Before Badia Masabni and Tahia Carioca....
This blog entry was inspired by a new article on

The article clarifies my thinking on something I have believed for a long time - belly dancing as we know it DID exist before Badia Masabni, Tahia Carioca, and Samia Gamal.  I've heard many, many dancers on the forums say over the years that they consider the "origin" of belly dancing to be Badia Masabni and her famous dance stars.  But the more I learn, the more clear it is to me that a style of performance we would easily recognize as belly dancing existed long before Badia moved to Egypt.  

So why do so many people think time began with Badia?  I think it's because the movie industry in Egypt didn't begin until 1927-ish with the release of the movie "Layla".  It's almost as if today's belly dancers are saying, "If it didn't show up on the silver screen, it didn't exist."  And in fact, the perspective is even narrower than that - "If it didn't show up on the silver screen on home video that I could buy in my own country it didn't exist."  Another factor is the dearth of biographical information available in the English language about any dancers other than Badia Masabni, Tahia Carioca, and Samia Gamal, as if only dancers who have been written about in English matter.  Hmmm.

That article about Shafiqa el-Koptiyya tells us that:

1.  There were elite nightclubs in Egypt before 1900.  
2.  These nightclubs attracted the wealthy and powerful.
3.  These nightclubs featured something we would recognize as belly dancing.
4.  Patrons of these nightclubs showered money and favors on the dancers.
5.  Celebrity dancers existed and were hired by the wealthy/powerful to perform at their weddings.

Shafiqa and her teacher Shooq were obviously not obscure Ghawazee living in rural villages dancing to mizmar and rebaba shaabi music.  They lived in Cairo, and were hired by the Viceroy (the ruler of Egypt under the Ottoman empire) himself, which means they were probably dancing to classical music played on the oud and qanoun.  

There were many prominent high-class nightclubs before Badia Masabni moved to Egypt and opened hers.  There were many famous celebrity dancers when Tahia Carioca was still a young child, and  Badia lured some of them (such as Hekmet Fahmy) away from whatever clubs they were already dancing at once she opened hers.  When Tahia Carioca was still a child, celebrity dancers included not only Shafiqa el-Koptiyya (who would have already been in her declining years at the time Tahia was born), but also Zouba el-Klobatiyya, Bamba Kashar, Hekmet Fahmy, Imtithal, Mary Queeny, and many others.

We Who Are About to Dye Salute You!
I recently summoned up the courage to try dyeing some items to go with a couple of new costumes.  This was quite the adventure!  In fact, it was such an adventure I decided to write a blog post about it.  You can find the full blog entry on my web site at

Let me know what you think!

Types of dresses used in Middle Eastern dance
I'm planning to write an article for about the types of dresses used in Middle Eastern dance.  This will include both folkloric styles and those used for modern-day Oriental.

While I'm at it, do any of you have questions about gallabiyas, thobes, takshitas, and other dress styles?

For purposes of this article, my focus is solely on dresses, NOT on bra/belt sets, skirts, or other non-dress costuming styles.

Why U.S. Women Should Vote
Many young women today don't realize that U.S. women have had the vote for less than a century.  Also, many don't realize the torture that was used on activists when they did peaceful protests. 

I urge every U.S. woman to read this article and think about the suffering that was endured by early 20th century women so that we, their descendants, could vote today:

30 years of belly dancing!
January 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the day I set foot in my very first belly dancing class.  And what a journey it has been!  I had no idea at the time that this dance would lead me to Egypt and Turkey, nor did I know it would lead me to develop friendships all over the world!

The dance has done so much to enrich my life.  It has provided physical therapy for a back injury I received in a car accident.  When I moved to California, I felt very isolated, and the dance provided me with an opportunity to meet other smart, adventurous women.  The dance has enabled me to explore and express my creative side, which saved my sanity at times when my day job in the high tech industry was sucking the life out of me.

I have seen massive changes in this dance over the years.  When I took my first belly dancing class in 1981, the home video industry was brand-new.  I did not own a VCR, and even if I did, I wasn't aware of any videos in existence.  The only belly dancing I had the opportunity to watch was that performed in my local city.  The Internet did not become available to the public until 1996, and therefore belly dance web sites did not exist until then.  Without the Internet to provide information, it was a struggle to find translations for song lyrics, reliable resources on the history of the dance, etc.  Print magazines provided my link to knowledge about this dance.  I voraciously devoured every issue of Jareeda, Middle Eastern Dancer, Caravan, Habibi, and Fantasia as soon as they arrived in my mailbox.

It's so different now.  Knowledge is so easy to come by, but unfortunately so is misinformation.  There's much more a feeling of connectedness between dance communities in different cities.

Internet trolls
I've never quite understood the appeal of being an Internet troll.  I don't understand why it's fun / amusing / entertaining to post intentionally-incendiary things for the sole purpose of stirring people up.  I realize there are people who DO enjoy this, but to me, it just seems like a boring way to spend one's time. I wouldn't have the patience.

Then again, I get bored with watching football games, whereas zillions of other people enjoy that.

