One of the First Westerners to Dance in Egypt
Renaissance Faire 1972
by Stasha Vlasuk
posted January 27, 2012
What intrigues us about Middle Eastern dance that we embrace it so whole-heartedly? Self expression, adventure, romance, travel – it is a life and a lifestyle rather at odds with contemporary Western society. However, Western society is also curious about Middle Eastern dance.
People who first meet me often ask, "You’re a belly dancer – what is that like? How long have you been performing? Where do you perform? Have you been to the Middle East?"
We’re interesting as performance artists because of our bold daring to live life fully, worldwide. Our medium provokes self reflection. Our focused attention and technical commitment grounds us in the present moment. We are connected to life’s essence, universal and boundless, and we invitingly share that with our audience. That’s attractive!
Anne Lippe is an attractivist like that: living life fully, invitingly, world wide. Having first seen her gracing the cover of the original Habibi newspaper, I had the opportunity to meet her while performing in Boston. A great lifetime friendship has ensued spanning the globe from Berkeley, California to Cairo, Egypt – and all points in between. This article reveals just a portion of her amazing belly dance adventure life. Curious people want to know.
Anne Lippe, a trend-setting costumer, was not only one of the original Western dancers to perform in Egypt, she was also one of the first teachers of Belly dance instructing there as well. Anne started studying Middle Eastern Dance with Jamila Salimpour in San Francisco in1969 and joined dance troupe Bal Anat. She performed during her first season with the company in 1970 in a dramatic black wig, but eventually, sxz he reverted to her own long blond locks in 1971. Anne’s sword dance was one of the featured performances at the Renaissance Faire at Black Point in Marin County, California.
Jamila Salimpour and Bal Anat circa 1970:
Top row: 1-? (NOT Aziza!), 2-?, 3-kneeling? , 4– Masha Archer in braids, 5- Anne Lippe with drum & turban, 6- Rhea with sword leaning forward, 7- Jo Hamilton with sword, 8-?, 9-?
Front row kneeling: 1- Galya, 2- Lisa with the snake, 3- Reyna, 4- Darius or Darioush, the kanoon player., 5-?, 6- Hilary with a snake, 7- Jamila Salimpour
Anne next established a successful performance and teaching career in her home state of Florida. She recognized an opportunity upon meeting with Mahmoud Reda when he came to New York to teach, and studied with him.
“It was in the spring of 1978, I think. I was living in Tampa (Florida), and I asked him, ‘How would it be possible to take more classes with you?’
Mahmoud answered, ‘Oh! come to Cairo in the Summer; we’re always there!’”
So, Anne went to Egypt in August, staying at the hotel he had recommended–The Atlas Hotel–approximately down town near Khan el Khalili. However, when she arrived and went to the Balloon Theatre, Mr. Reda wasn’t there! People at the Balloon said, “Oh, no! They are in Alex (Alexandria); they always go to Alex for the summer!” It was Anne’s introduction to crossed communications–Egyptian style.
Undaunted, Anne got a ride to Alexandria and found him; however, he told her to get back in touch once the troupe returned to the Balloon Theatre in Cairo. Unwilling to wait, Anne stayed in Alexandria, watched their folkloric shows multiple times, then rode back to Cairo with them on the bus. “They kind of adopted me; it was really nice!” she exclaimed.
Reda Folkloric Troupe
“Once back in Cairo, I just hung out and got oriented. I found a horrible apartment in Mohandaseen–really horrible! It was just filthy, so I stayed in the bedroom only. I cleaned the bedroom well and didn’t venture into any other parts of the apartment! My ticket was running out, and not a whole lot was happening. I would go over to the Balloon Theatre to take classes, and find that they had been canceled. My ostensible purpose in Cairo was to take these classes, and I managed to attend several of them. Meanwhile, there was so much else to learn that the dancing kind of sank to the bottom of my priorities list; there was a whole culture into which I had been thrust.
