Cairo has a small, but growing, live-music scene, some good cultural performance spaces and a smattering of belly-dancing. Check out www.cairo360.com for listings. Not that you need to head inside – street life can be entertainment enough. Lots of Cairenes take an evening stroll along the Nile corniche Downtown or on Qasr El Nil Bridge. Pop-up tea kiosks provide refreshments.
Many venues are eclectic, changing musical styles and scenes every night. Many also start as restaurants and shift into club mode after midnight, at which point the door policy gets stricter. Big packs of men (and sometimes even single men) are always a no-no – go in as mixed a group as you can, and ideally make reservations.
If you see only one belly dancer in your life, it had better be in Cairo, the art form’s true home. The best dancers perform at Cairo’s five-star hotels, usually to an adoring crowd of wealthy Gulf Arabs. Shows typically begin around 10pm, although the star might not take to the stage until midnight or later. Admission is steep. There's either a show-plus-meal fee (with drinks extra) or a per person minimum charge. At the very top venues, prepare for the evening to cost you more than LE1000. A less-overpriced alternative is the Nile-boat evening cruise belly dancing shows. Be aware that the crooning lounge-singer-style warm up acts on these boats can be hilariously dire. Cairo’s divas are often getting in tiffs with their host hotels or their managers, so their venues may change.
At the other end of the scale, you can watch a less nuanced expression of the art form at several clubs around Sharia Alfy in Downtown Cairo. They’re seedy (prostitution is definitely a sideline), the mics are set on the highest reverb, and most of the dancers have the grace of amateur wrestlers. But it can be fun, especially if you can maintain enough of a buzz to join in the dancing onstage (a perk if you shower the dancer and the band with enough LE5 notes), but not so fun if you fall for the myriad overcharging tactics, including beer prices being hiked up and fees for unordered snacks and even napkins.
Dying Art of Belly-Dancing
The past few years have been tough on belly dancers in Egypt. Since the 2011 revolution the numbers of tourists have dwindled, particularly in Cairo, and the terrible economic situation gives little cause for celebration; most Egyptians have no disposable income. Belly dancing was dealt a further blow during 2012 when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt's first democratic election. During this period many venues closed and a few big name belly dancers quit for good. Despite the Brotherhood's downfall in 2013, much of the scene that is left is becoming more sleazy.