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Fawzia News Clip

History of Belly Dance in Quebec – An Overview

by Marthyna
photos supplied by author
posted November 26, 2010

This is an overview of a presentation I made during the 2010 International Bellydance Conference of Canada in Toronto. This is not an article, but different historical points to illustrate the history of belly dance in Quebec and how the french language impact the development of the dance form. I hope you will enjoy it! 

The first bellydance in Quebec was Fawzia Amir – so our Quebec history begins in the late 1950.

Fawzia ad
scan of an actual menu from her night club

Fawzia opened the first Middle Eastern night club “Sahara” in 1957. She was a strong business woman and a great bellydancer. She deplored the term “bellydancing” – preferred “native folk dance” to avoid sexual references about her dance or her costume. She was acquitted in 1960 of presenting an immoral dance after being arrested for indecent exposure and called to court. She actually danced in the court room to show the judge what this was really about. Her last engagement as a dancer was in 1970.  She trained Gamila Asfour which will be one of the most influential Belly Dance Tearchers in Montreal.

The Second Generation include three wonderful women : Gamila Asfour, Lala Hakim and Helen Smolens

Gamila Asfour, courtesy of Papyrus Magazine from an article supplied by authorGamila Asfour

Gamila met Fawzia in the early 1960s.  Trained in ballet, flamenco and social dances, she learned by observing Fawzia at the Club.  Another influence on Gamila was the last Ahmad Jarjour who taught her his passion for bellydance.  Gamila worked for years at the Sahara Night Club.  She taught most of the actual teachers in Montreal and now she still teaches workshops and is a part of AQDO, a Middle Eastern association for Quebec.

Lala Hakim-courtesy of Papyrus Magazine from an article- modification by GSLala Hakim

Lala arrived in Montreal in the mid 1970’s.  She was a soloist for the Egyptian Folkloric Ensemble Kaymea.  Lala began her career in Quebec in a restaurant, Le Beyrouth, in Montreal.  She is still very active and has her own school in Montreal.

Helen Smolens

Helen debuted in movies; she danced with Samia Gamal, Tahia Carioca and Naima Akef.  She trained with Mahmoud Reda from 1956 to 1968.  She arrived in Montreal in 1968 and created her own troupe, Les princesses du Nil (Princesses of the Nile), which is still active today.

From 1960 to 1980, bellydancers performed in cabaret night clubs and restaurants. 

They were not always accepted by the general public because of the revealing costumes but also because sometimes dancers performed between two strippers.  This created a taboo around bellydancing.  No one wanted to be caught learning it or performing on stage.


Helen with Naima Akef
Helen dances with Naima Akef in a movie

This is where the language barrier changed this…In French "Belly Dance" = "Danse du ventre". Let me explain.

First Tribal Style Troupe in QuebecAt this point and even now “danse du ventre” is associated with a sexy dance. Someone took the opportunity to create a new french word for it – baladi.  This change occurred because of a book – Le Baladi, Apprendre la danse du ventre pour s’amuser, maigrir, etre en forme.  Edition de l’Homme in 1980. Even if the name change helped the reputation of the dance form putting the general public in the state "what is baladi" instead of "woohoo, do a nice little dance for me", we’ve been working on changing it back to Danse Orientale (Dance from the Orient or Oriental Dance) because Baladi is not accurate.

Important Dates – A Timeline

  • 1955 Fawzia Amir
  • 1960 Gamila Asfour
  • 1968 Helen Smolens
  • 1970 Lala Hakim
  • 1980 the term "Baladi" replaces "bellydance" – publication of the book Belly Dance: Le Baladi, Apprendre la danse du ventre pour s’amuser, maigrir, etre en forme
  • 1981 Second generation of dancers in Montreal trained by Egyptian born teachers: Nagwa, Alia, Shams
  • 1990 Bellydance fusion (Fusion Orientale) begins with Dominique Favreau (DO)
  • 1999 First bellydance fusion performance presented in the bellydance community during a bellydance contest organized by Gamila and Nagwa
  • 2005 First tribal bellydance troupe Les Trib’elles


Bellydance began in Quebec with the arrival of Fawzia Amir who had a big impact.  Gamila, Lala and Helen took over and trained most of the teachers in Montreal, creating strong Egyptial style Bellydance – Cabaret as well as folkloric.

