Gilded Serpent presents...

The Glamorous Early Years of London Bellydancing

How Elaine Okba Became Fatin Shaukat in the 1960s!

Omar Khayyam Logo

Photos and Text submitted by Elaine Okba,
posted September 18, 2012

Editor’s note: Elaine sent in some of these lovely photos after reading Asmahan’s articles, The Golden Age of Arabic Nightclubs in London, Part 1 and Part 2, that we published here on the site earlier this year. After more email exchanges she generously sent in more!

The group photo (below) was taken in 1967 or 1968 in the back room of the Omar Khayyam in London. There were 3 show rooms in this nightclub: the back, front and downstairs next to the cocktail bar. After the first service, during which a dance band alternated with the Oriental show in each room, the downstairs became an all Oriental show. We were often there till 5 or 6 in the morning. The artists and musicians (who nearly all stayed in the Earls Court area) would take turns to go to Covent Garden Market to buy fresh fruit and vegetables on our way home. We got on well together and often visited each other during the day. Since I speak French and a bit of Arabic, they often came to me to help translate. The majority of the performers only used their first name and the foreign artists had only 6 month work visas so they were constantly changing.

Group colorized

Group photo from left to right:
1)An Egyptian girl (I don’t remember her name), 2) Amira – Egyptian, 3) Sevinç (pronounced Sevinch), I am English but since I spoke Turkish and learned to dance with a Turkish dancer, I was presented as a Turkish dancer, 4) Soraya from Egypt, 5) Latifa from Tunisia, 6) Fatima from Egypt, 7) Allia also Egyptian.
Center front is Sheharazade who is Dutch of Indonesian origin and the two Tunisian folklore dancers.

At that time, in Egypt, it was forbidden to show one’s belly so the Egyptian girls wore the body stockings. Not all the dancers were there the evening of the photo. One in particular Soraya, a Turkish girl with a British passport, who worked many years and was well known – to the extent that a letter from Turkey addressed “Soraya, belly dancer, London” was delivered to her with no problem.

colorized

In the photo of me with the orchestra: The dharbuka player is Amin, next to him a fabulous nai player (his name was something like Wadi), kanun was Karim, the accordionist Adel, who later became my husband. Adel’s father was the person who modified the accordion by putting in quarter tones so that the instrument could play Oriental music, and he played in Nahit Sabri’s orchestra. When she came to London on a shopping spree she called us to have a meal with her. The oud beside Adel belongs to Hassan which on the evening when Farid Elatrache dined, he borrowed to graciously sing a couple of songs for us as did Julio Iglesias on another occasion. Abdel Halim Hafez was there one evening during his stay in London for medical treatment and I named my son after him.

Elaine with Farid el Atrash
Farid Elatrache


The Turkish dancer working at the Hirondelle with her husband. They both gave me lessons, but I can’t remember their names!


This photo was taken at “Chez Paul” in Brussels


This photo was taken in a Greek restaurant in London at the beginning of my career, before I went to Omar Khayyam .

The “stick dance" which I learned from Suzy Khairy

Fatin Shaukat is a stage name I used

"The candelabra dance is a very ancient Egyptian dance
(after leaving London to tour Europe I changed my name to Fatin Shaukat)"

Elaine Okba Archives

Just a publicity photo

While I was still at school there was a fancy dress party at the ice rink (I skated from the age of 9 and was eventually 4th in ice dancing at the World Professional Championships in Java in 1976) and just for a giggle I made myself a belly dance costume. I was studying Turkish, Arabic and Greek at the Holburn college of law, languages and commerce. For the end-of-year party the others persuaded me to do a show, although I had very little idea of what belly dancing was, and a man came up to me afterwards to propose that I join a troupe of dancers which performed in the Gallipoli and the Hirondelle. That same evening I was offered a post at the Turkish embassy and my family tried to persuade me to take the 2nd proposition, but I chose the former. When I saw real belly dancers in those two clubs I just fell in love with it and had to learn how to do it.

Between the show at the Gallipoli and the Hirondelle we had a couple of hours free so once I had bought a costume from one of the dancers and had learnt a little of the basics, I used this time to do a solo show in a Greek restaurant. Eventually the owner of the Gallipoli learnt about it and sacked me – although I hadn’t signed an exclusivity contract. This pushed me to set my sights higher, so I dropped into the Omar Khayyam and Mrs. Tahreran told me to come in the next evening to show what I could do. I was so nervous that I didn’t have the courage to go that next evening, and excused myself the following day. I made another appointment which I kept and was promptly offered a contract with Mr. Tahreran as my agent! This was because another girl who started out at the Omar Khayyam became a film star – and I believe that Mr. Tahreran didn’t want to risk again missing out on agency fees.

So that was my beginning and if my sister sends me the photos I asked for, I’ll carry on a bit more.

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Ready for more?

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Gilded Serpent

MaryEllen Donald