The dancer often called the Marilyn Monroe of the Arab world has died of a heart attack in a Cairo, Egypt,
hospital. Tahia Carioca was 79.
Carioca's parents were mortified when as a teenager she took her beauty and talent to a Cairo nightclub to
dance for strangers, but it was the beginning of a journey that would make her one of the world's most renowned
Although the hold of fundamentalist Islam on Egyptian society has virtually wiped out public manifestations of her
art, she was in the end granted the official approval her parents withheld, when the Egyptian Culture Minister,
Farouk Hosni, led her funeral procession.
She married 14 different husbands and once slapped King Farouk when he threw an ice cube down her dress.
She had roles in more than 300 movies and television shows.
But beyond mere fame, she virtually defined the intricate, pulsating art called raqs sharqi in Arabic nations but
known in the West as the belly dance. Belly dancers cover less territory than Western dancers, concentrating
instead on often minute movements, sometimes emphasising such tiny muscular articulations as a quivering
Carioca used her many films to raise the status of Middle Eastern dance. "She got it recognised as part of the
Egyptian fine arts landscape through her portrayals of it in movies," said Julie Elliot, a belly dancer from San
Francisco. "She was a pioneer of modern oriental dance as it is done today."
Carioca, originally named Abla Mohammed Karim, was born in 1920. She studied dance at Ivanova Belly
Dancing School in Cairo before moving to Mohammed Ali Street, Cairo's 1930s and '40s version of Broadway.
She became one of the biggest stars at a Cairo nightclub owned by Badia Massabni, a Lebanese woman. The
club was an elegant re-creation of a British music hall and was frequented by both British colonial
administrators and the local aristocracy. But despite the nice surroundings, belly dancing - something that up
until that time had been performed mainly at private weddings and celebrations - was still not publicly
Carioca's husbands included an American army officer whom she met during World War II, an actor and a
prominent playwright. That none of the matches lasted long may have owed something to her sometimes
She gave up dancing in 1963 but as late as the mid-1980s ran her own theatre in Cairo, helping to write and
choose plays, as well as directing and producing.
She took to wearing the Islamic head scarf before retiring from public view 13 years ago.
Carioca is survived by an adopted daughter, Atiyat Allah.
Douglas Martin, The New York Times