Keeping up with the Cairo Belly Dance Scene

Cairo has been my home for twenty-five years. Like so many others I was seduced by the city’s magic, and dazzled by the dance and music scene, which at that time (the mid-1990’s) was vibrant with star dancers, and buzzed with the kind of raw energy I hadn’t found in my years performing around the Middle East. My personal journey (which I later documented in a full-length feature film entitled ‘Journey of Desire’) was, like that of every foreigner that comes here to dance, a rollercoaster of challenges, highs and lows, self-doubt and exhilaration, creative fulfillment versus sacrifice. Most dancers coming from abroad don’t intend to stay in Egypt forever, but some end up doing so! After my nightclub career ended, I stayed on, based my international teaching career from here, put my half-Egyptian son into a local international school, and cemented my choice even further by buying a property which became my ‘Belly Dancers’ B&B’. Close to the Giza pyramids, it is a haven and creative space for dancers to come and explore Cairo for themselves. In this space, I host individual dance travelers and groups, who take classes (with myself but also any teacher of their choice), go out and explore the sites, watch incredible dance shows, buy costumes, and can even have personalized photo shoots with me. (In Cairo I revived the career I originally trained in back in London, as a fashion photographer specializing in location shoots.)

What do dancers find nowadays when they come to Cairo? Who do I send them out to watch? Cairo remains the Hollywood of belly dance, and yet….the industry is changing fast. So fast, in fact, that in 2018 I decided to produce a new documentary, exploring the contemporary world of the dance from the perspective of the professional dancers at the forefront of these changes. Myself and director Sara Farouk (who also directed Journey of Desire) decided to call it ‘In Our Own Words, The Cairo Dance Scene Explained’, and you can find a link to it below.

2018 was a boom time for belly dance in Cairo, but at the same time, a revolution was already underway in terms of the style of venues, the style of music, and the dancers themselves. Top Egyptian names were already outnumbered by foreigners. A couple of divas from past decades remain, Dina, who maintained, until 2019, a presence at one of the only remaining five-star hotel nightclubs in Cairo: the Semiramis. But currently, that too has closed. She is still a superstar, a public figure, and is still hired at upper-class weddings. But her fame has of course also come from the fact she is a movie and TV star, and a few years back ran a reality show belly dance competition, ‘’El Rakassa’. Lucy, also a household name for her acting work still puts a costume on sometimes to perform at her husband’s club, the Parisiana on Haram Street – a throwback to times gone by. A consummate entertainer, anyone willing to stay up all night and lucky enough to catch her, will truly be watching a legend.

The current handful of top Egyptian names: Randa Kamel, Sahar Samara, Aziza of Cairo – and Brazilian Soraia, who is virtually Egyptian by experience! - can be seen, but (and who knows which venues will reopen after the pandemic) don’t perform nightly – except Aziza when she is in cabaret. In recent years many of the new foreign stars, such as Russian Oxana, or American Shahrzad, have been hired in cabaret clubs, a type of venue that in the past rarely employed foreigners. For a couple of years, it became a fashion for dancers to perform on bar tops in bars and ‘western-style’ nightclubs, driven also by the craze for electro shaabi (maharaganat) and a new, younger audience. Coronavirus hit at a time when you could see a belly dancer in virtually every club, boat, nightclub, and wedding – more and more foreigners competing in a world of Instagram hits and ‘trending’ names. Anyone who follows the dance scene on Instagram will have seen the trending names: Diana, Lourdiana, Anastasia, Jowhara, etc. On the one hand, it is great that the dance has come back into fashion in such a big way, but on the other hand, those coming to Cairo to see a full show with an orchestra, with the same format of sitting to watch what used to be, may find it harder. Cabaret clubs are currently the best option for listening to a full band playing live. Yes, you may have to forgo sleep and stay up until dawn, but to get a dose of raw live oriental (or khaleegi) music this is necessary.

As we have discovered during the making of the documentary, and especially while shooting the fourth and final part this month, which includes a ‘post-Corona’ update, the ubiquitous rise of electro shaabi music has had a correspondingly detrimental effect on the demand for more traditional oriental orchestras. This, plus the constraints of budgets - a two-piece electro shaabi outfit costs less than a full set of oriental musicians, means many musicians are now without work.

If you truly love classical oriental music, there are also of course other stages – but without dancers. The Cairo Opera House and its various associated venues put on classical oriental music recitals and have sections dedicated to continuing this legacy. 

No matter in which direction the Cairo dance scene is changing, the very fact that it constantly does change highlights its nature. It has been changing and evolving since it began, taking on new influences and incorporating them into something which, nevertheless, maintains its own special essence. The clubs of Cairo are as subject to the changing trends of globalization as anywhere else, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The only way to feel it is to be in the midst of it. So I hope that students and lovers of the dance will continue to come to Cairo for their music and dance ‘fix’ and to experience the culture which is at the heart of the dance we love, and can’t be separated from it.

About Yasmina: 

Yasmina of Cairo has been involved in the world of oriental dance for over thirty years, beginning her performing career in the Arab nightclubs of London, then dancing in many countries around the Middle East before settling in Cairo in 1995. There she danced daily with her orchestra for more than eight years, appearing at many venues and dancing at hundreds of weddings, at the same time starting her international teaching career. Yasmina performs in festivals and teaches workshops worldwide.  She has toured internationally with her orchestra, choreographed theatre shows in several countries, and produced seven music CD’s in Cairo, loved by dancers everywhere. Still based in Cairo Yasmina hosts dancers and dance groups from around the world on belly dance holidays, teaches and performs at parties and events, and also works as a dance photographer making other dancers look glamorous. 

Visit: to find out more about Yasmina, to watch “In Our Own Words, The Cairo Dance Scene Explained,” Yasmina of Cairo Photo Shoots Around Egypt, or to book a stay at Yasmina’s Belly Dancers’ Cairo B&B