The bellydancer who saves animals

Caroline Evanoff is an Australian belly dancer living and working in Egypt

Caroline Evanoff is an Australian belly dancer living and working in Egypt

I was able to interview Australian born belly dancer Caroline Evanoff who now resides in Cairo, Egypt about living in Egypt, staying safe, and her work with animal welfare agencies in Egypt.

How did you come to live in Egypt?
I caught the traveling bug years earlier while backpacking around the world, and particularly enjoyed my stay in Egypt. So years later, after studying belly dance in Sydney, I found myself with an affinity for the dance style of Raqia Hassan, who I had on VHS tape. After wearing it through from watching, I found it hard to find a teacher in Australia who specialised in her style of dancing. So I decided to go to Egypt for three months to study. This turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life, as I went for a short stay and moved there for good instead! In fact everything just seemed to fall into place. I met up with a dancer who then introduced me to Raqia, then very soon after I was offered work, I didn’t even have a proper performance costume but was introduced to Eman Zaki who agreed to make one for me and I could pay later. After that I never looked back, being in constant work ever since.

What can you recommend for tourists wanting to come to Egypt, is it safe?
People have always been scared of coming to Egypt, but since the revolution, people seem to be even more scared. As long as people take normal precautions, it is as safe as anywhere, and much more safe than a lot of other cities in the world! Petty crime has increased since the revolution, so avoid wearing lots of gold, wear a shawl and dress modestly, but you don’t have to be completely covered up either! It is fine for tourists to come, especially if you are there as part of a tour or stay with a local.

The Egyptian bellydance festivals are still running, and while the numbers are down, there are still a lot of people coming to them, if it was unsafe they would have cancelled them. Festivals such as the Nile Group Festival, Sphinx Festival or the Ahlan wa Sahlan Festival run by Raqia is the one I’m involved with runs each June, she also runs a Winter Teachers course in December.

I  also run a holiday program in Dahab on the South-East coast of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, where the focus is on a holiday and some gentle belly dance using Khalleegy, because that is the local dance style. The focus is on relaxing, enjoying the beautiful Mountain Sinai and the Red Sea.

Belly dancer Caroline Evanoff is passionate about animal welfare

Belly dancer Caroline Evanoff is passionate about animal welfare

I hear you do a lot of animal rescuing and encouraging others to do the same?
Yes, I am a volunteer at ESMA (Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals), Touch of Life Organisation and when I go to Dahab, I support “Help Dahab Dogs”, plus all my personal rescues. I have seven cats [unfortunately, one of her cats, Sami, died not long after her return to Egypt after prolonged liver problems]. I go to the shelter and visit but I mainly focus on fundraising. When I travel, at least one of the places will hold a fundraising night so I can take the money to Egypt. You are unable to have a Paypal account in Egypt which makes it hard to donate otherwise, so I collect it and give it to them. Also on FB someone will post that a dog has been run over at such and such corner and direct people to help. I also do a lot of walking around Cairo, so if I see an injured animal regardless of what it is, I will want to help; dogs, cats, sheep, donkeys, goats, foxes, and once there was a crocodile!

I live in a shaabi neigbourhood, and the local children used to torture the animals in fact one of my cats, Frankie, was dipped in car oil and left to drown. Now after 6 years, the children will be the first ones to run to me if they find an injured animal, or a dog has been beaten or they find kittens, and get quite angry if I don’t take them in straight away. But I have a policy of waiting for the mother to come back to the kittens. So they are really on to it, and I am really happy about that. They are the next generation so it is good to see these changes occur now to them while they are young.

This interview first appeared in OMEDA‘s The Shimmy Newsletter December 2012

Turning smarmy to smiley

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online had to learn how to have a confident smile while performing

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online had to learn how to have a confident smile while performing

We have all had the odd embarrassing gig, with costume malfunctions, or music glitches or even the classic trip up getting on stage, but I wanted to share an experience which happened a few years ago involving what to do if your audience thinks you are a stripper!

