Queen of Oriental Cabaret
is not only a belly dancer, but an artist who played a role
in shaping Egypt’s modern culture.”
--Palestinian-American Writer, Edward Said
were many who danced before her and many who followed in her
dance steps, but it was she who immortalized the dance on the
silver screen. Her name was Badawiya Mohamed Karim Ali Sayed but,
to all who knew and loved her, she was known as Taheyia
Mohamed Karim Ali Sayed was born in 1919 to a good and respected
family in a small village called Manzala in Egypt, north of
the delta. They moved soon after to Ismalia where she began
dancing as a teenager.
the 1920’s, Cairo had become the established center for the
entertainment industry in the Middle East. Artists
and performers gathered there and they set the trend for
dance, music, cinema, and theater.
a result, a cabaret culture emerged, catering to this new and
exciting artistic renaissance. Subsequently, the first high-classed
cabaret was opened by dancer and actress, Badiya Al Masabni. Located
in the district of Ezbekiya in downtown Cairo, it was appropriately
named Casino Badiya and was immediately the city’s social
headquarters, rivaled only by the Long Bar at the then Shepherd’s
the early 1930’s, the young teenager, Badawiya, ran away from
her overbearing and abusive brothers to Cairo. Seeking
shelter, Badawiya came upon an old friend, who was her neighbor
and owner of a modest nightclub, and asked for a job in her
nightclub. She was, however, refused that opportunity. The
reason was that Badawiya was too pretty to be subjected to
the kind of goings-on of a nightclub. But talk of this
young girl's dance made its way around the nightclub circuit
and Badiya began to inquire about her, requesting to meet her.
Several of her musical agents approached young Badawiya and
brought her to Badiya. Upon seeing her dance, Badiya immediately
offered Badawiya a job at the club. Seeing that she now had
an opportunity to work with the Dean of Egyptian Dance at the
club, Badawiya was granted permission. She joined the Casino
Royal and continued to study dance technique at the Ivanova
Dancing School before moving to Mohamad Ali Street, Cairo’s
pre-revolutionary equivalent to Broadway.
first, the young dancer was given the stage name of Taheyia
Mohamed. In her first solo performance, Badiya asked
her personal choreographer to create a dance sequence especially
for Taheyia. This dance sequence was loosely based on
the Latin-American dance called Karioka which was popularized
in the 1933 American film, Flying Down to Rio. 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.
1936, Taheyia danced for King Farouk’s wedding procession,
significantly accompanying the singing of Om Kalsoum. A
great admirer of Taheyia’s dancing Om Kalsoum stated that
she would prefer to watch Taheyia over any other dancer because
‘she was the only one who could sing with her body.’ Later,
Mohamad Abd El Wahab would say that ‘Taheyia was able to
show a great deal of movement in such a very little space.’
became very well-known in the 1940’s and began to attract a
high level of attention from movie producers and, consequently,
rose as one of the most formidable dancers in Badiya’s cabaret. Despite
the air raids and siren blasts, which blasted without warning
and a constant reminder of war, nightlife flourished with the
anticipation of what tomorrow might bring. This, as well
as the contributing economic influences of World War II, contributed
to a Golden Age of Egyptian Cinema industry at such a level
that formerly has never been equaled in the history of Egyptian
150 film production companies operated in Egypt at that time,
each producing a minimum of three films per season. Because
of these troubled times, the most popular themes of these movies
centered around comedy dance musicals which entertained and
helped to calm the masses, allowing them to forget the ongoing
war that surrounded them. Because of her talent, beauty, and
charming personality, Taheyia found herself in constant demand
first dancing, then singing and dancing, and then singing,
dancing, and acting in movies, ultimately obtaining the lead
roles in top films.
also starred in a film called Habibi Al Asmar (My
Dark Darling) with her rival, Samia Gamal in 1958.
first appearance as a dancer was in a 1935 film entitled Dr.
Farhat directed by Togo Mizrahi. In 1942, she appeared
in her first starring role in a film called Unib al Ghalat (I
Love the Wrong). But her most important early film in which
she was approached by Naguib Al Rihani about acting
in one of his widely acclaimed motion pictures and where she
starred opposite Naguib was Lu’bat al-Sit (The
Lady’s Play) released in 1946. This film, now a classic of
the Egyptian screen, established her as a big star. She
often took the role of the “Mu’alima” or the courageous and
independent yet virtuous and traditionally oriented mistress.
