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Foreign Belly Dancers? Egyptians Shake Their Heads (and Hips)


Cairo Dispatch

The arrest of a Russian belly dancer exposed simmering tensions in Cairo’s belly-dancing scene. Critics say foreigners are sullying an ancient art form. Many Egyptians love them.

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The Russian belly dancer Ekaterina Andreeva, known as Johara, at a wedding in Cairo a few months after her arrest.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

CAIRO — When undercover police officers in Egypt swooped on an upscale nightclub on the Nile last spring and arrested a Russian belly dancer, the focus of their investigation was her costume — and what, if anything, lay beneath it.

Was the dancer known as Johara, whose sizzling video had become an overnight sensation, wearing the right “shorts,” as modesty-protecting undergarments are officially called? Were they the right size? The appropriate color? Or was she, as some feared, wearing no shorts at all?

Johara, whose real name is Ekaterina Andreeva, 30, insisted on her innocence, but still the police marched her off to jail, where others argued over her fate.

Russian diplomats paid a visit. Her manager and her husband back in Moscow pressed her case. In her dingy cell, Ms. Andreeva gave an impromptu performance for a dozen fellow prisoners, mostly prostitutes and drug dealers.

“Those women treated me so well,” she recalled. “They asked me to dance, and then we all danced together.”

A belly dancing workshop at a hotel in Cairo.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
The Egyptian dancer Randa Kamel leading a workshop attended by many Eastern European women.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

After three days, it seemed she would be deported. But at the last minute, a mysterious white knight intervened — a Libyan businessman with powerful connections, she was told — and she was sprung from jail.

It was a drama worthy of belly dance, a centuries-old art form that has long thrived on sensual intrigue. During the Second World War, German spies mingled with British officers at Madam Badia’s cabaret; in the 1970s, dancers performed for American presidents.

The Ukrainian dancer Alla Kushnir, a law graduate, appeared on “Ukraine’s Got Talent” with an extravagant belly-dance routine that set her on a new career path.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
Ms. Kushnir trying out accessories for her performances at her apartment in Cairo.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
Participants in Ms. Kamel’s workshop during an outing near Cairo.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
Egyptian dance still has one undisputed queen: Dina.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
Amie Sultan, a prominent Egyptian dancer, with a costume designer. She comes from a wealthy Egyptian family and trained as a ballerina.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
Participants in Ms. Kamel’s workshop.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
A participant in Ms. Kamel’s workshop performing during the closing ceremony.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
An array of belly dance costumes on sale at Ms. Kamel’s workshop in Cairo.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times



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