The internationalisation of Raqs Sharqi dance in Egypt.

Introduction

The 1960s early 1970s timespan has emerged from the data as a distinct timeframe, because, in Egypt, there are certain changes with regards to costumes design and to a certain extent to movement style.

Also, the late 1960s and early 1970s, saw the emergence of belly dance in the USA, as a phenomenon connected with Middle Eastern diaspora and feminism.

Although belly dance in the USA at that time was not only Egyptian style, I have decided to include this phenomenon in my research because it is crucial for the expansion of Egyptian raqs sharqi from localized to world transcultural heritage.

Egypt in the 1960s and Raqs sharqi

In this timeframe, there are still many movies with raqs sharqi scenes made in Egypt and many famous dancers appear in those movies.

However, none of them seems to be as well-known today as the big three of the golden era of Egyptian cinema, i.e. Tahia Carioca, Samia Gamal and Naima Akef (5.3).

I have analyzed many dance scenes from this period and, in particular, the dance of four dancers:

Although each has her unique style, I will summarise their styles and highlight what they have in common and what was new compared to the previous dance styles.

I will focus more on Nadia Gamal, because she was the most influential for future generations of dancers, especially outside of Egypt, and for her long career, which meant that I could analyze a lot more of her videos compared to the other ones.

The Egyptian dancers I will talk about in this section start their career no earlier than the late 50s and dance until about the mid-1970s, although Nadia Gamal was still dancing in the 1980s but live rather than in movies (liviapj, 2009a, 2009b).

Nadia Gamal – Transcultural Dancer

Music for an oriental dancer cover
Figure 18 – adia Gamal from the cover of a 1973 vinyl LP (Unknown 2016)

Who is Nadia Gamal

Nadia Gamal (نادية جمال) started her career in Egypt but she then moved to Lebanon, and, in the videos, it is visible how her style changes over time.

Her career spans from the 1950s to the 1980s. A short biography of Nadia Gamal is available in a video made for her ‘official tribute website’ (liviapj, 2012).

According to this source, Nadia Gamal was born in Alexandria in 1939 from a Greek father and an Italian mother (who was a dancer and actress). Since she was four, Nadia worked with her mother in the Casino Chatby, in Alexandria.

At 13 she became a professional performer at Badia Masabni Casino. She left Egypt to move to Lebanon in the 1960s. Nadia Gamal studied various dance forms, including ballet, modern North American and Latin dances.

She was famous around the world and performed in many movies from different countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, India, UK. Nadia Gamal is another example (the first one was Badia Masabni) of how a dancer’s socio-cultural international background provides her with transcultural resources that drive her style choices in dance and facilitate innovations.

Nadia Gamal’s Style

Nadia Gamal’s style was very energetic. At the beginning of her career, in the 1950s in Egypt, her style was more fluid and internal following the current trend in Egypt (see the 1955 movie Ard al Hawa (Age of love) (TheCaroVan, 2016)).

In other videos from the 1960s and 1970s, Nadia Gamal’s style seemed to become gradually more energetic at the same time as other dancers in Egypt, such as Nahed Sabri, were also embracing a more dramatic style.

Along the traditional raqs sharqi movements, Nadia Gamal introduced some innovations.

For example, she did some floor work, as other dancers did, but, while the other dancers’ floor work was very brief, she lingered a lot longer on the floor.

She also sometimes stood with her back to the audience moving her head and hair and, overall, her head movements were more dynamic compared to those of previous dancers.

This also seemed to be a trend that started in the 1960s, as well as the dancers having long loose hair, whereas in the past many dancers wore their hair either short or tied.

There is one video from a nightclub in Lebanon in the 1970s (Shems Dance, 2011), which is representative of Nadia Gamal’s style in the 1960s and 70s.

This video is one of the first examples I have found of dance videos in the Middle East taken from a live performance, rather than a movie.

Vienna Videos

In two videos of shows she made in Vienna in 1983 (liviapj, 2009a, 2009b), movements are bigger, faster, more vigorous and less internal to the body, in the sense that she reaches out into the kinesphere around her body more than traditional Egyptian dance style would allow.

In both the 1983 videos the dance is still very Egyptian in terms of movements, gestures, attitude and costumes, what changes is only the ‘flavour’.

It is not easy to pinpoint if that was just Nadia’s personal style or if it was influenced in part by Lebanese style, as she lived in Lebanon for a long time.

