Last Updated on October 15, 2020

Raqs shariq in Egyptian cinema and on tv in the 1970s and 1980s.

Raqs Sharqi on Egyptian TV and in Movies

During this timeframe in Egypt, there are more videos of raqs sharqi from TV shows, rather than just movies.

Also, there seems to be a growing interest in trying to legitimize dance as an art form.

The two most famous raqs sharqi dancers of the time, Soheir Zaki and Nagwa Fouad, both started their dancing career earlier in the 1950s and 60s.

However, I have chosen to analyze their dance in this timeframe as this is when they reached their apex. Below I will analyze the main figures of this age.

Nagwa Fouad

Figure 23 – Nagwa Fouad, video still from the 1976 movie You who were my beloved (ArabClassicFilms 2011b) Nagwa Fouad – Innovation in Dance Productions

Nagwa Fouad (فؤاد نجوى) appeared in Egyptian movies from at least as early as 1957, in the movie Touha (ArabClassicFilms, 2011a). However, she reached the peak of her very long dance career in the 1970s and 80s, when she did most of her TV shows dance productions.

My research participants mentioned her often in the interviews, with Francesca saying about Nagwa that ‘She was amazing because she was really an entertainer. . . . And she was innovative’. Helen is also a huge fan:

Nagwa Fouad! [laughs] She is my ultimate favourite! I can’t get enough of watching her . . . I think just her exuberance is fantastic. And she just has this utter joy when she dances that comes across and she can get away with quite saucy stuff. She does that big chest shimmy quite a lot . . . but she’s got such an innocent joyous smile on her face, you can’t possibly take it as salacious, it’s just huge fun.

Research participant on Dr Valeria Lo Iacono’s PhD 2019.

Feelings, Dancer/Audience Interaction and Kinaesthetic Empathy

In these quotations, the importance of feelings, dancer/audience interaction and kinaesthetic empathy in the Egyptian raqs sharqi discourse is evident.

Therefore, the phenomenological aspect of dance heritage comes forward. At the same time, the expressivity of the dancers is also relevant from the socio-cultural point of view.

Her joyous expressions constitute a resource that allows her to overcome certain rules in society.

That is, it is supposedly not good for a woman performer to be salacious but her likeability, the way in which she expresses her sensuality makes it acceptable (at least in the eyes of a British, middle class and middle-aged woman living in the 21st century but it may be different for someone from a different socio-cultural background).

Nagwa Fouad’s Background

El Safy (2001) reports that Nagwa Fouad was born in Alexandria, Egypt, from an Egyptian father and a Palestinian mother and the family moved to Jaffa, soon after Nagwa’s birth.

In 1948, the family had to flee their home because of Jaffa’s occupation by Israel. Nagwa’s father fled to Alexandria and Nagwa moved to Cairo, where her dancing career started, when she was working as a receptionist at the Orabi Agency (an agency for the stars of the Egyptian cinema).

A crucial moment in her career was meeting the composer, conductor and producer, Ahmed Fouad Hassan, who suggested that Nagwa perform in his 1960s musical Adwaa Al Madina (City Lights).

Ahmed encouraged Nagwa to learn theatrical techniques and showmanship. Nagwa said: ‘He trained me at the Nelly Mazloum Dance School and I joined the National Dance Troupe to study folklore with Russian teachers’ (El Safy, 2001, para. 8).

Nagwa Fouad in the Movies

Nagwa Fouad acted and danced in several movies, performed for famous people from all over the world when they went to Egypt, produced and starred in about one hundred television musicals and was considered one of the most famous raqs sharqi dancers in the Arab world in the 1970s.

The TV musicals, which Nagwa directed and starred in, were her biggest innovation.

Up until then, in the 1970s, raqs sharqi had been performed at events and celebrations, in nightclubs and on cinema sets. With Nagwa Fouad’s musicals, raqs sharqi took a completely new dimension, which has not been replicated since.

For the first time, raqs sharqi and the music that went with it, were the main event, rather than only part of another event such as a wedding or a movie.

These musicals were part of a trend, which had started in the 1950s with Mahmoud Reda, for the legitimization of dance in Egypt and the discovery and revival of folkloric dance.

