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  • Lisa Lumina

Transitional Egyptian

Updated: 9 hours ago

Aka late golden era, aka retro Egyptian

Post 6 of 11

Technically the dance is always in transition, rather like a flowing river. But, other than "latter half of the golden era", this is the only name I've heard for this period of Egyptian dance. I like the term “Retro Egyptian” for use inside my own head, but it is important to note that this is not how Egyptians themselves would categorize this style or period.

Although Egypt officially gained independence from colonizers in 1922, it wasn't until the 1952 revolution/coup that self-rule was realized. By the 60s, this national spirit was thoroughly filtered into the arts. Color film and popular music contributed to the changes in style, which was generally more grounded than the earlier silver-screen portion of the golden era. Money from Saudi Arabians patronizing the Cairo night clubs made it popular to include khalegy dance tableaus in stage shows. This style’s era was from the 1960s to the early1990s, when Arabian conservatism and economic downturns made it even harder than usual to be a dancer.

During this time, there were a few projects using folkloric dance to, in a sense, reacquaint Egyptians from different regions with each other, after over 2,000 years of foreign rule. The Reda troupe was the first of these and will be the subject of its own post. Raqqasa (bellydancer) Nagwa Fouad danced with the Kommeyya folklore troupe as part of her training. More on them later too, but she would include folkloric dancers in her shows, and had a reputation for protecting her dancers, so their reputations didn't suffer. She commissioned music composed specifically for dance, and many of the songs, especially entrance pieces, we use today were composed for her. (Other dancers who ran their own bands also did this.) She invested much of the money she earned into lavish sets and productions.

Some of the stars of this era began their careers just as Samia Gamal and the other dancers from the Golden Era post were nearing retirement. These new dancers were appearing in films and had to find their own style and personality. Soheir Zaki became known as Cairo's sweetheart (although she was from Alexandria) partly because her father in law would chaperone her gigs, and was reportedly the first dancer to perform to Om Kalthoom's music.

She also worked with the Shaabi Star Ahmed Adewiyya (more on him lower in the post) and she gave some training to Bert Baladine. She didn't do much acting in films, but did appear in them as simply "the dancer" in many nightclub scenes, even one sci-fi film. 

At the other end of the sweet - saucy scale from Soheir, in terms of the stage persona they were known for, is Fifi Abdou. She is still around, and posts on social media. She is known for her beledi style, shimmies, and her brazenness. Although she insists she isn't an Almeh (singular of Awalim) many of my teachers have pointed to her as an example of someone who dances like one.

She also acted quite a bit, and sometimes played somewhat unsavory characters. She has an air of being in-charge and is an icon for anyone who wants to cultivate that power in their own dancing (or personality). You can even find bags and T-shirts with "what would Fifi do?" printed on them!  If you're looking for the definition of a Ma3lema (boss-lady), she's your gal. 

Mona Said is another very powerful dancer from this time frame. She also owned a gym, and I can only describe her style as extreme abandon under precise control. Ranya Renee and Lotus Niraja have both studied with her.

Mona Said and Aida Nour may or may not have learned dancing from the awalim system, depending on who you ask. Some dancers will not want to admit this background because prejudice might make getting more prestigious gigs with upper class clients, in 5 star hotels, or movie rolls harder. In this clip Aida Nour is playing a wedding dancer; a roll often, but not always, filled by awalim dancers.

Lucy is one of the few dancers from this era that westerners know well and who was open about her awalim upbringing. Here, she dances in an upper class venue to the music of Om Kalthoom.

In this clip, Zizi Moustafa dances to the singing of Ahmed Adeweya. He's considered the father of shaabi. At this time, the music style took off because easily copied tape recordings, especially playing in cabs all over Cairo, got around the censorship on the radio and helped popular music spread. Songs could be folksy, political, or full of double entendres and innuendo.

During this time, a belly cover was required in dancers costuming. In some nightclubs dancers would skip this and run off stage to put one on if their lookout indicated the morality police were coming. You'll also notice a very grounded style and posture, although dancers continued to wear shoes they would typically be flats in this style and era. Floorwork was also illegal, outside of specific folkloric tableaus. This clip of Aza Sharif gives me a chance to talk about the different dynamic between the dancers and the band as compared to styles in other posts: Egyptian stars (outside of the movies) would employ their own musicians and rehearse with them. The dancer would be in charge of arranging the music, and the band worked to make her look good. She might hire someone in the band to play her cymbals for her, as a way to show off her status as someone who could afford a separate musician just for cymbals. Often, dancers would still play their own cymbals for certain portions of their shows, but they didn't need to use them to steer the band the way Turkish or American dancers would.

The trope of bellydancers as unsavory characters in Egyptian media is a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation regarding their reputation in wider society. In this movie, Soaud Hosny plays a young almah singing and dancing to a really cute song that's sort of about the wisdom of cutting loose now and then and playfully teasing the new couple about their upcoming wedding night. The plot is about her keeping her job and family background a secret in order to attend college. In another scene, her mother (played by the legendary Taheya Karioka, and seen in the opening shot of this clip) has a nightmare that if Zuzu (Hosny's character) stays an almah she'll wind up a prostitute.

The last one I'm going to bring up in this post is Nany. She retired in the 90s to move to Paris and have a family. This happens to be when things started to get hairy for dancers in Egypt. The economy took a turn and many Egyptians went to work in more conservative countries, which was one of the things that started changing the culture in Egypt. She was trained by awalim in Alexandria, and came back to dancing for a short time; during which she expressed disappointment in certain changes to the dance that we'll discuss in the "competition style" section of another post. I was able to open for her at her re-debut in NYC! She has since taken the veil and I do not believe she teaches anymore.

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