Dancer asks UNESCO to recognize Egyptian belly dance

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The walls of Pharaonic temples are adorned with drawings of women belly dancing in supplication to the gods of fertility and prosperity, clear testimony that belly dancing is an original Egyptian art form.

In an effort to preserve and protect this art form, Amie Sultan, one of Egypt’s most prominent dancers, strives to inscribe Egyptian belly dancing on UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage List . One of the objectives of the project is to create a multimedia archive of various forms of oriental dance from all over Egypt. The initiative is one of three projects by Sultan Tarab’s non-governmental organization, which aims to change stereotypes of belly dancing in the eyes of the public.

Sultan in an interview with Al-Monitor said: “Belly dancing is an authentic Egyptian art with a long history and origins, and we should cherish it in the same way that people enjoy different types of dance such as the contemporary dance and ballet. “

Sultan started planning the project in 2018 and started executing it eight months ago. She explained, “I have already teamed up with a group of researchers to collect the archives of Egyptian folk dance through exploratory trips around the country to record all kinds of folk dances, whether at weddings or at parties. religious and traditional celebrations.

Over the past decade, many foreign oriental dancers have formed inside and outside Egypt as schools have mushroomed and some have come to Egypt and gained great popularity.

Mohamed Afifi, a member of the Cairo University Culture Council, said it was wrong to call foreign dancers as Egyptian belly dance, adding: “The Egyptian art that we were looking at … was a respected art form that we loved to watch, but now it’s gotten sexual. “

Regaining respectability was one of the main motives behind Sultan’s initiative, which strives to restore the art form as a theatrical performance and not just in a nightclub.

“Controlling the arts, in general, is impossible, and it is healthy for everyone to share and enjoy the arts. The problem is that while belly dancing and other arts are to be appreciated and disseminated, an effort could be made to respect the cultural roots of these forms of heritage, ”Afifi explained.

Sultan appeals to the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and other cultural bodies to support his efforts with UNESCO so that art can be recognized globally as Egyptian cultural heritage.

“As soon as we finish the archives, we will present them to the Ministry of Culture for them to send to UNESCO,” Sultan said, adding that the ministry had already done archival work on oriental dance.

Sultan also hopes to establish a multidisciplinary academy to teach the art of belly dancing alongside Arabic music as an academic pursuit.

“The modern professional version of Egyptian oriental dance began to develop in Cairo in the 1920s,” Afifi added, and really flourished from the 1930s to the 1970s, when it was featured in numerous films. .

“Making the belly dance more Egyptian will give it back its glory days,” Afifi concluded.

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