Fanack Home / Egypt / Society, Media & Culture / Culture / Dance

Dance in Egypt

Folkloric dance in Egypt is divided regionally into the dance from the Delta (fellahi), the Upper Delta (Saidi), the coastal area (Sawahili), Sinai (Bedouin), and the Nubian area. These dances not only survive locally but are also preserved by the Reda Group for Folkloric Dance, which was established by Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy in the 1960s, and the National Troupe for Folkloric Arts, which performs these dances nationally and internationally.

Egypt also has a longstanding tradition of belly dancing. Believed to have originated as a fertility dance performed by priestesses in Pharaonic times, it exists today in two main forms, as a folk dance (raqs baladi), performed by women at parties and weddings, and as a form of entertainment by professional dancers (raqs sharqi).

With the advent of cinema, in the early 20th century, the film industry made icons of belly dancers. The late Tahiya Karioka and Samia Gamal and the now retired Soheir Zaki and Nagwa Fouad are probably the most celebrated belly dancers of Egypt. Other more recently famous belly dancers are Fifi Abdou and Lucy, both now retired as well. The ruling queen of Egyptian belly dance is Dina Talaat.

Professional belly dancers are often hired to perform at weddings, but given the current wave of Muslim conservatism, it is no longer in vogue and is considered sinful by many. Many dancers are now relegated to sleazy nightclubs. Indeed, the profession is associated with prostitution, sometimes correctly. Alternatively, many belly dancers find employment performing for tourists.

Another traditional form of dance is the Sufi dance of the whirling dervishes. It is performed at Sufi gatherings and shows and has become a form of entertainment in tourist spots.

Egypt also has a national ballet, the Cairo Opera Ballet, which was established in 1966 and is associated with the Higher Ballet Institute (Academy of Arts). Initially coached by Soviet trainers, the Egyptian Ballet began performing abroad in 1973. In addition to the classics of ballet, it performs pieces by Egyptian composers and choreographers.

The development of contemporary and experimental dance in Egypt was long crippled by lack of funding and continuing-education programs and the limited accessibility of rehearsal and performance spaces. An additional problem lay in government interference that resulted in the monopolization of many fields of the arts by a single person or organization. For example, Lebanese theatre director Walid Aouni, founder and director of the Cairo Opera House Modern Dance Theatre Group, for a long time reigned supreme in the world of modern dance. He was the artistic director of the Opera House’s Modern Dance Academy, the Modern Dance Company, The Festival of Modern Dance Theatre, and his own company, ‘Knights of the Orient’.

Since the January revolution, the many independent theaters of Cairo, such as Rawabet Theatre, al-Sawy Culture Wheel, Falaki Theatre, and Darb 1718, freed of government interference, have provided space and opportunity for ground-breaking modern-dance performances.

Belly dance
Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy
Mahmoud Reda
Cairo Opera Ballet

We would like to ask you something …

Fanack is an independent media organisation, not funded by any state or any interest group, that distributes in the Middle East and the wider world unbiased analysis and background information, based on facts, about the Middle East and North Africa.

The website grew rapidly in breadth and depth and today forms a rich and valuable source of information on 21 countries, from Morocco to Oman and from Iran to Yemen, both in Arabic and English. We currently reach six million readers annually and growing fast.

In order to guarantee the impartiality of information on the Chronicle, articles are published without by-lines. This also allows correspondents to write more freely about sensitive or controversial issues in their country. All articles are fact-checked before publication to ensure that content is accurate, current and unbiased.

To run such a website is very expensive. With a small donation, you can make a huge impact. And it only takes a minute. Thank you.