AKA vintage Egyptian
Post 2 of 10
In each post in this category, I'll highlight certain clips from each style. Each dancer has their own style, but dancers from the same era and region often dance more similarly to each other than to dancers from another region or time period. These posts are about the social, political, and technological reasons that shaped each style. In the more general sense, dancing responds to the needs of the audience, in a sort of natural selection.
If you want more information on what lead up to the creation of the vintage Egyptian style, you could read Heather Ward’s (Nisaa's) book: The Raqs Sharqi Revolution. The very shortened version is that, while there had been supper clubs featuring raqs for over a century, the exportation of Hollywood-type movie production to Egypt and the popularity of movies that featured dance numbers made big stars of some of the dancers. The style favored in these movies felt more “glamourous” than the more grounded earlier styles. One of the most famous of these clubs, and one many stars came from, was run by Osta (Awalim Troupe leader/business woman) Badia Masabni, here is an add for one of the establishments she owned.
Earlier versions of this article and many other sources credited a Western influence via night club patrons and film styling for the change in styling from Awalim styling to what is considered the birth of modern raqs sharki in the 1930s. But it's important to correct this: the films were made by and for Egyptians and ads for the nightclubs were in Arabic, with shows at a variety of price points including some that were affordable to the average Egyptian. There is a discussion to be had as to how much of their importing Western elements was due to internalized colonial issues, but the important thing is the artists and their Egyptian audiences were the ones choosing to import these elements.
This period, 1930s to 1960s-ish, created a beautiful blend of traditional Middle Eastern music and Western orchestral sound, as well as changing the dance from the more social/interactive entertainment it had been into the stage show it became. The royal family patronized the arts, and although technically independent from England, the British were still heavily influencing Egyptian government in order to control their interest in the Suez canal. The music generally had a lighter percussion, using the riq, which called for gentler dancing; and the use of stages encouraged the use of traveling steps.
In an interview, Badia called Taheya Karioka one of the more traditional style dancers of her troupe. Taheya was also in general a really cool lady, and is in the backup dancers in the ad above. Opening this video of her in youtube should lead you to my playlist of dancers who fit into this style category.
Samia Gamal was a contemporary of Taheya's, and also worked at Badia's nightclub. All of these stars acted in movies as well, so it's important to note that often the clips of them we have are from those movies, and they are dancing in character. Samia is credited with introducing veil to Egyptian dance via her working with a Russian ballet teacher to improve her arms.
Some of the other notable stars from the early golden era include the circus trained Naima Akef, whose cousin Ibrahim continued to train and choreograph for dancers for decades.
While some people insist dancers were "classier back then", you'll notice many costumes actually feature sheer skirts and many of the characters the dancers play include fallen women or other socially marginalized roles.
Katy as well, known for her energy and playfulness. In this colorized clip she is leading a wedding procession and dancing for the bride and groom, a common venue for bellydancing long before the dawn of the golden era and to this day.
Some other important stars of this style were Zeinat Alawii, In this clip, she is dancing with a group, it is normal for the old school Egyptian style to have a looser approach to background dancer's choreography, with each dancer putting her individual stamp on it and the lead dancer improvising.
Nemat Mokhtar is famous for some deep backbends. Sometimes the movies from this era used different sound compared to what the dancer actually danced to, so look for signs like how she stops on the music in this clip, if the instruments you hear match with the musicians on screen, or whether the dancer's finger cymbals are synced with the sound to tell if the clip is a good example of musicality, or just of character and technique.
Nebawyya Moustafa, is often singled out as an example of Awalim style. While her mother was an Awalim and her upbringing would certainly reflect this tradition, she is only one data point in our understanding of the style, and was certainly adjusting her performances for the screen. Still, she is a wonderful example of how each dancer has their own personal style within an era.