Bellydancing. The art of gyrating your belly to the delight of onlookers. An ancient tradition of style and beauty turned haraam (forbidden by God). A way to earn upwards of 60,000 LE ($12,500 CDN) per hour, if you're good.
Last night, we had the honour of going to one of the supposed "seedy" bellydancing places in Cairo. When in Rome, right? Some guidebook had described it as "an old 50s dancehall turned seedy bellydancing join." Such imagery can only invoke illusions of grandeur in the mind of a foreigner. Seedy establishment + Bellydancing = A good way to spend an evening in Cairo.
Tales of disaster had been regaled to us beforehand. "I had some friends who went to the bellydancers. They ended up paying 1,600 LE for a plate of kofta." This provoked a "Guys, we need to school the newcomers on how not to get ****ed in Cairo," and a "Don't touch anything you're offered...it might contain drugs."
Half-scared, half-anxious, we stumbled out of horreya and into a place called "Palmyra." We were led into this "alleyway" that housed a number of clubs. It was like we just stumbled upon the Cairean epicentre of sleaze. Flashing lights, bad music, guys trying a little too hard to please us. All to be expected, I suppose.
We were led into the stage area and sat down at a table. The first image (and probably last) image etched in my mind was of a woman scantily clad in a purple ensemble. Voluptuous is probably the right word to describe her. After 5 months in this country, you get used to not seeing a woman's arms, let alone low-cut tops. "Wow, I wonder what society thinks of this."
On stage with the bellydancer was your typical "entertainer." He had quite the gut on him and was sweating profusely. But that didn't stop him from singing his heart out to Egyptian classics, while the dancer did her best not to shake what her momma gave her.
That was what I found most disappointing: the dancers didn't seem to be putting that much effort into it. Not that I blame them, though. If all it takes to rile up the older clientele, enough so they'd get on stage and dance, all the power to them. A couple of old guys, clearly married, got up on stage and danced a number of times, only to shower the dancer in 5 LE notes before returning to sit down.
All the while, what we could only assume to be workers of the world's oldest profession (or is it the second oldest?) were walking around, fully-clothed I might add, to each table flirting with the drunk men.
We hung around for about five dancers before leaving. I'm still not sure what to say about the place, though. It was sickeningly pleasant.