Bubble Gum of Peace…. Dancers of Egyptian Cabaret
Note ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED IN THESE BLOGS for what I think are obvious reasons. Also I am not allowed to take photos or videos of me dancing in most Cabaret clubs so all I have is bathroom selfies ... enjoy
One of the loveliest things that has happened, as a result of working in the different Cabaret Clubs in Cairo, is meeting just so many women who work in the industry: fellow dancers, singers, their technicians/dress assistants (I have made amazing friends with one technician) and the hostesses. Most of the clubs I work in have a continuous stream of dancers performing in 30 – 45min slots, so I usually get to see the dancer who performs before and after me in the changing room/ toilet.
For my regular gigs, in the more consistent venues, I have got to know these dancers quite well. At other gigs which are less regular (for all performers) I get to meet different dancers nearly every time I dance. It is interesting to see the different dancers and how they operate. Some are very welcoming and always say, “Hi” others act like divas (part of their stage persona – I like it) some just out right blank you. Some dancers have a female technician who will sit in the changing room whilst their dancer is on the stage. Others have male technicians and these are the funniest. These guys get treated like mini slaves having to spray the dancer with perfume before she goes on and hold up her coat when she exits the changing room. They scuttle into the changing room quickly when their dancers are on stage and flood their cloths (used to wipe down the dancer after her set) and then get out so the next dancer (me) can get ready for her set. Some dancers have massive suitcases others, like me, just a small bag.
EVERYDAY, since the day after I landed, I have danced twice a night (the 9pm and 1.30am slots) in one particular cabaret club. This club is an amazing old school style club to say the least. It feels like you are going back to the 70s, the sort you see Sohair Zaki performing in, in her films! It is small, smoky and full of character. There are cheesy table cloths and the stage in the middle has a patterned rug which they change daily, always to match, sometimes red, sometimes blue, sometimes gold. The majority of the customers are hard core regulars. Sometimes I dance and I know everyone in the crowd. It has a strange family feel to it.
This was where I found the most hostility from the dancers but it is not surprising as this particular night club has a very strict timetable. The same dancers dance every night in the same order at the same time. This means that any new dancer is a threat to a consistent job and is a potential replacement. I don’t know what dancer I replaced or if they were looking for a new dancer. At other night clubs the dancers are all on rotation and almost random – hence any other dancer you see in the changing room is no real threat to you.
For my 9pm slot a considerably famous Shabbi male singer performs before me. He has no dancer accompany him but after both my 9pm and 1.30am slot a dancer Chery (name changed) dances after me. I remember, SO CLEARLY, the very first time I saw her. I came off the stage and into the changing room and in front of me was one of the most beautiful women EVER. She has long, black, immaculate hair, striking blue eyes, and amazing curves. Her costume is a black and white designer piece with fluffy dice hanging off (if you know your dancers you will instantly know who she is) I recognise her instantly – Yes instantly. She is a dancer who is popular on the Egyptian Cabaret scene. I know her because she has featured in many Tet videos. (Tet was a bellydance channel on TV In Egypt which made clips of famous bellydancers around the country and would play them back to back - a bit like a music channel. It has since been shut down. I used to be obsessed with watching these clips.) Despite this she is very low key. She sits in the changing room smoking a cigarette. She just has a small bag
I say, “Hi!” She blanks me. I don’t blame her. I mean who am I to her? Probably she thinks I’m just some silly, foreign dancer just here in an attempt to threaten her job. She has no time for me. She is a well established dancer. I am nothing to her.
This continues for a long time, almost a month. I see her twice a day and always say, “Hi!” and she always blanks me. I think to stop saying hi but to me that is just weird, to walk into a room and not give a greeting, especially as you are about to get changed in front of them.
Anyway, this goes on until one day, whilst performing, I step onto a piece of glass. I do an agonising 30min set with the shard bedded in. When I come off the stage I ask if I can sit in the chair. She moves, as she sees me inspecting my foot and asks what happened. Then she gives me advice on buying little gold and silver ballerina shoes like she wears. However, she is still far from friendly. I tell her I have been planning to get some but not got around to it because so much has been happening. I think it is the first time she realises how much Arabic I can speak. She goes on to tell me where I can get them and that it is open all night.
The next day I return for the 9pm slot. I dance bare foot. I say, “Hi!”after I come off stage. No change; she doesn’t respond. I then have a break before my 1.30am slot and a few clubs I do after. I go and buy some gold and silver shoes.
I wear them for my next set and when I see her at the end I tell her thank you and that I took her advice. She’s slightly chatty. Maybe a slight hit of friendliness. We discuss how much I paid and where I bought them from etc. The next day for the early slot again she blanks me but that evening!!! ….. In the evening I come off stage. I say a small, “Hi” she doesn’t respond but as I am getting changed she offers me a bubble gum!!!… “THANK YOU!” I say. I am in shock and I think it comes across.
From that day on she always says, “Hi.” We now talk LOADS. She is such a lovely person. Not only do we greet each other but we talk about the customer’s idiosyncrasies (as I said there are quite a few who are regulars). It was me who first started a conversation about one of the customers and she REALLY took to it agreeing and telling me some more about him. Now we openly have a discussion about them all, lol. She is an extremely nice person. I find out loads about her. She is married to a night club owner. Her husband actually owns a club on Pyramid Street that I have worked in. She has a child with him. She doesn’t need to work but does because she loves it. I tell her how much I respect her for this!
She is now completely the opposite … we chat LOADS… What I also love about her is how sharing she is. Since the advice on the shoes she has given me LOADS of advice – from how to act on stage if one of the service girls gets up and starts dancing, to how to do a Turkish drop!
Her advice is like gold to me. She has over 15 years experience in working the Cairo club scene and 2 years in the club we work in. She knows a lot. That she shares tips and advice to me is amazing. Not only that but I admire her persistence to dance despite people telling and asking her to stop now she is married and a mum. She is an inspiration
It took time for me to earn respect from her. That I am a dancer here for real, that I am not just a flash in the pan and that I am ok that someone as famous as her has the right to demand respect and continuity before being friendly.
The day she offered me the bubble gum is one which I will never forget.