Today our guest writer and Sha3bi Queen, Aasiyah, dancer and owner of Sehraya Entertainment tells us about this popular genre of Egyptian music, its most famous and influential artists and what to consider when performing to it
Sha3bi: More Than Just "Popular"
Let us discuss something that is very popular in the belly dancing world. It is all over Instagram and YouTube. Everyone dances to it. The music is one of my absolute favorites and I annoy my husband almost daily by playing it ad nauseam.
I am talking, of course, about shaabi. More often than not, when many teachers (western and non-western alike) are asked to explain shaabi, they simply say that shaabi is music that is popular at a certain point in time or that it is pop music. This explanation is oversimplified and misleading.
The word shaabi (شعبي, or sha3bi if read phonetically) translates to “my people” but in the context of musical genres, sha3bi would best be translated as ‘folky’ or ‘popular’. And it should come as no surprise that sha3bi music is housed under the umbrella of pop music.
Adaweya, King of Sha3bi
Watch Adaweya in Action
In this vintage video (1970's?), Ahmed Adaweya sings his popular song Zahma
Beyond Ahmed Adaweya
Long before Adaweya, neighborhoods used to have their local sha3bi guy entertain at parties and street weddings, and singers like Mohamed Roushdy, Mohamed Abd el Motileb, and Mohamed al 3ezaby were recording sha3bi music long before Adaweya. Nevertheless, Adaweya was a revolutionary in the genre, and is the king of the modern sha3bi we love today.
While sha3bi music is of course popular, pop music and sha3bi are not the same. Amr Diab is a pop singer, but he never sings sha3bi. Hakim IS a sha3bi singer who is also sometimes a pop singer. Emad Ba3ror is only a sha3bi singer.
Music style and composition as well as use of language and voice are what distinguish a sha3bi singer from a pop singer.
Sha3bi Music Today
Recently, like all art, sha3bi music has gone through quite a revolution since the glory days of Adaweya. Current sha3bi has been marked by songs like Sigara Bunni (Brown Cigarette) by Mahmoud al Husseni, arguably one of the most iconic sha3bi songs of the past two decades.
Most sha3bi singers now utilize a synthesizer or electronic band over a full band or orchestra (Hakim is a major exception, his band is huge and fantastic!) and many singers are incorporating rap and/or other western style music into their production.
Sha3bi music can cover many things--love, politics, life, marriage, fruit, etc--and can also be full of double entendre. Sha3bi singers often talk about controversial and taboo topics such as drugs and sex, as is common for example for popular hip hop artists here in the US.
Singers like Ahmed Sheba, Abd el Basset Hamouda, and Shaabola are known for their heavy and politically laced songs while Mahmoud el Lithy, Bosy, and Saad el Soghayar generally keep things light and fun.
Some of my favorite sha3bi singers are Ahmed Sheba, Emad Ba3roor, Abd el Basset Hamouda, and Reda el Bahrawy. I also really recommend checking out a truly fantastic sha3bi keyboardist, Abd el Salam.
Watch this video translation of Sigara Bunni:
but ONLY if you're 18 or older ;)
and ready for a laugh
Dancing to Sha3bi Music
As a dancer, it is important to remember that sha3bi is a form of lyricism and music; it is not a dance style. When performing to sha3bi music, the dance form appropriate to use is raqs baladi (baladi dance). Raqs baladi is very similar to raqs sharqi (Oriental dance, more commonly known as "belly dance") in movement, but differs in the delivery and intent.
Most sha3bi tells a story of some kind and it always adds an extra element to a performance when the dancer can add to that story. Many dancers, myself included, prefer to wear a dress or galabeya when performing to a sha3bi piece; however, it is fine to wear a bedlah or cabaret costume when incorporating a sha3bi piece into a full set.
Movement is earthy, raw, and sometimes lazy. It is important to know the song lyrics not only to avoid potential embarrassment, but to be able to communicate the story in the song. At its heart, sha3bi music is expressive and fun. Even when the singer is lamenting about the rage of poverty and inequality in the world, everyone loves sha3bi!
About Today's Author
Aasiyah is a professional Raqs Sharqi performer, instructor, and artistic company director who specializes in modern Egyptian technique.
