"She was at the same time a lady and a femme fatale, a queen
and a peasant girl.” – The Belly Dance Book
Industry and technology, recorded music and motion pictures,
railroads and steam ships – all these things contributed to
the urbanization and Westernization of Egyptian style Middle
Eastern dance. From the early 1900s, the influx of travelers
from Europe and the United States, always seeking something
new and unusual, to the Middle East brought a demand for
entertainment. As the cities grew, the country people moved
in, bringing their rural, specialized dances with them. They
brought their tribal rhythms and costumes and realized the
Western tourists enjoyed watching them perform. But perhaps
the Westerners, who brought money and jobs with them, would
like the show even more if it looked a little less “Middle
East” and a little more “West”. . .
Now enters Hollywood - for the first time, people around the
world can view other cultures without leaving their own
countries. Soon music, language, and color entered films to
further bridge the cultural gaps. Dancers in Egypt could see
what Hollywood wanted in dance, costume, and music. What
Hollywood wanted, they did their best to deliver. By marrying
the structure of ballet with the fluidity of Oriental dance,
Cabaret style was born. The blend of dance styles from the
country people and altering costume ideas to please the
Westerners produced a tourist and Hollywood-pleasing dance
while maintaining Middle Eastern concepts and execution.
With the popularity of musicals in the 1940s and 1950s,
Egyptian dancers realized an opportunity was at hand and
seized it. Badiaa Masabni, a Lebanese dancer, operated Cairo’s
first professional dance theater. She brought entertainers
from all over the world to put together glamorous stage shows.
Raks Sharki became a cultural “melting pot” and continued to
evolve. Many famous dancers started out on Badiaa’s stage
including Tahiya Karioka, Samya Gamal, and Naima Akef. These
women were selected to dance in several black and white movies
of the time and thus began influencing the style of dancers
all over the world and continue to affect Cabaret style as we
know it today.
For the Cabaret dancers of the 40s and 50s it was all glamor,
roses, and handsome suitors, right? Not quite. While the
dancers did receive much attention and acclaim, there was
still a stigma attached to being a professional dancer. Many
Cabaret dancers had a common story – the poor and/or
mistreated young girl loves to dance and becomes a star
through her art. However, she is not “good enough” to marry.
Not that this happened to all dancers, but it is a theme still
present in Egypt today. Egyptians love to watch the dancer,
but don’t want her to be their wife/daughter/sister.
Be smart. Be coy. Be confident. Be FABULOUS!SOURCES:
by Karen Sullivan (Adara Janaani)
As their travels spread them throughout the Middle East and
into Europe, the Gypsy people suffered from stereotyping and
oppression along the way. It is always easy to blame troubles
on invading outsiders. Perhaps as outsiders showing up in a
new village looking for ways to earn wages, they likely posed
a threat to established village workers and tradesmen. It
would not be the first time competition bred slander and
intolerance. (Just monitor an American political race if you
have any doubts about that fact.) That coupled with inventive
ways to earn money and strange traditions (such as
fortune-telling) may have perpetuated labeling them as
swindlers and subsequent warnings of being "gypped" by the
Gypsies. Please note that using the term "gypped" in any
context is offensive to these people.
There are many accounts of their discrimination in the Middle
East and Europe. German Nazis are believed to have killed
hundred of thousands in an attempt of genocide. Some travelers
were forced out of areas, and some were forced to stay where
they did not want to live. As Indira Ghandi noted in an
address to the second International Romani Festival "Their
history is one of sorrow and suffering, but it is also the
story of triumph of the human spirit over adversity." She also
notes that they are "...assets to the countries to which they
now belong, adding color, spontaneity and zest for life."
Another interesting consideration of marime' for dancers is
how it probably influenced dance costuming. In looking back to
the Gypsies for inspiration, the long skirts that cover the
lower body and legs are easily understood in this light.
Remember that the upper body is not unclean, and, therefore,
shame is not attached to a woman's breasts. Bet you can easily
find pictures of dancers showing cleavage in what would
otherwise be considered a very conservative costume. The Gypsy
influence on American Tribal Style Belly Dance costuming is
readily apparent. Revealing choli tops worn with full, long
skirts over harem pants (the lower parts are definitely
concealed in this costume choice).
Of course they influenced costuming in other ways as well.
Bright colors offered variety in the Gypsy woman's wardrobe.
Wages were converted to things like large earrings and other
jewelry that could travel with them. Coins were used as
adornments to clothing and hair. They invested in charms,
amulets, and talismans for good luck, prevention of misfortune
and healing sickness. Even today many do not have bank
accounts or safe deposit boxes and feel safer keeping their
valuables on their person.
The Gypsies are a hard group to analyze as they are guarded
about giving information to the gadje. They are for the most
part very private, family oriented people. With great pride in
their heritage and ancestry, they have emerged with their
dignity intact, survivors who do not take the moment at hand
for granted. Most harbor a confidence and feeling of comfort
in the knowledge that they can travel to a new location, set
up "camp," and find a way through, over or around any obstacle
along their path. This is freedom.
So, if you want to dance with a Gypsy persona, do justice to
these unique people who have unmistakeably made their mark on
Belly Dance as we know it today. Show defiant pride while
building mystery and intrigue. As you dance and travel in time
with the music, show that you are a master of being in the
moment. Be resourceful and adaptive if needed, and let the
gleam of confidence shine bright in your eyes.