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Yasmina of Cairo

Yasmina’s Belly Dancers’ B&B



From Claudia Joseph in Cairo

To the rattle of the tambourine, Yasmeena gyrates seductively on the stage of a holiday hotel beside the Red Sea.

She believes it was her life’s destiny to wiggle her jewel-encrusted hips for the delectation of Arabs and tourists. After all, it’s not every Quaker girl from the Home Counties who becomes Egypt’s leading belly dancer.

Yasmeena, 36, was born Francesca Sullivan. She was brought up in the Buckinghamshire village of Jordans with her four brothers and sister who are now a lawyer, road transport consultant, musician carpenter and artist.

Her father Matthew worked for the BBC’s World Service for 20 years and was a highly-respected author and historian when he died in 1997, while her mother Elizabeth was a social worker in a child guidance clinic. Francesca, who went to Chesham High School, enjoyed sports and kept a pony in the back garden.

She moved to London after her A-levels and took a degree in photography at the Central London Polytechnic. While her brother started the band New Model Army she pursued her career as a fashion photographer. But by the middle of the eighties she had discovered belly dancing. “The very first time I saw it, it was just like falling in love,” she said.

She studied with an Egyptian teacher, adopted the name yasmeena, and began dancing in Arab clubs. In 1988 she went to Italy to dance for a month, and never returned. After visiting Morocco, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Syria and Jordan she settled in Egypt. She is now principal dancer at a festival designed to promote the tradition. While many of her contemporaries are married with children or carving high-flying careers Yasmeena spends her nights performing. She earns £300 a show, appearing at wedding parties and nightclubs, from which she has to pay her dress designer and a twelve-piece orchestra.

“I have never been poorer in my life since I have worked in Egypt,” she said. “But I am happy. I am doing what I love to do. I have sacrificed a normal life, or what people in Britain think of as a normal life. If I lived in England by now I might be married with children. But there is nothing like the feeling you get when you go on stage and create something.”

At home in Buckinghamshire, her mother said: “I think it’s quite funny really. She’s always been quite unconventional. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a belly dancer. It’s not immoral. It’s rather interesting really. I’m just glad she’s doing something she loves and doing it well. I admire her ambition and admire her for sticking to it. She’s basically quite a serious person underneath. But she comes from this big, happy family where everyone is rather an individual. She’s not exactly the Quaker type. She’s a bit more flamboyant than that. We were probably not very firm parents.

“I have always loved dancing so I think she’s got that from me. If I could choose to do anything in heaven I would choose to dance.”
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