Known for fusing masculine and feminine performance elements, her authentic style has been developed from years of dedicated study of Egyptian dance, culture, and language.
While appreciative of the classic styles of the past, Aasiyah is constantly pushing to stay relevant of modern Cairo life and the influences it has on the dance.
You can find out more about Aasiyah and follow her work by visiting her website, https://www.aasiyahdance.com/ or her instagram pages, @Aasiyah_Dance and @Sehraya_Entertainment.
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Happy learning, and happy dancing!
Learn About this Iconic Song and the Singer Who Bridged the Gap Between Middle Eastern & North African Cultures
What belly dancer doesn't love Esmaouni?
If you've never heard this song before, today you are in for a treat! And if you are already familiar with it, you are in for a full-on feast, as we're about to take a deep dive into the background, translation and meaning of this beautiful, timeless classic.
So keep on reading, and next time you dance to Esmaouni, notice how it takes on a whole new level depth and meaning for you!
Esmaouni (اسمعوني, alternatively spelled Ismaouni, Esma3ouni, or Isma3ouni) is a classic Arabic song that was released in 1974. It was famously sung by one of the biggest stars of Egyptian music, Warda Al-Jazairia, written by lyricist Sayed Morsi and composed by Warda's husband and popular composer Baligh Hamdi. Its title means "Listen to Me."
The Warda 1974 original was over 20 minutes long, and today there are countless shorter, modern renditions of it by other famous Arab singers and musicians, both with and without vocals.
The Rose of Algeria
Although Warda (1939? - 2012) is now known as an icon of Egyptian music, she was actually not Egyptian at all.
Throughout her life she lived in many countries: France, Lebanon, Algeria, and Egypt--where she married Baligh Hamdi and built her ultimate stardom. In Egypt, Warda performed with some of the most famous Arab musicians of her time, eventually becoming one herself, and she even acted in several movies.
Having been born in France to Lebanese and Algerian parents, Warda did not speak in the Egyptian dialect for much of her younger life, nor was she able to write in Arabic. It was thanks to her demanding mentor--the prominent Egyptian singer/composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab--that Warda learned to sing with an Egyptian accent and write in Arabic script!
Warda's singing "plays on a specific emotional range successfully combining strength and frailty: on the one side will-power, self-assertion, even challenge; on the other side sweetness and a tenderness implying some kind of vulnerability," as beautifully stated by Daniel Caux, a lecturer of Arabic music at the University of Vincennes. This is why so many are infatuated by her music.
She also bridged the linguistic and musical gaps between various Arab countries, making her a truly pan-Arabic icon of her time, which she remains to this date. She sang patriotic Algerian songs during the time of Algeria's fight for independence, she sang songs honoring Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine, and could even sing folk songs from the Arab Gulf.
Nicknamed The Rose of Algeria, Warda was and still is admired and beloved all over the Arab world, where her voice brings joy to people every day through her classic, timeless songs.
Listen to Esmaouni
Now are you ready to listen to Warda singing the original 20-minute rendition of Esmaouni ? Here it is...
"Listen to Me" - The Meaning
When Warda sings Esmaouni, she is telling a story of heartbreak and failed love. You can hear in her voice the pain of having been rendered invisible and insignificant to someone with whom she had once shared a passionate, intimate past.
It was a love that had once felt so deep and real. They had meant the world to each other. But now it is as if he "never knew" her, "never met" her, "never saw" her, "never dealt" with her before.
Repeatedly pleading "listen to me..." the singer is demanding (to her friends? her community?) to be heard. As she tells her side of the story, she is remembering it again herself; feeling again the emotions she had felt during their romance. The passion, the love, the intimacy... and then the anger and the pain from being rejected in such a dramatic, final and public way.
Well, at least that's my interpretation of it! You can judge it for yourself, by listening to the translation below.
So now you get a treat for making it to the end of this post. Watch this video to get an almost word-for-word translation of Esmaouni from Arabic to English.
The version used here is a more modern rendition of Esmaouni, by the amazing Egyptian singer Safaa Farid.
This video includes the original words in Arabic script, for those of you who can read Arabic--as well as the transliteration into our alphabet, for those who can't--this way we can all sing along!
