Tattoos. To wear or beware?

Tattoos have been popular in the belly dance community for decades. It’s not uncommon to see oriental dancers with the lower back tat that either sits just above her hip belt or pokes alluringly out of areas otherwise hidden. In the tribal and fusion dance community, well it’s not so much a matter of “Do you have any ink?”, its more a case of ” How many tats do you have?”.

Rachel Brice

Rachel Brice

Rachel Brice Tattoo

While searching for the right pictures for this post I found this!! Have I got this right?? Is this a Rachel Brice Tattoo???

In Australia tattoos are enormously popular and extremely common particularly in those under 35. While in Bali last year it was possible to pick the Aussies out of a crowd not so much by the accents but the ink!

As dance artists we are drawn to expressions of art on our bodies. I think its a natural extension and I have no judgement on those covered in images or those that are ‘clean skins’ (the term used by the tattooed to refer to those not in the club 😉 )- however…

How safe is the ink?

Does anyone regulate it?

Apparently not.

“To date there have been no systemic studies to look at the safety of injecting such inks into the body”

Ouch!! So these dyes that are designed to stay in your body permanently are not properly tested or regulated. There have been some studies done however and the findings are not promising. The issue seems to revolve around nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are super small (like a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers wide) and are therefore more easily absorbed into the body.

  • Nanoparticles are widely found in tattoo inks, with some black pigments containing virtually 100-percent nanoparticles.
  • Tattooing with black inks entails an injection of substantial amounts of phenol and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) into skin. Most of these PAHs are carcinogenic and may additionally generate deleterious singlet oxygen inside the dermis when skin is exposed to UVA (e.g. solar radiation).” 

It’s not just black ink that has the nanoparticles, most colours do have substantial amounts, its just that black tends to have the most. These toxic types of nano particles can get into your bloodstream and organs but even more scary is that the potential for them to cause lesions in your brain.tattooed belly dancer

It’s not all bad news though, there is a study being conducted by the american National Center for Toxicological Research that will hopefully clear up the issue of toxicity and therefore encourage manufacturers to make the inks safer.  In the mean time I would suggest that you wait a bit before getting any large or darkly coloured tattoos and see what the results of the study are. If it’s all good then you could have saved up more cash to get a bigger, or better one than you first envisaged. If the study shows problems then you may be pleased you waited.
This post was largely based on this article from please click here for more info

What do you think? Do you care if the ink is potentially toxic or is the art worth the risk? Please comment below.

Egypt – the belly dancer’s dream, but is it safe? Pt 2

On the ground report of belly dancer’s travelling in Egypt – what it’s like to be a female tourist in Cairo right now!

If you missed the first instalment you can start at the beginning by clicking  here.

It was so fun to play dress ups in the desert after a camel ride - Jade 2010

It was so fun to play dress ups in the desert after a camel ride – Jade 2010

The following is part 2 of the Shisha Diaries written by Margaret Cunningham. Margaret runs a successful Belly dance School in Brisbane Australia and runs regular tour to Egypt that are of exceptional value. She also is a great writer and I have loved reading her ‘diaries’, I am sure you will too……….

No.2 The Shisha Diaries.
22 March Day 3
“The morning started at a trendy new coffee shop, “Boulevard”, near the hotel with yummy omelettes and cappuccinos. I was interested to see heaps of locals walking past with big flower arrangements then realised that today is Egyptian mother’s day! The day is celebrated much the same as it is in Oz with the family gathering around mum and bringing gifts. Mother’s day is more important than father’s day here though.
Hotel at twilight - photo by Margaret Cunningham

Hotel at twilight – photo by Margaret Cunningham

Zamalek, where we are staying is an upmarket area of Cairo set on a large island in the Nile. It is the haunt of many expatriates as the area houses so many foreign embassies. There are also a lot of young and hip Egyptian students who attend the nearby uni. One of the things that is remarkable about Cairo is how different suburbs can differ so widely in atmosphere! I must admit I feel a bit strange in this upmarket area….like I am only half-way in Egypt. I always feel most alive in the decrepit back alleys amongst the potholes and stray cats. Strange, I know.
Today Helen and I had arranged to meet with our friend, Mo (yes, short for Mohamed) after he had spent some time with his mum on this special day. Pleased to report I had my first shisha of the trip on our hotel rooftop overlooking the Nile dreaming away the morning until Mo arrived. We first met Mo on the last tour, one of our company reps, and he quickly became a close friend. It’s nice to be able to get to know him better now ‘off the clock’. It is always engaging to be able to hear a local person like Mo explain the current state of events in Egypt from their perspective. We spent a great deal of time today just talking in depth about the revolution and its aftermath and Mo’s views on what it will take to heal the country so it can move forward.
There is no doubt that Egypt has changed. The people now are hurting and desperately worried about their futures and, worst of all, they have lost hope. On the last tour, 12 months ago, there was still much hope and optimism albeit mingled with apprehension. Now, hope for the future has evaporated and, unbelievably, people are actually saying they were better off with Mubarak!
Mosque photo by Margaret Cunningham

