Raqs sharqi in the cinema.

The Golden Era Introduced

The time span from the 1930s to the late 1950s is the golden era of Egyptian cinema and the time when we find the majority of dance scenes.

In this section, I will analyze videos of some of the most famous dancers of the time, to pinpoint the differences but also the similarities between their dance styles, as well as trying to find out if the roots of this dance are identifiable.

At this time, there were many famous dancers performing in these movies, but I have analyzed six of them, based on their fame, the availability of their videos online and whether they were mentioned in other sources.

The three most famous and influential of these, whose names often appear on sites, books, and on many online and offline sources on bellydance are Samia Gamal, Tahia Carioca, and Naima Akef.

These three dancers have also been mentioned by most of my interview participants. For example, Francesca Calloni, a raqs sharqi practitioner based in Italy, stated:

I have been watching and watching and watching all the old movies with Samia Gamal, Taheya Carioca, all the oldies and goldies, and Naema Akef, mostly because they were the first images we had of oriental dance.

Francesca Calloni

The other three dancers, who are today less famous but still very representative of that age, are Nabadeya Mustafa, Hager Hamdi, and Zeinat Olwi.

In this analysis, I focus on the three most famous dancers (Samia Gamal, Tahia Carioca, and Naima Akef), for reasons of space and because they have been the most influential from this era, for the future developments of raqs sharqi.

In the coming pages, I will also cover the rediscovery and reinterpretation of Egyptian folkloric dances, particularly by Mahmoud Reda, whose folkloric dance productions have influenced the development of raqs sharqi.

>> Start Reading about Tahia Carioca – The Traditionalist ‘Bint al Balad’


1. Terms invented by the participant. ‘Oldies’ refers to all old videos, while ‘goldies’ to dancers from the so-called golden age of Egyptian cinema.