efe-epaCairo

For young Egyptian girl Menatallah Mohamed living with spina bifida means facing innumerable challenges, such as overcoming prejudice on a daily basis in the streets of Egypt, as she debuts dancing in her wheelchair at the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival in Cairo.

Laughter resounds in the dance studio on the first floor of a decrepit building in the center of the Egyptian capital, where Irish dancer Tara Brandel prepares choreography for a dance entitled Square One, which will integrate two girls with physical disabilities, along with two other professional dancers.

At the end of the rehearsal, Menatallah told EFE that this is the first time she has danced, as last year she was only able to see the festival from the stands.

"I liked the idea very much, so I knew I had to be part of the event," she said.

After putting the brake on the wheelchair to which she has been confined since she was born, Menatallah begins to move her arms in tune with Nermin, an Egyptian dancer from the Cairo Contemporary Dance Center.

At the age of 27, Menatallah was able to become a weightlifting champion on several occasions, so she believes that even if she cannot move her legs, the power of movement must be taught to all those who do not believe they can.

"We are the ones who have to change them by force", she said without losing her smile as she showed a photograph of the many medals she has won.

Her partner Amal Abul Fotouh, who also performs in a wheelchair with dancer Marihan, appears in another photo with her black karate belt.

This is the second year that Amal has taken part in D-CAF, which brings together several artists from all over the world and offers shows for a month in the streets of Cairo.

Amal told EFE that she does not want to be seen as "a poor girl in a wheelchair," but wants to show people walking in the street that she is also a person just like them.

"I want to show that I am capable of doing everything and that nothing is impossible," she declared.

In a certain sector of Egyptian society, this stigma still prevails towards people with disabilities, although people are beginning to look at them differently and are gradually changing, according to Menatallah.

For Tara, the woman who was given the opportunity to dance on Egyptian boulevards, this is a great idea and a challenge for the girls as they will dance in very poor areas where disabilities are still a shock, so this is a good opportunity to show them how to integrate into society.

The great challenge for the girls, added Tara, is for them to have faith in themselves, stay strong and dance in unison.

A few kilometers away, Dutch dancer Joop Oonk rehearses her choreography called Blocks, in a gymnasium at the American University in Cairo.

Oonk wants her students, who mostly have Down syndrome, to know how to transmit to the public on the streets their feelings and understanding of the show, and how they do not have so many differences.

The choreographer, who began dancing in Oman when she was four years old, told EFE she wants them to feel free.

By the end of the rehearsal, Oonk is going to bring the whole team together and will ask each one to say what this show means to them, as well as the idea of getting involved in future performances.