What it’s like in a Cairo Cabaret: Exploring Different Cairo Dance Venues

This post was originally written for Siobhan Camille’s newsletter subscribers in 2022, and updated after another trip to Egypt in 2023. To receive cultural tidbits like this in your inbox, sign up for the Greenstone Dance Arts newsletter!

Different venues and contexts for raqs sharqi (“belly dance”) in Cairo

I’m going to dive into some of the different venues in which you can see raqs sharqi (“belly dance”) in Cairo, and how these spaces (and the clientele) affects the kind of dance you see in Egypt. Let’s dive in!

Above: Being showered with money in a Cairo Cabaret

Nile Boat Restaurants (Moored)

These don’t move, and are boats that are moored and often have a club, different kinds of restaurants, and sometimes a cabaret all on the same boat. 

I went to the Blue Nile to see Egyptian dance superstar Sahar Samara. The place was packed so it was hard to get a great view, but thankfully Sahar is super tall! 

She danced with her band on a non-raised stage, but did travel around the room for tips and taheyya (the shout outs the singer gives to generous tippers) and danced right in front of us then! 

This particular restaurant had a largely Egyptian clientele, who were obviously there for Sahar (most of the crowd left after Sahar’s act, even though there was a DJ afterwards) and very super excited and vocal. 

There was a mix of families, women, and men. We saw Vlada first around 11:30pm, and Sahar came on around 1:30am (I think!). We were home by around 3am. 

Above: Sahar Samara at the Blue Nile 
Above: Sahara Samara at the Blue Nile

Cruising Nile Boats

These are the boats that do the cruises you often hear of as a tourist. Like restaurants, there are different kinds of cruising boats at different pay scales and catering to different audiences. 

I went on one specifically to see UK/Egyptian dancer Zara. She dances on that boat specifically because it has more of an Egyptian clientele, so I didn’t see any of the boats that were super touristy.

There were a lot of families on this particular boat, and they also had a shaabi singer and well-known tanoura dance Osman, who was fantastic! This Nile cruise reminded me a lot of the restaurant show set ups outside of Egypt; there was a lot of audience interaction and animation involved, and dancing around and to different customers throughout the sets. 

The cruise started at 8pm and finished around 10:30pm, which was really early for a show in Cairo (and meant I could go to the cabaret after!).

Pictured: Siobhan Camille and Zara on the cruising Nile Boat. No videos unfortunately because Siobhan’s phone was out of battery!

Five star Hotels

These are usually for the wealthier tourists – there are lots of Saudi guests here. It’s really expensive to get in, but the dancer is on a raised stage with a full live band. This is a really high quality show, where the really big names appear. 

I saw Oxana at the Fairmont and she was incredible. No filming is allowed in these venues, for a variety of reasons; primarily that the clientele don’t want to appear on film. 

The shows typically start with a dancer and progress to live singers. Oxana was the first act and started around 11:30pm. We left early (!) at around 2:30am, partway through the second singer’s act.

Unfortunately no video of Oxana from the Fairmont because no filming is allowed, so here’s a video of the fab Oxana for you to enjoy!

Gala Shows at Dance Festivals

I didn’t even realise that my trip coincided with a couple of big festivals! Like elsewhere, these sorts of shows are mainly frequented by dancers. 

I didn’t go to any festivals apart from the opening show of the Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival, because DINA was the star dancer! Dina does the fastest costume changes I’ve ever seen (I timed them – about 90 seconds), and her band is INCREDIBLE. 

Sneaky shots of SUPERSTAR Dina performing at the Ahlan Wa Sahlan opening gala in 2022 – she did her costume changes in just 90 seconds!

A lot of people say you have to see Dina to understand why she is so loved, and I agree. She is incredibly charismatic, and you really feel the tarab saltanah experience whilst in the audience (a huge sense of presence and emotional connection, because of her connection with the music, the audience, and the moment). 

Dina on stage in Cairo, 2022
Dina sprinting on stage after one of her legendary costume changes! She had a man side of stage whose sole job was to signal to the band when she was ready to run back on

We were super lucky, because Dina has largely stopped performing since COVID, so this was my one chance to see her whilst in Egypt in 2022. At the same show I also got to see rising Egyptian star Hendayawho was awesome and killed an improvised drum solo when the power went out and her band couldn’t play! Hendaya usually dances in cabarets around Cairo.

Rising Cairo star Hendaya, who dances primarily in cabarets
Hendaya, a Cairo cabaret dancer and rising Egyptian star, dancing with a live band on stage at the 2022 Ahlan Wa Sahlan opening gala
Siobhan Camille with Egyptian dance superstar Dina of Cairo

Above: Siobhan CHEESING with Egyptian dance superstar Dina!

Below: With friends at the Ahlan Wa Sahlan gala show!


This venue type is honestly incredibly similar to clubs outside of Egypt. It is a young clientele wanting to hear the latest hits, dance, drink, and have a good time. But the dance floor really gets FLOODED when the Raqs Sharqi dancer appears.