As you're listening to this version, keep in mind that Arabic songs are usually sung using male pronouns, even if the person being sung about is female. This will be the case with this version.
Also keep in mind that certain words being used in the lyrics should not be interpreted literally, but instead as euphemisms for feelings or actions that are passionate or intimate. Arabic is a very expressive language with many layers of meaning that are dependent on context.
Video by SharqiDance
Translation by Ahmed Elswify, International Lighthouse Arabic Academy
Music by Safaa Farid. If you love this song, you can listen to the full version here.
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I hope this post has been insightful for you, and that it helps you better understand this song so that you can interpret it in an informed and meaningful way. It's hard to truly do justice to classic Arabic music without understanding the words and the stories or meaning behind them!
If you loved this post and would like to see more like it, please hit the "like" button bellow and leave us a comment with your feedback.
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And if there is a song you love and would like to understand better, or if you want to learn Arabic, you can reach out to International Lighthouse Arabic Academy for translations or online classes (and get 10% off with discount code "sharqidance").
Happy learning, and happy dancing!
To get what you want, you have to want what you get.
-Paraphrased from an unknown author
There is so much truth and wisdom in this short yet powerful sentence. It is, in a nutshell, the best advice I can give regarding acquiring new skills, building your goal body, becoming healthier, attracting great relationships, progressing in your career, making more money, or just in general creating the life of your dreams!
Appreciating what we already have opens our eyes to notice opportunities that are already available to us... opportunities which are impossible to detect when we are spending our time focused on what we don't have. That attitude of gratitude then goes on to attract more new outcomes that bring us the same feeling, resulting in a beautiful cycle of awesomeness.
As it relates specifically to raqs sharqi (belly dance), this means that if you want to become a better dancer or achieve specific dance goals, the best way to go about it is to not be frustrated by the level you currently find yourself at, not to look at other dancers who are "better" than you and compare yourself to them in a way that puts you down, but instead to fully appreciate where you are at right now, all while keeping your goals in the back of your mind as you enjoy every moment of your journey towards achieving them.
Look at me, your dear author, fully appreciating the fact that I am dancing to this incredible live band on a stage in LA ;)
Does this seem vague, abstract, or too "woo woo" for you?
Then let me put it a bit differently... I'll give you two scenarios, and you tell me which one will lead to more progress for the dancer in question.
Dancer A took up belly dancing classes because she was enchanted by the gracefulness, elegance and femininity of raqs sharqi. But every time she comes to class, she can't help but look around the room and feel horrible about herself. She hates the way her body looks, and she struggles with new steps and movements. When she looks around, she sees that other students are "getting it," which only adds to her frustration. When she sees a professional dancer, there is a nagging voice inside her head that says things like "You'll never be able to dance like that," "you started way too late to ever be any good," or "you're too ugly to perform in public."
Dancer B also took up belly dance because of its feminine elegance and gracefulness. But when she comes to class, she does not focus on what anyone else is doing; she only focuses on herself and her own learning. She appreciates her body and the fact that it is healthy and functional and able to learn this amazing art form. If she does look around the room, it's to appreciate how wonderful it is that all these people are gathered together to learn new ways to move their body and express themselves to complex, poetic music. When she sees a professional dancer, she thinks "I'm so lucky that I get to see this performance" "that'll be me some day," or "I'm so inspired by this dancer!"
If both these dancers take the same exact class, practice the same amount of time, and take the same actions to improve, which one do you think will see more visible progress? Which one will be happier in their journey? Which one is most likely to stick with it longer? I think the answer is so obvious I don't even need to say it!
Still skeptical? Then I'll leave you with this: why not give this whole attitude of gratitude thing a try, starting now? It is Thanksgiving week, after all! Jot down a couple of positive things belly dance has brought into your life. Note a couple of positive things about your own dancing, as it is right now. Lastly, write about the dancers you love the most, and then visualize yourself embodying all those characteristics you just wrote about.
Feel like sharing what you wrote? Post it in the comments below!
If you do this regularly and consistently, you will notice a visible difference in both your attitude and your dancing, and you won't want to stop that beautiful cycle of awesomeness. Bring that gratitude attitude into every aspect of your life, and you will reap the rewards as you see yourself flourishing in every possible way.