Or it might be that Nadia, who was a star in Lebanon, influenced the local style more than the other way around. In any case, my observations resonate with what Ann Hall, one of my research participants, said about the differences between Egyptian, Turkish and Lebanese styles:

[Egyptian style] It’s more elegant, it’s more linear, it’s more upright. It can be more on the spot but not so much now, but it has that elegance.

I always say to my students, you have to think of Egyptians as queens and Turkish as naughty princesses because, what the Turkish lacks in refinement, it gains in the fire, the enthusiasm and the speed of movement. Lebanese is really a mixture.

Movement Style

Movement style of Nadia Gamnal the dancer
Table 18 – Nadia Gamal movement style

Table 18 summarises Nadia Gamal’s style, while Table 19 is a comparison of movements that I have observed Suzy Khairy, Nahed Sabri, Soheir Magdy and Nadia Gamal do, in the videos that I analyzed.

The majority of movements listed are the same observed in the videos of the golden ages; same kinemes, with some more allokines.

For example, Suzy Kahiry did a variety of intricate hip movements with a lot of layering, therefore creating many variations on the same basic movements.

There are, however, also some new movements, such as fast movements of the head, especially performed by Nadia Gamal and Nahed Sabri whose styles could be (depending on the music) very dramatic including fast shimmies and travelling steps.

This dramatic style seems to be a new development in the 1960s, which we will find in other dancers later on, such as Nagwa Fouad (5.5.1).

This style can be observed, for example, in a scene from the 1963 movie The Pickpocket (ArabClassicFilms, 2012), with Nahed Sabri.

Another new kineme, not very common until the 1970s, but which will become very common from that point onward, are pelvic lifts and drops, which I have observed in Soheir Magdy’s videos.

Soheir Magdy also frequently performed a movement, similar to one observed in some of Naima Akef’s videos.

Soheir Magdy on video.

These are hip drops, in which the hip moves vertically straight down, dropping all the weight onto the foot, while standing on tiptoes. The movement is known today (among practitioners) as Soheir Zaki (5.5.2) hip drop, after the dancer who made it one of her signature moves in the 1980s.

Two more movements, which I first observed being performed by Nadia Gamal and which will become very common in the raqs sharqi vocabulary from this time onward, are: snake arms (a wave-like movement of the arms, moving like a snake from the shoulder to the wrist) and hip jewels (half horizontal figures of eight of one hip, punctuated at the end by a small abdominal contraction, with a ripple effect).

Figure 19 – Nahed Sabri, Video still from the -1962 movie Judgment Day (ArabClassicFilms, 2013)
Soheir Magdi. Video still from the 1964 movie-Lil Rigal Faqaat
Figure 20 – Soheir Magdi. Video still from the 1964 movie-Lil Rigal Faqaat
(TheCaroVan, 2015g)

Costumes

A new style of costume also emerges in this timeframe. It is a costume that resembles the original bedlah, but instead of having separate bra and skirt, these two pieces are connected by a piece of slightly transparent, but thick fabric, which shows the figure but covers the midriff, as it can be seen in

Figure 19 and Figure 20. The skirt is made of chiffon. This style was in fashion during the 1960s and was Soheir Zaki’s favourite style even during the 1970s and 80s.

The Assaya Prop

Finally, there was a new development in the design of the assaya, the stick used as a prop in raqs sharqi. The traditional assaya, inspired by the tahtib, is made of wood and is quite thick.

I have spotted, for the first time, in a 1974 video, another type of assaya that later became one the most commonly used type for raqs sharqi.

That is, a thin stick, which I saw in a dance scene from the 1974 movie Nessa Lil Shetaa (LebDancer, 2015) with Suzy Khairy.

Table Analysis of 1960s-70s Egyptian Dancers’ Movements

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Table of Egyptian dancers movements
Table 19 – 960s-70s Egyptian dancers’ movements

Next Page >> Raqs sharqi began to become strongly influenced by the USA. Part 2 of the internationalisation of Raqs Sharqi 1960s and Early 1970s (5.4.1).

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Hi - I'm Dr Valeria Lo Iacono and I am a dance researcher with a PhD in dance as a form of living heritage. I also teach belly dance and love to travel to discover new dances around the world. I have worked also as an academic and in the UK and in Korea. Thank you for visiting my site.