and spawning five hit singles.Papa Don’t Preach, which deals with teenage pregnancy, confirms the star’s willingness to tackle controversial issues, while Live To Tell’s raw vocals (recorded on the first take) show new emotional depth.

Her first world tour, Who’s That Girl, sees the singer mobbed by adoring fans in cities across the globe.

But Madonna’s film career takes the first of many serious beatings with the release of Shanghai Surprise.

A year later, she separates from Sean Penn, and the couple are granted a divorce in 1989.

1989 – LIKE A PRAYER

Like A Prayer video

The video for Like A Prayer caused storms of protest

The release of Like A Prayer marks the moment when critics first begin to describe Madonna as an artist, rather than a mere pop singer. The title track’s video, which shows the star kissing a black saint, causes storms of protest – but sends her straight to number one.She follows up the album with the hit single Vogue and the lavish Blond Ambition tour. At the end of 1990, Madonna seals her reputation with a Greatest Hits album – The Immaculate Collection.

1992 – SEX

Sex book

The sex book was shot by noted fashion photographer Steven Meisel

A coffee table photo book, Sex, finds Madonna in a number of sexually explicit poses with the likes of Naomi Campbell and Vanilla Ice. The book is derided in the press, and the dark and seedy Erotica album suffers as a result.Two years later, she makes a bizarre, expletive-filled appearance on David Letterman’s talk show. Madonna asks the host to smell her underwear, smokes a cigar and quizzes Letterman on whether he urinates in the shower. When she refuses to leave the stage, several audience members shout “get off”.

The show marks a low point in public perception of the star.

1996 – EVITA

Madonna’s casting in Evita helps to rehabilitate her image – and her film career. Meanwhile, she falls pregnant to fitness trainer Carlos Leon, giving birth to her first daughter, Lourdes, in October.

1998 – RAY OF LIGHT

Ray of Light

Ray of Light was produced by British musician William Orbit

Ray Of Light marks a musical return to form. Its laid-back blend of dance and electronica catches the pop superstar in a reflective mood, musing on fame and parenthood. She continues to mine this rich seam of futuristic pop with Beautiful Stranger in 1999 and Music in 2000, albeit with diminishing returns.In the meantime, she meets Guy Ritchie at a party thrown by Sting’s wife Trudi Styler. The couple have a son, Rocco, before tying the knot in Scotland days before the new Millennium.

2004 – RE-INVENTION

Re-invention tour

The Re-Invention tour took more than $125m (£62.5m) in ticket sales

After the lacklustre American Life album, Madonna looks to the past for her Re-invention World Tour. Highlights including the yoga-inspired dance routines of Vogue, and a bagpipe version of Papa Don’t Preach.She follows it up with a love letter to disco, Confessions on a Dancefloor, produced by the tour’s musical director Stuart Price. Based around European dance music – including a prominent Abba sample on Hung Up – sells 8 million copies, but its singles perform badly in the US.

The accompanying tour draws flack when Madonna performs Live To Tell while strapped to a mirrored cross, wearing a crown of thorns.

2006 – ADOPTION

Madonna and David Banda

Madonna ‘s adoption was challenged by Malawian civil rights groups

Madonna visits Malawi, arriving by private jet in the capital, Lilongwe. She says she is in the country on a humanitarian mission to visit Aids orphans, but government officials say she plans to adopt a child.A week later, Yohane Banda tells the Associated Press news agency the star has adopted his 13-month-old son, David. “I know he will be very happy in America,” he says.

Madonna denies she has used her status to “fast-track” the process, and the adoption does not receive final approval until 2008.

2008 – KEEPING BUSY

Hard Candy

Hard Candy features collaborations with Justin Timberlake and Kanye West

Showing no signs of letting up the pace as she approaches 50, Madonna parts company with record label Warner Brothers to sign a ground-breaking contract with concert promoters Live Nation.She is also inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; releases an album, Hard Candy; directs her first film, Filth and Wisdom, and produces I Am Because We Are, a documentary about Aids orphans in Malawi – all while fending off rumours about trouble in her marriage.

After celebrating her 50th birthday, the megastar sets off on her Sticky and Sweet world tour next week.

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