Egypt: The 3rd Cairo Oriental Dance Festival

The 3rd Cairo Oriental Dance Festival

by Jimmy Dunn

Cairo, like other huge cities, has a number of different festivals. They range from various art and dance festivals, to experimental theater and foreign movies. There are book festivals, fishing festivals and all kinds of local festivals. But one festival, the 3rd Cairo Oriental Dance Festival, certainly has the potential to be one of the most fun festivals to attend, both far participants and the audience alike. Today we depart from our recent series of antiquity related articles so that we can explore this upcoming event. Scheduled to begin on June 20th, 2002, and end June 26th, this event is essentially all about belly dancing. Presented by Raqia Hassan and Misr Travel, it will take place at the Ramses Hilton and many of the world's top belly dancers will be in attendance, along with scholars on the topic.

The 3rd Cairo Oriental Dance Festival

To the ancient Egyptians, dance was an essential part of their culture. People from every social class were exposed to music and dancing. The laborers worked in rhythmic motion to the sounds of songs and percussion, and street dancers entertained passers by. Dance troupes were available for hire to perform at dinner parties, banquets, lodging houses, and even religious temples. Some women from wealthy harems were trained in music and dance. Today, Egypt is considered by many modern dancers to be the source of belly dance. A young man from Syracuse, who visited Egypt (Memphis) at the end of the 4th century BC, may have given one of the earliest descriptions of a belly dance from pharaonic Egypt, even telling us of clappers similar to those used by modern dancers:

"Now I caught sight of a troupe of musicians, coming with various musical instruments in their hands, in which I recognized harps, guitars, lyres, simple and double pipes, tambourines and cymbals. We were overwhelmed constantly by songs which were most cordially applauded by the audience. Then, at a given sign, the middle of the hall was taken by a man and a girl dancer, who were provided with clappers. These were made out of two small pieces of wood round and concave, located in the palms, and gave rhythm to the dancing steps when suddenly knocked together. These two dancers danced separately or together in harmonious configurations, mixed with pirouettes, soon parting and again approaching each other, the young dancer running after his mate and following her with expressions of tender desire, while she fled from him constantly, rotating and pirouetting, as if refusing his endeavors after amorous approach. This performance was done lightly and energetically in harmonious postures, and seemed to me to exceedingly entertaining."

The 3rd Cairo Oriental Dance Festival

The dance which Americans know as "belly dance" has gone by many names. The French who found the dance named it "dance du ventre", or dance of the stomach. It is know in Greece as the cifte telli (also the name of a Turkish rhythm), in Turkey as rakkase and in Egypt as Raks Sharki. Middle Easterners also call it "danse orientale" to distinguish it from the "balady", or country, dance. It developed through the influence of many different areas and continues its long process of development today. After its appearance at the Chicago Exposition at the turn of the century, Americans discovered it, and the French name, danse du ventre, was translated into the "belly dance". It has traditional associations with both religious and erotic elements. This ambiguity has caused belly dance to be disdained, scorned, and loved by many. Its apparent origins are the fertility cults of the ancient world.

The 3rd Cairo Oriental Dance Festival

Most of the people who travel to Egypt have the opportunity at some point in their stay to witness a grand belly dancing performance. It is a favorite among tourists, but of course, belly dancing is no longer restricted to the Middle East. From Europe to Japan, from Los Angeles to New York, belly dancing has become a popular form of exercise, as well as self expression and entertainment. In Egypt, belly dancing is not just for tourists. Local Egyptians love the dance too, and often attend performances. Some of Egypt's belly dancers are the best known stars in the land.

Some of the people involved in the 3rd Cairo Oriental Dance Festival include Mahmoud Reda and Dr. Mo Gedawi, both co- founders of Egypt's first national folkloric dance troupe. Others include Dr. Farida Fahmy, who was a principle dancer with this troupe, and Souhair Zaki, a legendary belly dancer. Of course Ragi Hassan, who is herself an ex troupe member and currently an internationally famous teacher will also attend.

Others include Hassan Afifi, who is today a famous Egyptian choreographer for television, Yousry Sherif, who has worked with a number of Egyptian belly dancing stars, Alan ElDin, from Germany, Dina, the darling of current dance scenes in the Middle East and other well known dance personalities.

Ragi Hassan, who is herself an ex troupe member and currently an internationally famous teacher

Ragi Hassan

The festival will open with a grand show and opening ceremonies at 10:00 PM. There will be daily programs, including dance classes and other training sessions. Free, live daily performances will feature both beginners and professional dancers. The best performances will yield the dancers a spot in the closing ceremony. For Information on taking classes, please contact the show administrators at or

For additional information and registration for this event, see the festival web site. Those interested in attending this event may also package a special tour along with the festival through Misr Travel.