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Belly dancer aims to revive lost art

Updated 1430 GMT (2230 HKT) January 31, 2016
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Amie Sultan is Egypt's rising belly dance star. The former professional ballerina wants to revive the golden age of the dance. But she struggles with Egyptian society's perception of her newfound profession. Dana Smillie for CNN
Sultan designs her own costumes. She works at the studio of her teacher, former professional belly dancer Raqia Hassan. She looks for a style that flows and has a classical look. She steers away from the commonly used Lycra outfits. Dana Smillie for CNN
Sultan performed ballet around the world. She made the shift to belly dancing in 2013 after a trip to Turkey. "I felt the need for a shift in my career because I've been doing ballet for so long. My body was different, my shape was very different." Despite describing her hourlong performances as intense cardio, she also does Pilates to stay in shape. Dana Smillie for CNN
Sultan changes costumes several times during a performance. It gives her time to catch her breath but it also helps her translate the story. "Each section of the show has its mood and has its style. You can't wear any costume with any song. It has to be appropriate for that song," she says. Dana Smillie for CNN
Sultan controls her own image, which includes applying makeup herself. She's careful whom she works for. "There are two kinds of belly dancers in Egypt. There are the ones who do it and become stars. Those are very few. And there are the ones who are desperate for a living and they are helping their families," says Sultan. "These girls don't have any other means for a living and work in horrible conditions because men run much of the belly dance scene and they objectify women. So you don't see their art." Dana Smillie for CNN
Sultan performs at the Royal Maxim Palace Kempinski in Cairo. She also performs only at 5-star venues, weddings at dance clubs. Dana Smillie for CNN
Sultan wants to revive belly dancing as an art form in Egypt. "Just like any other art form, it plays on the emotions of people," says Sultan. Unfortunately, she adds, society sees it more as a commodity. The government imposes restrictions on how much skin dancers can show and, at times, on their technique. Dana Smillie for CNN
"Belly dancing in Egypt is both a source of joy and at the same time a taboo," says Sultan. "People will watch a belly dancer but it's typical for someone to say I would never let my sister become a belly dancer or for a mother to say my son can never marry a belly dancer, but she'll bring one to her son's wedding." Dana Smillie for CNN
The music is the most important factor for belly dancing. Sultan prefers live music. She has a handpicked band, which can include anywhere from seven to 20 musicians on a given night. "Every instrument has its role. The wind instruments tell a story while the string instruments tell another and the percussionists are telling a whole different story and they are answering each other. Your body is basically translating every single instrument." Dana Smillie for CNN
Sultan draws inspiration from the golden age of belly dancing and cinema. Her main influence is Samia Gamal and the styles of the 1940s and 1950s. Dana Smillie for CNN
Sultan wishes to see belly dancing taken as a serious art form. Her dream is to see it being preformed on Egypt's main stage at the Cairo Opera House. She also would like to see Egyptian girls studying it at dance academies. Dana Smillie for CNN
For now Sultan plans to continue perfecting her art. "It's been my life journey to constantly pursue developing any kind of dance technique. I always try to better myself and do what I love." Dana Smillie for CNN