Behind the Silver Screen : Samia Gamal Versus Taheya Carioca
Analysis of dance scenes of two iconic Egyptian dancers By Badriyah Everyone who loves belly dance or Egyptian cinema definitely knows their names – Samia Gamal and Taheya Carioca. Both iconic and legendary dancers, each of them unique not only in their personality but also in their dance style. This article compares the results of a broad analysis of dance scenes of these two icons and brings several interesting new facts.
Before we dive into the world of the Golden Era, let me tell you a bit about how the analysis was done. To achieve some believable results, it is necessary to have a lot of data. In this case as many dance videos as possible. I have managed to analyze 179 dance clips of Taheya Carioca and 96 clips of Samia Gamal. For both dancers it is a large sample; however, as you see, the sample of Samia Gamal’s clips is smaller. This means that the reliability of the results in the case of Taheya is stronger, although, even with 96 clips of Samia Gamal, the results are pretty accurate. I have looked at several aspects, such as where the dance was staged, what type of dance it was, what props were used, and what kind of costume the dancer wore.
In Golden Era cinema, dance scenes were not only about Raqs Sharqi. You would see many other dance styles, from jazz, flamenco, tap dance, to Tahitian dance, or Indian dance. Why is that? First of all – we talk about movies, and variety is what everyone wants. However, this was true not only in movies but also in Egyptian cabarets, cafés and other entertainment places. Even from the early beginning of the 20th century, way before Badia’s Casino Opera, there were evening programs including dance acts from not only Mashriq and Maghreb, but also Europe (H. D.Ward, 2018). Foreign artists, as well as native artists, were performing various styles, not only their national ones. Performing troupes, like the one Badia Masabni had were trained in many different dances, including fantasy pieces. As most of the dance scenes in Egyptian cinema happened in the environments such as cafés, or theatres, it is understandable that many different dance styles were present also in the movies.
From Fig.1 we see that there is not that much difference between dance styles performed in movies by Taheya and Samia. Both danced in about a third of cases Raqs Sharqi, both of them performed Western dances, although Taheya more than Samia, and both performed some folklore, baladi, or ghawazee dances. Here I have to point out that although there are many scenes where Samia or Taheya portrait a ghawazee dancer, it is rather a stylization into the character than a true ghawazee dance.
Surprisingly, one dance category emerged by itself. I have named the style ‘Oriental fantasy’, as it looks oriental, but it is not Raqs Sharqi. Rather something like a Western fantasy of Oriental dance. It lacks a proper hip work, it includes a lot of arm movement, and various steps across the stage, such as arabesques and turns. It is very interesting to see Egyptian dancers in Egyptian movies to perform this kind of Western picture of Oriental dance.
The costuming for Oriental fantasy is also very unique – it includes high-waisted skirts (or pants). This is actually a very important finding. When Samia or Taheya danced Raqs Sharqi, they didn’t use high-waisted skirts. Do you remember the iconic red costume of Samia from Ali Baba and 40 thieves? That is not a typical costume for Golden Era Raqs Sharqi. That is typical for Oriental fantasy in Egyptian movies. In Fig.2, you see that Samia used bedlah style costume in Oriental Fantasy scenes only in 14%, the rest was always high-waisted.
Have you ever seen Taheya’s or Samia’s bellybutton? Yes? Check the location where the photo or movie was taken. I am pretty sure it would be Europe or the US. In Egyptian cinema and on stages of entertainments halls, bellybuttons were always covered. There were different ways of covering, as you can see in Fig.3. One of the prominent covers was a ‘sticker’. Honestly, I am not sure how it was made, but it seems like a piece of fabric or a net decorated with sequins, stuck on the bellybutton. Most of the time this coverage was ‘secured’ by heavy beads hanging from a bra. In the case of Samia, the beads were not that heavy as in the case of Taheya, and did not cover the sticker completely. Therefore, although Samia in some dance scenes had beads hanging from her bra, I have categorized the bellybutton coverage into the ‘sticker’ category, because the sticker was visible and was the primary coverage. On the other hand, Taheya’s costumes were in most cases accompanied by heavy and long threads of beads, which most of the times completely covered the belly button.
Interesting is to see how the fashion in covering bellybuttons evolved (Fig.4) during the time. It seems that vertical stripe was popular mostly in 1940’, while in 1950’ sticker (and beads) were the main fashion. From late 1950’ and in 1960’ we see a rise in the usage of a net. This was not because of a fashion, rather government regulations, demanding the covering of not only the bellybutton, but also the whole midriff.
Props in Raqs Sharqi and more
Let’s point out the biggest difference in props usage – Samia Gamal did not use finger cymbals. As you can see from Fig 5, both dancers used veils in their Raqs Sharqi, although in many cases they did not use any prop. However, Taheya used finger cymbals (sagat) in more than a third of her Raqs Sharqi scenes. Interestingly, both dancers used a veil in their Raqs Sharqi increasingly towards late 1950’ and 1960 (Fig 6).
If looking into other dances styles, Taheya used finger cymbals mainly in her Raqs Sharqi dances, while in baladi only sporadically (see Fig.7). There were no finger cymbals in Oriental Fantasy, Folklore, or Western dances.
There are two more differences between Samia and Taheya. Samia never sang. While Taheya sang in 21% of all her dance clips (mostly during Western dances), Samia did not. You can find a few rare clips, where she ‘sings’. However, it was never her voice, but the voice of a ‘hidden’ professional singer.
The other biggest difference was in the usage of shoes. Taheya always wore shoes during her Raqs Sharqi pieces, while Samia performed barefoot in 54% of her solos. From here, we see that shoes were a big part of Golden Era dance, but not always dancers performed in them (at least in the movies).
There is so much more to say and discuss. Both dancers followed the same fashion in dance styles, costumes, but they differed in props and shoe usage and singing. In addition, the main difference would be of course their unique dance styles, but that would be for another article.
Badriyah is devoted to collecting antique and vintage items depicting bellydancers from Golden Era and before. Her collection contains more than 400 items, including vinyl records, movie brochures, postcards, magazines, newspapers, engravings, books, press photos, stereoviews, posters, lobby cards, signed photos, and even a billboard with Samia Gamal. The museum is not built yet, but its online version is public and everyone can dive into the collection on www.badriyahbellydance.com