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.”

July 19, 2009

China quarantines school groups

China quarantines school groups

Four British pupils in Beijing hotel

Some of the British teenagers holed up in a hotel room in Beijing

More than 100 schoolchildren and their teachers from the UK and US have been quarantined in Beijing after eight children were found to have swine flu.

The four UK and four US children are being treated in a Beijing hospital and are said to be in a stable condition.

China has this year quarantined hundreds of foreign visitors who have shown symptoms of the H1N1 virus.

The four Britons taken ill are from London schools. A further 52 UK pupils and teachers are under quarantine.

The hospitalised pupils are year nine students, aged 13 to 14; three from the Central Foundation Boys School, Clerkenwell, and one from Parliament Hill School, Camden.

High temperatures

Meanwhile, four of the British pupils under quarantine have told the news from their hotel room they are being well looked after.

The four, who attend Clevedon School in north Somerset, are all in their late teens and are part of a group of 12 from that school, plus two teachers.

“We are quarantined in the hotel and are all currently well as we have daily temperature checks which are all good,” they said in an e-mail sent from their hotel room.

“The hotel is really nice and we have proper toilets. We hope we experience more of China as we should be out within four days.”

One of the boys, Christopher Hicks, said that they had been visiting the Great Wall of China when they were called back, because they had previously shared a bus with a pupil from another school who had tested positive for the virus.

Another pupil, Joe Robinson, said: “We’re being treated very, very well. The food’s great. We’ve got our own individual tellies.”

They also had individual rooms, he said, although they had to wear protective face masks and were not allowed outside of the quarantined zone.

More than 600 Britons are on the trip, organised by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the British Council and Chinese organisation Hanban.

Speaking about the four UK pupils who have swine flu, the SSAT’s Katharine Carruthers said: “They are being extremely well looked after and cared for, to the extent where they’re getting pizza delivered to where they are. They are all happy and getting better.

“There are a number of children in quarantine in very comfortable conditions in a four-star hotel in Beijing, who have been in close contact with the swine flu cases.

“Everyone is in good spirits, getting involved in activities and carrying on their Chinese learning.”

The vast majority of the students are continuing their trip as normal, she said.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, in Beijing, said three of the four UK children were found to have high temperatures when they arrived in Beijing earlier in the week.

They were taken straight from the airport to a hospital where it was confirmed they had the virus. A fourth classmate fell ill later.

Chinese health worker tests flight from London  9.7.09

Chinese health officials monitor passengers arriving in the country

The American children had been in contact with the UK group and four of them were also diagnosed as having the virus.

Amii van Amerongen, from London, told the news that her 15-year-old sister was one of the children under quarantine.

“She called me this morning telling me that she is confined in a hotel and she is being very brave about the whole thing. She said it was quite intimidating – they have these ‘guns’ that they point at your head which measure your temperature,” she said.

Chinese officials told the news that the children were being well looked after and they had regular contact with their families.

Simon Calder, travel editor for the UK’s Independent newspaper, told the news that many countries were using “thermal imaging” at airports to test travellers, and the UK was viewed as a high-risk area.


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