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Yasmina of Cairo

Yasmina’s Belly Dancers’ B&B


Bellydance Oasis, Issue April to June 2001

By Laila Bouhouch in Cairo

Laila: How did you discover oriental dance?
Yasmina: Actually, the first time I saw an oriental dancer was in 1983, while I was on holiday in Morocco. I fell in love with the music first so I bought lots of cassettes and when I returned home I began taking classes. At first I had different teachers then discovered Suraya Hilal and took serious classes with her for several years. At the same time I was starting to dance in nightclubs so I was also influenced by the other dancers.

Laila: Why did you decide to come to Cairo?
Yasmina: I was working first in other middle-eastern countries like Morocco, Jordan, Syria and the Gulf for four years. Then I came to Cairo for a holiday and to get some costumes and was lucky enough to be offered a job in a hotel and this is where I have stayed.

Laila: Do you continue to learn?
Yasmina: Yes, I have several teachers here. First I studied a completely new style with Ibrahim Akef, and Raqia Hassan who I have continued with over the years I have been here. During this time I have learned many styles like Melaya and Saeedi which I had practised before but not correctly.

Laila: Is it difficult to dance for the first time in Cairo?
Yasmina: Yes, very difficult, because there is a lot of competition and there is always someone ready to take advantage of you. You have to be careful and make the right connections. It is important to find people you can trust otherwise you will spend a lot of money and you will gain nothing.

Laila: Do you think that only Arabic audiences can understand oriental dance?
Yasmina: I think that only Arabic audiences can really understand or appreciate the music but I think that foreigners are fascinated by the dance especially if they see it performed in the best possible surrounding with the best music. But, as dancers, we get a better response from an Arabic audience.

Laila: Do you create your own choreography?
Yasmina: Sometimes, but I use the help of choreographers like Raqia Hassan to add variety to my show. If you are on stage for one hour the show needs to be interesting so it helps to have a range of choreographies from different people.

Laila: Do you mind the restrictions imposed by the law in Egypt (regarding covering the stomach)?
Yasmina: I have never had any problems regarding my dancing or my costumes. It depends on where you are dancing; if you are working in a five star hotel the authorities don’t usually bother you. If you work in a cabaret in a small place then you are more likely to be checked.

Laila: Where can we see you dancing in Cairo?
Yasmina: During the five years I have been here I have worked in various different hotels – the Meridien Heliopolis for two years, then at the Pyramisa and Nile Maxime for one year. For the last three months I have not had a regular place, I have been dancing at weddings.

Laila: Do you have any stress during your shows?
Yasmina: It depends on the show but it can be stressful having several shows at different venues on one night. Of course, you are not alone, you have the band and they have to be organized to be on time for each performance. You are not running a one-woman show, you are running a whole show which includes many people.

Laila: Do you take any vitamins or special food to maintain your energy?
Yasmina: Not really, but when I am working full time I have to eat as much as possible in order not to lose weight. As soon as I stop dancing I gain weight. Also I have to drink lots of water because Egypt has a hot climate and dancing is very thirsty work.

Laila: Is there any jealousy from other dancers?
Yasmina: Yes, I am sorry to say that in my experience in Cairo there is jealousy mostly among foreigners, not between Egyptians and foreigners. The foreigners are competing with one another and there are not too many jobs so perhaps it is not so much jealousy as rivalry.

Laila: This is good for us because we get to see the best dancers!
Yasmina: Unfortunately that is not true because a job is not necessarily given to the person with the best dancing skills!

Laila: Do you teach?
Yasmina: I don’t have much time, but I have taught in Australia and was recently invited to Finland. At the moment I consider myself a performer, not a teacher. I think that teaching requires a very special skill which is different from performing.

Laila: Will you write a book about your fantastic life?
Yasmina: A few years ago I had plans for that but then I became involved in writing about other people, and now I am also working as a journalist. So the book is on hold at the moment. Perhaps it is better not to write a book while you are still going through the experiences – maybe later.

Laila: Who are the top dancers in Cairo now?
Yasmina: Well, I wish I could say that there are lots of new Egyptian dancers coming up but it is difficult to find talented new dancers these days.

Laila: Did you give classes in the UK?
Yasmina: I have hardly been back to England at all since working in the Middle East. I spend very little time in England and when I go there it is just for a week or two so I don’t have the opportunity to meet English dancers.

Laila: Do you prefer to dance in nightclubs or at weddings?
Yasmina: It is two different feelings. I like then both but they are both different. At a wedding you really feel that you are making people happy, there is a joyful atmosphere and the audience love to join in. At a club the atmosphere is more intense and you can sometimes explore more aspects of your dance. So I enjoy both.

Laila: Are you proud of yourself? Be honest, because we know there are many girls who tried to do what you have done and failed.
Yasmina: Yes, I am aware of my weaknesses and I think you need to maintain an attitude to always improve yourself. But I am proud that I have achieved the goals I set out to achieve.

Laila: Do you have any other dreams or ambitions?
Yasmina: You know there is an English saying: ‘Be careful what you wish for; you might get it.’ I think there is a lot to be said for that, because when we achieve our dream it sometimes does not turn out exactly as we imagined. I have many plans and dreams for the future but I have not had the energy yet to realize them.

Laila: Do you have any advice for those who would like to become professional performers?
Yasmina: Work hard at the technical aspect but when you are on stage be yourself 100%. Do not try to be anyone else.
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