The Contemporary dance scene in Egypt - Interview with Mohamed Shahin


Mohamed Shahin performing Dabkeh - picture by 274km fotografía


by Isis Zahara

"There is one thing one has to have: either a soul that is cheerful by nature,
 or a soul made cheerful by work, love, art, and knowledge."
(Friedrich Nietzsche) 
 "In Egypt, it is sometimes said 
you could take away the pyramids,
you could take away the Nile, 
but you could never take away the Belly Dance."
Cairo Unveiled, National Geographic 1992


Mohamed Shahin is an inspirational world-renowned performer and choreographer. His contributions to the Egyptian Oriental Dance and Egyptian/Middle Eastern Folkloric Dance are revitalizing and expanding this Art around the world. As an Instructor, he has masterful knowledge of all styles of Middle Eastern dance and has created his own line of teaching DVD’s, you can find in his website: mohamedshahin.net

His interpretation is intense characterized for his energetic personality, stamina, precision  and his love with the Egyptian culture. His expertise includes all styles of Middle Eastern dance, specializing in Tanoura (Whirling Dervish), Saidi Tahtib (Egyptian cane dance) and  Dabkeh (Lebanese levante).




In this interview Mohamed Shahin talks about code of ethics and principles of professional Artists in Egypt. The importance to respect the Egyptian culture and other ethical values every dancer must to have for grow in the carrier.


IZ - Actually, you are one of the most important and influential figures of Egyptian Dance. How and when you began your career?  
MS - I began to take interest in dance in 1990.  I joined a hobby dance group, studying and performing Egyptian folklore and danced with them for 3 years, this was at the Sports Club.  When I was 18 years old I decided to begin studying dance professionally so I joined the prestigious Balloon Theater where the biggest folkloric dance troupes, orchestras, and theater companies rehearse and perform such as The Reda Troupe and The National Troupe.  At this time I began to study dance in preparation for the National Troupe. After 2 years of studying cultural dances with the National Troupe, I received an invitation to dance as part of the biggest private dance troupe in Egypt at that time, with super star singer, actor, and TV show presenter Samir Sabry. From then on, I was recognized as a professional dancer. I also studied ballet and modern dance at that time as well, and I continued dancing with the most famous dance choreographers in Egypt folklore, ballet and modern dance. 





In 2002 I was invited to travel to South Korea to perform Egyptian folklore with a group for two months.  During this contract, a woman came up to me and introduced herself as a belly dance teacher and owner of a dance studio.   She asked me if I was interested in teaching her and her students Egyptian dance and I accepted.  I taught first Egyptian folklore class for non - Egyptian dancers and I felt so good about sharing my dance with foreigners.   I loved the idea of being a teacher. After the contract was over in Korea I went back to Egypt and decided to study intensively Raks Sharki and I also wanted to learn how to be a good teacher.  For one year and a half I studied more about Egyptian folklore and belly dance exclusively.  I watched Egyptian belly dancers and also observed how the famous belly dance teachers taught.  In 2004 I received my first invitation as an Egyptian dance teacher to Brazil. Shortly after that I started getting recognized as a professional Egyptian Oriental and folkloric dance instructor.      





IZ - Who has most influenced you?
MS - Of course like any other male Egyptian dancer I would have to say Mahmoud Reda.  At a very young age I was watched him on TV and films and I wanted to be like him. He is the most important person in the Egyptian dance. All Egyptian dancers, especially male dancers watched Mahmoud Reda in the Egyptian cinema. Mahmoud Reda has not only influenced me, but has and is still influencing generations of dancers throughout Egypt and around the world. I admire him as a dancer, as a teacher, and as a performer representing my country.


"Some European or Americans are insisting that 
the west influenced belly dance in Egypt 
and not vice versa. If those people read the 
history they would be surprised at how the 
Egyptians influenced the art. I can give many 
examples regarding dance from ancient Egyptian time until now."



