Page about the belly dancer Samia Gamal

Samia Gamal Movement Vocabulary

Samia Gamal (جمال‎ سامية) is the most famous of the dancers of the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema.

The basic movements she used were part of the same movement vocabulary used by the other dancers of her time.

However, the feeling and attitude were very different. She is the most ‘westernised’ with regards to her dancing style (Table 12 below), which is very light and lifted, with very quick and fluid movements, including very active and fluid arms and a lot of traveling steps and turns.

According to the Egyptian dancer Dina, ‘Tahia danced in an old-fashioned way, as if her movements were limited by an invisible circle. Samia, she made space explode’ (Talaat and Guibal, 2011, p. 55).

Another modern Egyptian dancer, Lucy, ‘elaborated that Samia Gamal was the first Raqs Sharqi dancer to incorporate beautiful arms and upper-body movements in her technique’ (Rose, 2006, para. 10). Shay and Sellers-Young (2003, pp. 20–21) summarise the difference between the styles of Samia Gamal and Tahia Carioca, stating that:

Their performances represent the tension between the older baladi (village) dance and its cabaret rendition. Tahia is remembered as a dancer of the people. . . . Although she incorporates the use of the arms expressively, her dances are concentrated studies in the mobility of the pelvic structure to articulate a variety of lifts, flips, and shimmies within various rhythmic and melodic structures. By contrast, Samia borrowed from ballet and American musicals to add expressive hand and body gestures that allowed her to portray a wide variety of moods and attitudes. Her make-up, hairstyle and costuming identified her as a sophisticated, modern woman.

Shay and Sellers-Young (2003)

Laban Analysis of Samia Gamal’s Movement Style

The Laban movement vocabulary for Samia Gamal
From the research of Dr Valeria Lo Iacono (2019)

Samia Gamal seems the quintessential Raqs sharqi dancer.

As we will see in the following analysis though, throughout the history of Raqs sharqi, both the Baladi and the modern feelings coexist, creating a balance between tradition and innovation.

Even though each Raqs sharqi dancer had her [1] own style and personality, Samia Gamal was one of the innovators rather than a traditionalist.

In 5.3.5, I will return to these concepts to identify the possible reasons for the contrast between Tahia Carioca’s and Samia Gamal’s styles, using my conceptual framework.

Samia’s Background

Samia was born in 1924 in the village of Wana el Kess and died in Cairo in 1994 (Emma, no date; Jawad, no date).

Her real name was Zeinab, but Badia gave her the stage name of Samia Gamal [2] (Adum, no date), when she started working in Casino Badia. As Samia remembers:

Badia asked me, “What’s your name, Beautiful?” and I answered “Zeinab Khalil Ibrahim Mafouz”. Badia said to me doubtfully, “Zeinab is a name for someone who sells grilled corn. From now on your name will be Samia”.

(Moawad, 1968, para. 10) [3]

From the beginning of her career, Samia’s style received transcultural influences, particularly ballet, as noted in

In addition to ballet, Samia was also trained in other non-Egyptian dance forms.

For example, in the 1952 movie Ma takulshi la hada (Don’t tell anyone), there is a scene in a theatre in which she dances various genres, from Egyptian folkloric tableaux to ballroom and Hawaiian style dance (The Fabulous Samia Gamal, 2003, sec. 01:04:08).

Similarly, in the 1949 movie Bahebbak inta (I love you only), there are dance tableaux, including a Spanish flamenco flavoured dance number (The Fabulous Samia Gamal, 2003, sec. 25:50) and a sequence including Egyptian folkloric, can-can/vaudeville, South American dances and ballroom dance (The Fabulous Samia Gamal, 2003, sec. 37:23).

Samia Gamal
Figure 15 – Samia Gamal in the 1952 movie Ma-Takloushi la Hada (Don’t Tell Anyone). Image from video still (TheCaroVan 2014c)

Unlike Tahia Carioca, who was bint al-balad, Samia Gamal represents a modern woman, with short hair, who wears flowing chiffon skirts and dances in upper-class nightclubs or theatres and very rarely in popular settings.

Samia Gamal danced and starred in many movies from the 1940s until the early 1960s, such as:

  • Ma Takulshi la Hada (Don’t tell anyone) from 1952
  • Segara wa Kas (A glass and a cigarette) from 1955
  • Tarik al Shaytan (The Devil’s Road) from 1963
  • and many more.

Memories of Samia Gamal

Dina Talaat (Talaat and Guibal, 2011, p. 55), referring to Samia as one of her favorite dancers, calls her ‘El farasha . . . the butterfly . . . ready to fly to the rhythm of music’.

Randa Kamel said about her ‘I love Samia Gamal. I love her face, I love her arms’ (OrientExpressTV, 2010, sec. 05:54).

Samia Gamal was famous and loved not only for her graceful dancing style but also for her smile and sweet personality.

For example, Sloane Hirt (2012, para. 14) remembers that, when Samia went to teach a workshop in the USA, ‘her exuberant laughter, friendliness, wit, and cheerful playfulness provided ample reasons for her legendary notoriety as an artistic ambassador of the Egyptian people’.

Bellydance practitioner Emma (no date, para. 10) writes about Samia in her blog, ‘there is such joy in every movement she makes. . . . There is a sweet softness to her movements’.

Similarly, one of my participants said, when I asked her what she liked in particular about Samia Gamal ‘She’s sweet and pretty [laughs]’ (Ann).


1 – The focus is on women dancers because, in Egyptian movies, the only dancers shown were women. Considerations on male belly dancers will be made in 5.7.8.

2 – Samia in Arabic means ‘much praised’ and Gamal means ‘beauty’.

3 – The choice of Samia’s stage name by Badia Masabni is an example of the Baladi/Afrangi dichotomy in the Raqs sharqi world, in particular, reflected in Badia’s comments regarding the name Zeinab. I will return to the Baladi/Afrangi dichotomy and how Samia Gamal and Tahia Carioca reflect this, in the analysis section (5.3.5), at the end of this timeframe.

Next Page >> On the next page Naima Akef, a highly-polished dance.