Home l Press l Links l Contact Us
Biography l CD / DVD / Video l Workshops & Activities Schedule l Dance Photography l Dancers B&B l Belly Dance Holidays l Coaching l Services l Yasmina Photo Gallery

Tel: +2012-27465185

Email: yasmina@yasminaofcairo.com

Web Site: www.yasminaofcairo.com

You can reach us on Facebook !

Yasmina of Cairo

Yasmina’s Belly Dancers’ B&B


NADA Magazine, Winter 1999/2000

By Maggie Caffrey

Guests fluttered excitedly to their chairs as the 15 piece Oriental orchestra crammed itself onto the back of the stage. Bride and groom were grandly seated to one side proudly surveying the scene. Another Egyptian wedding was about to be blessed by the joyous presence of a Raqs Sharqi dancer, something which has continued through the generations since Pharaonic times. The musicians struck up and Yasmina appeared resplendent in gold. Gypsy tiara on her head and cloak afloat, she glided around the small disco dance floor before coming face to face with her audience. Her hair fell straight to her waist; her skin was a whiter shade of pale under the intense lights. Small dark-haired, dark-skinned children clustered eagerly at her feet, gazing up expectantly at this icon of womanhood.

Two dances later Yasmina was gone, only to reappear this time in a figure-hugging purple dress. It was held together by interlacing which spiralled around her slender form. The queen had become a vamp. Next costume change, and there she was with a blazing candlelabra on her head and just about the hugest smile I’ve ever seen. Her mermaid-green skirt was slashed to the thigh, the revealed leg tastefully enclosed in a fine embroidered lycra. She toured the room pursued by a trail of children and her tubby sagat player who enthusiastically wafted burning incense in our faces. Once again on stage he began to play the sagat, saucily accentuating parts of her anatomy whilst she played the coquette, delicately flicking her skirt open and closed. At one point he listened to her stomach, nodding sagely, as she danced, before running his tinkling finger cymbals up the contours of her leg as she performed a one-legged shiver. He was the perfect foil for this beautifully composed English rose wjo was playing the goddess at this Egyptian wedding in the Meridien Hotel, Heliopolis.

Deceptively Simplistic
Yasmina’s style of dance is deceptively simplistic. Poised and elegant, she parts the space around her with care, executes each step with tenderness. “She’s very soft,” Raqia Hassan told me. “People like her. She gets a lot of weddings.” I noted some influence from Dina – tiny subtle movements, pauses, high floating arms, drop-squats. This was combined with complete composure and a leisurely pace reminiscent of Hanan. One movement I loved was a soft stop using the centre of her back.

I had first met Yasmina as real-life Francesca Sullivan only the day before. Kay and I rushed into the hotel lobby hot, sweaty and dusty after a gruelling two hour class with Aida Nour, and then an even more gruelling battle through Cairo’s lunchtime traffic. She was waiting with not strand of hair out of place, her impeccably applied make-up emphasising her striking Jerry Hall looks. She spoke of going riding that afternoon. I wondered if her features would become smudged, and then, gazing at her perfectly outlined lips, I dismissed the idea as inconceivable. Having persuaded Francesca to submit to yet another interview (she has undergone several recently for UK national newspapers) I arrived a few days later outside her apartment off Pyramids Road. The dusty street was awash from a burst pipe and the building opposite was boarded up. “A lot of people are surprised I live in an area that’s not particularly salubrious” she told me, “but it’s very convenient for me.” She leases a horse nearby, and likes to ride whenever she can. Once inside her spacious family flat, however, the dirt and hustle of Cairo seemed very far away. Huge chandeliers adorn the spacious rooms whilst heavily-carved gilt furniture hints at a colonial past. Colourful birds twitter in a cage in the dining-room and the softest grey Siamese kitten I’ve ever seen turns over lazily on the bed. I felt this extraordinary Englishwoman would always create her own world of tranquillity wherever she chose to settle.

A long winding road
Yasmina has been until very recently England’s sole representative in the world’s capital of Oriental dance. She describes her road there as ‘a long and winding one’. Beginning classes in ’83 in London with a belly-dance teacher, she found she had to un-learn everything when she started studying off and on with Suraya Hilal. She had been performing already in smaller clubs, having been taught how to ‘put on a show’ by a beautiful dancer called Sheherazade.

