Stealing a Mile - A Possible Belly Dance History

shiradotnet

Well-known member
Thanks for sharing the link! Some initial thoughts:

The comments about Badia Masabni and her dancers contain some misconceptions. It's understandable, as until recently there wasn't much accurate information about Badia and her influence available in English. But due to Priscilla Adum translating many articles from Arabic to English, we now have a more accurate picture of that era. (Priscilla has graciously given me permission to feature her translations on my web site - you can find them at Index to the "About Belly Dance" Section of Shira.net ).

I'm also uncomfortable with the comments about the Polynesians. The descriptions of "upright posture" and stamping don't suggest a historic precursor to belly dance AT ALL in my mind. Instead, they suggest debke, which is an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT dance.

The mention of zambra Mora is problematic. I've spoken to some very credible people, including Denise Filios (a college Spanish professor who wrote the book Performing Women), Mariano Parra (flamenco instructor who trained under La Meri), and Hadia (who has studied flamenco in a great deal of depth and done extensive research in Spain into the roots of flamenco), and all said the same thing about zambra Mora. All say that there is no continuous, identifiable historic dance resembling zambra Mora that has survived to today. While all acknowledge the possibility that there was Moorish influence contributing to the origins of flamenco (and some say flamenco's footwork has its roots in Moroccan schikhatt), all say zambra Mora as we know it is a modern-day hypothetical construct. They say that modern-day artists take a flavor of what they believe to be "Arabic" (finger cymbals, perhaps bare feet, etc.) and create a fusion according to their theories and artistic inspirations. It makes good theater, and it may be based in some valid theories (unproven) about the past, but it's all speculation and artistic license.

Metin And's books are still on my list of "things to read in the future", so I can't comment on the aspects of the article that talk about his work. The only thing I'll say on Turkish/Ottoman influence on the dance we know today is that there's a direct 20th-century importing of Turkish dance into the Egyptian Awalim style, which came from Badia Masabni. Badia says in a 1966 interview translated by Priscilla (which is available on my web site at the above link) that when she created raqs sharqi, she fused Turkish dance, the Egyptian Awalim dance, Latin dance, and Persian dance into it.
 

Farasha Hanem

New member
Is this section of the forum now private, because if not, I'd love to post a link to Facebook for this thread. Lots of wonderful information that needs to be shared! :)
 

shiradotnet

Well-known member
Is this section of the forum now private, because if not, I'd love to post a link to Facebook for this thread. Lots of wonderful information that needs to be shared! :)
Farasha, I don't know if this section of the forum is public or not, but I posted the link to the article plus my comments about it on my own facebook wall, so you could go to this link and then click "Share": https://www.facebook.com/Shira.net/posts/225005507624012
 

Aziyade

Well-known member
This much:

Modern bellydance, as a style, is considerably less than 100 years old. Its creation is popularly associated with Badia Massabni, the owner of the Opera Casino Cabaret in Cairo during 1926, although others were doing much the same thing around that time and earlier. However, her theatre was principally an entertainment aimed at the westerners who were living in Cairo, and so, the increasing reknown of the dance in the West became associated with her. Essentially the local baladi/ghawazee style of street dance was adapted for a music hall stage production by having the principal dancers learn presentational techniques from the Russian ballet teacher Ivanova who was, at that time, commissioned to teach the children of the Cairene upper classes.


We now know is wrong. Bellydance on the theatre stage predated Badia by decades. The sala concept was most likely a result of the Awalim being allowed to return to Cairo, but finding their previous performances venues closed to them, so they opened their own.

The clubs were expressly NOT aimed at Westerners, unless they were fluent in Arabic. The advertisements and handbills were printed in Arabic, not French or English. It's reasonable to say the clubs were aiming for an Egyptian audience who liked European style theater.

I have a suspicion that Badia's bringing in western dance training had more to do with attracting the movie industry than it did with adapting the Awalim movement tradition to stage -- since it was already ON stage.

Shira, I might have to disagree with you on the upright posture in dance (although I'm not sure about the stamping bits) because the Fellaha women have been known even since Lane's time for their beautiful upright posture and carriage. I'm not sure what to make of this in terms of dance, though. I've been trying to look at as much historical footage as I can to see if there is a significant slouched posture in Egyptian folk dances, but there just isn't enough footage that isn't modern.