“I knew one word of Arabic: shukran. Oh, and one other word: fonduk meaning hotel, which nobody uses any more; it’s an old word that means caravansary. These words were on my recording ‘Learn Arabic’.
“Some people began to teach me how to speak Arabic, and the things they taught me were very direct. They told me that I must learn the phrase that means I want– .” Anne continued, “In a way, that is telling about a society. There is a lot of formality and things you need to know, but this was practical and cut to the chase.”
Her ticket ran out and Anne returned to her home base in Tampa Florida, the first of many back-and-forth visits from USA to Cairo in these “pre-licensing” days of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
When in Cairo, Anne stayed on a tourist visa: “Every month I had to go down to the Mogamma (government administrative building) and get my visa stamped. In those days, anyone who was willing to get a job could get one; they were always looking for someone new, novel, of fair complexion, and not too peasant-like.”
Always, performance opportunities came through other people who would say, “Let me take you there…” (probably because they could get some kickback from that.) Anne received her pay in cash after each performance.
“The first place I worked was one of the Nile boats that was docked on the Corniche, and you didn’t need a license for that. Then that boat went on a cruise upriver, and I stayed in Cairo. I went to work at the Atlas Hotel with a choreographer, Hasan al Sobki, who worked along the lines of Mahmoud Reda–with the folkloric numbers that were ballet-based, including lifts–more like show dancing. There, I met 15-year-old Sahar Heshem, a talented dancer and a lifetime friend during my Cairo years. Her mom was a singer named Leila Faaz who occasionally sang at the Balloon Theatre. Sahar eventually became a popular singer in the gulf states."
When I asked Anne to comment on the unspoken accusation of prostitution in the dance world, she smilingly answered, “Well, I think it’s like anywhere else in the world: if you want to hook, you can hook,” then added, more seriously, “Yet, it is not the case. This was a very respectable show. I think it’s like a Geisha: a woman may look for a protector, someone who could take care of her, especially when her career is over.”
“The main thing for me was finding somewhere to live; I changed apartments every month.”
Beginning in 1981, Anne performed with the popular singer Samir Sabri for several years. She said, “That took care of the licensing; he either finessed it or ignored it. I never saw one, and I never had one. You see in the picture, I didn’t have to wear a fila (stomach cover) because I was working with Samir Sabri: it’s all in who you know.”
“Samir Sabri is an interesting character; his father was an officer under King Farouk, part of the upper class of Cairo. He went to Victoria College, was a big TV personality, and had a talk show. I heard an interesting story about him: He interviewed Fifi Abdou, who was from the same village as Egypt’s President Sadat, and made a joke about Fifi being from the same village where a ‘certain leader was from’–and just like that–he was banned from television for connecting a president, a reis, with a dancer! After that, he had to look for something else to do, and he started this show.”
“Sabri worked everywhere, especially the Nile Hilton. He did a lot of weddings, so we worked at all the hotels. We subbed for Nagwa Fuad at the Meridien hotel on her night off. We went all over Cairo and Alex too, so it was a good way to get around and know the area. We had a full orchestra. He sang, then I performed an oriental solo; then Sabri sang again; then another number where he would sing while I danced. We didn’t work every night, but we worked three or four nights a week. I made enough to pay for my little flat that I finally found, and I led a fairly stable life. I made 30 Egyptian pounds a night, and that went a long way in that time.”
Anne was featured in the Cairo magazine “Achabaka” (29 January 1981, issue 1269) during this time, and I noted the trend-setting bra, sans fringe, featured in the black-and-white photos by Ahmed el Maghraby, Cairo. She told me this costume was made when she was with a circus in South America before she went to Egypt. (Ah! alluding to a completely different story about this iconic dancer, she briefly mentions: “The circus was called Acuarama because it was an aquatic circus, featuring dolphins, divers, seals, etc; in addition to the usual other acts: clowns, dogs, aerialists, acrobats and dancers.”). This costume without fringe featured a beautifully beaded “break away” stripper’s bra that Anne discovered in a thrift store; she made the belt from similar beaded pieces that she found. That fringe-less bra set a trend; although I had not seen performance bras without fringe before that time, it became a big trend afterwards–up to the present.