Without a doubt I am also greatly influenced by Raqia Hassan.  She is the most talented belly dance instructor I know and every time I watch her teaching a class I get very inspired.  I have learned a lot from her as well as older and newer Egyptian belly dancers. I love watching the many generations of oriental dancers and just by absorbing their work I am influenced.  As for stage presence and how to work within a group of dancers I was really influenced by my teacher Dr. Atef Awad.   He has a ballet and contemporary dance company in the Ballet Academy in Egypt which I danced in for almost 10 years.  


IZ - As a famous performer, Instructor and choreographer, what’s been your biggest obstacle?
MS - Thank God I didn’t have any obstacles in my career since I started dancing. Dance was and still most important part of my life. When I started dancing I never imagined that I will do it professionally, but since I began I have done it with all my passion and love.  Dance itself is fun; it’s about having good time, and expressing what you feel.
That is definitely one of the reasons that has made me love doing what I do. I worked very hard during all this  years building up my career, and I have been trying to avoid problems, but of course there are always problems in with your work  but nothing major has happened and  I’m really thankful and grateful that I get to do what I love.    


 "To be a known belly dancer either in Egypt or around the world,
 it hard and it takes so much work and many years of experience. 
Of course you have to have talent, technique, 
and you have to be smart and 
good personality and be nice to people around you."



IZ - Badia Masabni (http://www.belly-dance.org/badia-masabni.html) the godmother of Oriental Dance, was pioneered to use new format in baladi dance. She was inspired by Westerns artists and by Hollywood. So, Oriental Dance, called Raqs al Sharq, was already created by foreign influences. What do you consider genuine Egyptian in the Oriental Dance?
MS - If you read the history you will find out that Badia Masabni was not a great dancer but was a very good manager and business woman. In fact she tried acting and singing also without success. Therefore, she did not teach belly dancing and all dancers that worked in her casino were talented dancers from Tahia Karioka to Samia Gamal, Beba Azzadin etc.  There is no doubt that the shows were influenced by the west and Hollywood, which also influenced the Egyptian movies at that time but the balady movements were not influenced by the west and Hollywood.  Also, use of the stage space was influenced due to hiring an English choreographer Mr. Dickson.
Most of the movements in belly dancing are movements and steps taken from Egyptian folkloric dance which is genuine and authentic, adding to this the individuality in this dance and the freedom, from which the dancers have to create their own style.
Some European or Americans are insisting that the west influenced belly dance in Egypt and not vice versa. If those people read the history they would be surprised at how the Egyptians influenced the art. I can give many examples regarding dance from ancient Egyptian time until now. I wish people would do research before making statements. (answered by Dr. Mo Geddawi).




IZ - The Egyptian economy is dependent on foreign investment. Can you say the same about the Art? Do you think that Egyptian Dance is dying, is getting better day by day, is it safe and intact as an art,  and will there be a revival of Egyptian dance?
MS - Egypt has been and always will be a tourist destination. This, of course, includes the tourists support of the art, and many people from so many countries specifically from the Gulf and many other Middle Eastern countries in addition to so many western countries come to Egypt and see and support the Arts on so many levels, but the vast majority of support for the arts come from the Egyptian people themselves, there is no question that we are living today in a world of speed and rapid changes, due to the power of technology, most specifically the Internet, however something never change, Egyptian people love to have fun, dance and make good music, as they have done since the beginning of recorded history, I think our dance is getting better and better, the fact that every day more people around the world are loving this dance and studying it is only a testament to the fact that it's not dying but actually flourishing and growing rapidly and more than ever.



My personal opinion is that the dance is not dying. I don’t think the Egyptian dance will ever die; we have been dancing since ancient times until now.  Egyptian people love to dance and watch dance, you would be very surprised to see very talented regular Egyptian people are dancing with no dance training whatsoever but they don’t do it professionally.   Men and women and children as young as 3 or 4 years old dance when they hear Egyptian music playing.  I believe that the music and dance that Egyptians naturally have in their blood can never be taken away from them.  I think what is happening right now politically it will be solved in due time.  .
Of course the dance situation has changed due to the recent political situation. When the uprisings started, a staggering number of tourists and foreign residents (including dancers) living and working in Egypt fled the country. So, everything is working but not at the standard level as it was before the Uprising. Egyptians are full of hope that in the near future, the political and economic situation will get even better- Me included. And when this occurs- it will be wonderful for the arts, music, drama, and dance community to thrive in Egypt.