I hope you have an amazing Thanksgiving this week.
Background & Breakdown of One of the Most Famous Belly Dance Songs of All Time
Even if you haven't been belly dancing very long, you might have already come across Leylet Hob before. And if you've been doing this for a while, you've definitely danced to it countless times by now!
But how much do you really know about this timeless classic and belly dance favorite? If your answer is "actually, not much" you've got to keep reading this post because it's packed with information about this absolutely must-know composition.
About Leylet Hob
Leylet Hob (ليلة حب, alternatively spelled Laylet Hob, Laylet Hobb, Lailet Hob, Laylet Houb, Lelat Hob, or Leilet Hob) is a classic Arabic song that was composed in the 1960's by Mohamed Abdel Wahab, written in 1973 by Ahmed Shafiq Kamel and subsequently sung by Om Kalthoum. Its title means "Night of Love."
The original song, like many of the Arabic orchestral classics, was an entire concert on its own, at over 50 minutes in length. Today there are countless modern renditions of it by Arab and non-Arab musicians alike, usually around 5 to 15 minutes long, with or without vocals.
Singer, Lyricist & Composer
Om Kalthoum (1904? - 1975) was a legendary Egyptian singer who was--and is to this date--renowned across the Arab world. Her face, name and voice are recognized and loved throughout the region, where she is likely the most famous singer of all time. Such a revered figured she was, her funeral was one of the largest gatherings in the world, attended by around 4 million people. Many of the most famous Arabic songs (and most popular belly dance songs) were originally sung by her.
Mohammed Abdel Wahab (1902? - 1991) was one of the most prominent composers and singers in Egyptian history. He was responsible for composing many of the classic masterpieces that us belly dancers perform to on a regular basis. He introduced Western instruments such as the guitar, bass, accordion, organ and synthesizer to some of his compositions, innovating upon existing traditions and influencing all Arabic music thereafter.
Ahmed Shafiq Kamel was an Egyptian poet who became known as the "Poet of the Two Pyramids" for unifying the two great talents--Om Kalthoum and Mohamed Abdel Wahab-- in his work on Leylet Hob, which became the first of many collaborations between the two.
The Full Rendition
You can listen to the full, 59-minute rendition of Leylet Hob sung by Om Kalthoum here:
Can you spot the guitar, accordion, and synthesizer in this composition?
Leylet Hob is a song of love and longing. You can hear in Om Kalthoum's voice the longing that is felt for an absent lover. It speaks of yearning for that lover's return, where the singer imagines their night together while describing their love in the deep, poetic terms the Arabic language is so well-suited to relate. You can read a full, line-by-line translation of Laylet Hob by clicking here.
One of the most famous interpretations of Leylet Hob is this one by Soheir Zaki, one of the most famous belly dancers of the 1960's-80's:
Soheir Zaki is a classic, timeless dancer. You can read more about her in our Timeline of Egypt's Biggest Stars post.
Laylet Hob is played in the Maqam Nahawand, a type of melody that is perfectly suited to evoke the feelings of love and passionate yearning that this song speaks about.
Some of the rhythms encountered are malfuf, maqsum, baladi (masmoudi saghir), masmoudi kebir, and 6/8. Let's break down* each rhythm by section, using the shorter 8-minute version of Leylet Hob in the Soheir Zaki video above as our reference:
Baladi/masmoudi saghir (0:11-1:09, 1:27-1:52, 6:37-6:57, 7:19-7:40)
|DD| T|D |T |
Malfuf (1:10-1:20, 6:57-7:19, 7:40-8:34)
|D T| T |
|D | | |T | | |
|DT| T|D |T |
Masmoudi (4:02-4:15, 5:51-6:01?)
|D|D| | |D| | | |
|DT| T|D |T |
Guitar solo - no rhythm
Is Leylet Hob one of your favorite classics and go-to songs, like it is mine? If so, I hope this post has been helpful to you.
I encourage you to listen to the hour-long version for study and for enjoyment, and that you hear as many versions of this beautiful composition as you can get your hands on.
What's your favorite version of this song? Which dancer have you seen do the best interpretation of it? Let me know in the comments below... And if you've found this post informative, don't forget to spread the knowledge by sharing it with your belly dance students, teachers, and peers.
