Saturday, June 13, 2009

A night of Belly-shaking in Cairo

If belly dance is anything like we saw last night at the Sherazade Hotel then it is very much dying and rippling to a deafening demise.

The man at the door promised us young, vibrant things shaking their goods. “Are they fat and sweaty?” I inquired? “No, they’re sweet!” With that, we paid our 10LE admission into the seedy place.

My German friend Martin and I talked about how it would be a shame to leave Egypt without ever seeing a belly-dancing show. So, he checked out a few hotels and settled on the Sherazade. He, his girlfriend, and my friend Anita ventured into the house of ill-repute.

High ceilings and red light bulbs greet us. Surrounding us are oil depictions of past dancers in their former glory. We are the only customers present, except for the wait staff and the band, waiting listlessly. Smoking and banging on their drums. The stage before us is a square platform about a foot from the floor.

I speak to the first drummer, Sayed, a man in his mid 40s with a mustache and band-aids covering most of his knuckles. He tells me that he has been at the hotel for four years now. He’s traveled from Alexandria to Upper Egypt beating his drum to the swaying dancers. “The shows on the riverboats are generally much better,” he confided in me.

I tell him that I look forward to the music. The second drummer waves me over and says that they would appreciate 50LE for “tea money.” This is the Egyptian euphemism for tips.

We arrived about midnight, with the promise of dancing lasting until sunrise. One girl per hour until Fajr, the first prayer.

The first dancer is young, but shows more flesh than vigour. She shakes her behind, but my guess is that she has never taken a single bellydancing class in her life. She arrives with a pink skirt above the knees. Heavy mascara. Semi-dyed brown hair. At best, she is between skanky and West Virginia strip-club material.

I scrawl a hasty note in Arabic, “Are there tomatoes or eggs to throw at this girl?” and pass it to the man at the next table. He takes the note, and asks me to follow him to the back where there is more light. He reads it and asks me what’s the matter. I show him my displeasure. He assures me it will get better and chuckles. Apparently, he’s a regular patron and says he comes nightly.

When the second girl comes on about an hour later, she tries a little harder than the first. She actually moves around the stage to entertain us. At one point, a patron—I suspect he was a plant—approaches her and unleashes about 10 bills in front of her body as she sways. Another man—the busboy—picks up the bills and hands them to her. Is this meant to encourage the rest of the patrons to shower her with bills?

The “dancing” became so dull that Martin and I started writing Arabic sentences to each other and diagramming them grammatically. I fell asleep half-way through her “dance.”

We stayed until about 3am and then left. After we paid the bill and walked down the stairs, one man accosted Martin for additional tips. Business is slow. And it looks like it’ll remain that way for some time to come if these dancers continue to underwhelm the audience.

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