IZ - I’m wondering about your article “Love it or Leave it!”  It’s a trend that belly dancers want to get famous in Egypt. But that doesn’t mean that it is easier to get noticed, in fact the opposite could be true. You described clearly:

 "We all know that every country has its problems and flaws, NO country is perfect. If anyone knows of a perfect place, let me know and maybe I will move there. Egypt is a country where its people are struggling to make ends meet. We just came out of a dictatorship, and we are still in a major transition to make a better place for us. Do we really need someone to trash us and talk nasty about who we are all over the internet?” 

Tell us why you think that people are trying to convince a big audience how bad Egypt is? 
MS - This article I wrote was directed about a specific situation, where some unnamed foreign dancer was trashing Egypt and Egyptians during a time where Egypt was dealing with one of the hardest times we have yet to see in many decades, a revolution, uncertain future, confusion, turmoil and chaos in the streets, while still living there and working there, someone had to say something, we needed people who can support us not trash us.
This unnamed foreign dancer it seems like having her dreams come true in Egypt, making her name, building career, which is a dream of most of the dancers around the world. Here is some of what was said on the internet.

Since I returned to Egypt one month ago, I’ve done nothing but notice how dirty Cairo has become—massive heaps of garbage everywhere, streets paved with donkey dung, and men quite obviously peeing in public (a very common occurrence).  There are donkeys, horses, camels, goats, sheep, or stray dogs competing with the traffic. 

Is this the only things you can tell about Egypt? This is how you can show your appreciation to your second home who gave you what you couldn’t find in your won country?

About the dance business it was said:
not much to analyze here... there's only one way for foreign dancers to dance in venues such as the Nile Maxim and anyone intimately familiar with the Cairo dance scene knows it. 
Another problem is that dancers around the world automatically assume that if someone is dancing at high profile venues such as the Nile Maxim or the Semiramis, then they MUST be great. This is not always the case. Here in Cairo, your dancing ability is only 5% of the equation. Looks and the quality of the dancer's relationship to the man in charge, whoever he may be, are really what counts. (Taken from bhuz.com dated Nov. 15, 2010)

That really insulted me as an Egyptian, and it’s Insulting to dancers who already performing at the Nile Maxim, it’s also insulting to all the foreign and Egyptian dancers who already have a career dancing in such places and made it in Cairo belly dance scene. Not only that it’s also insulting to nightclub and boat owners and managers and musicians.
Not all the dancers are the same; we can’t generate such a subject. Of course there are some dancers want to have it easy and fast so they do such things, but there are so many dancers that worked really hard to make their names in Cairo and this is not an easy thing to do.

At the same time, the same person was saying the complete opposite:
Getting to “know” the manager—a little TOO intimately.  I think you know what I mean here.  We’ve all heard of dancers who come here and “befriend” the venue owners and managers.  This USED to be the shortcut to getting a contract, but it doesn’t really work these days.  There is so much competition today that “being friendly” with the manager doesn’t guarantee you a contract at his hotel or boat. Especially if there are stronger candidates for the position out there.  Nowadays, managers take advantage of foreign dancers’ desire to work by using them, promising them the world, and then not delivering on their promises. In the end, it’s the dancer that loses. Her reputation is ruined, and respectable people in the business will avoid her.  In fact, the best way to find a contract and keep your self-respect is not to fall prey to the vultures in the business.

So when dancers around the world who never been in Cairo want to go to try their luck, they read something like this and they will never even attempt to go, and actually that was the mission of the person who wrote the comment.  It was intending to dissuade new dancers in the Cairo belly dance business, because new dancers in Cairo mean less work for her and more competition.
In the last 15 years we had and still have foreign dancers that are really talented and they made their name as famous belly dance performers and instructors without the internet or Facebook propaganda.  Some of them still living and dancing in Egypt for many years, such as Soraia Zaid (Brazil), Asmahan (Argentina), Samasem (Sweden) Katya (Russia) and Diana Tarkhan (France) and Leyla Farid (USA) Joana (Portugal) and many more… I personally have not heard of any of these respectable dancers trashing Egypt and or Egyptians. They are so grateful to have the experience they had in Egypt and they all consider Egypt their home and are so happy to dance in Egypt. In my opinion if anyone should write about their experience it would be one of these names, not somebody was dancing for a few months and dancing is unrecognized venue for belly dance in Cairo.  