Happy learning, and happy dancing!
Leylet Hob/Mohammed Abdel Wahab
Om Kalthoum's Funeral
Mohammed Abdel Wahab
Ahmed Shafiq Kamel
Leylet Hob Translation
Leylet Hob Rhythms
*Note regarding the rhythm breakdown: I am not musically trained, so I am breaking down this song by rhythm to the best of my knowledge and untrained ability. If you are a musician and have any corrections to make to this breakdown or anything to add, please contact me via email.
Has the idea of joining a belly dance class been nagging you for some time, but every time you get the chance, you back out at the last minute because you are afraid of the unknown?
If so, it sounds like you are suffering from a case of "cold belly!" Like cold feet, cold belly is a doubt strong enough to prevent you from doing something you were planning on doing, in this case, going to that belly dance class you've been wanting to try! And believe it or not, this "cold belly" phenomenon is is more common than you think!
Maybe you're afraid of having to bare your belly, or you think the class will be packed with young, mean women who will make you feel bad about yourself. Or maybe you're insecure about your lack of dance experience and you picture a class full of experienced dancers, making you think you won't be able to keep up with everyone else. Maybe you think you're not fit enough to try out this dance, or maybe you just don't feel like getting up and going out after you've already settled in at home for the night...
Regardless of the reasons behind your apprehension and inaction, the fact of the matter is that you are not alone in feeling this way! In fact, the majority of women who show interest in belly dance classes never actually end up showing up for one!
But isn't that a shame? Because the reality of most belly dance classes in the US (and certainly the reality for our belly dance classes at SharqiDance in New Jersey) is that they are a gentle, friendly and fun environment for women (and sometimes men and non-gender binary folks) of all ages, levels, shapes, and sizes to learn how to move their bodies in incredible ways and how to express themselves artistically through dance all while falling in love with Middle Eastern music and culture!
Most people start belly dancing because they think it will be a fun way to exercise. But most people stick with belly dancing because of the amazing connections they make with the incredible people they meet in class and in their local community, all while challenging themselves--inside a supportive environment--to keep getting better and better at this rich and evolving art form!
There is nothing to fear. You don't even need to show your belly to belly dance! In fact, most people in class actually don't.
You also don't need prior dance experience to start belly dancing, and there is no age too young or too old to start. And guess what, you can become quite good even if you start late in life without any prior dance experience, because belly dance is low-impact and easy on your body!
This also means you do not need to be fit to start belly dance, and you might be glad to learn that the belly dance community embraces a much wider range of looks, body types and sizes than society at large!
That doesn't mean the dance is easy, it just means that with guidance from a good teacher and practice, consistency, and time, it can be done well no matter who you are or what you look like!
Does that sound like something you should be scared of? We think not!
It's time to stop letting the weeks, months and years go by, and just give belly dance a shot already! Just imagine where you could be in one, five, or ten years if you just take that chance and get started today! You might discover a fun new thing to do every week, or you might uncover a lifelong passion. Or maybe you'll find that belly dance is not for you, but you won't know until you've tried!
So, are you ready to try out a class?
Belly dance is a long-enduring art form that embodies the rich and diverse cultures and traditions of its native regions. It is mainly characterized by controlled, smooth and fluid isolations of the hips, as well as sharp hip accents and vibration movements that give visual representation to complex Mideastern rhythms and melodies.
Famous for its sensual elegance, belly dance brings out our most feminine qualities in ways that are tactful and classy, while connecting us to music and cultural traditions from the Middle East. Belly dance truly is poetry in motion...
Over recent decades, this dance has taken the world by storm and become somewhat of an underground global dance phenomenon. These days, one can find world-renowned dancers in places ranging from North & Latin America, to Europe's East & West as well as Asia-Pacific in addition to its places of origin and constant innovation in the Middle East and North Africa!
Belly dance appeals to so many people--particularly women--around the world for countless reasons. At SharqiDance, some of our favorite reasons are:
If you are local to the New Jersey Shore's Ocean County or Monmouth County areas, come join our belly dance classes to find out why this dance is becoming all the rage throughout the world!
