History Questions

Was the Egyptian film industry a major factor is spreading belly dance worldwide?

Although the Egyptian film industry had a strong influenced the Middle East and North Africa it made thousands of films from 1934 many including dancers. But its impact "world-wide" was much less.

Influences in the western would include the very popular ME dancers in the "World Fairs" eg Paris and Chicago and the Orientalist movement which romanced the "mysterious East". Here was not only a swath of paintings with little or no basis in fact (which people use to "prove" their points of view), to the intrigue of the pyramids and Tutankhamen (Scott's expedition to the South Pole includes diaries where the guys wrote pseudo-Pharaonic poetry1).

And don't forget ballet - especially the dances which accompanied "Aida" - based on a misunderstanding of tomb paintings (1871); Oscar Wilde's "Salome" (1896); and later the Ballet Russe which between 1909 and 1912 performed six "Oriental Ballets" in Paris which were to influence western fashion and perceptions of the East for decades.

1: Frank Debenham, (1998) In the Antartic - Stories of Scott's Last Expedition, Norfolk:Erskine Press
Andrea Deagon, Habibi Vol 19, No 2; Benjamin (1997); Laurel Victoria Gray, Habibi Vol 19, No 1; Mo Geddawi, lecture 2003; van Nieuwkerk (1997)

Was the Egyptian film industry a major factor in changing belly dance?

Although the Egyptian film industry popularized the new raqs sharqi its birth is better placed earlier with the growth of nightclubs and Badîa`a Masabni in particular.

Society was changing; urbanization was happening; western influences were cross fertilizing; music was changing. But, don't forget money. Europeans had money - and they wanted what they imagined the dance to be. Many high class Egyptians were very Euro-centric and also wanted this. In 1926 Bada`a Masabni filled this fantasy. Dr Mo Geddawi goes as far as to say not only did she change the style of dance (and dancers) to match the European fantasy but she also came up with the term "Raqs sharqi" to distinguish her "high class dance" from the sort the "lower classes" enjoyed. And this of course fed into the Egyptian film industry which started in 1934.

Mo Geddawi, lecture 2003; van Nieuwkerk (1997)

What features were there in the pre-1930s dance in Egypt?

First - no bare bellies!! Even in the late 1940s many Mohamed Ali Street dancers abhorred the new two piece costume. Less use of space; no grand entrances with veils; no ballet moves; less footwork; less likely to see "head slides" or "snake arms" (imported from India); more shimmy; possible acrobatics.

Mo Geddawi, lecture 2003; van Nieuwkerk (1997)

What is Mohamed Ali Street?

This is a street in old Cairo that used to be the place to go to hire prostitutes, wedding dancers and musicians. These days there are no dancers and few musicians to be found but Mohamed Ali Street still has a range of musical instrument shops. (Not part of the tourist scene)

What is the connection between Modern Jazz and MED?

Modern Jazz was created by Denishawn (Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn) in the 1920s. It blended dance elements from east Indian, South American, and Afro-Arab cultures. The later is credited mainly to Jack Cole. So, the reason "belly dance" is familiar to jazz students is that jazz is partially built on the underpinings of "belly dance" Middle Eastern and North African dance.

Arabesque Vol I, No 3

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