Amie Sultan: Taking Belly Dancing From the Stage all the Way to UNESCO

Egypt’s heritage runs as long and deep as its history. From well-known artifacts and our ancient civilization that is recognized by literally every human being to its softer more artistic and beautiful side like our music and dances. One dance that is almost synonymous with Egypt is belly dancing. A dance loved by all, but its performers are constantly bashed by society. One dancer is making waves in the world of belly dancing not just cause of her talent, brain, and beauty but also by her willpower to save belly dancing as a part of the Egyptian identity.

The Dance

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The art of belly dance, more formally known as folk dance dates back to ancient times. Historians even found Greek and Roman sources that include descriptions of that dance. 

In the 18th and 19th centuries, European travelers in the Middle East wrote extensively of the dancers they saw there, including the Awalim and Ghawazee of Egypt; where were the first recordings of the types of belly dancers. 

In the Ottoman Empire, belly dance was performed by women and later, by boys, in the Sultan’s palace.

Until our modern times, belly dancing is still a staple in social events like weddings and is a must in most Egyptian movies. With a large unshakable stigma from society for its performers, it’s considered lewd and a sin to show skin and move the body in a “provocative” way. Still despite all of that, one belly dancer is standing still, in the face of bigotry and blatant misogyny and trying to make belly dance a safe haven for its performers.

The Dancer 

Amie Sultan, an amalgamation of many things. Born on Dec. 27 in Singapore. Sultan was classically trained as a ballerina, amongst other genres of dance like jazz dance, contemporary dance, and tap dance. She has a bachelor’s degree in interior design from Cairo American College in Maadi. Now an established well-known belly dancer with performances all over the world and almost 500k followers on Instagram. Moreover, Sultan is not just a performance artist with a college degree -which is a rarity in our strict society- but she is also a philanthropist, lecturer, and Founder and CEO of Tarab Collective.

A multi-talented business-minded beauty with brains, spearing straightforward into the future to make a better world for herself and her peers. All of that is evident throughout her career especially with her latest endeavor trying to get the Egyptian dance to get recognized by UNESCO.  

The Heritage 

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Just yesterday, in a BBC Arabic news interview over video. Sultan said that she is in the fundraising period to compile the file that will be presented to UNESCO to register the dance as a national intangible heritage.

The pretty bold yet rightfully done move will be a catalyst for protecting not just this type of performance art from dying, but also for female performers who are so overdue the respect and dignity they’re owed from us as a society. A society that doesn’t miss a chance to enjoy a good belly dance performer with all her beauty and grace, and also doesn’t miss a chance to bash and berate the same women for showing skin and simply delighting us with a wonderful, loved dance.   

In the interview, Sultan recognizes this type of misogyny and patriarchal double standard by mentioning a talk with a male friend about the UNESCO file saying “he simply told her straight up that he didn’t think that she should go through with the registration of the dance at UNESCO simply because she wouldn’t be taken seriously cause she is a dancer.”

Ending it with a note that “this is a perfect example of what we deal with every day [as female dancers].” 

All in all, Sultan is one formidable performer and philanthropist that is paving the way for others to follow her steps and be as free in the art they perform.

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