Hamada Elrasam
Visual Storyteller

Dance is one of the beating hearts of Egyptian culture. This ongoing project, entitled "Harmony of Taboos," captures the joy of dance at a range of events in Egypt, from political protests to religious ceremonies. This instalment of the series spotlights a joyous street wedding.

The Egyptian street is one of the nation’s most vital organs. Internationally known as the stage for political change in the country, the streets of Egypt have profound, multifaceted relationships with its people beyond buzzy media headlines. The Egyptian society has a distinct communal quality to it that is catered to by its eventful streets as public venues for the mundane, the important, the work, and the play. One of the most intimate events to take place on the streets of Egypt are its infamous street weddings. These types of weddings have been outlets and festive means for couples in underprivileged areas for ages.

Historically, the street of the groom’s residence would be closed off with a stage boasting a colorful patterned marquee and blasting loud oriental music. Currently, these setups have transformed to symbolize more contemporary Egyptian culture with more modern designs and different types of music namely, Mahraganat, a festive and fresh genre of upbeat modern Arab rap. Street weddings are essentially festivals of different scales, filled with colors, music, and dancing. Belly dancing is one of the most significant icons of the Egyptian people. Its development through the country’s history reflects the nation’s culture. Although it constantly passes through waves of censorship, like the 1952 law banning the exposure of belly dancers’ stomachs, it remains an expression of joy, happiness and vitality. Street weddings are eruptions of the latter.

A street wedding usually includes one belly dancer, but sometimes more are hired to keep the fun going. Having a wedding on the street frees its organizers from various institutional restrictions. The weddings can go on much later than wedding halls would allow. There are no restrictions on types of food and beverages, nor form of dance. Belly dancing is one of the pillars of Egyptian art, yet it is a rather controlled, and almost limited, profession. Dancers need to go through bureaucratic inferno to get their three mandatory licenses. There is constant pressure by fundamentalists to deny dancers their licenses, especially if they deem them ‘too slutty’.

Within landscapes of restrictions that tend to castrate liberal arts in the country, belly dancing has been and will remain a source of basic joy for the people. Its form and gestures prove its relevance and direct connection with their context. During the wedding procession, for example, belly dancers have traditionally worn chandelier headpieces to light the way for the bride before streetlights existed. The headpieces are still worn now symbolically, and are proof of the historic nature of the practice. The weddings are free and open to the whole neighborhood to attend. The festive mood remains generous, allowing women of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds to freely explore their own individuality within their well-deserved public space.
Using Format