In 1980, THE book came out – Baladi is the new designation for danse du ventre for french speaking people. Grand American Bellydance began in Quebec around 1990 – we don’t know who initiated it.  The term “baladi” does not apply anymore because teachers and dancers feel this is no longer only Egyptian.

2005 Tribal Fusion begins. In 2008, there is an explosion of styles and creativity.  Bellydance is no longer just Egyptian; dancers are discovering Moroccan, Turkish, Lebanese, fusion… The different communities are very active and bellydance is more and more refined. In fact, people are just more well informed and learn different facets on the art form.

2010 – Lots still to come!

Fawzia in the news
Fawzia in the news in 1955
Golden Gamila

picture from a student of Lala
Author's Troupe- Les Tribelles
Author’s troupe- Les Trib’elles
Chanty, Marthyna, Dominique Senécal and Marie-Chantal Anctil

Author-"A special thank you note to Papyrus Magazine, she actually gave me a few pictures."

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Ready for more?

  • Gigbag Check with Dominique of Montreal
  • 11-3-10 An Intro to Tribal Fusion by Jasmine June
    Since Tribal Fusion Belly Dance is a relatively new dance form, it is especially important to treat the genre with a level of professionalism, or else one runs the risk of discrediting the work of dancers who have dedicated their lives to creating and elevating Tribal Fusion Belly Dance.
  • Saturday Gala Performance at the IBCC 2010, Photos and Video Collage,
    The Saturday Night Gala Performance of the International Bellydance Conference of Canada was held April 24, 2010 at the Ryerson Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
    Video report consists of a collage of random clips caught of performances. Including: including:Arabesque Dance Company including Yasmina Ramzy, Delilah, Amel Tafsout, Zikrayat, Sera Solstice, Hadia, Ranya Renee & Co, Jillina, Sema Yildiz, Habeeba Hobeika Egyptian Dance Ensemble, and the Righteous Rogues.
  • 7-23-2010 Friday Night Performances at IBCC 2010, photos by Samira, video collage by GS staff
    International Bellydance Conference of Canada April 23, 2010 at the Hungarian Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto,Ontario, Canada. Performers include:
    Raks Sahara, Ashira, Maryfar, Laura Bellydance, Daluah, Tribe Maya Fire, Sa’Diyya, Monique Ryan, Sabaya, A La Nar, Sarah Skinner, Akimi, Earth Shakers, Roshana Nofret, Sofia & Chanty, Ebony Qualls, Danza Della Luna.
  • 6-16-10 IBCC 2010: Thursday Main Stage Performance Photos and Video, Photos by Samira, Video by GS staff
    The Thursday Night Main Stage Performance of the International Bellydance Conference of Canada was held April 22, 2010 at the Hungarian Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
    Video report consists of a collage of clips caught of performances. IBCC is produced by Yasmina Ramzy and company.
  • 6-4-10 IBCC 2010- Wednesday Stage, Opening Night Gala Performance Photos by Samira
    The Opening Night Gala Performance was held April 21, 2010 at the Hungarian Canadian Cultural Centre. Video report reposted here as an introduction to the photos.
  • 11-22-10 Part 5: The Dinner Shows, More Photos from the New York Theatrical Belly Dance Conference 2010, Photos by Photos by Sal Romano, Stacey and Clement Lespinasse, Eric Troudt
    We held the dinner shows at two of the most supportive environments in New York for bellydance: Je’bon Noodle House on St. Marks Place in the East Village and the Lafayette Grill in Tribeca. We made it our goal to give every conference participant the chance to perform, either to recorded or live music from one of our great local bands.
  • 1-21-10 Part 4: More Photos from the New York Theatrical Belly Dance Conference 2010, Workshops, Garmet District Shopping Tour Photos by Lena Helt, Smita Kadam, and Eric Troudt
    Offstage, we browsed the fabric-and-accessory mecca that is Manhattan’s garment district; embodied animals, clowns, and archetypes; learned to enhance our stage presence; shared experiences in panel discussions; and much more.
  • 11-17-10 Personal Impressions, Fantasy Belly Dance in New York City by Ayshe
    Looking back on it all, I can now only assume that, from the very beginning, I was already damaged goods. A “purest” I would never be!
  • 11-17-10 We Will Rak You! My Dance Experience with Queen by Stasha Vlasuk
    I’ll admit I wasn’t too familiar with the music of the British rock group Queen. The year was 1977, the month of December, in Los Angeles. I was invited to perform at a dinner party where Queen, in Los Angeles for several concerts, was the guest of honor. The job came to me through Dianne Webber.
  • 11-15-10 She’s Got the Look! Establishing Yourself as a Professional, Part 2 by Naajidah and Ashiya
    Right or wrong, the average person hiring dancers has certain expectations..
  1. Lauriane