In later years, she took the roles of queens and mothers. However,
in spite of these acting, singing and dancing demands, she
was careful to keep her work at Casino Badiya as well as the
other various nightclubs, which sprung up during that time.
By now Taheyia was enjoying the fame and fortune of an accomplished
the late 1940’s, Taheyia danced only at the more important
functions held by or for the King and other royalty as her
fame had now put her in the center of attention at all Egyptian
high royal society social gatherings. Prior to the Egyptian
Revolution which took place on July 23, 1952, she spoke at
national official celebrations as well as private royal parties.
With her supreme command of the English and French languages
which she had taught herself in her early years, she was often
seen holding her own amongst the foreign invited dignitary.
Although wealthy herself, she disliked the rich who made no
use of their wealth to help the less fortunate and was often
times heard to say that she had allergies to these people.
was a political activist. Typical of her style, she
went on strike following a change in the laws concerning
workers’ unions in 1987 perceived as unfavorable to actors.
She was extremely independent and a non-conformist. Although
she was influential in the political circles during and after
pre-revolutionary times, she did not always use her contacts
to promote her career.
she expressed disagreement with the monarchy, she nonetheless
retained nostalgic memories of the old regime after the revolution.
Stories have it that Anwar Al Sadat hid in Taheyia’s
sister’s house following his involvement in a political assassination
was a founding member of the HDTO party in 1953 expressing
support for post-revolution return to constitutional democracy
and because of that she was jailed for 101 days. Her jail time
should have amounted to 30 years for nonpayment of back taxes,
due to her friendship to King Farouk who preferred she not
pay taxes, but many film-makers stopped producing movies and
many theaters closed their doors all in defiance to Taheyia's
incarceration and unified support of her release. While imprisoned,
she went on a hunger strike to protest against the possibility
of physical abuse. And yet, she actively encouraged the revolution.
Her case was settled and she was released. She temporarily
stopped performing when the new regime accused her of conspiracy,
imprisoning her, and taking away most of her properties.
stopped dancing completely after the revolution but continued
to star in Egyptian cinema. Some unforgettable movies in which
she starred are La Bat Sit (The Ladies Game), Shabab
Irmaat (Youth of a Woman) which was shown at
the Festival of Cannes in 1956 and which won the international
directing price in1958, Om el Aroussa (The Mother
of the Bride), and Samara (Samara). She also
starred in a film called Habibi Al Asmar (My
Dark Darling) with her rival, Samia Gamal in 1958. These films
made her a screen idol and many yearned to be like her. Out
of this title came a phrase, “The Taheyia Karioka Complex”
coined and labeled to those who went on to emulated her.
the 1960’s on she began to put on weight. Hollywood productions
in the late 1960’s offered her an opportunity to work in one
of their productions, but because of the 1967 War, the offer
was canceled and she returned to Cairo. One of her last films
in 1972 entitled Khali Belak Min Zouzou (Take
Care of Zuzu) showed a very heavy Taheyia co-starring with So'ad
Hosny in a Zeffa, or marriage party dance scene. Her last
film in 1986 was Li-l-hob Qissa Akhira (Love’s
Samia and Rushdi
Rushdi married Taheyia Karioka in 1950 before fame came
his way. Taheyia was very
jealous with his womanizing and he could not take it
anymore .....they divorced in 1951.
married 14 times – twice as many times as her father. She was
firmly adamant in marrying before consenting to sex with any
male interested in her and often advised young women to do
the same. Sex without marriage to a woman was a label for whore.
Taheyia would never be thought of as a whore. Among her marriages
were to well-known Egyptian actor Rushdi Abaza (who
was also later married to Samia Gamal), to singer Muharam
Fouad, to directory Fatin Abd El-Wahab, and to an
American army officer whom she married during WWII and who
took her to America after the war. But because of American
culture and its strange ways, she became very homesick. She
divorced her American army officer and went back to Egypt.
the 1980’s, the spread of Islam and its fundamental militancy
proved to be a big blow for Egypt’s belly dance industry.
As a result, several dancers publicly renounced their pasts
and donned the Islamic veil.
her later years, Taheyia also took to wearing the hijab and
went on a pilgrimage to Mecca assuming the title Hagga, a religious
title referring to those who had made a pilgrimage to the Holy
Lands and denoting a high degree of lower/middle class respectability.