One more thing:

Indeed the word for the gypsy dancer in Egypt, ghawazee, is an arabic term derived from the Mesopotamian word for "wild" or "uncontained". In men it applies to the fiercest soldiers.

I thought the root word meant "foreigner." Or is there overlapping meaning there?



Is this article Helen Waldie's? It kind of reads like her style of writing.
 

Zumarrad

Member
WRT slouching or leanback, Ranya Renee made a significant (to me) observation when she was here that I am sure has come from, and been shared by, many other specialists in Egyptian dance: working class Egyptians to this day still carry stuff on their heads. Lots of stuff. Slouching around just doesn't cut it in that case.

I do think that straighter legs while dancing may have entered the dance vocabulary via ballet and other western dance approaches, and some of our arm work.

I also KNOW that Polynesians have nothing to do with oriental dance, unless they go and take some lessons; for certain there were some Polynesian men hanging out in Cairo and possibly visiting the clubs around the Wagh el Birket but that wasn't till WWII. I somehow doubt their influence was that profound. Though haka WERE performed and there's some stamping involved. Haka influence on debke: dicuss.

The article actually says Phoenicians. I must admit that "Phoenician" to me means "Lebanese-origin person insisting they are not an Arab because blah blah" and that's about it. LOL.

Is it that inconceivable that Badia, with her experiences living in Argentina and elsewhere, might simply have *liked* what she'd seen and learned overseas and decided to apply elements of it to her own club in order to differentiate it from everyone else's? I have never believed for one second that Badia was the first person to open a nightclub with dancers in Cairo. Did anybody? Dancers today still compete on the basis of having the most exciting costumes, the best band, the most interesting show... I really don't see it being any different in the 1920s.

I think it's important that we neither place "origins" solely on one person unless we have 100 percent undeniable proof - which we never will have about things that took place a century ago - nor assume that no individual can ever innovate.
 

shiradotnet

Well-known member
Shira, I might have to disagree with you on the upright posture in dance (although I'm not sure about the stamping bits) because the Fellaha women have been known even since Lane's time for their beautiful upright posture and carriage. I'm not sure what to make of this in terms of dance, though. I've been trying to look at as much historical footage as I can to see if there is a significant slouched posture in Egyptian folk dances, but there just isn't enough footage that isn't modern.
If the article had referenced SOLELY upright posture, I'd be inclined to agree with you. Yes, rural women in Egypt indeed carried stuff on their heads, and it's logical to think that the dance posture was an extension of everyday life posture. But when she says, "Straight backed with bouncing steps and probably some stamping for dramatic effect...." to me that sounds a lot more like debke than it does like raqs baladi.


Is this article Helen Waldie's? It kind of reads like her style of writing.
I too have wondered that. The author is identified just as "Helen", but I agree with you that it sounds like Helen Waldie.
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
The article actually says Phoenicians. I must admit that "Phoenician" to me means "Lebanese-origin person insisting they are not an Arab because blah blah" and that's about it. LOL.
For a very long time much of the southern Mediterranean was considered Phoenician due to the extensive colonization of those areas by the Phoenicians in the 2nd millennium BC. They also traded extensively with the northern Mediterranean and had an on again off again relationship them so they were very familiar with each other. And no they were not "Arabic".

Read up on them sometime, it's a fascinating subject.
 

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Roshanna

New member
The article actually says Phoenicians. I must admit that "Phoenician" to me means "Lebanese-origin person insisting they are not an Arab because blah blah" and that's about it. LOL.
Wasn't the article referring to Phoenicians in a historical sense? As far as I'm aware (via vague osmosis of information, as my partner is an ancient historian ;)), the Phoenicians lived in that area in Classical times, and traded and settled pretty widely. They weren't Arabs in any meaningful sense, though I'd guess that a lot of people who we'd view today as Arabs are descended from them. It would make sense if bits of Phoenician culture got absorbed later into Arabic culture.
 

shiradotnet

Well-known member
Wasn't the article referring to Phoenicians in a historical sense?
That was the impression I had - that the article's reference to Phoenicians was with respect to the era in which Phoenician culture did exist as a distinctive society.
 
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