“I used only a few costumes. We performed at a different venue or audience every night; so there was no need for more. They had to be portable to be hauled around every night. It was a uniform, I don’t mind wearing a uniform.”
After a break back at home, Anne returned to Cairo to stay in October of 1981. “That’s when Sadat was assassinated; so I know that was in October of ‘81. It took me awhile to get things organized and get away again, and I wanted to go back: I felt like there was a lot to learn, and there were things to do. By that time, I was a little bored with life in this country–if you want to know the truth.”
In 1982, after a USO Tour of Germany, Anne married Omar Fathi who sang with the Reda Troupe–someone she’d met back in 1978 when she had first come to Cairo.
Omar Fathi video
She retired from dance performance for 6 months before irreconcilable differences ended the marriage in divorce. Asked to comment on this time, she replied in a typical Orientalist manner, “No path is straight!”.
Anne returned to performing with Samir Sabri. Now the lineup of performers included two male and two female dancers, plus Anne’s Oriental performance. There was drama over Anne’s costuming. She tells the story:
"He coveted it. He had atrocious old costumes, and I had a Madame Abla-designed costume–this time with net fila cover drape. We had a fight, and I quit. Now that he had more dancers, he didn’t give as much respect. We came to a parting of the ways.”
Anne wasn’t out of work for long due to her professional attitude: “I was reliable, while so many dancers were flaky.”
In 1983, Anne began performing with another folkloric troupe headed by Hamada, a man who’d been with Mahmoud Reda and was continuing this dance heritage. She liked the other folkloric girls in the company, and in addition to performing an Oriental number, also performed several folkloric pieces with them including the Siwa Oasis “Haggalla” dance, famous for its three-quarter shimmies.
Examples of the Haggalla and three-quarter shimmies
Reda Troupe at Balloon Theatre
Farid al Atrache
About this time the Egyptian magazine “Cairo Today” became interested in Anne, because she was teaching Belly dance in a Ballet studio in Zamalek. Her students included several dozen women from the American University in Cairo plus several society ladies who, because of the stigma, never had learned to dance.
“Cairo Today” was intrigued because nobody else was teaching Belly dance in Cairo at that time. I asked Anne, “Weren’t other teachers available?”
“No, hard as it might be to believe, there were no teachers in Cairo that I ever heard about or found, except Ibrahim Akeef, the brother of dancer Naima Akeef."
Principally, he was a choreographer who agreed to teach me privately. I had a couple of lessons but he was very unreliable.”
I asked Anne to mention other dancers she came to know at this time:
“I remember an American named Asmahan, Michele Rizik whose father was of Lebanese extraction, and a wonderful, strong Korean dancer married to a Lebanese drummer. I originally met her when I was performing in Hawaii, at a Moroccan restaurant owned by Persians. She drew dramatic eyes way up into her temple area to accentuate her eyes. However, I was not collegial with any of them–unless I was dancing with them. I worked almost every night so I didn’t see other dancers, and I usually didn’t go out other nights. I did go out some nights. One night, I went with my visiting sister to see Suhair Zaki at a nightclub where Saudis went on El Haram Road. We ate; we waited; she never came. They said she’d come tomorrow. We said if she doesn’t come, we don’t pay. The next night we went, she didn’t come, and we didn’t pay.”
