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Core Connections: A Contemporary Cairo Raqs Sharqi Ethnography


My dissertation, Core Connections: A Contemporary Cairo Raqs Sharqi Ethnography investigates local, intra-MENA, and global circulations of raqs sharqi centered within Cairo, Egypt. I use dance ethnography to explore ways raqs sharqi contexts and bodies relate to tumultuous contemporary Middle Eastern politics. While most belly dance scholarship remains highly western-centric, addressing the practice in terms of its use by and value to western practitioners, and only tangentially treating the topic of how the dance circulates within Middle Eastern sites and through Middle Eastern bodies, I centralize the Cairene dancing body as a means of knowledge production and dissemination while fleshing out nuanced portraits of the lives, stories, and political insights of Middle Eastern dance and non-dance bodies.

This is particularly necessary, I argue, considering Cairo’s position as a key center within the Middle East today, with nations looking to Cairo for not only the latest trends in music and dance but also as a key negotiator since the aftermath of the series of Middle Eastern political uprisings, known as the ‘Arab Spring,’ particularly Egypt’s January 25th, 2011 revolution. I thus position my research in Cairo as a core site for analyzing the political, gender, and economic transformations the country has been experiencing. My project queries and argues for the unique insights, tactics, and corporeal knowledge a ground-level, multi-sited, and dance-centric analysis offers to such pressing politics.

My ethnographic research methodology consists primarily of participant-observation fieldwork at an array of class-stratified performance venues, with a focus on choreographic analysis within these field sites. Additionally, I conduct interviews with professional dancers and others involved with the dance industry at large. The project sites include Nile cruise ships, five-star hotels studding the Nile, and the cabarets with all male spectators clustered along historic Pyramid Street.

In addition to interweaving Dance and Middle Eastern Gender Studies, my dissertation charts invigorating new approaches on how to ‘do’ and write multi-sited dance ethnography. I propose and implement using the Cairo-based choreographic structure and aesthetics of raqs sharqi itself as research and writing model as a means of negotiating my own positionality to the project while remaining focused on mining intra-MENA dance circulations and contexts.

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