The dancer often has a tiny stage on the floor (you can see it in this video, it’s black), and a bodyguard / bouncer (he’s to the left just out of frame of this video) to make sure no one touches her. Because of the small space the dancer has to perform on, she’s limited in her movements, but she’s ultimately just there to get the party started!

I unfortunately didn’t find out this dancer’s name, but she was performing in a nightclub on the outskirts of Cairo and we are pretty certain she was Russian

In this video below you can actually see the bodyguard to the left. Notice that the dancer shimmies in *his* direction so she’s essentially protected (you can hear my friend Magda, who lives in Cairo, explaining this to me in the video actually!), and you can see him telling an excited night club goer to stop waving his crutch around!

Footage in the Cairo nightclub where you can clearly see the dancer shimmying in the direction of the bodyguard

Interestingly, I know that as recently as 2022, it is illegal for dancers to perform without a live band. So even in the cabarets, there is a drummer and a sagat player accompanying the dancer. However, this nightclub was on the outskirts of town, and there wasn’t even a live tabla player. I wonder if the rules have changed, or if they just get away with it because they’re not in the centre of Cairo, so less likely to be checked on.


Above: Fangirling as we meet famous Egyptian cabaret dancer Mokka!

I was lucky to make the acquaintance of dance ethnologist Meg Morley whilst in Cairo, and she got us booked for the particular cabaret we went to.

These venues can be a little bit harder to get into as foreigners unless you speak Arabic or have a contact. In general, photography and filming is not allowed here, for the same reasons as in the five star night clubs. The cabaret was a really surreal experience, and in many ways hard to describe. It’s seen as a lower class venue, and yet they try to make it a high-class experience in that you’re waited on by tuxedo-ed waiters, an abundance of food is served. 

The big difference between other venues and cabarets is that cabarets are primarily frequented by men, and the main activity here is encouraging these men to spend money. There is a really wild cash rental system. In the clip at the beginning of this blog post, you’ll see us being showered in thousands of Egyptian pounds. 

Men rent cash in the cabarets (I don’t think they have to, but a big part of attending the cabarets is to show off how wealthy you are to those around you). They pay around 1,000 Egyptian pounds (around 50 euro / USD) to rent 10,000 Egyptian pounds (around 500 euro / USD). For reference, when I was in Cairo in 2023, it cost 50 Egyptian pounds to FILL a tank of gas in a car. A full meal out with drinks for two people at a fancy place cost around 20 euro total (two mains, drinks, sometimes entrees as well).

They then throw this money on the dancers, musicians, or even as you see with us, other patrons!

The really wild thing is no one gets to keep this money except for the cabarets themselves. Theres are tens of young men in the cabaret whose job it is to pick up the money as soon as possible, and take it away to restack it for further renting. 

So how did we end up showered in money? Aside from two other foreign dancers, we were the only foreigners in this venue. But of course, we knew all the words to the songs, because we love Egyptian music! One man at a table next to us was tickled by the sight of 4 foreign women singing and dancing (we were just boogieing in our seats), and came over and showered us with money until we agreed to get up and dance on stage with the legendary Aziza of Cairo!

Aziza of Cairo is a total sweetheart. We unfortunately didnt’ get to see her dance all that much – because the cabarets are more about getting people to throw money, the dancers tend to just walk around and shimmy a little. But she knew right away when she came out on stage that we were fans (us screaming “AZIZA” was probably a give away!!), so she paid us a little extra attention. When we were on stage with her (and even more money was flying!), she really danced with us, and was super fun and lovely.

No cameras allowed in cabarets, so here’s the amazing Aziza of Cairo on stage at a festival in Turkey!

Aziza was accompanied by her AWESOME sagat (finger cymbal) player, who was an artist and serious performer himself! As well as tabla players and a singer who spent a lot of time singing to encourage the tips! Its interesting, because whenever he sang in the direction of a man who had cash, the man seemed sometimes annoyed that he was being asked to throw money again – but the man being sung at would ALWAYS do it, because of this pressure to appear wealthy and generous.

I found a new favourite Egyptian dancer at this cabaret – Nany.  She was one of the few dancers that night that really danced, and I was SUPER impressed by her skills! Overall, the cabaret is a FASCINATING place. I can’t wait to go back!

Did you learn something new about Cairo dance venues?

I find dancers who are not Egyptian (or have never been to Egypt) can sometimes make dispraging remarks about the dance styles they see coming out of Cairo. But that’s often because they don’t understand the context within these dancers are performing, and the clientele they’re performing for.

I hope this blog post helps you understand a bit more!

Siobhan Camille in Alexandria, Egypt

This post was originally written for Siobhan Camille’s newsletter subscribers in 2022, and updated after another trip to Egypt in 2023. To receive cultural tidbits like this in your inbox, sign up for the Greenstone Dance Arts newsletter!

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