A Forgotten Treasure of the 80s
by Yasmin Henkesh
posted January 26, 2010
Twenty years ago when I told people I had worked with Shoo Shoo Amin in Cairo, the response was “Wow!” Now, people go “Who?” Today no one seems to know who she is. For belly dance purists, this is a tragedy. Every so often, someone my age or older will wax lyrical about her on-line, but for the most part, she’s an enigma – even to young Egyptians. But ask older Egyptians if they’ve heard of Shoo Shoo Amin and they sing her praises. “One of the best dancers of the 80’s!” “Very good dancer!” “So sweet, not like [ Fifi Abdou, Sahar Hamdi, or any C rated dancer working in smoky dives for poor vacationing Saudis]. I could take my wife to see her.”
That’s exactly where I met Shoo Shoo Amin, in a place where Egyptians took their wives. It was a famous supper club on the Sharia al-Haram called the Auberge. Nagwa Fouad got her start there in the 1960s. It seated 700 people. At the time, I worked downstairs in the nightclub, while Shoo Shoo worked upstairs in the main “salla.” When she went back to London, I took her place. I used to come early every night to watch her. She made everything look so easy. But looks can be deceiving. To this day when I teach her signature moves, students take a year or two (if they’re lucky) to master them.
I first saw Shoo Shoo in London while I was working at Mona Said’s Omar Khayyam. She worked at a luxurious place called The Empress. Khamis Henkesh was her drummer. In my mind, the two of them created the perfect drum solo – along with Mona’s, of course.
Shoo Shoo had a spectacular shimmy that she maintained all the way down to the floor and back up again. She also had an amazing down-hip three-quarter shimmy that she did double time around the stage.
Her timing was perfect, her stage presence engaging and she played finger cymbals like a pro. I was mesmerized. So when I found myself able to watch her for free every night in Cairo, I knew I was in heaven. (Dealing with the owner was not heaven but that is another story.)
Shoo Shoo convinced her family to let her become a dancer in the early 1970s. She went “pro” at the age of 19 and soon landed a contract to work with Hassan Abou Saoud (Shik Shak Shok composer) in Japan. She stayed there for a year. But London was where she was happiest. She worked on and off in England until she retired in 1994. She was an innovative dancer, but stayed close to her roots. She is the only one I know of who incorporated live zar musicians into a folkloric tableau. The tableau can be seen in the video clip below. This group, Awlad Abou al-Gheit, plays on Zar – Trance Music for Women and one of the songs she used is Benat al-Handasa, track 7.
Shoo Shoo had many signature moves. The ones I remember most are:
- a contract/release shimmy mentioned above (shimmy #4 to those of you who have read Pulse of the Sphinx),
- a down-hip three-quarter shimmy (done on the balls of the feet),
- wide, twisting full torso snakes,
- a four-step with an accent on three,
- abdominal pops,
- Egyptian stomach rolls,
- fast, compact hip circles,
character spins that stop on a dime
of course the continuous shimmy as she sank to the floor and back up again.
She would often layer two or three of these movements together. And layered or not, I was always amazed at how quick and sharp her three-quarter shimmies were. Many dancers of her era excelled at these fast hip movements. Nelly Fouad is perhaps the best example. It was my experience that the more westernized the dancer, however, the slower their hip work. Following my recent research into dance belts (see A History of Sagat) I recognize this ‘hip jiggling’ as the ideal movement to sound strung rattles. I believe this rapid three-quarter shimmy tempo is an ancient carry over from Hathorian dances. But that’s just my opinion.
An example of Shoo Shoo’s dancing can be seen in second video clip at left, on a clip I put together in preparation for her workshop in Dahab with Leila. She does many of her signature moves in it. Sadly, there is not much footage of Shoo Shoo. She did not become a movie or video star like many of her contemporaries – hence the paucity of material if you want to analyze her style. I found this out recently when I tried to give my professional students a sneak preview before “Shoo Shoo camp” in May. The hard economic times have made it difficult for many to go and I wanted all of them to discover her wonderful dancing, not just the lucky few who could afford a ticket. Besides, a trip down memory lane is always fun.
To make things more amusing, the class decided to combine Shoo Shoo with Sahar Hamdi for a “Naughty or Nice” semester – a Santa Clause hang-over after Christmas. We haven’t gotten to Sahar yet, but when we do I will make sure they leave their inhibitions at the door. But for now, I’m more worried about their pelvic technique than a wide stance in a pair of cowboy boots (just kidding). I love both these dancers.
I was lucky Shoo Shoo agreed to come out of retirement and teach. Wouldn’t it be great if Sahar did the same?
Until then, studying the movements of dancers like Shoo Shoo, Nelly Fouad, Hayatim or more recently Dandesh can give newer performers a window into belly dance before tribal fusion, the Bellydance Superstars, "AmCab", Vintage Orientale or Reda Troup Folklore. It is natural that every art evolves with its time, but it is important for students of any discipline to study the works of previous masters. We are fortunate that some of them are still around to teach.
Yasmin’s article on "A History of Sagat" and "Pulse of the Sphinx" can be found inside the covers of her recent CDs. They may be posted as articles on GS sometime in the near future.
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