Egyptian Belly Dance History


The undulation of the body has occurred in many different dance forms, across the globe. But the dance form practiced at Haft Vadi- Egyptian oriental dance, or Egyptian raqs sharqi, has its roots in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Nineteenth Century Egyptian Oriental Dance

What is certain, is that 'awalim and ghawazi were two different kinds of female performers that could be found performing movements related to modern Egyptian oriental during the nineteenth century. 'Awalim would sing, recite poetry, and dance for only female audiences, while Ghawazi would perform in public, in front of men and women alike. Ghawazi were often associated with prostitution (van Nieuwkerk, 1995; Shay 2008).

Twentieth Century Egyptian Oriental Dance and the Emergence of Modern Cabaret Style

In the late nineteenth century, Egypt was occupied by Britain, and in this colonial setting, modern Egyptian cabaret belly dance emerged. Although Egypt technically gained official independence from British control in 1922, colonial involvement lingered. A constitutional monarchy, relatively controlled by British interests, was set up and would rule for the next thirty years(Daly, 2008). It was in this context that the Egyptian nightclub scene blossomed. Badi'a Masabni opened numerous nightclubs in Egypt, beginning in the 1920s, and created shows which included oriental dance performance. These dance performances melded elements of traditional Egyptian folkloric styles and raqs sharqi (as associated with the 'awalim and ghawazi performers who had been popular during the 19th century) with elements of Western staging, costuming, and elements of ballet (Shay, 2008).

Masabni's clubs were where the some of the original stars of Egyptian modern cabaret style were born: Tahiya Karioka, and Samia Gamal, for example, typify this style of dance. Cinema projected these stars throughout the Arab world, and gained both them, and this dance style, fame. 

Author: Anne Vermeyden. 2014. 

Works Cited: 

Daly, M. W., Ed. The Cambridge History of Egypt. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Shay, Anthony. Dancing Across Borders: The American Fascination with Exotic Dance Forms. London: McFarland & Company Inc., 2008.

Van Nieuwkerk, Karin. A Trade Like Any Other: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt. University of Texas Press, 1995.