Belly dancing is an Egyptian art by excellence and legends like Taheya Karioka, Samia Gamal and Nagwa Fouad continue to set the standard of belly dancing as an art. While few dancers today even come close to these legends, Maya Maghraby seems to be the exception. Today, Maya is at the top of her art and is the go-to belly dancer for Egypt’s high society celebrations; and her style and skill have also translated into international appeal. eniGma’s Farida El Sayed sat down with the rising star to learn more about her path to belly dancing success.
Dancing in school plays at a young age gave Maya the basics in performing arts, which served her well when she embarked on her dancing career. Dancing was something that Maya always enjoyed. She began dancing in an Egyptian folklore troupe, where she quickly became the lead dancer. Soon thereafter, she made the switch to a solo belly dancer, and never looked back.
Citing Samia Gamal as her role model, Maya prefers dancing to the classic songs of the likes of Warda and Abdel Halim Hafez. However, requests at events these days are more for the newer songs with fast beats that are popular among younger crowds. “Each song has its own dance style and its own feeling. I keep my repertoire up to date by picking new songs all the time,” she says.
Maya is also known for her glamorous belly dancing suits, which are part of what differentiates her from other dancers. She insists that her outfits are an essential part of her dance, “representing 30 percent of her artistic performance.” She is always shopping around for the right tailor who can fulfill each fantasy idea that comes to her mind for a dance costume.
Like her idol, Samia Gamal, Maya’s global appeal is undeniable. Performing in places as diverse as Istanbul and Cambodia, she says that wherever she goes, she finds that they love belly dancing even more than in Egypt; and they love the Egyptian dancers more than any others. She adds that when it comes to parties abroad, “people associate Egypt with the songs and dance routines of Samia Gamal and Nagwa Fouad.”
While she absolutely loves her career, Maya admits that misconceptions about belly dancing remain up to this day. “I think this misconception is generated from old movies that showed belly dancers as not decent people,” she laments. Nonetheless, she believes that Egyptian society is changing and with change comes the hope of debunking these misconceptions.
Partly due to society’s lingering negative views of dancers, the number of Egyptian belly dancers today is relatively small. The field has also been challenged by a huge influx of dancers coming from all corners of the globe. However, this doesn’t bother Maya, who insists that she only competes against herself, constantly seeking to improve her skills and innovate in her dancing moves. While it seems that today’s social media plays a part in Maya’s increasing name recognition, she credits her success to her talent rather than her Instagram following. “If my performance was bad, it wouldn’t matter how many followers I have,” she explains.
With her demanding schedule and with dance sets that can last up to 45 minutes, Maya accords the utmost importance to her physical fitness. She manages to fit in a gym routine every day and strictly abides by a healthy diet, except when she gorges on “tehina,” which apparently she can’t resist! “Tahine is my problem when it comes to sticking to my diet. I can eat that all day,” she laughingly exclaims.
When she’s not in the gym, Maya relieves the stress of her demanding job by riding her bike or relaxing at home watching cartoons. In spite of the glitz and glamour of her job, there are days when she isn’t in the mood to perform. However, the knowledge that her dancing brings happiness to others helps her overcome that feeling and makes her forget whatever is personally troubling her.
Looking ahead, Maya is focusing most of her energy on dancing, even though she did make her debut on TV with roles in Welad Rizk (Sons of Rizk) and Layaly El Helmeya (Helmeya Nights). Her real ambitions lie elsewhere, however, and “they are purely personal,” she says, adding, “I’m hoping for a little Maya.”