YASMINE BELLY DANCER
by Sherif Awad
Armenians in Egypt were a community that perceived their own language, churches, and social institutions since their early presence in the 6th and 7th centuries. History tells us that a landmark of their migration to Egypt was due to the Armenian Genocide which started in the 24th of April, 1915. In its aftermath, the Armenian communities in Egypt received some percentage of its refugees and survivors. But after the 1952 Egyptian revolution, a reverse migration started with Armenian heading meanly to Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. Although their number has decreased due to these migrations and also due to their integration into the rest of the Egyptian society, (including extensive intermarriage with Muslims and Copts), their community nowadays is about 6000 concentrating between Cairo and Alexandria.
Unlike Armenian minorities in Syria and Lebanon, Armenian-Egyptians now stay out of local politics although the Armenian-Egyptian politician Nubar Pasha was the first Prime Minister of Egypt during the 19th century. In contemporary times, many of them excelled in arts and culture. Child actress Feyrouz was a star of popular Egyptian black and white in the 1950s and the 1960s, Van Leo was a great photographer who became known for his numerous self-portraits and portraits of Egyptian celebrities during the 20th century; Takfour Antonian was the Armenian-Egyptian producer of many important films including the box office smash hit Khally ballak men ZouZou (Beware of Zouzou) that starred Soad Hosny and Hussein Fahmy in 1972; Egyptian born Atom Egoyan became a celebrated international filmmaker after moving to Canada with award-winning films like Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter and The Captive; singing actresses Nelly, Lebleba and Anoushka were quite popular on film, TV and theatre.
Five years ago, the ballet turned belly dancer Safinaz was the first artist of Armenian origins to rise to fame since quite a long time in Egyptian and Arab media when she performed a dancing sketch in the Egyptian film al-Kashah (The Sweeper) that was released in 2013. After appearing in suggestive video clips on an underground satellite channel called Dalaa (naughty), Safinaz became some kind of a controversial celebrity due to her dancing outfits and her follow-up film appearances. Although she was about to be deported from Egypt after she wore an outfit featuring the three colors of the Egyptian flag, Safinaz is still on demand on TV shows and at wedding ceremonies inspiring other Armenian to venture into showbiz. One of these up-and-coming is the bellydancer Yasmina, a currently popular performer across the Arab world.
“I didn’t take dancing lessons but I used to dance when I was a child”, explained Yasmina over an internet call. “Oriental dancing yet always fascinated me specially when I saw dancing numbers in Arabic films that reached us in Armenian cinema theaters and television. I tried to watch and see if I could imitate the movements to the music. In the beginning, it was not fine for my parents to let me become a professional bellydancer because I come from a religious Christian family. Because my real name is even Mariam Hovhannisyan, my father asked to choose another artistic name to respect the name he gave me. I remember he said to me it will be Haram to use my real name because we use the same word in our native Armenian among other Arabic words like Yaany and Khalas. Later came my first professional breakthrough when, one day, the owner of a restaurant called al-Shady offered me a job to dance as some kind of additional entertainment for his clients. A locally renowned Armenian costume designer hence created for me many bellydancing outfits to use them for my shows. And so, for the last five years, I kept on dancing in different restaurants across our Capital Yerevan while training everyday to ameliorate my performances. Also, when I was invited to perform in Moscow, I landed a Russian teacher who taught me additional techniques using different music pieces. I still browse YouTube to find suitable music for my dancing. But one day, I should have my own band that can travel with me”, she explained.
After Safinaz started to grab the attention of Arabian and international media, her news of appearing in Egyptian films and TV reached out her homeland. “People started to tell me you should get out of here and become the new Safinaz”, laughed Yasmina who landed her first Egyptian invitation to perform at a lavish wedding in Sharm El-Sheikh. “It was dream for me to dance in front of Egyptian spectators who liked my performance and made me feel I can make it outside of Armenia and across the Arab world”.
After Sharm’s appearance, Yasmina received many invitations to perform in other Arab cities like Dubai, Beirut and Tunis. “I came back to Egypt and danced in Cairo and Hurghada”, she added. “I personally prefer to dance in front of an Egyptian or an Arab audience because they appreciate my dancing which makes me feel I am qualified to have a place among the current belly dancers who are now famous in Egypt”.
After new performances during last Eid al-Fetr, Yasmina would like to focus her efforts to follow the footsteps of her counterpart. “I know that Safinaz appeared in many Egyptian comic and music that were produced by producer Ahmed el-Sobky”, she says. “So, I hope next time I visit Egypt, I can have the chance to meet him to join the casting of his new films. In any case, my dream is to move to Cairo because it is place where any artist can become famous and requested in different media”.