In 1988 she went to Italy to work as a dancer in a nightclub in Milan. It was well-paid, but dancing to cassettes and being part of a show with a magician, a dance troupe etc was very depressing especially as the nightclubs tended to be quite seedy. “Because I actually fell in love with Italy itself I stayed much longer than I would have. By the time I finished, which was about a year and a half later, I had almost decided to give up Oriental dance.” Hope returned however when Sheherezade contacted Francesca again and asked her to go and work in Casablanca with her. “I arrived in Morocco and my eyes were opened,” remembers Yasmina. “Although I’d worked with Egyptian musicians in London, in Casablanca it was with a far bigger orchestra. There were big names from Cairo coming to perform. It was just a revelation to me. I spent one of the best six months’ of my life there.”

The, back in London, she found the effects of the Gulf war had decimated the night-club scene. Once again hope appeared on the horizon and she was introduced to an agent called Toros who was based in Beirut. Most of his dancers were Lebanese but he took a few non-Middle-eastern dancers. Francesca ended up working for him for three years, usually in the Gulf – Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. In the summertime it was in Syria and Jordan. Then destiny called and, when a contract in Damascus was suddenly cancelled in ’95, she decided to take a holiday in Cairo to check out the costumes there. Until then all her costumes has been Lebanese – big chiffon skirts, heavy beads, big pearl fringe, 2 piece without a net. In Egypt she found everything far simpler. Everything was in stretch lycra with no fringe. “Dancers like Dina would wear a stretch-lycra dress with almost no work on it at all. Although people think that that means when you shake your hips or do a movement nothing will show. In fact the subtleties show better and perhaps you can’t hide as much.”

Here Violetta Barb (a French manager who now runs the nightclub at the Marriott Hotel) helped Francesca look around, even though the situation was already getting pretty bad with less work for less money, she was able to win a contract at the Meridien, Heliopolis. “Everything fell into place.” She had the good fortune to remain there for two years.

It was at this point she found herself on the circuit of cabarets and weddings where a dancer has no contract and is very expendable. “You can be in one day and out the next. You can make good money from tips (because in cabaret tips are allowed – in hotels there is no tipping), but on another night you can come away with almost nothing. By the time you’ve paid your orchestra, you don’t take much home. Now I understood what everybody else had been telling me about.” Fortunately Francesca was able to go to work on the Nile Maxime (a restaurant boat on the Nile) for a year, before being asked to come back to the Meridien in June this year. She told me that the gap in the market, created over the past five years by so many good Egyptian dancers giving up, has worked in the favour of non-Middle-eastern performers like herself.

Living in Cairo today
She plans to remain living and working in Cairo for the time being even though there’s relatively little work these days, and absolutely no job security. Most of her money goes on costumes and on daily living expenses. “Contrary to what people think, cairo is not that cheap. You have to be prepared to live without security and not know what’s going to happen tomorrow let alone next month or next year.” Yet Francesca feels that coming to Egypt has definitely enriched her dancing. She took classes with Ibrahim Akef the first six months after she arrived, and then moved on to Raqia Hassan. But she feels it is important to develop your individuality and to incorporate what you have learned into your own natural style. “When you’re doing a performance you don’t want people in the audience pointing at you and saying ‘Oh look she’s doing a Raqia!’” She also goes to watch other dancers as much as possible. But sadly there are fewer and fewer Egyptian dancers performing these days because of the poor return. “Why risk your reputation, why throw away a normal life if there is no financial pay-back?”

Apart from dancing Francesca has made a point of developing a well-rounded life for herself. “It’s very depressing when the only landmarks of Cairo become the dressmaker, the nightclub where you work, the dance teacher and your home.” She rides nearly every day and has developed a second career as a journalist for an English-medium magazine called Egypt’s Insight. In this capacity she has been able to meet lots of interesting people including a Middle-eastern heart-throb and a family of snake breeders who live in the desert.

What it takes to be a dancer
Talking to Francesca made me realize how it takes much more to be a raqs sharqi dancer in Egypt than just having the ability to execute a range of steps beautifully and respond well to the music. She has to be able to get the costume maker to design and create unusual and workable costumes, to be a make-up artist, to be able to win contracts and attract one-off bookings, to get together a live band of around fifteen musicians and to get them to play the music as she wants it played, to live in a different culture and not get homesick, and above all to be resilient to the ups and downs of an insecure profession. “You must have a stable personality and keep your equilibrium,” she advises anyone fancying having a crack at becoming a dancer in Cairo.

I asked her if she would come back to England when she stops dancing. She answered “I may stop dancing and still not come back to England. But there are things I miss about being home. I miss being able to go down to the local shop to buy a bottle of wine that’s drinkable.” Casting my mind back to yasmina the beautiful dancer I had the privilege to see at the Meridien Hotel wedding, I’m glad Francesca has what it takes to survive life in cairo without her English home comforts.

<<< Back to Articles about Yasmina >>>

© Copyright Yasmina of Cairo Site Map Contact Us