Knowing where the first civilizations appeared, we could say that, as soon as there were humans, and as soon as they started to dance, there was oriental dance. So our beloved dance finds its roots in prehistory!
Oriental dance through centuries
For what we can trace, in the fifth century, hunger made most of the Gypsy tribes leave India. Some left for Europe through Turkey and settled in Spain, where flamenco was born, a combination of Indian holly dance, Arabic and Andalouse influences.
Others followed the south coast, and, crossing Mesopotamia, arrived in Egypt.
In the pharaoh times, women were dancing in temples for the goddess of love and fertility.
This goddess, Ishtar in Syria, Aphrodite in Greece, Salome in the Bible, was taking possession of them, making them holy and ready to offer themselves to men.
In the nineteenth century, western men start travelling to the Orient and reporting their experiences. Bonaparte’s men, after their Egyptian expedition, talk about “endless desert, warm sand, and dark-skinned dancers who follow the army and abandon themselves to men’s pleasure”.
Delacroix paints a Jewish wedding in Morocco, Nerval and Flaubert talk about luxury and decadence. Light and landscapes emphasize women’s eroticism, men’s senses are overwhelmed.
Oriental dance in cinema
Then comes the cinema, in 1916, and with it, the western vision and fantasy of colonized women. In Charlie Chaplin’s parodies, dancers execute funny undulations with their hips. In “le Marchand de sable”, they are half naked. Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, Liz Taylor and others interpret many Cleopatras and Salomes. Costumes are out of a fairy tale, an explosion of light and transparence.
In 1926, the Lebanese Badia Masabni opens the dance school and cabaret Casino Opera in Cairo. A lot of artists she coached make a career in the cinema.
Tahia Karioka is the one to introduce the shimmy in the steps. She probably got the technique from Brazilian samba which she danced as well.
In the Fifties, finally, the movie Ali Baba from Jacques Beker reveals a real dancer, with a well controlled sensuality, and who fits the Occidental conception. Samia Gamal, “the night butterfly”, puts an end to approximate body waves. Her dancing background (ballet, rumba, tango, fox-trot) makes her incomparable.
The circus dancer, Naima Akef, inspired by her heroines’ talent, came to Oriental dance with a touch of fantasy. Of course these huge stars have successors, of course this magic dance continued and continues to give us exceptional interpreters, but even if we consider such stars like Fifi Abdu, Nagwa Fouad, Lucie or Dina, the setting now is completely different.
As Oriental dance is getting an international public, it is reduced to a digestive entertainment available in big hotels and discotheques.
Today, it is clear that the context in Egypt is not favorable for oriental dance.
Due to that lot of artists leave Egypt to settle in the West where they receive more fame and recognition. However, kidnapped by the yoga, salsa and tribal dance schools, the oriental dance risks to lose its original meaning and purpose.
I am a big nostalgic of the dance born in temples from the woman’s body, and transmitted by the mothers. Oriental dance shows and hides, offers and takes back, plays with the inside and the outside. It is in the houses, it is a part of every important moment in life.
It keeps the woman in peace with forces of life.