Interview with Belly dancer Nourby Salome
Nour, now an Oriental dance star of Egypt, found her beginnings in the folk dances of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan in her motherland Russia. The talent of the eight year old earned her a place at an Uzbek state folk school for the dance company "Bahor".
Several years later Nour was performing eastern folk dances throughout the Soviet Union as a company member and would begin studying folk and classical Indian dance styles. And at thirteen began her training at the Moiseev ballet school in Moscow, Russia.
At fifteen Nour was a soloist and after two years time formed a Middle Eastern dance troupe. It was during this period that she came across a video of Nagwa Fouad, and found Oriental dance stirred her senses in a way that no other discipline had. She left her troupe and pursued a career as a solo Oriental dancer, performing in Jordan, U.A.E, Turkey, Greece and Sri Lanka.
Egypt is the center of arts in the Arabic world and ultimately where Nour was destined. She has made Egypt her home and in turn has been heartily embraced.
Salome: You enjoy notoriety and fame now but, like every other star, had to 'break into' the industry in Cairo. Can you tell us what that process was like for you?
Nour: This process proceeded rather successfully and fast. I aimed to create at least a "small" name for myself during a six month period, otherwise I would leave. Most foreigners come to Egypt both to learn and work. They scale up their skills and develop into domestic show business. But, in spite of my youth, I came to Cairo as an established and developed dancer. I had already had quite a bit of experience working with orchestras in Arabic countries.
I became well-know thanks to my performances on the "Marriot" ship "Nail Maxim". When I started working there, Asmahan (Argentina) and Yasmina (Great Britain) had already been working on board, but it was a tourist place. Shortly after my appearance on the ship, more Egyptians started actively visiting. It was mutual promotion of "Maxim" and myself. At the end of 2003, after some years of working on "Nail Maxim", I left that respectable venue.
Really I became a well-know dancer thanks to weddings, not work in restaurants and nightclubs. In Egypt mainly the same people visit entertainment and nightclubs, especially in 5-Star Hotels. But weddings represent all levels of Egyptian society, all relatives of newly-weds are invited and sometimes the quantity of guests amount to one or two thousand people. No restaurant or nightclub can gather the same numbers. If you can impress and satisfy an audience, then you can be invited to the next wedding of this family or somebody from among the guests, it’s a ‘chain reaction’. Of course, not everything went off smoothly, there were jealousies and envies, even intrigues.
Salome: I understand your husband Yasser is a singer. How did you meet and do you perform together?
Nour: Yasser came to Cairo, Egypt from Syria, a month earlier than I, by invitation of the same company with which I started to work. Almost from the first day of meeting Yasser he was a good friend and he helped a lot, because cooperation with this firm was very difficult. We married two years ago in Cairo.
We participated together at three festivals "Ahlan Wa Sahlan" in Cairo 2000, 2001, and 2002. Indeed it is very difficult to find a good classical singer for the dancer, but the voice of Yasser has helped me very much at these performances.
In 2000 Yasser took second place at the international festival of Arabic singers in Cairo. We made a video-clip together, where he sings and I dance. For several years Yasser has been my producer, since I can not trust managers of domestic show-business based on my experience. But Yasser has also continued his career as singer.
Salome: It seems a common progression for Egyptian Oriental dancers to cross over into movies, singing and TV. Do you have any plans to follow suit and branch out in your career or are you content with pursing dance?
Nour: I am showed rather often on different TV channels, of course it creates popularity. I do not have any plans to work in cinema, but from time to time I get offers to play a small part. As a dancer it is interesting and favorable for me to show my skills in cinema, but dancers are represented in Egyptian cinema from a negative perspective, which creates the opinion of society. I refuse to play such parts. The performance of a negative role by Suher Zaki in cinema has not been forgiven even today. What would people say about me in this case? I played a part in a popular film only once, I danced dressed in a high-necked dress. And that is all.
Salome: You once said that "for a Belly dancer, the work at weddings is more honorable in Egypt than work in restaurants and nightclubs." Can you tell us a bit about your experiences performing at Egyptian weddings and what it means to you?
Nour: Egyptian weddings in hotels are unique, and I work only for such weddings. Dancing-halls of hotels are ordered beforehand and sometimes some months before. The decoration of the hall, buffet (wedding hall), video, DJ and artists are discussed and ordered. The richer the wedding is the more artists there are and the more expensive the wedding. But people of moderate means and even people who are not rich try to do everything they can for a wonderful celebration. Once I worked in the small hall of a 4-Star Hotel, there was no free place to even stand. It was middle class, but 6 artists performed at the wedding, including Dina and myself. It is possible to discern the prosperity of an audience by their clothing.
Sometimes it is very pleasant, when you are the only artist at the wedding, and the artist is rather expensive. Egyptian weddings are real concerts. At restaurants and night-clubs the audience is eating and drinking during the presentation, but at weddings artists have their complete attention - performing before and after the buffet.
Weddings are primarily the regular work of well-know artists, moreover it is prestigious work. Both singers and dancers appear on the stage for whole families, including children, women, and men. Not only for men with their girlfriends in some nightclub.
Usually I work at weddings in the 4-Star and 5-Star Hotels. But there is parallel system of club military hotels according to force in Cairo. The discount system is offered for both buffet and artists in such hotels. There are 2 or 3 Ballrooms in most of these hotels. The best hotels have almost the same prices as rich 5-Star Hotels. I work in this system as well.
Salome: The ban on foreign Belly dancers in Egypt directly impacted you and created a lot of hot discussion among American dancers. What did you do during the ban, why do you think they passed the law and then withdrew it and do you think something like this will happen again?
Nour: Before the prohibition of foreigner belly-dancers in Egypt and during this prohibition I spoke actively against it. Not only in the Egyptian press, but also in the world-wide press. I had television interviews from different countries and international agencies. Together with Australian dancer Caroline Evanoff and with the Association of Foreigner Artists in Egypt I brought an action against the Minister of Labour of the country. Unfortunately, most dancers were afraid to support our protest. But some of them, such as Liza (Great Britain), duet "Shams and Amr" (Russia), Laila (USA), Aida (Russia) participated together with us in a "press" campaign. Ketty appeared active in French print. It was very pleasing that most of the Egyptian mass media has supported our protest, and the voices of the opposition were rarely heard.
Unfortunately, some foreigners, hoping for relations or marriage with Egyptians, did not share our opinion. And more over they were sincerely waiting for all foreigners to have to leave the country, so they could stay, ready to take the opportunities.
I would like to mention that up to the time of the prohibition I had already been a variety dancer (but not belly-dancer) for more than one year. In spite of intrigue on the part of some Egyptian impresarios, I did not stop my activity for a second. Step by step other foreigners started validating the documents of variety dancers. And before Ramadan the Minister of Labour had withdrawn the Law about the prohibition for foreigner belly-dancers in Egypt.
It is very difficult to say whether foreigners will be persecuted again. But I am sure it will not happen in the near future. Most foreigner dancers’ work in tourist places, the business of these places has suffered during their forced break of activity. More over, Egypt needs foreigner dancers because new talented Egyptian dancers did not show up during the period of prohibition.