Top 10 most useful Arabic words to know when working as a dancer, especially in the Egyptian cabaret scene
I END THIS BLOG WITH A FUNNY STORY OF WHEN POLICE RAIDED A CLUB I WAS WORKING IN – WHILST I WAS ON STAGE
1. Fannana فنانة – means ARTIST the female version (fannan is for male): This is basically code word for dancer. People tend not to use the more direct word for dancer, Raqasa, for many reasons. There are negative connotations with the word Raqasa such as association with prostitution or for girls who just sand on the stage looking sexy but not really dancing, so fannana is used to emphasise that the dancer can actually dance. Often sentences such as, “Heya fannana mish raqasa bas” (she’s an artist not just a dancer) are said. It is also used as a code word because again the word raqasa comes with a lot of law enforcement c**p. If a police officer asks what you work as and you say, “Fannana” they can pretend to assume you are an artist of any kind. It is a vague description, but the moment you say you are a dancer BOOM they have to make sure you have the right paper work, licence etc.
I personally ignore this and just say, “Ana raqasa” because hey, I am a dancer and I am not going to be made ashamed of that! You don’t think dancers are artists… go stuff yourself. Oh yer, and I proudly have all my paper work so I can afford to be SLIGHLTY cocky with the police lol …. (my inner rebel / anarchist)
2. Musrah مسرح – means STAGE: For obvious reasons this word is used a lot in questions like, “Meen fey musrah?” (“Who’s on the stage?”) and “Ehna fey masrah saa cam?” (“What time are we on stage?”) This is especially important in Egyptian cabaret because so many acts are going on and off the stage in the night, you need to know your stage time and which artist (dancer/singer) is on the stage because if they are the act before you that means you need to be ready to go on straight after them. Cabaret has a TIGHT TIMETABLE. I have never known Egyptians stick to such a tight time schedule anywhere else.
3. Mohtrib مطرب – means SINGER: In cabaret you are always working with singers. They are on the stage with you and go round interacting with the guests.
They are vital to your act. They get the audience involved. They get them to tip and throw money. Also, a lot of the other acts are solo singers. I find in night clubs most male singers have a dancer accompany them but the female singer (mohtriba) acts don’t. So you often hear, “El mohtriba ablic!” (“The singer (female) is on before you!”) or “Inti hat stugly ma mohtrib Hassan” (“You are going to work with the singer Hassan”)
4. Nigma نجمة – probably my favourite word and it is used sooooooo much in the entertainment business here in Cairo! Nigma means ***STAR***: Organisers say it to each other, all the time, “Zeyka ya nigmat misr!” (“Hi star of Egypt!”) before discussing deals on the dancers and up and coming events. Also, the dancers (me) are referred to as the star A LOT. I love it, thought they do it to every dancer performing! They will often introduce you on the mic before you come out, “Nigmet Misr, Fannan Zara!” (“The star of Egypt, artist Zara!”) and then the music starts for your entrance!! LOVE IT! And lots of people who work at the venues will greet you by saying, “Zeyk ya nigma” (“Hi star”). Whether it is because they can’t remember the names of the dancers or not I don’t know LOL but I take it to mean I am a STARRRRRRR lololololololol
5. Shabaka شبكة – means BODY-STOCKING: so in Egypt, to comply with your Egyptian bellydance licence, you MUST WEAR A BODY STOCKING AND SHORTS or a costume which covers your stomach. A bare belly is against the law. Now a lot of places choose to ignore this law. I especially notice nearly every foreign dancer has her stomach on show so I don’t think it is a requirement of a foreign dancer’s licence. But for Egyptian dancers not wearing it is a gamble and if you are caught, on a good day, you will most probably have to give a handsome bribe to the bellydance police. On a bad day you may loose your licence. Now a rough rule of thumb is, the posher the place, the less likely the police are to turn up, so the less likely you are to need to wear your Shabaka. Also, some places have a ‘friendship’ with the police which means the police don’t come so again, you don’t need to wear your Shabaka. Often, before you dance, you have to ask, “Lezim el shabaka?” (“Is the body-stocking a must?”) or you get asked, “Feyn el shabaka?” (“Where is your body-stocking?”) or “Hot/itla el shabaka” (“Put on/take off your body-stocking) .
