Stunning images of ballerinas reclaiming the streets of Cairo.

Photographer Mohamed Taher's life has been defined by three wildly different cities.

The first was his hometown of Cairo, Egypt. The second was Savanah, Georgia, home of the Savannah College of Art and Design, where Taher earned a master's degree in filmmaking and embarked on his earliest photography projects.

The third city was New York, where Taher first encountered the Ballerina Project, an ongoing photo series that features classically trained ballet dancers posing on city streets all over the world.


Inspired by the dancers in New York, Taher went back to Egypt and started a photo series called "Ballerinas of Cairo."

Photo by Mohamed Taher/"Ballerinas of Cairo," used with permission.

At first, he says it was just a visually interesting project to work on. "The photos were just for our sake," Taher explains of the early days of the project, which he works on with fellow photographer Ahmed Fathy. "You see this movement of the ballet dancing and the roughness of [Cairo]. It makes a lot of contrast... It was kind of a niche version of the project."

Photo by Sherif Ashour/"Ballerinas of Cairo," used with permission.

Taher quickly realized that the dancers in the photos weren't just dancing. They were taking to the streets where they could express themselves freely, without inhibition.

"There’s a huge problem for women in Egypt streets," says Taher. "There’s a lot of sexual harassment ... so now this was a layer of the project."

Posing for the photos gave the dancers room in the street where they felt empowered to take up space without fear.

Photo by Mohamed Taher/"Ballerinas of Cairo," used with permission.

For women in Cairo, feeling free and safe in the street is unusual.

Sexual harassment and street harassment are unfortunately common occurrences for women around the world, but 99.3% of women in Egypt experience sexual harassment; a number that a UN Women report report calls "unprecedented."

"To be a woman in Egypt is to live with the crushing inevitability of sexual harassment," writes Jen Tse of Time magazine. "The magnitude of the problem is epidemic."

Photo by Mohamed Taher/"Ballerinas of Cairo," used with permission.

"Ballerinas of Cairo" became more than a cool photo project. Now it's about women reclaiming the streets for themselves.

Taher and the other photographers often include the dancers' stories and voices along with their photos. "We have to give some voices for these women because we tell stories through their dancing," says Taher.

Taher wasn't sure how people would react to the photos, but he says it's been overwhelmingly positive.

"I thought people were going to have some bad comments about it because it’s kind of a conservative community here," Taher explains. "But I was kind of amazed when people encouraged us to continue more and encouraged the girls to dance more."

Photo by Ahmed Fathy/"Ballerinas of Cairo," used with permission.

"We got a lot of comments from girls saying they want to do this, and they were very enthused about it," he says. "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."

Taher says he will be taking the project and its message of empowerment to other cities in Egypt, as well as putting together a gallery exhibition. It's not the work he thought he'd be doing, but it's the work he loves.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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