Lorna of Cairo: “I like the elegance and the pride that you see in a good dancer”

Belly dance might seem like a regular thing in Egypt, but it has more to it. The art of belly dance is something that has been passed down through generations of legendary dancers. And the Egyptian version of it is a worldwide favorite. When we saw videos of Lorna belly dancing, we were struck by how much of a “natural” she was. We immediately decided to interview her.


When did you start being interested in belly dance?

My first dance class was an African dance class. I thought it would be a nice way to get fit, and became obsessed with it. Then I saw they had a signup sign for Egyptian dance. I loved it, and kept doing both until I became the dance teacher for African dance class. When I told them I felt more comfortable about Egyptian dance, they said “great, we’ll have an hour of each then”.


How old were you when you did all of this?

I don’t discuss age. (laughs). I wasn’t a baby; let’s put it that way.


What was easier to do, African or Egyptian dance?

They’re very different. The African dance had a lot of energy, and was hard on the body. The belly dance wasn’t hardcore in that way, but working on isolation – keeping certain parts of my body still while I moved others – was a different level of control, so it felt more challenging. The costumes of course are beautiful, beautiful shiny things that would appeal to any woman.


We’ve noticed that you do a more old school version of belly dance, not like the modern dancers.

I like the elegance and the pride that you see in a good dancer. As a woman, you get to be every aspect of yourself. Sometimes you’re powerful like Fifi Abdou, and sometimes you’re like Samia Gamal, and sometimes you have the control and togetherness of Sohair Zaki.


Who was your favorite and what’s your favorite style?

I don’t have a favorite. I like certain things from each of the dancers.


Have you noticed that vulgarity is increasing in belly dance recently?

Yes, there’s more now, definitely.


What do you attribute this to?

It’s always been there. We have this rosy picture of what was in the golden era of dance in Egypt in the 40s, 50s and 60s because we have the memory from film. What was happening in nightclubs in Haram Street isn’t what we see in those films. Those dancers were ballet trained. What I think is nice is that a lot of young Egyptians are appreciating belly dance. I think Egypt went through a stage where it wasn’t the cool or high class thing to do.


How did you go about starting a career here?

I had been coming to Egypt before. First it was once a year, then it got to the point where I was here four times a year. To buy costumes and music, watch dancers, and get as much inspiration even if I don’t see any dance. I would watch how girls interact together, how they would play with their hair or headscarf. We don’t have that coquettishness in Britain.


How did your family react to that?

They weren’t very happy. Not for the same reason why parents wouldn’t be happy about it in Egypt, though. Here they wouldn’t be happy because it’s seen as something low class, based around sex, and something that would change the status of the family. This isn’t why my parents were against it. My dad worried for my financial standpoint, because being an artist doesn’t make you a lot of money. Also, you have a limited lifespan. People don’t want to watch you jiggling about when you’re 60 or if you’re injured. You’re self employed so you don’t have health insurance.


Did you notice the double standards of everyone loving belly dance, but not wanting their daughter to be belly dancers?

Or their sons to marry one (laughs). Absolutely, complete double standards.


What about day-to-day sexual harassment, have you been experiencing that?

I’ve seen it before, during and after the revolution and it’s hellish. On stage, it doesn’t happen. Yes, there are jokes, but generally it’s all in good taste and not meant with aggression, and definitely no touching. I had a problem with touching once and that was when a group of old Turkish women grabbed me.


The move from Scotland to Egypt must have been shocking. That’s a completely different set of surroundings.

I love Egypt. I was coming four times a year before I moved here. So it’s not like I hadn’t been here. I knew what I was getting into. Thank God for the Internet. I wouldn’t have done if it I hadn’t been able to Skype people. And that’s why I started a blog.


Do you still teach?

I didn’t for a while. The first year I was here I taught at Gold’s Gym. Then I stopped for years. I wanted to really push the performance aspect because that’s why I’m here in Egypt. If I wasn’t getting the performance work then actually the money from teaching is better abroad anyway.


You do fundraisings too. Have you been doing this for a while or is it new?

Last year the girl who organized my workshops in Manchester and I were talking and turns out that both our mothers suffer early onset dementia. So we came up with this idea of doing a fundraiser for dementia.


Do you think belly dance can empower women?

What I love about it is that different body shapes and sizes will look good doing different moves. There’s no ideal shape. You can control your own body movement and attitude within the music, as well as the atmosphere of the people around you. That is incredibly empowering.


What are the differences between dancing at bars, boats and weddings?

In a boat, the large majority there are tourists or corporate entertainment. So they tend to be shyer and not so interactive; it’s probably the hardest. In the bar, everyone wants to get on the dance floor. The wedding is usually my favorite because there’s always this big age gap between the attendees. And sometimes they’re dressed in a more formal way with a full hijab or even niqab – it’s a bit nerve-wracking to think that they will think I’m a horrific woman –  but often they’re the ones that are more supportive. When I dance, you’ll seldom see me making eye contact with any man, because I know that if I get the women on my side everyone is going to have a good time.


What would you like to do in the future?

I just want to do more of what I’m doing. On the long term, who knows? I didn’t think I’d be here in 9 years.


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