In Egypt, singing and dancing are considered essential on happy occasions. Professional entertainers often perform at weddings and other celebrations, and a host family’s prestige rises with the number, expense, and fame of the entertainers they hire. Paradoxically, however, the entertainers themselves are often viewed as disreputable people and are accorded little prestige in Egyptian society.
This paradox forms the starting point of Karin van Nieuwkerk’s look at the Egyptian entertainment trade. She explores the lives of female performers and the reasons why work they regard as "a trade like any other" is considered disreputable in Egyptian society. In particular, she demonstrates that while male entertainers are often viewed as simply "making a living," female performers are almost always considered bad, seductive women engaged in dishonorable conduct. She traces this perception to the social definition of the female body as always and only sexual and enticing—a perception that stigmatizes women entertainers even as it simultaneously offers them a means of livelihood.
Drawn from extensive fieldwork and enriched with the life stories of entertainers and nightclub performers, this is the first ethnography of female singers and dancers in present-day Egypt. It will be of interest to a wide audience in anthropology, women’s studies, and Middle Eastern culture, as well as anyone who enjoys belly dancing.
This fascinating ethnography of professional female entertainers in Egypt brings together issues and ideas relevant to dance, anthropology, ethnomusicology, gender studies, and area studies.... By providing new insight into historical, political, economic, religious, and cultural forces, van Nieuwkerk accounts for the ambivalent attitudes towards female professional performers in Egyptian society as well as the way they cope with their status.
Note on Transcription
Two. Female Entertainment in Nineteenth-Century Egypt
Three. Female Entertainment in The Twentieth Century
Four. Life Stories of Female Entertainers
Six. Honor and Shame
Eight. Female Entertainers: Feminine and Masculine
Appendix: Methodological Notes