Nagwa’s Dance Creations

According to El Safy (2001), Nagwa’s dance creations were the result of her collaboration, from 1975 to 1992, with the choreographer Mohammed Khalil who had extensive experience of theatre dance and great knowledge of Egyptian local dances.

El Safy (2001, para. 16), in her article, quotes parts of a conversation she had with Mohammed Khalil: ‘Oriental dance, he felt, needed a framework; it needed the context of a storyline with “good music, good orchestra, choreography and costume changes”’.

Nagwa Fouad’s musicals were indeed big productions, involving several costume changes (with rich and colourful outfits), large groups of folklorically and classically trained back-up dancers, solo vocalists and several musicians (orchestras of around 50 musicians).

El Safy (2001) states that Nagwa invested heavily in these productions and commissioned musical pieces from famous Egyptian composers who, for the first time, wrote music specifically for a dancer:

1976 marked the beginning of a new era for Oriental dance when Nagwa Fouad revolutionized the industry by commissioning Egypt’s beloved composer, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, for his first and only piece for a dancer, “Qamar Arba’tashar” (Full Moon of the Fourteenth). Commercial successes followed with the creation of scores of now standard classics, frequently used in the dance world.

(El Safy, 2001, para. 21)

Nagwa Fouad’s shows included both raqs sharqi and Egyptian folkloric pieces adapted for the stage. She was an innovator but drew inspiration from raqs sharqi traditions, as she said ‘I took the Oriental dancing of Tahiya Carioca and Samia Gamal . . . and Nayema [Akef’s]’s acrobatic style, and created a stage show’ (El Safy, 2001, para. 23).

El Safy (2001, para. 33) also highlights that Nagwa was ‘the first dancer to make a dance/music video for Egyptian TV’.

Goodyear (2011, para. 2) gives an insightful account of what it was like to see one of Nagwa’s shows live:

One evening in a Cairo hotel, I think I remember counting (or maybe I stopped counting when I reached 58) the number of musicians on stage for Nagwa’s show. . . . She featured male and female group numbers, preceding and encircling Nagwa who constantly left to change: costumes, wigs (long hair, short hair, braided hair), stage personality, and dance style. . . . She ran off to change–only to reappear in something more grandiose or outrageous than the preceding costumes.

Goodyear (2011, para. 2)

Marlyz (2010, paras 6, 8), who also saw Nagwa perform live, tells a similar story of going to an expensive nightclub in Cairo and seeing a show in which Nagwa changed costume several times (about 10 per performance) and was accompanied by a chorus of dancers and a personal orchestra of 35 musicians.

In 5.5.4, I will analyze Nagwa Fouad’s choices in terms of style and innovation, using the sociological theories from my conceptual framework and I will compare her to the other main dancers of the same timeframe.

Nagwa Fouad’s Movement Style

Table 22 – Nagwa Fouad’s movement style
Table 22 – Nagwa Fouad’s movement style
(from the PhD of Dr Valeria Lo Iacono, 2019)

Table 22 summarises Nagwua Fouad’s movement style. The following videos show how her style changed over time. In the 1950s/60s it was a ‘golden age’ style, which can be seen in the movie Tohua from 1957 (ArabClassicFilms, 2011b).

In the film You who were my beloved from 1976 (ArabClassicFilms, 2011b), a more energetic style appears, in line with the trend spotted in the previous timeframe.

From the late 1970s and the 1980s, we can see examples of her famous musicals, influenced by her research in folkloric dances.

These musicals were staged and theatrical, and the dancers wore flamboyant costumes.

Two examples are: The Magic Lamp, also called Al Maryaat (Mirrors), from 1977, ‘a series of tableaus joined together by a bit of dialogue’ (TheCaroVan, 2014h) and Set al Hosn, one of her musicals from the 1980s, of which TheCarovan says that ‘the music is ‘Set al Hosn’ which was composed especially for her by Mohamed Sultan’ (TheCaroVan, 2014g).

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Next Page >> Continuing this section on Raqs Sharqi in Egyptian Cinema and TV (1970s1980s) we look at Soheir Zaki – The ‘Truly Oriental’ Performer >>

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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.

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