Serpent presents... Who Really Gave Us This Dance? by Sausan
local Yellow Pages to the Dance section, and you’ll find it listed.
Go to the local YWCA and you’ll find someone teaching it. Log
onto the Internet and your heart will palpitate over the enormous
amounts of listings selling costumes for it. Go to a Middle Eastern
restaurant and you’ll find someone dancing it. Chances are you’re
on the Internet now reading about it.
It –- or
what we fondly call Belly dance by way of its generic term, coined
before the turn of the 19th Century, has been growing
in popularity ever since the middle of the 20th Century
when Bert Balladine,
Baptiste, and Morocco,
among others, opened schools in the United States and began teaching
their rendition of this ancient Egyptian cultural expression to
the uneducated public.
long before them, there were those in Egypt who would take up
the bedlah, foregoing the veil in provocation of their own country’s
accepted mode of behavior. And, in their quest for self-expression,
they, too, would fall prey to the sweet expressive motions of
a timeless dance only to find a cure for their soul in the performance
of this expression in front of an appreciative audience. Such
is the familiar addiction that today befalls many a dancer –-
an addiction that is not without its own unique reputation and
stigma found all over the world.
attempts have been made to write about the historical roots of
this ancient dance form giving credit to groups of peoples from
the Gypsies of India to the harems of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
All makes for great reading in the romantic writings of authors
past and present. Although the origins of this dance have been
debated as far back as the first day it was introduced to the
have only one country and one people to thank for it; that country
is Egypt and that people are the Egyptians. They were the ones
who gave us this dance.
of which country claims this dance today as its origin, it is
solely because of the Egyptian film industry that it was first
introduced to the rest of the world and which has helped it to
survive. If it had not been for the Egyptian dancers, actors,
and the directors who produced these innovative works of art in
Egypt back in the early 1900s these stories, filled with dance
and cultural expression, might not have been around to show us
the subtleties and nuances of a culture steeped in mystique and
legend, much less about this wonderful and unique dance expression.
Gamal Video courtesy of "Bellybunny" and youtube.com
Note from author regarding this video clip: During Samia's
dance scene you'll see Estifan Rosty, one of Egypt's most
celebrated actors. In the following unrelated scene, four
more of Egypt's best are shown; singer and actress, Laila
Fawzy, and actors, Abd El Wareth Assar, Ismael Yaseen, and
Mahmoud El Melegy.
dancer to appear in Egyptian film in the mid 1930s flooding the
silver screen with her dancing in that and in subsequent films
followed by Samia Gamal, Na’eema Akef, and many
others now seemingly obscured to the newest generation of dancers.
Once these films made their debuts in Egypt, they made their way
up through Syria and into Turkey, across Europe, over the Atlantic
Ocean, and into the East Coast of the United States, eventually
finding their way across the country and into the West Coast,
only stopping long enough in their travels in each city to leave
their lasting impression upon captivated natives. Samia Gamal,
herself, spent time in France and the United States in the mid
1950s beguiling fans with her sinuous movement and appearing in
French and American films.
Fouad, Suhair Zaki, Azza Shireef, Zizi Moustafa,
and numerous others followed in the footsteps of Taheiya Karioka,
performing their dance in subsequent films. Some of them even
took dance opportunities in the clubs of Lebanon. With more performances
in the outlying countries as well as on more Egyptian film by
more glamorous dancers, this new and exciting dance took hold
across Europe and the West.
who later traveled to the United States and who took dance jobs
in the nightclubs either learned from watching these dancers
live or in the movies or learned from watching their mothers
who had watched the same movies. Belly dance would never be
the same –- anywhere. This technology had opened the doors
to other forms of information sharing by other continents and
between the East and the West.
the United States, numerous versions of Belly dance have evolved.
Many of these versions do not resemble the first Belly dance ever
depicted on Egyptian film danced by Egyptian dancers. The differences
in cultural expression and experience between the West and Egypt
are just a few factors for the differences in these evolved Western
dance versions. Additional contributing factors include the differences
in moral and ethical beliefs and values of each country and society.
Most importantly, however, is the inability by anyone outside
of Egypt or its specific and unique cultural experience to see
and imitate this extraordinary expression born out of its culture
and beliefs, which is so much a part of the dance as it is performed
in Egypt. This major factor along with the others listed has
contributed conclusively to these Western dance versions, where
schools have taken up their own definitions of the dance and seemingly
omit to mention much less teach about the very people who gave
it to us. It is little wonder why the dance of the West simply
just doesn’t look like the dance of Egypt.
We owe our
gratitude, thanks, and appreciation for this dance to Egypt and
its great dancers. Had it not been for them, how would we have
ever known their names and about their lives? We also owe the
same to Egypt’s great musicians; namely, Mohamed Abd El Wahab,
Abd El Halim Hafez, Fareed Al Atrasch, and many
others, for without their music, which has become so much a part
of our dance repertoire, and whose music was often written specifically
for the performances of Egypt’s great dancers, we would not have
had the rich selection we have today. Moreover, without people
like Youssef Chahine, Henri Barakat, Ali Badrakhan
and others who either directed or produced these films, this dance
might have never been known to us.
the newer generation of dancer lacks this vital information
and basic knowledge, an obvious omission by the educators.
Why do so many Belly dance schools across the country neglect
to teach their students about these great dancers and musicians
and about the gifts they gave to us? Not doing so only depletes
from the richness of this dance and robs Egypt and its people
of its birthright as well as its established cultural expression
cultivated in a history of a thousands year-old civilization.
birth of technology, we have the ability to obtain recorded samples
of these dances through a medium of Mylar, a medium also known
as Video, which is very accessible via the Internet. The Internet,
as well, provides a vast resource via dedicated web sites for
finding and reading about these Egyptian artists. Why keep this
part of history separate from what we know in the West as Belly
dance? It is a shame that not all Belly dance schools across
the globe make this part of Belly dance history an integral part
of their curriculum, for it is indeed the Egyptians –- the dancers,
the musicians and the film directors –- who were the ones who
really gave us this dance.
The BDSS Experience and
Miles Copeland; Doing What He Does Best by Sausan Even
though Miles Copeland’s vision is similar to that of mine
and the majority of belly dancers I have canvassed in my lifetime,
he and I differ in our mission approach to elevating the dance,
and this is where the discussion became a heated debate.
7-17-04 Dancing in
North Beach by Sausan On
the occasions when the door was still locked, I was often invited
to drink coffee next door, where young girls made their money
Western Dancer's Guilt, a Respnse
to Naajidah, by Miles Copeland People have occasionally suggested Arabs would be “horrified”
by the inclusion of the Tribal style in our show but I can tell
you that this style is extremely popular with Middle Easterners
who come to our show.
The Costume Contest
Carnival of Stars Bellydance & Comic Book Convention &
Costume Contest Photos by Michael Baxter Event Sponsors Alexandria and Latifa November 11 &
12, 2006 Centennial Hall, Hayward, California