Gala Show in Khansin festival 2011- photo by Andrea Sabrina G. Valastro

IZ - Besides showing the talent, what more have Belly Dancers done to promote themselves? Can you give an example of those stories?
MS -To be a known belly dancer either in Egypt or around the world, it hard and it takes so much work and many years of experience. Of course you have to have talent, technique, and you have to be smart and good personality and be nice to people around you.. 
Nowadays, with the internet and Facebook, it makes it so easy for anybody to promote themselves, for example, write about really hot subject in the dance scene, be so active on the internet posting photos, videos and talk about themselves all the time on the internet or talk about any of the belly dance subjects so other dancer will recognize them Or having a blog about dancing in Egypt. Internet blogs: you pay very little amount of money every year to have a blog, and you can write anything you want nobody can tell you don’t write. All it really takes is a person who can write well in English to make themselves popular on the internet. 


Dancers must be very careful who to believe and who not to believe. There are some dancers who blog endlessly about their experiences while they have very limited experience, it's kind of funny but the sad part is that some readers believe all they read. And there are some dancer- like in any other business- who will do anything to get famous including lying or exaggerating about their credential and experiences or even sleeping with those who they think will help them.


Tahtib - by 274km Fotografía


IZ - In this context, where are the talented professionals? What are they doing?
MS - There are many talented professionals but they are not being loud on the internet.  They are concentrating more on their dance and talent.  They are doing what they should be doing, which is working and you hear about them in the dance community and about their success as a dancer, and from their work.

 (...)"And there are some dancer- like in any other business- 
who will do anything to get famous 
including lying or exaggerating about their credential 
 and experiences or even sleeping with those 
who they think will help them." (...)


IZ -Who do you consider as an Egyptian Star? Why?
MS - If we are talking about Egypt and Egyptian Stars, so, before I speak about that, please give a moment to explain what word “Star” means in my opinion. Star, it means everyone knows who you are and you appear movies etc.  You walk in the street and regular people know who you are, other than that I can’t call anyone else a star.  In the Egyptian dance world we have so many stars, some are still alive and some have passed away.  Let’s talk about who is still alive.   We have Sohier Zaki, Nagwa Fouad, Fifi Abdou, Mona Elsaid and Dina, Mahmoud Reda, Farida Fahmi and …. These names I call stars because if they walk in the street people will know who they are and they are Egyptian dance stars.
In the other hand we have, the most famous belly dance instructors and performers.That’s includes male and female dancers, such as Raqia Hassan, Dr. Mo Geddawi, Momo Kadous, Randa Kamel, Yousry Sharif, Tito, Soraia Zaied, Aida Nour. There are so many I can’t mention everyone! All of these great dancers, they did so much work in their lives to deserve that title and they been dancing the most of their lives. 

IZ -Who do you consider as an eternal legend? Why?
MS - Any dancer that has a signature in dance is a legend. For example Sohair Zaki we are still teaching her movements, Tahia Karioka we are still teaching her style and hands, Fifi Abou everyone love watching her and learn her style me including, Nagwa Fouad, Naima Aakif, until now we still watching them and we still getting influence by them, all of them did a lot for this dance and I think without them the dance would be different by now.  

photo by Alex Ismagilov

IZ - What do you believe is the future of Egyptian belly dance in the upcoming years?
MS -I know that Egypt is going through a very difficult period now. I really don’t think that belly dance in Egypt is dying because the Egyptian people themselves have been watching belly dance forever.  The belly dancer has always been the main highlight of weddings and parties and I don’t feel that any religious group will be able to dictate the likes or dislikes of the average moderate Egyptian. In Egypt we have Christians, religious Muslims, moderate Muslims and other beliefs and the government cannot just ban belly dancers because this is what they want.  Egyptians in general just love to dance and do it in their homes and parties and on every occasion they can.  They love to enjoy music and entertainment and I don’t believe that the government will be able to control this, even though if they want to.




