The Bellydancers of Cairo
The Bellydancers of Cairo by Natasha Senkovich
Overall Zorba Rating:
2006, region free , run time 73 minutes documentary, plus considerable time for performances.
Natasha Senkovich documents the challenges of the Belly Dancers in this most ancient Egyptian city...
The main part of this DVD is documentary in nature. Natasha Senkovich interviews a number of dancers, and men in the city of Cairo. A lot of time is spent with "Samasem", a "retired 5 star Cairo nightclub performer". We return to Samasem repeatedly as she gives us much of the cultural background and current situational background of the dance scene in Egypt.
A number of dancers are interviewed: Samasem, Lucy, Dina, Nagwa Sultan, Khayyreya Mazin, Rabab, Eman Zaki, Nagwa Fuad, Aida Nour, Doaa Hegazi. Katia, Marwa, and Dunia. Other historic dancers are discussed, including Samia Gamal and Taheya Cariocca. A number of Egyptian men are interviewed, and even a somewhat feminist Muslima in Los Angeles. Lots of performance clips are seen, and the subject is discussed from all angles, including the generally bad depiction of dancers in cinema.
Regardless of who you ask, the verdict is the same. Belly Dance is on the wane in Egypt due to increasing conservatism backed by religious fanatics. This is a sore subject for this reviewer - I figure we're about 20 years behind Egypt in developing our own "American Taliban" which will give us similar results. Some more liberated males said they'd date and/or marry a dancer, but she would have to give up dancing. One man said "No man of any country wants his woman dancing in front of other men" (paraphrased). This shows the perfectly normal, but still lamentable human trait to see one's culture as the center of all. He'd be scandalized, no doubt, if I were to tell him that I enjoy seeing my wife dance for any/all - and that I'm a dancer too!
The people mostly LOVE their dancers, but are driving them away at the same time because of this religious nonsense...
Ok, this is a video review, not one of my (in)famous philosophical rants, so I'll knock it off now...
In all, the documentary is wonderful and well done. Production values are good.
Buried in the "Special Features" section is a wonderful surprise - performances by some of Egypt's best. I'll give a quick run down:
- Khayyreya Mazin, "The last Ghawazi dancer". She dances in an unprepossessing room, probably in her home, playing Zills.
- Rabab, "The most famous Shemadan dancer in Egypt". She dances in a medium sized room - perhaps in a club, with a live band and balancing the largest Shemadan I've ever seen! It must be 3 feet high and 2 feet in diameter. For all my dance sisters who love the Shemadan as I do: We've been upstaged and out classed!
- Dina. Dina is, well, Dina. If you understand this, no explanation is necessary; if you do not, no explanation is possible. Dina gives a typical, passionate Dina performance in a large room - obviously a wedding reception. There are camera cables trailing around as several cameramen jockey for position to film her.
- Lucy. Lucy dances onstage in her own club, La Parisienne. Very enjoyable performance, but the stage lights flash, or blink, with the rhythm for much of her 15 minute performance - very annoying. There is a also a fair amount of "Monkey-Cam", also annoying but understandable as its hard to find a dancer through the viewfinder in the dark - the Monkey-Cam is mostly during a dark segment.
She does a LOT more with her veil than is the norm with Egyptian style.
- Duaa. "A new dancer on the Egyptian scene...". Also filmed at a wedding performance, this brings a sigh of relief for steady lighting! Viewing her is a bit hard at times as she is dancing with the bride and groom, as well as a large number of over-dressed, stuffed shirt males. Later, the dance floor clears so we can see her better; but as with Dina's performance, there are multiple cameramen getting in the way of each other! Still, a nice performance!
- Katia. Katia shows us a fiery opening at (yet another) wedding, with nice veilwork. Then there's a cut to Katia performing in a club or restaurant in a different costume. Last, but not least, there is a cut and Katia appears in folkloric costume dancing a nice Raks Assaya.
- Marwa. Marwa dances in a dark club in a black costume. Still, she's easier to see than this description would lead you to believe. Unfortunately, we're only given 1:50 of her performance, kind of hard to get a feel for her dancing...
- Soraya. Soraya is a Brazilian working in Cairo. We see excerpts from two different shows in a club environment. She dances well, and with passion, but I started becoming annoyed with the camerawork - gratuitous hip/belly/breast shots. This hasn't been a problem hitherto, what's up with this?
- Diana. Diana dances in what appears to be her living room. She danced for many years in Alexandria, and shows us this style. Wonderful dancing! Some more gratuitous camerawork, but not nearly as much as Soraya's segment. At one point the camera actually zooms to Diana's face - a refreshing change...
In all, the performances were very good. These Egyptians show a passion that isn't seen as often elsewhere. I particularly enjoyed Khayyreya Mazin, Rabab, and Diana as they're older and their dance shows it. Older women just have an "it" that cannot be imitated by the younger crowd. Camerawork was, for the most part, acceptable. A lot of these performances were taped "live" with all that entails, people walking between the camera and the performer, occasional Monkey-Cam, etc.
The Rest of the Additional Material
The other item under the "Special Features" section is a 21 minute discussion with Natasha Senkovich and her cameraman. This is an interesting extension of the documentary idea as they expand upon the attitudes and culture in Egypt towards their dancers.
Back at the main menu there are selections for various BellyDance superstars videos and merchandise. This is not a BellyDance superstars video, but Miles Copeland assisted in marketing and distribution of it - a good thing as it makes it affordable and easily available.
What I liked about this video:
A lot. I enjoyed the documentary portion detailing the conflated opinions Egyptians have towards their dancers, loving yet reviling them at the same time. The performances hidden as "Special Features" are a gem. I particularly enjoyed the performances of the older dancers.
Its on DVD, and its affordably priced.
What I didn't like about this video:
Not a lot to dislike. The camerawork in some of the performances could have been better - but is mostly understandable under the circumstances. The flashing lights at Lucy's club sucked. Maybe that works live, but it doesn't transfer to video well. I probably would be just as annoyed if I were to be there live!
You can purchase this video from the Artemis Imports.