Mosque photo by Margaret Cunningham

As a visitor to Egypt, how does this affect one’s experience? I guess, having travelled here so often before, I know what it used to be like so I personally feel a sense of loss on behalf of these wonderful people. As a first time visitor however, I imagine this impact would be less as, even under the current duress, the Egyptian people still display more warmth and joy than the average Australian. In Cairo the traffic is worse – no doubt. More time in transit now is a fact of everyday life for everyone here. There are less tourists around – less queues, less crowds at the sites and less musical tour-bus horns punctuating the horns of the general traffic.
On the last tour we were often asked by Egyptians what made us different from the other tourists of the world; why had we come when others would not? The answers lie in the fact that I get objective advice from my friends who live in Egypt on the real situation rather than the mass media plus the fact we are looked after by the best tour operators this country has to offer – I have utter faith in them having worked with them on all my tours. What I have noticed from our jaunt Downtown last night with Mo, is the looks we are getting from the local people – they seem shocked to see us! It’s like they are stunned that a real-live tourist is walking amongst them. This extra curious attention is new.
Downtown is the “Queen Street Mall” of Cairo and last night was Thursday night – the equivalent of our Friday night and for many Egyptian families it is their night out together. Downtown had its hey day in the 40s and 50s when its gorgeous French and British colonial buildings were still white and pristine. I still love admiring these intricate decorative buildings (although now far from white) and can vividly imagine what life was like back then. Easy to picture Samia Gamal in her knee length gabardine skirt, cashmere sweater and patent pumps sipping an iced tea in a classy patisserie! Today the lower levels of the buildings mostly host the brightly lit boutiques for shoes, bags, clothes and lingerie (lingerie on the upper, private levels of course). One has to restrain oneself from grimacing in horror at some of the weird fashions but it all gives Downtown, Cairo it’s unique flavour. And amongst the gaudy merchandise are gems to be had! (On my last visit I bought 4 amazing winter coats and last night considered adding a couple more to the collection.)
We had dinner in Gad – a chain of Egyptian fast-ish food kind of restaurants serving good local food while looking down on the bustling streets filled with traffic and shoppers. We were entertained and delighted by an extended family of women and their hoard of children at the next table who were constantly in fits of laughter at their own antics. The staff of the restaurant were joining in – laughter is more contagious is Egypt and no one minded the raucous. So nice to see the women having such an unbridled good time. We were speculating if some wily husbands were at home in the peace and quiet having ‘treated’ their spouses a special night out for mothers day!!!!”
You will never forget the cats of Egypt - photo by Margaret Cunningham

You will never forget the cats of Egypt – photo by Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has her own website for her dance school and tours that can be found here. It is my intention to travel with Margaret again with her October / November tour this year, so if you are interested in joining us please mention Jade Belly Dance when you ask for more info through Margaret’s website or you can contact me and I will forward you the tour newsletters to date (

If you have any questions you would like to ask Margaret about the safety of travelling to Egypt then ask away and I will forward them on to her. Just comment below.

Egypt – the belly dancer’s dream, but is it safe? Pt 1

I doubt there is a serious belly dancer that has not at least considered travelling to Egypt.

The shopping, costumes, culture, teachers, language beckons to us and when you throw in the last wonder of the ancient world left standing it is an intoxicating mix. Yet since the revolution enthusiasm has dwindled for travel to Egypt. There is even more fear about personal safety then ever before but how much is based on fact?

One of the best days of my life

One of the best days of my life – Jade in Egypt

I was lucky enough to travel to Egypt at the end of 2010. Before I left I was told by just about everyone that I would be treated badly, spat on by the locals and to expect extremely rude behaviour from the men. What I experienced was the total opposite. I was never spat on, almost all the men were super polite and friendly and I felt safe at all times. It was by far the best travel experience I have ever had.

I travelled with a group of belly dancers (all female) lead by Margaret Cunningham of Soul Dance Tours and we had a great time. One would expect that travelling in a group of all females would attract the sexism that I was told was rife but it didn’t eventuate. It seems so much of what we hear about the Middle East is based on rumours. I even spent the better part of 2 days shopping and sight seeing on my own and had no problems what so ever.

