We associate Egypt with its ancient civilisation and its conservative reality now, and pole dancing with sleazy clubs for gentlemen (to use a lovely euphemism).

These photo story is not necessarily aiming to change this perception completely, but to challenge it and add a few more shades of grey in between.

In other words, what happens if you mix the two? Who are the Egyptian girls who do pole dancing, and why do they do it?

Aya and her husband Hamid turned their spare room into a gym

I got access to this female-only pole dancing studio in Cairo

Pole dance and pole fitness require a lot of strength

In order to avoid injury, the girls are supervised by an instructor

To me, the girl on the right, Hadil, was the bravest. She was only just beginning to learn pole dancing, and she was very clearly terrified by my presence. But she came to be photographed nevertheless

“I’ve learned to hold my head high because of how strong pole dancing makes me feel” – Nouran, pictured here assuming a pose

Some girls, due to their religion, wish to remain mostly clothed. They may wear special clothing to simulates human skin’s grip on the pole

To ensure a successful start, the studio invited a Mexican pole and ballet dancer to lead it – Olivia

Olivia’s backround is quite fascinating. After practising synchronised swimming and ballet, and even artistic roller skating, she was captivated by pole dancing and pole fitness. She says it offers more freedom than ballet, and it combines strength, flexibility, and acrobatics to an extent ballet does not

I was surprised by how nicely decorated and well-maintained the studio was. It created a very cosy atmosphere

There are many rooms, and this one offers silk-related exercises and dance

Aya told me an Egyptian woman is expected to be asexual when out and about. Pole dancing enables her to express her femininity

Iman likes to combine pole dancing with belly dancing

Olivia estimates only 1% of injuries are caused by falls. Most of them are injuries of the shoulers – caused by poor technique

Aya would not mind exercising among men, but they would not be allowed to touch her. Olivia, being a female instructor, can

Aya said fitness in general is relatively new to Egyptian society. “Our parents’ generation – they don’t really get it.” But as more and more people have sitting jobs, being physically active at least a few times per week becomes a necessity

Olivia on Egypt: “In spite of the fact that 9 years ago (2009) I had the opportunity to visit Egypt as a tourist, I knew living in an Arab country will not be exactly the same as the experience of a one-off traveler. I did not know what to expect as a young woman from abroad in the Muslim world. News about religious and political conflicts were the only thing we hear in Mexico from Egypt… But something helped me change my mind.”

I got Olivia to pose here, and the people were thrilled to look at her

The girls said fellow Egyptians perceived them as strong, not as strippers

Nevertheless, the studio is quite hidden, and only advertises on the Internet

Because performers smile, people tend to think pole dancing is easy. In fact, it requires a slow build-up of strength and often painful exercise

Aya is proud of her progress, but she not mentioned she does pole dancing to many of her friends, co-workers, or even family memebrs

Big thanks to Olivia, Aya, Nouran, Hadil, and Lamia for making this photo story possible!