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Inciting Debauchery: Attention and Corporeal Economies in the Egyptian Dance Industry

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Abstract

In Spring 2018, a professional Russian belly dancer known in Egypt as Gohara was arrested, charged with “inciting debauchery,” and nearly deported when a video of her Cairo disco performance went viral. After her release, Gohara catapulted to stardom in Egypt and is now by far the most popular professional belly dancer on Instagram, where her account regularly features sexy and glamorous photos and videos of her. Gohara’s story encapsulates the entanglement of mobilities and embodiment with changing cultural politics and economies in Egypt that my research investigates. Gohara is one of many foreign dancers working in Egypt today and one of many female performers charged with inciting debauchery due to viral videos. This article will argue that social and political changes – e.g. social media, mobility, regime changes, and advancing neoliberalism – are changing attention and corporeal economies in Egypt. Recent events, including COVID-19 have pushed dancers to change their performances online and in person in order to succeed in new types of attention economies. These strategies sometimes make them targets for political attempts at directing the attention economy. For dancers in Egypt, the attention economies are inextricably intertwined with corporeal economies, since the service/product that they offer is inseparable from their bodies (Wacquant 2004, Tuchman-Rosta 2020). This presentation will theorize the interweaving of attention economies and corporeal economies in the digital and physical lives of dancers in Egypt, arguing that foreign dancers have an advantage overall due to histories of colonialism and ongoing global inequality.

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2021-10-20