‘Ballerinas of Cairo’ flout street harassment to spotlight city’s beauty

Pictures showing beautiful ballet dancers gracefully posing and performing moves in front of Cairo’s architectural gems went viral. (Photo courtesy: Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy)

A year after their debut, photo collections of the “Ballerinas of Cairo” are still gaining momentum with each passing day on social media.

Pictures and videos showing beautiful ballet dancers gracefully posing and performing moves in front of Cairo’s architectural gems went viral over the past weeks, with social media users praising the work and demanding more.

Straddling the intersection of the worlds of dance and photography, the project attempts to change the way the people of Cairo - known to be one of the busiest cities in the region - look at their home.

“We want to show the beauty of the Egyptian capital, but mainly explore the city we are living in in different ways,” said photographer Mohamed Taher, who founded the project.

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

“The message is to see this old city in a new way,” he told Al Arabiya English.

The choice of ballerinas, he said, was made to convey a “contrast” to show the “contradictions” of the Egyptian capital, where extreme poverty and severe pollution are of serious concern.

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

“There’s a conflict between the art of ballet and Cairo, a tough busy city where living is considered stressful.

“We wanted to show the contrast between the beauty and smoothness of ballet juxtaposed against sites in Cairo. The conflict, I believe, is what made the project unique from any other photography projects shot in the city, and could explain the reason why it went viral.”

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

In pictures, the ballerinas are featured performing dance moves in front of historical and modern sites. Some argued that the city looks “photoshopped” to make it look nicer. Taher disagrees.

“While Cairo could appear less stressful in my pictures, the project taught me to see it differently. Different, however, does not necessarily mean that it is prettier.”

How it started

The story began a year ago, when Egyptian photographers Taher and Ahmed Fathy launched the project with aims to explore the country’s beauty and diversity.

They were inspired by “The Ballerina Project,” launched in 2009 by New York photographer Dane Shitagi.

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

Taher, who is a filmmaker and practices photography as a hobby, said there were challenges choosing the best timings and venues for the photo sessions.

He said they had to consider “the greyish, dusty” appearance of Cairo and choose the best time of the day to shoot under sunlight.

On set

As the sight of Egyptian women dancing on the street remains unusual, the project attracted onlookers in various venues and from all walks of life.

Taher said many reacted positively and posed questions to know more about the project. Others were slightly critical of it.

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

“In Al-Hussein [a historic, busy market district in Cairo], a man stopped me and said it was shameful to take pictures of women in such attire. But I told him it’s art and it’s what she does for a living.”

While sexual street harassment incidents are common in Egypt, the photographers and the ballerinas gave little attention to what onlookers would say or do.

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

“The ballerinas were too excited for the project. They were incredibly courageous for the move despite concerns about harassment.”

Caring less about what onlookers could do or say made people around us less critical of what we were doing, Taher said.

The photographers are planning to hold an exhibition to display all the pictures before the end of this year.

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

Courtesy: Ballerinas of Cairo/ Mohamed Taher/ Ahmed Fathy

 

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