Last Updated on October 15, 2020

Tahia Carioca the world famous belly dancer and famous in Egyptian cinema.

Who is Tahia Carioca

Tahia Carioca’s name (in Arabic: كاريوكا‎ تحية) can be transliterated in many different ways, including Taheyya Kariokka or Tahiya Karioka.

In my writing, I will use Tahia Carioca, while in the quotations from other sources I will use whatever transliteration the author uses.

There are various biographies of Tahia online, including some from authoritative sites on bellydance by authors such as Nermine Azzazy (1999), Sausan (Molthen, no date), Said (1999), Sloane Hirt (2012) and interviews with Tahia herself, talking about her life: (Belly Dance Classics, no date; Sami, no date; Cifuentes, 1994, 1999).

According to Sausan, Tahia was born Badawiya Mohamed Karim Ali Sayed in 1919 in Manzala, a small village by the Delta of the Nile and she then moved to Ismalia where she started dancing when she was a teenager.

Tahia started her Arabic dance career with Badia Masabni, as Tahia herself recalls:

I had ten years of ballet before I decided to become an Arabic dancer. I started with the group. . . . Everybody worked with Badia: Samia, Farid, all the great singers of that time.

Cifuentes (1994, para. 24)

First Solo Choreography and Beginning of Career

Tahia was given her stage name after a Latin American dance called Carioca, as the first solo choreography that was created for Tahia was loosely based on this type of dance. According to Sausan (Molthen, no date, para. 7):

This introduction of the new Brazilian Karioka dance of Carmen Miranda was so liked that she grew more popular with a variety of solos in which she utilized this form of dance that she became affectionately known as Taheyia Karioka.

Sausan (Molthen, no date)

Tahia Carioca started acting and dancing in Egyptian movies from 1935 until the late 1980s.

However, she danced only until the early 1960s, after which she only acted, with the exception of the 1972 film ‘Khali balek min Zouzou (Watch out for Zouzou) (TheCaroVan, 2014n).

The apex of her dancing career was in the 1940s and 50s so much so that, ‘in the late 1940’s [sic], Taheyia danced only at the more important functions held by or for the King and other royalty (Molthen, no date, para. 12)’.

Tahia was a political activist and an active member of the Actors’ Syndicate. As a result, she was arrested several times (Molthen, no date; Said, 1999). She died at the age of 79, in a Cairo hospital, from a heart attack (Said, 1999).

She was strong and independent and she once said: ‘A lot of people think I am impolite but I am not . . . I’m straightforward. I will tell the wicked to his own face’ (Sami, no date, para. 23) and:

I grew up with my grandmother. She was very strict. When I had any fights with girls or boys, and I went to her crying, she said to me: “Go clean your face. When you hit them, then come back. I’ll give you money. If you respect yourself in Egypt, you can go anywhere.” (Cifuentes, 1994, para. 32,33)

(Sami, no date, para. 23)

Background and Baladi Values

Tahia Carioca in 1941
Figure 14 – Tahia Carioca in the 1941 movie Leila-bint-al-Rif (Leila, daughter of the countryside). Image taken from video still
(TheCaroVan, 2014)

Her personality and background, so influenced by baladi values, are reflected in the way Tahia danced.

She was very grounded and she could dance in very small spaces: ‘Mohamad Abd El Wahab would say that ‘Taheyia was able to show a great deal of movement in such a very little space’ (Molthen, no date, para. 8).

Her style is considered to be the most authentic, traditional style, as opposed to Samia Gamal, her contemporary, who was very light, fluid and moved more in space with turns and traveling steps.

Although Tahia studied ballet when she was young, her raqs sharqi style was never over-influenced by it. She used steps inspired by ballet, such as the arabesque, but hers was small and grounded.

Bint al Balad

She was considered by most a true ‘bint al balad’ (daughter of the country) (Adum, no date, pt.Second Segment-About Taheya Carioca & Samia Gamal) and ‘Tahia is remembered as a dancer of the people for her film roles as a bint al-balad . . . a woman of a working-class background’ (Shay and Sellers-Young, 2005, p. 20).

In 5.3.5, I will return to Tahia’s personality and background, to analyze how these can have influenced her approach to raqs sharqi, using concepts from the Living Heritage Framework.

Second Segment-About Taheya Carioca & Samia Gamal) and ‘Tahia is remembered as a dancer of the people for her film roles as a bint al-balad . . . a woman of a working-class background’ (Shay and Sellers-Young, 2005, p. 20).

In 5.3.5, I will return to Tahia’s personality and background, to analyze how these can have influenced her approach to raqs sharqi, using concepts from the Living Heritage Framework.

Movement Style of Tahia Carioca

Table 12 – Tahia Carioca’s Movement Style. From the research of Dr Valeria Lo Iacono (2019)

Table 12 – Tahia Carioca’s Movement Style Table 12 summarises Tahia Carioca’s dancing style, evinced through the video analysis.

Her style was grounded and sustained, with the exception of some sudden hip movements, and, overall, very relaxed and with small and contained hip movements.

Another dancer from the same era, who had a very relaxed and languid style was Hagar Hamdi. [4] It seems that relaxation is a key characteristic of the most traditional, old school, raqs sharqi styles.

The Art Of Movement
Dance Science: Anatomy, Movement Analysis, and Conditioning
Beyond Dance: Laban's Legacy of Movement Analysis
The Moving Researcher: Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis in Performing Arts Education and Creative Arts Therapies
The Art Of Movement
Dance Science: Anatomy, Movement Analysis, and Conditioning
Beyond Dance: Laban's Legacy of Movement Analysis
The Moving Researcher: Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis in Performing Arts Education and Creative Arts Therapies
The Art Of Movement
The Art Of Movement
Dance Science: Anatomy, Movement Analysis, and Conditioning
Dance Science: Anatomy, Movement Analysis, and Conditioning
Beyond Dance: Laban's Legacy of Movement Analysis
Beyond Dance: Laban's Legacy of Movement Analysis
The Moving Researcher: Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis in Performing Arts Education and Creative Arts Therapies
The Moving Researcher: Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis in Performing Arts Education and Creative Arts Therapies

Next Page >> Samia Gamal – The Innovating ‘Modern Woman’


1. The same will apply for the names of other dancers in this thesis, as Arabic words can have many different transliterations in Latin characters.

2. Molthen (no date, para. 15) reports that, in 1953, Tahia founded a party that supported ‘post-revolution return to constitutional democracy and because of that she was jailed for 101 days’. While in prison, she went on a hunger strike to protest against the physical abuse of prisoners (Molthen, no date; Sellers-Young, 2016, p. 27). In 1987, she went on ‘strike to protest against a new set of laws that would have impacted on actors’ livelihood’ (Sellers-Young, 2016 p. 27).

3. ‘Bint al balad’ is defined by Zuhur (1992, p. 8) as literally ‘daughter of the town . . . an urban lower class woman’ who embraces traditional values. Similarly, Early (1993, p. 203) defines her as ‘woman from a traditional urban quarter’. El-Messiri (1978, pp. 90–94) describes a bint al balad as a conservative woman, but less so and more modern than women form rural communities; somebody who is confident, down to earth, quick-witted, who works hard and who is not afraid of standing up to men trying to molest her.

4. She danced in various movies in the 1940s and 50s (Ramzy, no date a) and she started her career in Badia Masabni’s nightclub (Chamas, 2009).

Next Page >> Samia Gamal – The Innovating ‘Modern Woman’

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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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