Anne’s last Cairo engagement was with another show that began at the new Marriott Hotel in Zamalek, then moved into a new nightclub located out toward the pyramids, in the estate of a famous character actor that had been made into a club. “I just got in a taxi and told him where to go…”
After a lot of rehearsal and a few months into this gig, her father’s emergency heart surgery (a triple bypass) made Cairo seem very distant from her family, and Anne returned home to be by his side. “His voice sounded so weak on the telephone it scared me to death! Dad came out of it, yet passed away 10 years later. I had a round trip ticket, but still, I didn’t return: I thought I had plumbed it as much as I could. I had the cream of the experience; it’s all about the people.
Inevitably things go awry in Egypt, or you decide you’ve had enough."
Anne continued her dance career based in Boston, also performing on the Greek cruise line Stella Solaris. She and her husband currently split their time between a horse farm in northern Florida and a cattle ranch in northwestern Montana, with occasional sorties to Boston and Berkeley.
Ready for more?
- 11-2-11 Radio Bastet, Where the Hafla Never Stops! An Interview with Its Creator, Marisa Young
Here’s one thing that is very frustrating: finding out that you have two or three copies of the exact same record, released on different labels, with different artists names, different track names and arrangements, and different covers!
The Belly dance scene in 1970s Los Angeles: It is difficult to spotlight succinctly even one portion of a vibrant, vast and quickly growing community of Middle Eastern dancers, their enthusiasts, and the ethnic communities, musicians, festivals and supper clubs that supported the dance arts. The abundance of inspiration in that era was almost beyond understanding; yet once upon a time before the Internet, music, imagery and information was less readily available.
We are packed tightly shoulder to shoulder, impulsing to the dramatic beat with great solidarity: traditional hand gestures, chest drops, all very serious and trance like. This mood was broken however by a guy at the back of the 200 plus audience, who stood on his chair, raised his beer glass and shouted "The one in the yellooooow…." then actually fell completely backwards like a tree that had just been cut! I hope he was OK!
- 9-15-11 Becoming the Object of Your Own Fantasy, Diane Webber and the Perfumes of Araby in the 1970s, Part 3:
In an almost archetypal will to power, Diane encouraged us to utilize our costuming – and our dance – as a way to search out and expand our own unique spirit, fantasy and physique, something I try to continue with my students today: become the object of your own fantasy.
- 11-17-10 We Will Rak You! My Dance Experience with Queen
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.
- 1-23-12 Gigbag Check #33 with Sa’diyya of Texas!
Gilded Serpent catches Sa’diyya backstage at the Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition in February 2011. She shows us her tools of the trade, including:safety pins (of course), mirror, curling iron, carpet tape, and all of her jewelry organized in a binder full of zip lock bags. She also tell us about using a fedora in a modern folk dance from Iran or Persia. Her mother helps her with her costumes.
- 1-20-12 Sahra’s Drum Solo Class with Amir Sofi at the Bellydancer of the Universe Competition in 2011,
Sahra is also given the lifetime achievement award. Lovina gives testimonial to how much she enjoyed the class
Sometimes the dirty facts of dancing in Cairo can be more interesting than the pristine Oriental fantasy… at least, it is when you tell the story later! PHOTOS!
Lou Shelby had told me to begin that Friday night. (The Fez only had entertainment on the weekends at that time.) An Egyptian dancer, Maya, and a Las Vegas dancer, Cozette, were working there; so I was the third dancer on the program. I came in early for a rehearsal; Lou’s idea was to have a real Hollywood-like production: I was to emerge in a flood of colored lights amidst smoke from a smoke machine and open his show.
It was stimulating to talk about a wide range of topics, Egyptian politics and societal issues included, such as the continuing trend for Muslim women and girls to wear scarves – many, if not most, to make a fashion statement, others because of family, husband, or peer pressure, and some to make a political statement.
The ten o’clock dinner show featured music, three dancers, and one singer. The real show started at midnight. In the audience were mostly Arabs, dressed in the most expensive designer clothes with diamond watches and jewelry flashing in the stage light. There was a scent of expensive perfume mixed with cigarette smoke. The tables were covered with flower arrangements and lavish silver platters of fruit.