I'm stating the obvious here because somebody has to...because Amie makes a bold if dubious claim about her impact on the dance scene. She says: “Now I’m seeing belly dancers trying to become more elegant and trying to lose weight and, you know, tone it down a bit. People want something more refined, more studied. People want the art of it, not the tattooed eyebrows. I think because of me there’s less vulgarity.” While I'm no fan of tattooed eyebrows, I do believe that Amie is overstating her impact. Just a bit. It's not that Amie is changing the way dancers are approaching the dance or Egyptians' tastes-- in fact her influence is mostly limited to a rather closed circle -- it's that she's found her audience in a certain sector of Egyptian society that's already had those tastes. The Cairo 'posh.' The 3%. The self-serving elite and nouveau riche who prefer English to Arabic, whiskey to hasheesh, and who uncoincidently situate themselves away from the lumpen. I'm not rich-shaming, by the way. Just laying down the facts. Amie is part of and thus appeals to this sector of the society. More power to her. But let's not buy into the hype about her single-handedly changing dancers and audiences' preferences.
As I mentioned in a previous post, this isn't a dance of privilege. This is a dance that developed against a centuries-long backdrop of oppression, colonialism, religious conservatism, sexism, seduction, poverty, prostitution-- in short, deprivation. It's been banned and regulated, shunned and condemned. This is important because this culture of deprivation that has come to define a large part of Egypt affects the way Egyptians bodies move. How they dance, how they walk, how they talk, how they laugh, how they fight, etc. It's very hard to get it right if deprivation isn't in your genes. Even if you're Egyptian. So at the risk of sounding stupid, I'm going to say that poor women do it better. Because to be poor in this country is to experience hardship and misery. Not the self-inflicted misery that rich folk subject themselves to, but real crises that poor people face on a daily basis. Like not having enough to make ends meet; being subjected to domestic abuse; believing that all of life's pleasures will land you in hell, and then hating yourself every time you indulge in one. When this is the type of life you lead, the chances of you becoming a dynamic performer are much greater because the stage is your only escape from your ugly reality. It's your only release, the only chance you have to forget everything you're going through and indulge in sheer, unapologetic pleasure. It's not the same for rich folk, who generally lead much easier, hedonistic lives. This doesn't mean they can't or shouldn't do this dance. But if they do, they should at least harness their arrogance a bit instead of trying to 'refine' the dance/business to line their pockets.
I'll leave you with one final thought. As much as this interview has created controversy in the international dance community, it was meant to further generate publicity for Amie inside Egypt, among the three percent she caters to. And I'm sure they fell for it, hook line and sinker. Amie speaks their language. The language of pretension, that sounds something like this: Egypt, Arabic, baladi, poor = bad. West, English, Egyptians with money = good. She symbolizes (and now tells them) what they already believe to be true. I may not like it, but I'd be a fool to say that it's not working.