We all have different backgrounds. Most of us came to belly dance at different stages of our lives, for different reasons and with different goals, and we all started with differing amounts of natural skill. We also have different learning styles and prioritize the dance differently in our lives.
Belly dance can mean different things to different people. Some do it for fun and socialization, or as way to get to know more about a foreign culture and its enchanting music and dances. Others do it as an outlet for artistic expression, or as a form of exercise to get in touch with their bodies at a deeper level. Some just belly dance to feel more sexy and beautiful, while others want to reach the highest levels, dancing at professional venues or competitive stages.
No matter your reasons for being drawn to belly dance, always remember that your journey through this dance is unique to you, and honor that unique journey by looking within yourself for the reasons why you do this dance, so that every time you do it, you can seek to get out of it the feelings, experiences, and results that you need.
There is no reason to look at other dancers with judgment if you think they are worse than you and therefore not "worthy." There is also no reason to look at other dancers with envy if you think they are "better" than you or that they have some unfair advantage. Those dancers are walking their own paths that are different from yours, for their own reasons that are different from yours, encountering their own roadblocks that are different from yours, towards destinations that are also different from yours.
If you spend time comparing yourself to others, you lose sight of your own journey and give up control of your destiny! You miss out on lessons you can learn from your individual struggles and on the unique insights you can offer, because no one else has walked the same path as you. You miss the opportunity to learn more about yourself and carve a path that truly fits your own needs, hopes and dreams!
Respect your unique journey through belly dance, honor and own all the reasons why you dance, and don't worry about what others are doing. This way you will feel happier throughout your journey, and it will take you to the most incredible destinations!
This month I am challenging my belly dance students to shimmy for 5+ minutes at a time, 5+ days a week for 5+ weeks, and I'd like to invite belly dancers everywhere to join us!
A shimmy is simply the fast shaking of one's hips. However, there is more to this move than it appears! It must be controlled and sustained enough for other moves to be layered on top of it, and there are many different techniques that achieve different visual results. It really is so much more than just aimless shaking, and the best way to learn proper belly dance shimmy techniques is to take a local belly dance class or a remote online class if you can't find any classes near you!
If you are having trouble with shimmies, don't worry... you are not alone! The shimmy is one of those moves that can take months or even years for beginner belly dancers to grow completely comfortable into, and for most people there is no way to perfect it unless it is practiced frequently and for extended amounts of time. Even intermediate and advanced dancers can have trouble with this move, if it isn't practiced enough. And since it is one of the most prevalent and important moves in most styles of belly dance, there is just no way of getting around it...
We all lead busy lives and it can be difficult to find the time to practice, but anyone can spare 5 minutes a day 5 times a week for something they want to get better at! Thus, the 5/5/5 shimmy challenge was born ;)
You can be as laid-back or as serious as you'd like with this challenge. You can set aside the time and dedicate it fully to practicing your shimmy techniques in front of the mirror, or you can do it as part of your warm-up before you train on another physical activity, or if you're really short on free time you can just shimmy for 5 minutes while you shower, do the dishes, or cook.
You might end up doing it every day of the week, or you might only get around to it once or twice a week, but the point is to get that practice in as opposed to doing absolutely nothing :)
Feel free to share your practice/progress by tagging us on Facebook or hashtagging Instagram (#SharqiDance #shimmychallenge), or just let us know how you're doing in the comments section below!
So, will you join our Shimmy Challenge?
While belly dance in its most basic forms may have existed for centuries, or possibly millennia, it was only over the last 100 years or so that it really began to take the shape we have come to recognize and refer to as "raqs sharqi"--or belly dance--today, thanks in large part to these incredible women who made history as belly dance stars in Egypt.
In this timeline of famous Egyptian belly dancers, you will learn a little bit about each woman and their influence on the dance as well as see them in action, thereby getting a glimpse into how this dance has changed and evolved over the years. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!
Badia Masabni (1892 - 1974) - The Godmother of Belly Dance
Badia Masabni was a Syrian/Lebanese actress and dancer who moved to Egypt and opened the first music hall in Cairo in the 1920's which featured singing, dancing, and other entertainment acts.
She is credited with adapting belly dance from its social and folkloric roots into a dance that is done on the stage to entertain a large audience. The usage of ballet-inspired arms and lines, greater use of space and traveling steps, and the incorporation of the veil as a prop can all be traced back to this woman, who is understandably referred to as "The Godmother of Belly Dance."
