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About Mona al Said
Biographical information about Mona al Said (منى السعيد ) is available from an article written by El Safy (1996) and from Mona’s own website (El Said, no date).
She was born in Suez Canal and loved dancing folkloric dances at school. It was not until she moved to Cairo, having had to leave Suez Canal because of the Egypt/Israel war in 1967, that her professional dance career started when she was only 13.
However, she had to leave Egypt soon (only two months after she had started dancing professionally) because her father did not approve of her dancing. Mona recalls:
I was very young and my father didn’t like me to dance. . . . He wanted to kill me because he’s Bedouin and doesn’t like this — very shame(ful) for the family . . . my father was in Suez Canal. He came after me to Cairo . . . I went to Lebanon.(El Safy, 1996, para. 25)
During her career, from 1970 until the mid-1990s, Mona moved a few times between Lebanon, Cairo and London.
As pointed out for Badia Masabni and Nadia Gamal, a dancer’s ability to have international connections can provide her/him with transcultural resources to draw from for artistic innovation.
In London, she worked at (and later bought) the Omar Khayyam’s, which was a club for very wealthy Arabs.
El Safy (1996, para. 38) remembers that ‘this was during the peak glut of Gulf oil money, when . . . London ’s economy revolved around the consumer trends of wealthy Arab potentates’.
Up until the early 1990s, Mona kept performing in Cairo, but she slowed down in the mid-90s.
That was also the time when many nightclubs started closing down and El Safy wondered if it was because of the growing political conservativism, which was a threat to dancers.
According to Mona though, that was not the case, but it was more a case of people having to work harder than before and their tastes changing (I will further analyse the importance of taste in 5.6.4):
“I don’t think they want Oriental dance to stop. But the people change. The class of people change.” “What happened to the elite and refined patrons?,” I asked. “I don’t see them in the nightclubs anymore.” . . . “Because they like to go now and have a good dinner, quiet life, go back home, sleep . . . people now like to work to make money; not like before (when) they already had money, rich . . .. people like to work and like to sleep early. Nightclubs now close at four, five, six o’clock (am).
This is harram. This is shame(ful). For me, if I am coming to my health club at eleven, I can’t be (going to) sleep at six in the morning. . . . Now (there are) a lot of restaurants that are not as expensive as nightclubs. They have nice music, delicious food, lovely service, with very chic people sitting around you.”(El Safy, 1996, paras 59, 61)
Her Influence Internationally, Outside of Egypt
Mona al Said has been very influential in the development of raqs sharqi outside of Egypt, because her performances were, as El Safy states (1996, para. 3), ‘one of the first Egyptian performances available on video in the early 1980s’.
This meant that people outside of Egypt could own those videos and learn from them. Indeed, two comments from one of the videos of Mona posted on YouTube (baadrobot, 2008a) state:
I started to study Raqs Sharqi and Egyptian folklore with these videos. . . . Thank you. These videos are so precious for me. I cry. (Out of Babylon)
This dance was on the first video cassette that I owned in the early 80s . . . Mona was such an inspiration to a generation of dancers! (amoura latif)Baadrobot (2008)
Moreover, since she stopped performing in nightclubs, Mona has been teaching workshops in Egypt and abroad. In her interview, talking about her experience attending an intensive course with Mona in Egypt, Francesca said:
She has an amazing technique . . . she is I think around 60 and you see her teaching and dancing and you are like: I want to be like that! [laughs] When I grow older! [laughs] because . . . she has incredible energy but I really loved the way she can be female but also strong but not rigid . . . and she’s also very sincere . . . when she dances, you can really see herself.Research volunteer for the PhD of Dr Valeria Lo Iacono (2019)
Dance Style Analysis for Mona al Said
Table 30 summarises Mona’s style and reflects Francesca’s statement as Mona’s style, from the analysis, has emerged as being controlled (very technical), relaxed (not rigid), powerful (strong).
A good example of her style can be seen from a video where she is performing a drum solo with live music, possibly for the 1980s (baadrobot, 2008b).
In this video, it is possible to appreciate how precise and yet relaxed she is, even during a drum solo where sometimes she dances slowly even when the rhythm is fast. El Safy (1996, para. 45), who saw her perform live, comments that ‘Mona’s style was precise, passionate and packed a powerful punch’.
The person who uploaded one of Mona’s videos on Youtube (baadrobot, 2008a), in her comments to the video writes: ‘In this video, Mona explains to us all how less is more.
The grace and simplicity of this piece is in its powerful yet minimalistic movements’. Another video I have chosen as a sample is from the 1986 movie Koum El Shoqafa (Hill of Shards, the name of ancient catacombs near Alexandria) (TheCaroVan, 2015e).
In this scene, Mona plays the part of an audience member who is persuaded to get up and dance. The third video (Avihass, 2014) is from 2014 and was taken at the Mediterranean Delight festival, in Greece.
It is a good example of how one of these retired great Egyptian dancers still continues to teach and perform for people from around the world, therefore embodying the heritage and spreading it across cultures.
Next Page >> Sociological Analysis of The Last Big Raqs Sharqi Stars in Egypt (1980s and 1990s).