Note: the word most commonly used for a pair of shorts is the singular word “Short” with an Egyptian accent “Lepsaha short?” (“Is she wearing shorts?”). The police are A LOT, LOT more strict on you wearing shorts than on you wearing a shabaka but still, the power is in their hands.
6. Musanafaat مصنفات – ahhh the word that caused me soooo much headache when I got here and will cause any dancer who wants to take on the challenge of dancing in Cairo the same. Musanafaat means BELLYDANCE LICENCE: This isn’t the exact translation of licence but it is what it is used to refer to. The word also refers to the building/office you need to go to, to obtain your licence.
Working in Cairo (especially cabaret) you or your manager will often be asked, “Heya andaha musanafaat?” (“She has her licence?”) and “Lezem el musanafaat” (“The licence is a MUST”).
And aaaugh! How many annoying times I heard this word when applying for one! “Ashan el musanafaat lezem waraqt …………..” (“To get your licence you will need the following paper work……”). This paper work included nearly everything in the world. It was a NIGHTMARE: Egyptian birth certificate, copy of Egyptian ID card, utility bill and electricity bill from place of residence, finger prints, tax card etc …..... everything and more.
7. Firrrah فرقة – now this word translates literally to the word GROUP, so you can have a group of dancers, singers, bus drivers whatever but said on its own, in the business of bellydance, it means BAND as in a music band. In the clubs you are going to get one of two things, either: a singer and keyboard player or singer with firrah (singer with a band). You often get told before a gig, “Fey firrrah” (“There’s a band”) and “El firrrah hena maya al almaya!” (“The band here is a hundred out of a hundred!” as we say 10 out of 10).
A band usually comprises of several drummers, sagat player, keyboard player and, if lucky, some other instruments: violins, accordion, qanun, oud etc. The keyboard has taken the place of so many of the instruments these days.
8. Suhib el Makan صاحبالمكان – This translates literally as friend of the place but it means the OWNER of the club/ bar/ whatever: He is the big guy (literally most of the time lol ) who owns the place where you work. You usually get introduced to this guy when you first work in the place. You say hello and be extra polite then sit there (like a dummy) while your manager discusses the deal, how many times a night you will dance, for what price, what time slots… etc. The funniest thing is that if you are on stage performing and the boss arrives or walks in, all the music stops, the singer stops, you the dancer have to stop and then cheesy entrance music is played for the owner and the singer gives him a big welcome, “El sahib el makan ostas Ali!” (“The owner, Mr Ali!”)
9. Ill-Biss / Guy-yar اللبس / غيير – means GET DRESSED/GET CHANGED: Constantly these words are being shouted with some degree of panic. It seems that cabaret only functions on high stress levels. Always people are stressing that you will be on stage soon, or that you don’t have long before you are on stage, or that you need to get changed back into your normal clothes because you need to get to the next gig. Sometimes I swear we have more than enough time but still my manager (and I see exactly the same with other dancers) stands outside the changing room calling, “Guy-yar obsorra!” (“Get dress quickly!”). I think it is because it looks good to the owners that you are very busy and have to get to the next gig.
10. Hakooma حكومة – means LAW, yuck, that dreaded word: Constantly you are reminded of the law. This word covers so much like the English word law, it can mean literally the law, so what you can and can’t do as a dancer, like not wearing shorts, and can mean the actual law enforcers such as the police and the law makers, the government. Constantly there is this tension in the air as at any point the police can turn up, anywhere, anytime and there is a specific police department for bellydancers and night clubs; can you believe it?. “El hakoom fey sheratenh arda” (“The police are about today”). There are certain days when they are about more, checking everyone’s licence: singers, dancers, waitresses, the clubs (a club needs a licence to host dancers).