I was more at the beginning of my belly dance career, and had only had a few gigs under my hip belt when I was asked to perform before a lecture on Egypt by a Museum. The audience was made up of a very eclectic mix of people; students, friends of the museum, curators, Egyptologists and fans of the genre. In particular there was one person in the audience that I actually recognised. I will keep him nameless, but I had known him since I was a baby as he was a colleague of my Father’s. As I started dancing and saw a familiar face I thought “oh good someone I know”, unfortunately it soon became clear that this man who was standing in the front and not taking his eyes off me was not looking in admiration but in sleaziness. I could feel him undressing me with his eyes and I felt very uncomfortable with the leery grin fixated on me (or more specifically, my breasts) and I didn’t know what to do. I continued dancing focussing my attention on the others of the audience a smile on my face, but he was very hard to avoid. Then something in my mind went “bugger him, this is meant to be fun and I’m not going to let him spoil it!” and I threw myself even more into the music and the moves. I started engaging with the audience and letting my face reflect what my body was doing: as in a mock look of surprise at my shimmy or an eyebrow jump at the same time as a hip or shoulder, peeking cheeky looks over my shoulder etc. Then I aimed this directly at this man and ramped up the comic aspect. As I invited the audience to enjoy it with me, so too did this man, who ended up looking at me as a human being, his posture relaxed and he started clapping with all the others and tapping a foot to the music. The beast was tamed and began to genuinely smile. I finished with a flourish, proud and relieved to have turned the situation. Now I always scan my audience and if I see a similar look, I know just what to do – make it fun, it’s hard to laugh and leer at the same time!

This article was originally published OMEDA‘s The Shimmy Newsletter Spring 2010

To Dye or not to dye, that is the question…

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online asks a very important question.

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online asks a very important question.

Many, many, years ago, while I was a 19-year-old student at University, I was talking to one of my Women’s Studies lecturers and somehow the topic of her grey hair came up. She had gone completely grey in her 20’s, it was something that often happened in her family. So she just accepted that that was her hair and moved on. She said the funniest question she ever got about it was when someone asked why she “didn’t colour her hair her natural colour” we both found that hilarious at the time – grey is now her “natural colour”!

Fast forward 7 years and I found my first grey hairs at 26. I had three just at the front of my hairline. I found it hilarious! I marched into my Mother’s room, where she was recovering from surgery for ovarian cancer and told her she’d given me grey hairs! We made jokes that it was usually the other way around, that children gave their Mother’s grey hairs!

Six months later, and they had spread to all along my part line. So I parted my hair differently. A year later they were all through the top of my head. As you can imagine, with my Mother’s illness, I was still pretty stressed, so I dyed my hair it’s “natural colour”.

She died when I was 28, and by then I was regularly dyeing my hair. “Luckily” (depending on your perspective) my hair grows slowly, so it wasn’t as often as some people, usually before an important event or trip.

Should Charni from BellyDance Lessons Online dye her hair its "natural colour"?

Should Charni from BellyDance Lessons Online dye her hair its “natural colour”?

Once I became a Mother myself at 30, with the birth of my son, I didn’t have the time or inclination, so I just chopped it all off to a pixie cut, and the greys were less obvious. Then after my daughter was born three years later, I started to grow it out.

My daughter is now 5 years old and I have started to question whether I should keep dyeing my “highlights” as I refer to them. What message am I sending?
Should I emulate my University lecturer and just accept it? With my dark hair and youthful looks, I would be making a statement about being proud of what I look like. It would be telling my daughter that I am not the sum total of my hair colour, that I can be attractive AND have grey hair at the same time.

Then again is it any different to me wearing a colour which compliments my skin tone? Or an outfit which is flattering, make up, or fantastic eye-catching jewellery – or even dressing up in my belly dance costumes with full make up and hair done. Is this being less honest? I don’t think so.

So herein lies my dilemma. To dye or not to dye. Hmmmm, maybe I worry about it when she is six…