notes:

Mahmoud Reda - is "The father of oriental dance in Egypt”. He is a pioneer of dance Theatre in Egypt. Soloist, choreographer and director of hundreds of productions. Many of today’s famous Egyptian dancers started their careers in the Mahmoud Reda Ensemble as folklore dancers in The Reda Troupe.
Dr. Mo Geddawi - is co-founder of the "Reda Dance Troupe". As a solist and choreographer, Mo worked with Mahmoud Reda on new concepts and special style that raised the "Reda troupe" to its present international standing. He has an extensive background also in ballet and ballroom dances as well as European and Latin American dances. He has created choreographies for many companies, solo dancers, feature films and TV shows. As a teacher he is encouraging, charming, unpretentious and patient with all levels of students and his choreographies have that polished style called: Egyptian.


Momo Kadous - is internationally recognized as one of the masters in the belly dance world today. A choreographer, performer and director.His many accomplishments include creating and directing numerous fantastic shows such as “Zaro” in 1997, “7000 Years in Egypt” in 2000, and “Al Mashrabiya” in 2002; Momo is currently planning future projects as well. Presently, Momo teaches worldwide and continues his trademark projects where dancers are able to benefit from his training, his knowledge and his expertise in the art of Oriental Dance as well as Egyptian Folklore.

Raqia Hassan - is the most internationally known teacher and choreographer of Egyptian style belly dance in Egypt and the world today. She has her own very unique "Raqia technique" that she currently teaches in her videos and in her dance workshops all over the world. She is the producer of the annual “Ahlan wa Sahlan” dance festival in Cairo, Egypt. Almost behind every successful Egyptian style dancer is the name "Raqia Hassan". Madame Raqia has trained Azza Sharif, Mona el Said, Nani, Nelly Fouad, Dina, Amani, Sorraya, Dandash, Randa Kamal, not to mention countless other dancers in Egypt and all over the world.

Samir Sabry -  He is called the "The ambassador of Arab Art" and presented Egypt allover the world in many musical festivals under the auspices of the ministry of Tourism and Culture in which he presented Egyptian folklore and modern dances. He produced 16 big movies such as “Ahlan Ya Captain, Gaheem Tahat Al Maa', Al Salakhana, Noshaterokom Al Afrah, Demooa' Sahebat Al Galala, Elakat Mashbouha, Gahiem Tahat Al Ard" and earned many awards. Samir Sabry also performed in other movies in the cinema produced by others. Samir formed a music show band consist with 45 musicians and dancers. Sabry formed the Alexandria Art Association with 60 members who were either born or graduated in Alexandria. The A.A.A organized successfully. The Alexandria Mediterranean song festival which took place at al Montazah Palace (25th -30th June 2003) with guests stars from all over the Mediterranean.

7 comments:

One of the best articles ever! Not only because it's given by a friend in dance and a sincere artist but also because every word is true. Mohamed Shahin points his finger on what is real art.
If you go on stage do for the art not for your ego.
Thank you for this great interview and thank you for your honest answers!
Said el Amir, Munich/Germany

Sorry, but there are two photographys atribuited to Gabriel Montserrat and he is not the author. The photos are these:

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-l_fyUEdOWPU/T45hRZk9yaI/AAAAAAAACZY/v2uV92SGfW8/s1600/mohamedshahin03.jpg

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-xshiWqF7oCM/T43YUrOnpmI/AAAAAAAACZQ/Bw-I7MqRNEE/s1600/Mohamed+Shahin02.jpg

Please, changue it. The correct author is 274km. You can see our website: http://www.274km.com/espectaculos.htm

Thank you in advance.


Gala Martínez
274km | Fotografía

Thank you Gala! I'll correct! Isis Zahara

Thank you Isis, sorry for writte it there but I was not be able to found an email where writte to you. Thank you very much :)

This comment has been removed by the author.

I have got a new listing in Tiba Resort from £8,140

really impressive info to find if influential figures of Egyptian Dance. Dancing has helped me not be scared of what others think of me.







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