THE NIGHT when I was in a club and it got raided:
One night I was working in a club in Downtown Cairo. If you want to see REAL cabaret you have to go to Downtown Cairo. It is like you are in some kind of surreal, old Egyptian movie. It starts like any other day, I get out on stage and do my opening dance, the singer then comes and joins me. We are all having a good time el firrah (the band) are on point....... BUT THEN all of a sudden a man walks in and shouts something all of which I don’t catch but I hear the word HAKOOMA (police). The live music stops SHARP. I don’t have time to think. I take a quick look around the room and see something is not right. I get off the stage quick. It is a natural instinct. I go straight to the back room, my manager is already there waiting, he tells me to stay calm, “ILL BISS (get dresses)” he tells me "el hakooma henna (the police are here)".
THE CLUB IS BEING RAIDED BY ABOUT 5 POLICE OFFICERS IN PLAIN CLOTHES.
I have enough time to get dressed. The girl who is on after me is still in her costume when a plain clothes police officer charges into the changing room and shouts at us to get downstairs, accusing us of hiding. We walk out of the changing room and go to the lifts where all the members of staff have been rounded up.
“Where is the NIMRA (act) that was on the stage when we came in?” one police officer shouts
They all point to me.
“NO!!” says the police guy, “The girl on the stage was taller.” All the staff swear it was me. They all point out that I have taken my heels off.
He asks me, “Inta cont el nimra fey musrah?” (“Were you the act on the stage?”).
“Yes,” I reply. I get shoved in the lift with all the female members of staff and we go down to the reception.
In the lift it is REALLY tense. Some of the girls are nearly crying:
“I don’t have a MUSANAFAAT!”
“I don’t have any papers! No licence at all!”
You need a licence to do nearly ANY job in cabaret clubs: whether you are a dancer, singer, drummer or waitress!
I surprise myself; I am nowhere near as nervous as the rest of the girls. I have my licence and the only thing that I was doing that wasn’t strictly legal was dancing without my SHABAKA and that’s the thing they are least bothered about most of the time. And anyway, I was off the stage so fast, they can’t have known, for sure, or have any evidence if I was / wasn’t wearing it! It’s in my bag. I’m just going to say I was wearing it. I mean the police officer first in, didn’t even recognise me without heels!!
However, I was a little uncomfortable. I had been separated from my manager. Where were they taking us? Will I see him? If something is happening and I am getting arrested who will tell my mum? Also, my bag was still upstairs with all my licences and paper work…...
When we get out of the lift we are faced by a further 10 or so police officers. One of them is sitting in an alpha, male manner (obviously the boss) on one of the reception couches. We are told to stand in front of the couch.
A few minutes later, all the male staff (the club owners, singers and the band etc) come bundling out of the lift. My manager is amongst them. I see he has my licence in his hands. He gives me a look to say don’t worry.
We all have to gather around the couch to listen to the top guy!
“People, I need you to listen carefully. This is important.” he announces. “WE AREN'T HERE TO CHECK LICENCES OR ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE CLUB. We want you to take a good look at the pictures I have in my hands. They are of a man we are looking for. He has robbed a bank in the area. We think he likes to go to night clubs. Have any of you ever seen him?”
HAHAHAHA, I have never seen so many relieved faces! Everybody is suddenly so relaxed! Tense shoulders relax, crossed arms are dropped! Also, suddenly all these silent people are more than happy to help the police by taking a good, long, look at the pictures!
Nobody had ever seen him. Finally, after about 10/15 minutes of everybody pouring over the pictures and standing around chatting and speculating on what had happened the police leave and everyone goes back upstairs. I was just about at the end of my set so my manager collects my pay and we leave.
SUCH A WEIRD EXPERIENCE!! Man robs a bank in central Cairo; police go round central Cairo night clubs and ask if anyone knows him. I mean lol – maybe they thought it makes sense. He now has cash to splash so why not go and hit the clubs!
Just another experience, as a dancer, in Cairo!