Stop and Dance!: ”Mahatat” Dance Project in Cairo – Freedom of artistic expression suported by Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute and the German Embassy

Spontaneous flash mob art amid social upheaval and political turmoil – “Stop and Dance” is an ambitions intercultural dance project, which aims to promote mobile street art in Egypt. Amira El Ahl reports from Cairo

Dancers of the

Eight women stand on an escalator leading to the platform of the St. Theresia metro station in the district of Shubra. They stand one behind the other and don’t seem to be paying much attention to anyone else. Then the first woman reaches the bottom of the escalator. Instead of walking further to the train platform like all of the other passengers, she presses her body against the wall and begins to writhe along it.

The woman behind her does the same, as do the next six women. They stretch, roll, and push themselves along the wall until they reach its end and arrive at the platform. There, they remain pressed up against the wall without exhibiting the slightest movement.

Entertaining dance performance in the subway station

In the meantime, a train has already arrived and passengers exit the wagons. Some look puzzled, yet continue on their way. Others stop and laugh. One elderly man remains standing for a particularly long time. His head leans slightly to one side and he stares with a wrinkled brow at this tangled up group of women winding along the wall. His gaze seems to ask, “What in the world are they doing? What’s this supposed to be?”

Dancers of the ''Stop and Dance'' project in a Cairo subway station (photo: Amira El Ahl)
Flash mob art: The performances of the “Stop and Dance” project appear to outsiders as completely spontaneous and unannounced. They simply wouldn’t function on stage

Then, the honking signal of the metro tears him away from his thoughts. The driver blares his signal horn a few more times. Evidently, he noticed the women too and seems to have enjoyed the performance.

The eight women are members of the “Stop and Dance” project, an intercultural dance project that aims to bring dance to public spaces. Their performances took place on three weekends from the end of March until mid-April in various metro stations around Cairo.

The project was organized by “Mahatat”, a multicultural art initiative, which was founded last year by four initiators. Their goal is to promote art in public spaces and thereby bring art directly to the people. All of this year’s projects therefore bear the name “Shaware3na,” which means “our streets”.

The main sponsor of “Shaware3na” has been the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute. Among other sponsors is the German Embassy, which provided support for workshop accompanying the “Stop and Dance” project.

In addition to the “Stop and Dance” project, Mahatat has organized other street actions this year, such as “The Tree Project” in the Dokki district of Cairo. The Egyptian artist Yara Mekawei and the Danish artist Nanna Guldhammer conducted a workshop together with art students and young people from the district to work out artistic designs for local trees. The workshop concluded with a one-day festival for the neighbourhood, in which the artworks were put on display.

For the freedom of artistic expression

“We do what we do for the sake of art,” says Mayada Said, one of the initiators of Mahatat. Set in motion by the post-revolutionary mood in Egypt, the Mahatat collective emerged from the passion, commitment, and the vision of its four initiators to support mobile arts in public spaces. The goal of the collective is to support the freedom of artistic expression in Egypt.

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