Nelly Karim


The Final Touch

On Judging Dance & Latest Projects

By Lydia Schoonderbeek


Prima Ballerina Nelly Karim can tell if someone is a good dancer or not in 3 minutes flat. Which is pretty intimidating when she’s standing in front of you “You can usually tell how somebody walks – you see how supple his or her body is.” The So You Think You Can Dance judge and former leading light of the Egyptian Ballet talks to Cairo East Magazine about her newest role as a judge on the show.

Please tell me how you came to be part of So You Think You Can Dance judges?

I was asked to join, and of course I knew the program from MBC4, and that it was a huge success. I had previously thought it would never be successful in the Arab world, I thought where would they find all these dancers, most of the professional dancers are male dancers who have successful careers abroad.


What are your impressions of the level of skill you have seen so far in the competition?

All of the dancers are different; they come from various backgrounds, and schools of dance. What is interesting is the choreography on the show, which makes the dancers look like they’re professionals. The contestants are 3 Egyptians, 1 Palestinian, 2 Syrians, and the rest are Lebanese.

Have the competitors faced any obstacles in entering the competition, i.e. from family?

No, none have, except for one dancer who only made it through the trials. His father was against him dancing. All of the other contestants’ families are very supportive towards their art.

What types of dance are included in the competition?

Contemporary dance, Hip-hop, Jazz, and Street dance, there is no ballet as it can be very difficult. I enjoy watching the different variety that the dancers perform. What makes it so special is the choreography, which makes all the difference. The choreographers are from the UK, USA, Morocco and Sweden.



What is most likely to impress the judges?

There are a lot of things; the first thing is you must be charismatic. This is a show, so you must have a bit of everything, technique, flexibility, charm, and looks.

Why would a contestant receive negative feedback from the judges?

I try not to be too judgmental with the contestants, all of them are young and all are eager to learn. They are very happy to be on the show, and all are very keen on improving. Also music plays a big part, it’s the whole vibe of the dance, so I’m not particularly looking at their footwork. Plus they learn a new dance every 5 days, so they put a lot of effort. It’s hard to get a perfect results, I look at each dance as a whole.

Do you get on with any particular judge?

We all know how hard it is to get up on stage; nobody is showing off or trying to act more knowledgeable than the other. We all get on very well together, and respect each other’s talent. We all come from different backgrounds. Pierre Dulaine is a world-renowned ballroom dancer, Lebanese Hip Hop expert Charles Makriss, Egyptian actress Rojina, Alissar Caracalla and me who comes from a professional ballet dancing background.

Has dancing developed in Egypt since you started?

I think it’s more or less the same. We have the Cairo Opera House, which is great, and there are private ballet schools, which are opening up around Cairo, so there is some improvement.

Do you still practice ballet?

No, I stopped 3 years ago. But when I have a chance I give the odd class. It’s like an addiction you can never quit, it’s in your blood. Acting now has taken over.


What are your upcoming projects?

I’ll be working on my new Ramadan series soon, Tahit Il Saytaraah (Under Control) with script writer Mairam Naoum, whom I’ve worked with before, and Director – Tamer Mohsen


Quick-fire round:

Late night or early riser?

Early, but it’s not a choice, I have to wake up with the kids

Tea or coffee?


Sand or snow?


Favourite restaurant in Cairo?

Steakhouse in Marriott

5 essential items you can’t travel without?

My iPad, laptop, my makeup (which I never use, but I always have it with me in case), a scarf as I get cold easily, and my gold bracelet.

Best gift you have ever received?

It was from my husband, he got me a chain with a special pendant, with the initials of my children and his initials as well. It was very sweet of him!

Favourite book?

My mother’s recipe book of how to look after yourself with natural remedies. It’s like holistic medicine, if you have a cold you can use natural remedies to treat



Step by Step

Dancing to Stardom

By Marwa Magdi

Cairo East Magazine in a candid chat with contestants from So You Think You Can Dance


CEM: How long have you been dancing? And what initially attracted you to dance?

AM: I’ve been dancing since I was 8 years old. I joined Cairo Opera Ballet Company as a professional dancer at the age of 16; I’m 32 years old now. My father is the reason I joined the Academy of Arts (Ballet), as he heard about it from his relatives.

Does your family support your art?

Yes, my parents and my whole family are very supportive of my art.

How many hours a day do you train? Is there a food routine you follow?

Not less than 4 to 5 hours a day and sometimes 8 hours, I don’t often follow any specific food routine but I always prefer healthy food, and here at the show all the dancers have been following a healthy diet.

Tell us about your experience on  So You Think You Can Dance

My experience on So You Think You Can Dance is one of the most significant experiences in my life, I have learnt so many different genres of dance, not only ballet. I’ve gotten to know many dancers from the Arab world and benefited a lot from the judges’ experience.

To join the show I had to leave my work and my whole life behind, this is how much I love to dance. I also think that it’s a huge step and a big risk, but it is all worth it. I love the American version of this show and I think this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.




CEM: How long have you been dancing?

M.H.: My mother enrolled me in the Academy of Arts when I was a child; I studied and danced there for 9 years. I received my bachelor degree from the Higher Institution of Arts (Ballet), majoring in choreography and directing ballet. Then I joined Cairo Opera Ballet Company as a soloist and have been dancing there for the past three years.

Does your family support your art?

My family supports me to a great extent; my younger brother is also a graduate from the Higher Institution of Arts (Ballet) with high honors, and our parents have always been proud of us.

How many hours a day do you train? Is there a specific diet you follow?

I have to train 4 to 5 hours a day, I usually don’t have a particular food routine to follow but here in the show all dancers follow a specific diet.


Tell us about your experience on So You Think You Can Dance.

I’m extremely happy with my experience on the show, especially as I entered Arab’s Got Talent before and wasn’t lucky with the voting. I consider this a huge step for my career, and for the world to know that there are professional dancers in Egypt and the Arab world, especially considering the limited market there is for dancers in Egypt.

I am also very happy with my new fan base, but am rather nervous when it comes to the judges given the strong dance backgrounds they all come from.

CEM: How long have you been dancing for, and what was the appeal?

Y.E.: I’ve been dancing since I was 7 years old, I joined Cairo Opera Ballet Company as a professional dancer at the age of 16; I’m 22 years old now. Dancing is my passion, I just love how I can express my feelings through it, dancing gives me freedom and happiness, I can never imagine myself other than as a dancer. I just thank God for this talent.

Does your family support your art?

My family is very supportive of my art, especially my older sister who is a singer and actress. She is the one who discovered my talent as she once accompanied me to one of her shows and she noticed that I kept imitating the dancers, so she enrolled me in the Academy of Arts (Ballet) after getting the approval of our parents.

How many hours a day do you need to train? Is there a special diet you follow?

We train for 4 to 8 hours every day. Each of the dancers on the show follows a healthy diet that has been provided for each of us since the first day we started.

Tell us about your experience on So You Think You Can Dance.

My experience on the show is a dream come true. It keeps increasing on a daily basis as I’ve never danced anything in my life except ballet but here at the show we have to perform all forms and styles of dance. This proves that a ballerina can perform any type of dance, as Nelly Karim would say. The judges’ opinions always worry me given the professional backgrounds they all come from, so I always do my best to impress them, and my audience of course.

I left my job and whole life in Egypt not knowing what would happen when I got back. This is a huge risk. I also left my parents, who are getting older, but they are a huge motivation for me seeing how supportive they are. I feel like I’m doing this for them to be proud of me.

My ambition and dreams are to open the biggest dance school in the Middle East and to perform on my own television show like Sherihan.

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