However, she never renounced her former profession and remained
very proud of her chosen career to the end. As a result,
many saw her as a role model and admired her for her spirited
defense of the entertainment industry.
her pre-retirement, Taheya remained in Cairo. Her last husband, Fayez
Hallawa, was a well-known director-dramatist actor and
journalist who acted in several theater comedies with a political
theme. She had fallen in love and married him – a much younger
man – who had written a play called Yahya Al-Wafd (Long
Live the Wafd), which turned out to be very bad. Sadly, this
relationship lasted a very short time.
evening, the young man kicked her out with only her clothes
on her back along with a purse and a small book of phone
numbers. An opportunist, he had robbed her of all of her
money, property, pictures, films, and memorabilia.
managed to call a good and trusted friend whom she had helped
many times before. This friend took Taheyia home until she
was able to manage by herself again. In an effort to give Taheyia
back her dignity, she called all directors, television stations,
and theaters requesting small parts for Taheyia to act as mother
or grandmother. After a time, Taheyia was able to save enough
money to buy a small apartment in Dokki next to the Sheraton
Hotel in Cairo.
passed away on September 20, 1999 at the age of 80 from a heart
attack. Her funeral services were held at the Sayda Nafisa
Mosque after Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni led
her funeral procession. She was buried in the family cemetery
left having elevated the dance to the high level that it
enjoys today through the introduction of the dance to the
general public via her performances in Egyptian films and
in theater performance. She refined the dance to the point
that Egypt's highest society now accepted it and the music
that went along with it. It is because of Taheyia that dancers
today enjoy studying this dance around the world.
Taheyia was married 14 times, she was unable to conceive and
become a mother, which saddened her up until her final days.
However, in her quest for children, she surrounded herself
with caring for her brother’s children and by supporting and
sponsoring various children’s charities and orphan houses.
Additionally, she adopted a daughter in whom she named Atiyat
her lifetime, Taheyia was granted many awards for achievement
in the Egyptian film industry as well as the field of theater
and from the newly formed government. She has appeared in over
300 films, plays, and television soap operas.
Dr. Farhat" directed by Togo
Togo Mizrahi is not only one of the founding fathers of
Alexandrian cinema in the thirties, but he also contributed greatly
cinema as a whole...
- See author's
bio page for information on her current video and lecture
series:Dancing in the Golden Era of Egyptian Film.
Taheyia and Rushdi
photo contributed by Hany
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other possible viewpoints!
An inteview with "The Lady with the Eyes" by
worked hardest for the dancers in San Francisco to wipe
out the discrimination factor and to make sure that all
cultures were included in the performance of this dance.
BDSS Experience and Miles Copeland; Doing What He Does
Best by Sausan
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.
in North Beach by Sausan
the occasions when the door was still locked, I was often invited
to drink coffee next door, where young girls made their money
Loved the Old Days at the Bagdad! by Habiba Nawal
think I was making about fifteen or twenty dollars a night plus
tips. It was all about the tips! The girls from New York made twenty-five,
if I remember right. Bert sometimes got me shows for about thirty
or seventy-five dollars for what he called “The Furry Animal
Clubs”, like the Lions, the Elk and the Kiwanis.
Belly Dance From Burlesque by Miles Copeland
it is traditionally understood, I do not find Burlesque, (meaning
nudity—no matter how hard one pretends it does not) amusing or
creative in the slightest when it comes to including Belly dance,
an art that has suffered too long with such unfortunate associations.
I find it completely irresponsible and detrimental.
the Hip Hits the Fan by Princess Farhana
fan dancing is not considered traditional in raqs sharqi, due
to the increasing popularity of fusion, many Oriental dancers
are exploring fusing the many styles of fan dancing and Belly
dance with stunning results. When used onstage, fans are FAN-ciful,
conveying various emotions to an audience, as well as being a
spectacular visual treat. They can be dramatic and stately, or
coy and flirtatious and are always a crowd pleaser!
along the Nile, Part 1: Raks Al Asaya by Gamila
El Masri, Reprinted with permission, from Bennu, Issue
is strength in the cane twirl but not aggression, extreme rapid
twirling should be held as an additional sensational feat, less
is more. Have your body of twirling be moderate so that you can
vary from slow to climatic; always reflecting the music, it's
mood and tempo. Get down without getting crazy.
New Venue for Rakkasah Festival West by Susie Poulelis
retail, there is a saying that having an item sell out was a
happy problem to have. You want to keep your customers yearning
for more, making sure they won't hesitate to buy the next time
they see something they want.