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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 March 2005, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK
Egyptian belly dance 'in crisis'
By Malcolm Brabant
BBC News, Cairo

Liza Laziza teaches a Saudi woman belly dance
Foreign dancers like Liza gave lessons to weather a recent ban
Exponents of the art of belly dancing - a unique element of Egypt's national cultural heritage - believe it is undergoing a crisis and is in danger of being driven underground.

Two years ago, the government banned foreign dancers from performing, but has recently done a U-turn and allowed them back.

One of the country's former belly dancing divas, Nagwa Fouad, is now calling for the establishment of an academy to preserve the art.

Dressed in a turquoise harem outfit, Iranian-born Liza Laziza practices in her studio high above the Corniche alongside the River Nile.

Liza is a world-renowned belly dancer who came to Cairo five years ago to fulfil a dream of living where her art began many centuries ago.

Even to my unpractised eye, it is clear she is a fine exponent, combining grace, interpretation and sensuality.

Declining art

But Liza has not performed on one of Egypt's great dancing stages for two years.

Belly dancer Liza Laziza practises in her Nile-side studio
Liza Laziza has not performed publicly for two years
"The dance, from what I see, is at the moment rapidly fading in the background, whereas before, it was right up front," she says.

"It's very serious and I'm part of what's going on. I'm part of the big decline that's going on in the dance."

During the ban on foreign dancers, Liza was forced to teach for a living.

Now she is free to perform again, but she has had trouble finding a suitable platform for her talent.

"Egypt has been the central nervous system of the dance for a long time now," she says.

"It's not as great as it used to be and that's because of the climate of the times, socially, economically, religiously.

"And there isn't any education on the dance in Egypt, so I really do predict it fading into the background as we speak."

'Part of Egypt'

One of Liza's students is a Saudi Arabian woman who must be in her 50s, who has taken up the dance for the benefit of her husband.

Dance legend Nagwa Fouad
Nagwa Fouad wants to offer her services as a former dancing diva
She prefers to remain anonymous for fear of shocking relatives in her arch-conservative homeland.

"Like the Sphinx or pyramids, belly dancing is part of Egyptian culture and it would be a shame to lose it," she says.

On board a Nile river boat, about 200 tourists are taking a two-hour-long supper cruise.

The highlight of the evening's entertainment is supposed to be a demonstration of belly dancing by a 27-year-old Egyptian dancer called Wafaa Fowzi.

To borrow the words of Jerry Lee Lewis, there's a whole lotta shaking going on - but none of the sinewy grace of Liza Laziza.

Miss Fowzi believes that Miss Laziza and her Saudi Arabian pupil are scare-mongering.

Brilliant moves

"I'm not worried about the dance. It can't really die out in Egypt. It's an important part of our popular heritage," she says.

Nagwa Fouad used to be one of Egypt's belly dancing divas.

Wafaa Fowzi performing during a Nile cruise for tourists
Wafaa struts her stuff - but it's not the real thing, says Mme Nagwa
She is of indeterminate age, and went into retirement about five years back.

Madame Nagwa is very worried that subtleties of an art dating back to Pharonic times are being lost and she wants Egypt to set up a national academy to teach the dance properly.

"What you are seeing nowadays is just shaking, which is very Turkish," she says.

"Egyptian dancing has many more brilliant movements, which is why there must be an academy to teach it, where I could lend my expertise."

But belly dancers here worry no one will take heed and that their cultural heritage will be consigned to history along with the pyramids, Tutankhamen and that great seductress Cleopatra.

Egypt bans foreign belly dancers
26 Aug 03 |  Middle East
Belly dancing goes global
06 Jun 01 |  Middle East

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