    Nov 29, 2010 - 10:11:59

    To answer to your question, for the very last picture. It’s one of the Trib’elles. They were always performing with only three dancers on stage. One of them was dropping in sometimes while one was pregnant, unavailable or whatever. So, in orders, there’s Chanty, Marthyna, Dominique Sénécal and Marie-Chantal Anctil. Sadly, they are not a tribe anymore since 2009 but they are still performing individually on their own side. They were the most inspiring tribe in Tribal Bellydance in Quebec. Thanks to them!

  2. Jeannette

    Apr 22, 2013 - 10:04:26

    It is very nice to see, some people are still interested in my late mother.

  3. Jeannette

    Apr 22, 2013 - 10:04:51

    Yes, I am the first daughter, born in Cairo – with my mother Fawzia. Then went to USA, with her husband, my father. 

  4. Karen

    Aug 31, 2013 - 11:08:38

    Hello. I am the niece of Gamila Asfour. I enjoyed reading this story very much. I was wondering if you would have any pictures of the Sahara nightclub. My parents used to work there also, met there over 50 yrs ago, and will be celebrating their anniversary of marriage in November. My father is Gordon Boutara, nephew to Geo Sawaya, and my mother was a dancer as well. She is Gamila’s sister, and danced by the name Tanya. We are planning a surprise dinner for the family at the location where the Sahara club used to be (now Hilton hotel) and would like some pics from that time, if possible. Please let me know if you can help me out. Thank you.

  5. Jehane

    Sep 21, 2013 - 06:09:11

    History of Belly Dance in Quebec – An Overview:
    This article/presentation would be more appropriately called history of bellydance in Montreal. There’s no attention to any of the important figures outside of the Montreal area. What about Egyptian teacher Denise Enan who has been in Quebec (Gatineau) since the early 1970s and has influences generations of dancers in the province and beyond?

  6. Marthyna

    Dec 5, 2013 - 04:12:09

    Good point Jehane! Thank for letting me know because I always thought that Denise was only working in Ontario. It did not cross my mind that she was also working in Gatineau. I will happily add her, I love what she does, she is a great lady. If you have any details for me, let me know. I will contact her in 2014. 🙂

  7. Jehane

    Dec 5, 2013 - 06:12:11

    Thanks Mathyna. Denise is actually based in Gatineau (Hull sector) which is where she has her studio, Oasis de la danse. It’s actually the only dance studio in the region that is totally dedicated to Oriental dance. 🙂

  8. Gerard

    Dec 11, 2015 - 10:12:14

    In the interest of accuracy, you should have also mentioned that eventually she was eventually convicted in Montreal, and ordered deported from Canada:

    “It wasn’t Fawzia’s only brush with the law. She had been acquitted in 1960 of presenting an immoral dance. She was, however, eventually convicted in 1963 on charges of staging an obscene dance at her club, fined $200 and ordered deported”.

    Montreal was far more conservative back in the 60’s than people today imagine.

  9. Conrad Charbonneau

    Jul 23, 2019 - 11:07:06

    Hi Jeanette
    Remember, i was in the intermision band at Sahara club…i am from Ottawa and i was playing there in 1964-65….you and i were an item..great times.
    Hope you are well

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