She is also credited with being a mentor to two major belly dance figures, Samia Gamal and Tahiya Carioca.
Tahiya Carioca (1915 - 1999) - The Marilyn Monroe of the Arab World
Eventually dubbed the "Marilyn Monroe of the Arab World," Tahiya Carioca began her belly dance career at Badia Masabni's Casino Opera where she rose to become one of its biggest stars.
She was given the surname "Carioca" due to her fascination with Brazilian rhythms and dance, which she incorporated into her performances.
She began appearing in films in 1935, going on to become an important part of Egyptian movie history. The height of her fame occurred during the "Golden Age" of Egyptian cinema in the 1940's and 50's, and she continued to dance until 1963.
Samia Gamal (1924 - 1994) - The National Dancer of Egypt
Another Badia Masabni protegé and Golden Age star, Samia Gamal would eventually be proclaimed by Egypt's King Farouk as the "The National Dancer of Egypt."
Samia was not only one of the most famous belly dancers of her time, but was also a very successful actress, having appeared in over 50 movies throughout her career. She also performed in international films and clubs, helping bring worldwide attention and recognition to this dance.
As a dancer, she was known for her beautiful arm movements and enchanting smile.
Naima Akef (1929 - 1966) - Bellydancing Acrobat
Naima Akef began her performing career as a child at her family's circus, where she performed as an acrobat.
After the circus disbanded, she eventually found work as a singer and belly dancer in Cairo's famous nightclubs, and in the 1940's she began singing, dancing and acting in movies as well.
She was lost to cancer at the young age of 37, but not before having become a Golden Age star in her own right, forever making her mark in this dance form with her fast and energetic spins, dramatic arm and leg movements, and impressive displays of acrobatics.
Nagwa Fouad (1936 - present) - Queen of Raqs Sharqi
By the 1970's, Nagwa had become one of the most important belly dancers in Egypt, but her reputation reached far beyond Egypt as she performed all over the globe throughout her career. Every famous personality who came to visit Egypt would come to see Nagwa perform, including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Jimmy Carter.
By the time she retired, Nagwa Fouad had had a very impressive and versatile 45-year career in dance and film, having appeared as a dancer in over two hundred and fifty films and acted in more than one hundred!
Soheir Zaki (1944 - present) - The Om Kalthoum of Dance
Fifi Abdo (1953 - present) - Queen of Baladi
As a child, Fifi Abdo would watch the films of the likes of Tahiya Carioca, Naima Akef, etc, and copy their moves. She started performing belly dance at age 13 and thanks to her hard work, talent, and toughness, she rose to become a top belly dancer and actress in Egypt in the 1980's and 90's, and today she is one of the wealthiest women in the country!
In her films, she usually portrays empowered female archetypes, and her work is often provocative and controversial for its boldness.
While Fifi is an amazing all-around belly dancer, she is best known for being the embodiment of baladi: the simple, earthy, grounded, country style of dance from which raqs sharqi originated.
Mona Said (1954 - present) - The Bronze of The Nile
Mona Said began her belly dance career at age 13 after being encouraged to become a dancer by a nightclub owner and a big-name singer who had spotted her dancing at a disco.
She left Egypt in 1970 to perform in Lebanon for a few years, fleeing her father who was disapproving of her career choice. In Lebanon she found fame before returning to Cairo in 1975. She then went on to perform between Cairo and London for the next 5 years, and became one of the top belly dancers in Egypt through the 80's and 90's.
Mona was nicknamed "The Princess of Raqs Sharqi" by Tahiya Carioca herself, and "The Bronze of the Nile" by Egypt's media.
Mona is best known for her feeling and emotion when dancing. She does not believe in counting music, but instead in focusing on the feeling and allowing it to take over in the moment.
She is a perfect example of the "less is more" philosophy applied in belly dance, milking every beat and every note in the music, giving it no more and no less than what is called for, building up energy only when the music builds, all while expressing a variety of different emotions and personalities.
Dina (1965 - present) - The Last Egyptian Dancer
Dina began her dancing career in the 1970's training with Mahmoud Reda, co-founder of Reda Troupe, a group of Egyptian folkloric dancers that toured nationally and internationally.