Learning Arabic: the journey
For the past couple of years, I've been working on and off with the 30-lesson set of audio CD's in Egyptian spoken Arabic produced by Pimsleur.  In early October, I posted a review of the set on my web site.  (If you'd like to read it, see )

I've been trying to decide what to do next, to take my knowledge past what I learned from the Pimsleur set.  Unfortunately, although Pimsleur has 90-lesson courses available for other languages, they don't for Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. 

I tried using the TravelTalk audio CD from Lonely Planet to expand my vocabulary, but I don't like it at all.

I've decided that my next step will be to work with the full Pimsleur 90-lesson set in Eastern Arabic (ie, the dialect spoken in the Levant).  Lessons 1-30 are "Level 1", Lessons 31-60 are "Level 2", and Lessons 61-90 are "Level 3".  I plan to post a review on for each level as I complete it.  I expect Level 1 to go quickly - I'm assuming it'll be pretty much the same vocabulary and grammar concepts as the ones I've already studied for Egyptian Arabic, but with differences that are specific to the different region.  So while I expect to learn new stuff, I don't think I'll need to stop and rewind anywhere close to as much as I did when I studied the first 30 lessons of Egyptian dialect.  However, I'm sure Levels 2 and 3 will be quite a learning experience for me.

Your photo on

I'm working on an article for about the different styles of dresses that people wear for folkloric dances from the Middle East, and I need photos to illustrate it.  Although I could fill it up with photos of me, I think it would be nice to include other people, too.  So, if you have a photo that fits what I'm looking for, send me a pm and we'll talk!  Of course, if I use your photo, I'll identify you by name and city.

Types of dresses I'm looking for:

  • Assuit dress.  Either antique or modern assuit is okay.
  • Striped Saidi-style gallabiya
  • Moroccan d'fina for schikhatt
  • Palestinian-style thobe (the kind with all the embroidery)
  • Khaleegy-style thobe al-nasha'ar
  • Fellahin dress (I'm thinking of the Reda troupe "Delta fellahin" aesthetic here)
  • Melaya leff dress with a melaya also in the photo
  • Nubian dress (extra points if you're wearing a tarha)

Assuming the photo contains one of the above dress styles, here are the other criteria the photo needs to meet:

  • The photographer must be willing to give permission for the photo to appear on my site.  (Of course, I will include a photo credit next to the picture unless the photographer prefers to NOT be credited.)
  • You and the photographer both must be willing to give me "perpetual permission", meaning that you're granting permission for me to keep it there "forever".
  • The photographic quality must be very good.  Ie, excellent lighting, not blurry, uncluttered background, etc.
  • I'm looking for photos showing just one individual, not troupes.  The problem with troupe photos is that everybody in the shot ends up so small that it's hard to see costume detail.
  • I'm looking for full-body shots that show the costume, not closeups of face or hips or torsos.
  • The photo that you send me should be at least 600 pixels tall or larger
  • I'll give priority to photos in which the accessories suit the style of dress. Ie, appropriate hip sash, head scarf, pompom headdress, etc. That doesn't mean I would reject a nice photo of a bareheaded-dancer in a beautiful dress, but if all other factors are equal, I'll prefer the one that has the "total look".

If I get multiple people submitting high-quality photos of similar costumes, then I may use multiple photos of each style to show different people's interpretations of the style.  I would be pleased to show more than one example of each.  I won't know how many of each I'll use until I see what people send me.

Do you teach everything you know?
I've come to realize that there's a HUGE amount I know about our dance form that I've never taught in my classes.

For example, I've taught almost nothing about floor work, even though I used to perform it regularly. 

I rarely teach folkloric material such as debke or schikhatt, mostly because when I do students start to complain about wanting to return to "real belly dancing".  I am currently working on a choreographed debke with my Level 2 students so that they'll be able to perform it at events where folkloric material is desired / expected.  But I don't teach folk very often due to the fact that most students don't seem to want to learn it.

I usually provide cultural or historical information only when someone asks a question that would involve cultural info in the answer.  Or, I'll provide it if teaching a move that has a certain context or is associated with a certain person, such as, "I call this shimmy the 'Raqia shimmy' because Raqia Hassan is the choreographer who has made it a popular part of today's Cairo style of dance.  Raqis Hassan is _____."

This is now making me reflect on what I teach, and why I filter the way I do.  Am I short-changing my students by not exposing them to things they might want to learn, simply because students I had in the past didn't want to learn it?

Then again, some filtering is always going to be necessary because my students just don't spend enough time with me to learn everything I'm capable of teaching.  It took me 29 years, countless workshops, 9 trips to Egypt, and 3 trips to Turkey to learn everything I know today. 

Video party tomorrow for my students
I'm having a video party at my house tomorrow for my students.  They ask me so many questions, such as, "Why do the videos on youtube claiming to be belly dance look so different from what we do in class?"  I see this video party as being my opportunity to provide informative answers to such questions, as well as to show them where the style I'm teaching them fits in.

It'll be fun, they're a good group of people.  But it'll take me most of the morning to prepare, as I go through my video collection making  decisions about which ones to use, cueing up VHS tapes to the right spot, etc. 

I've offered the chance to sit in my outdoor hot tub afterward, though with a forecast of a hot, humid day it's possible nobody will want to!


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