So have things changed since the revolution? Is it possible to experience Egypt and expect a good experience?

The following are exerts that I am publishing (with permission) from what Margaret has dubbed her “Shisha diaries”. She is in Egypt right now with her friend and dance colleague Helen and is reporting the reality of what travel is like in Egypt at present.

THE SHISHA DIARIES – Exploring the safety of Egypt, one Shisha Cafe at a time.
20 March Day 1
“Well, we’re here! I am sitting on our hotel balcony sipping coffee, wrapped in a blanket and overlooking the one, the only Nile River. I hear, from across the river the traffic rumble accented endlessly with horns. It’s early for Cairo – only about 7am. As loud as the horns are, the birds singing loudly in the trees around the hotel are winning! Zamalek, the area where we are staying is considered a ‘flash’ area and there are more trees and gardens around here than in some other neighbourhoods.
View of the Nile from Margaret's hotel

View of the Nile from Margaret’s hotel

It is so strange for me to be here without one of my beautiful tour groups. Usually, at this moment, I would be getting ready for a day of ‘nursing’ wide-eyed apprehensive travellers through their first day. I would be checking today’s itinerary, making last minute phone calls, trouble shooting any issues that have arisen with tour members; lost luggage perhaps or forgotten medication; perhaps someone’s global roaming hasn’t kicked in and they are tearful they can’t let hubby know they have arrived safely; perhaps someone has already been down to breakfast and is now knocking on my door concerned that there are no ‘gluten-free’ options on the buffet.
Well, here I sit responsible only for myself, in my PJs, knowing I can sit here soaking up this river all day if I want to. The other times I have come to Egypt without a tour group in tow I have missed them terribly the way a parent would feel if they can’t watch their children open presents on Christmas morning. Witnessing the love affair grow between Egypt and my adventurous travellers is a gift I treasure and am humbled to be a part of each and every tour.
But tell us about the trouble I hear you calling from across the planet! What about the riots, the chaos, the danger? Well, sorry to disappoint those of you who insist Egypt is a ‘no-go’ zone right now but life is going on as it always does here. Over the next 5 weeks I expect there will be protests and flare-ups at times but will they effect us? Perhaps I won’t be able to go shoe shopping Downtown (near Tahrir Square) or maybe our planned night out to the Zarr Folkloric show (also Downtown) will have to be put off until tomorrow but, as I always explain to people at home, Cairo itself is so huge any issues when and if they arise are easily avoided and there is so much to do and see- so what if shoe shopping has to be replaced by fruit cocktails overlooking the Pyramids of Giza?
Shoes in cairo

They really know who to make use of their window space!

Shoe shopping in Cairo is an unexpected delight

Shoe shopping in Cairo is an unexpected delight

To be honest, it is easy to be sitting here on my first morning in my hotel room bubble and say how things are fine….that’s why I am going to reporting back regularly from everywhere I go over the 5 weeks I’m here from the baladi neighbourhoods, to the tourist sites, to Tahrir Square (yes, even ground zero itself). I need to show you this place is safe.
It’s ironic that since the 90s there have been frequent deadly attacks on tourists here as a way to threaten the government but since the revolution that deposed this depised government, there has not been a single organised act of violence against a tourist. And NOW tourists are avoiding the country? Go figure!
I have to do my best for this country which has changed my life forever. It has given me my art; the creative passion I am wholly devoted to. It has given me my livelihood; my dance school, Soul Dance through which I have met the women and men who grace my life on a daily basis. It has given me the only place on earth where my soul comes alive, where it truly ‘dances’. I know my efforts to convince people to come back here and support this miracle of a country are but a drop in the ocean, but this is what I have to do.
I already have 6 beautiful souls booked into my October/November tour, but I would love more. I am hoping that, if anyone is reading this and wavering that my on-the-ground reports will help to assure you that Egypt is very much able to offer the safety and warmth is always has. Stay tuned over the next 5 weeks – I promise to present an honest, objective appraisal of what it’s REALLY like here. I promise to leave my rose-coloured glasses back in the hotel and help you make an informed decision of the viability of travel to Egypt.”

Margaret has her own website for her dance school and tours that can be found here. It is my intention to travel with Margaret again with her October / November tour this year, so if you are interested in joining us please mention Jade Belly Dance when you ask for more info through Margaret’s website or you can contact me and I will forward you the tour newsletters to date (

Stay tuned – Pt 2 to be published tomorrow.  Have you travelled to Egypt? Were you interested in Belly dance at the time or has that come later? I would love to read about your experiences. If you have any questions you would like to ask Margaret about the safety of travelling to Egypt then ask away and I will forward them on to her. Just comment below.


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