She began her solo career in the 80's, quickly rising to the top of the belly dance scene in Cairo and remaining there up to this date, in a difficult and evolving social and political landscape.
Times have changed in Egypt, and the pendulum has been swinging further and further towards religious conservatism over the past few decades. In a 2008 article, Newsweek called Dina "The Last Egyptian Dancer," in reference to the growing conservatism in the country which is causing fewer and fewer native-born women to become professional dancers. This, coupled with Dina's provocative costumes and movements, have made her into a very controversial figure in her country and abroad.
But whether you love her or hate her, her influence in modern Egyptian style is undeniable. Dina herself is the clear dividing line between the vintage and classic styles that came before her and the modern styles that exist today.
Her Reda-influenced steps marked the beginnings of new trends in belly dance which favor more complex footwork and weight shifts. Her exaggerated and dramatic facial expressions and gestures, sharper hip and pelvic accents and slower and more provocative hip circles have been copied all over Egypt and the world. Her daring bras showcasing ample cleavage became the new normal in belly dance costume design (the "Dina bra"), and her occasional choice of a mini-skirt over traditional full-length skirts created new trends that are still being followed and developed upon all over the world today.
Newsweek may have dubbed Dina "The Last Egyptian Dancer," but she is far from it. We are certainly no longer in the heyday of belly dance in Egypt, but many new dancers have popped up since Dina, and they continue to set their own trends today. They won't be covered in this blog post, but may be covered in future posts so please stay tuned!
I encourage you to keep reading and watching belly dance videos to find out more about this dance, its influential figures, its history around the world, and the myriad of different styles that fall under the belly dance umbrella!
Wikiwand - Badia Masabni
Bellydance Superstars of the Past - Badia Masabni
Gilded Serpent - Badia Masabny Star Maker of Cairo
Wikiwand - Taheyya Kariokka
Belly Dance Museum - Taheya Carioca
New York Times - Tahia Carioca, 79, Dies; A Renowned Belly Dancer
Wikiwand - Samia Gamal
Belly Dance Museum - Samia Gamal
Google Doodle just honored this iconic Egyptian dancer
Wikipedia - Naima Akef
Serpentine - Naima Akef
An Uncommon Woman - Nagwa Fouad, Queen of Oriental Dance
Serpentine - Sohair Zuki
Belly Dance Museum - Soheir Zaki
Wikipedia - Fifi Abdou
Serpentine - Fifi Abdo
Mona el Said
Mona El Said
Gilded Serpent - Mona el Said in Dallas, Part 1
Mona El Said: Moving in Mysterious Ways
Wikipedia - Dina Talaat
DINA at the MENA!
Newsweek - Saudis and the Last Egyptian Belly Dancer
This Valentine's Day has me thinking about some of the notions people have about belly dance.
To the general public in the Western world, the words "belly dance" tend to conjure up thoughts of harems where half-naked concubines dance to seduce the sultan...
But did you know that's actually an incorrect stereotype?
Belly dance originated from folkloric dances of the Middle East... dances that are regularly done informally at family and social gatherings, by children and adults alike, both female and male.
It is a dance of joy and celebration, with a rich history and culture behind it that is now studied and performed all around the world.
Reducing it to nothing but a "dance of seduction" is really a wild inaccuracy!
Then again, it is also easy to see how this dance--which can indeed be very sensual--could actually be used for this purpose. After all, who can possibly think that a slinky undulation or precise controlled hip shimmy isn't attractive? Even if it's an inaccurate stereotype, there is still truth to the fact that belly dance can be a sensual and mesmerizing art form.
Yet there are ways to use this quality without reducing the dance to something that is done solely for the pleasure of leering men. Because if there is one person you should definitely try to use belly dance to seduce... that person is you!
You can use it to see beauty in the diverse people who perform it, and in turn to see beauty in yourself.
You can use it to teach your body how to do new and amazing things that you will feel beautiful doing.
You can use it to express the music you love and the deepest feelings inside your soul.
This Valentine's Day, do a little belly dancing, and fall in love with yourself!
Yamê is a Brazilian-American belly dancer based out of New Jersey, USA.