Like many dance photographers, Mohamed Taher has a knack for beautifully capturing the body in motion. His interest in movement is evident in his Ballerinas of Cairo series, and the captivating collection of photos also serves a more poignant purpose: it helps women fight sexual harassment and reclaim the city’s streets.
After learning about the Ballerina Project, an ongoing series that documents dancers in urban settings across the globe, Taher was inspired to carry out a similar undertaking in the Egyptian capital. Featuring beautiful dancers as they publicly pirouette and pose en pointe, Ballerinas of Cairo began as an aesthetic and artistic project. Shortly after starting his striking series, however, Taher realized it held unique potential. While the city’s cobblestoned streets and ancient architecture did provide a beautiful backdrop for the figures, it became clear that the outdoor setting was also highly symbolic. “There’s a huge problem for women in Egypt streets,” Taher told Upworthy. “There’s a lot of sexual harassment…so now this was a layer of the project.”
According to a 2013 United Nations report, 99.3% of Egyptian women have experienced street-based sexual harassment. To reclaim their right to any and all public spaces, the ballerinas of Cairo have taken to the streets in an empowering and elegant way. Clad in skirts and ballet shoes and allowing their hair to freely flow behind them, the dancers occupy Cairo’s roads and boulevards with their bodies and expressive movements. As they leap across the pavement, passersby continue on with their daily lives; some stop to gaze at the dancers, while many appear unaffected—reactions that surprised Taher. “I thought people were going to have some bad comments about it because it’s kind of a conservative community here,” Taher explained. “But I was kind of amazed when people encouraged us to continue more and encouraged the girls to dance more.”
Taher has turned this liberating project into an ongoing series, which he regularly updates on Instagram. While it has seen great success thus far, you can expect even more in the future, as Tehar notes that there is an increasing interest to participate among the ballerinas of Cairo. “We got a lot of comments from girls saying they want to do this, and they were very enthused about it,” he said. “They want to dance on the street. They want to feel free. They want to have this feeling of being on the streets again, just walking the street.”