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Dancing In Cairo Then and Now

Badia Star

When I arrived from Canada to Cairo in 1982 I was a brave and over confident young woman 25 yrs of age. I had been performing in Arabic Night Clubs on a full time schedule of 5 nights a week including weddings, concerts and various other engagements within the different Nationalities of Arab communities, nationally and internationally.  I was well experienced in working with musicians from these various Arab Nations. 

My Egyptian fans had encouraged me to go to Egypt to continue my dance education and to have experience performing there. They were convinced that I would be successful.

While I was getting settled into my new life I went to see as many dance shows as I could possibly attend, it wasn't always easy for me to find someone to go with me, as it was not acceptable for a woman to go alone.  

I saw all the famous dancers of that time including  Nagwa Fouad, Soheir Zaki, Fifi Abdo, Nelly Fouad, Sahar Hamdi, Mona Said. 

After seeing a performance I'd rush back home and put on some cassette taped music and practice some new move that I had just been thrilled with. Having a good sustained shimmy back then was an appreciated quality.

I had some egyptian friends of friends who introduced me to some people who could help me find some work. I did a few house parties to show off my talent because no one could believe that a Canadian girl was good enough to dance in Cairo.  This eventually led me to an audition at the Cairo Marriott Hotel Night club. 

At that time the beautiful and amazing Azza Sherriff was performing there, but her contract was soon to expire so I was hired right away and my contract temporarily over lapped with hers. 

I have so much I could say about her performances but that's for another time. 

I was directed to an agent who spoke English very well, Nando Abib, he was Armenian, he arranged all my contracts with the hotel and my licence with the authorities. My hotel contracts always came with a room and meals. So I lived quite well for my 4 years in Cairo. 

I arrived with the typical style of costumes worn in the west, full circle skirts with two slits all the way up to the belt, including 4 sets from  CostLess, veils and finger cymbals from Turquoise Int.  I was used to doing my entrance with veil wraps, a taksim for veil and later in the dance another taksim for floor work! My entire dance was done wearing zagat. This was not going to work in Cairo!

I soon learned that if I wanted to be successful in Egypt I had to do what the Egyptians expected, I was quickly approached  by the authorities and told that there were rules in Egypt. 

I had to wear a net over my torso, pin my skirts mid thigh, my assuit had to be lined from the hip down and by no means was I to do floor work unless I had a Chamadan or some other prop on my head, and even then the floor work had to be somewhat modest. 

I had to dance like an Egyptian! I could not do my shows the way I had done them in other countries! 

I was quickly introduced to Madame Abla who was one of the top costume designers in Cairo at that time. I was also introduced to Madam Rowya, she specialised in fancy beaded/ sequined galabayas for the well heeled ladies in Cairo and her costumes were of a more delicate and refined quality. She only made costumes for a few dancers such as Nagwa Fouad and Fifi Abdo.

Abla sold me a couple of used costumes until she refurbished my CostLess sets and also made me a few new ones.

Back then, costumes were custom made, there was no shop to go to for ready to wear costumes.  We had to go to the workshop for design consultations, regular fittings and every bead and sequin was hand stitched on the bra, belt as well as skirts and veils or capes! Nothing was glued. It could take weeks to get our new costumes! I got used to hearing "Bukra Inshalla"  Tomorrow if God's willing!   

The fringe on the belts was knee length at that time and these costumes weighed a ton, but then so did my coin sets, so the weight didn't bother me. 

I personally didn't care for the knee length fringe because I wasn't having wide curvy hips, and I was very slim then so the long fringe didn't flatter my figure, but I had no choice, it was the style at the time. 

Next my agent found me an orchestra, yes I had my own orchestra! I didn't have my own music yet so I used music that I was familiar with and the musicians were surprised at how many pieces of music that I knew.  I never performed choreography up until then.

My hotel shows were an hour long the first part being  Sharqi which was about 25 mins and I followed the typical sequence ; entrance which is now called Megance , (we never used that term back then) then a taksim with Kanoun leading into another piece of music, then nai taksim leading into Balady taksim, going into tabla solo then into some music from Oum Kalthoum or other famous singer and then into my finale. 

I'd run of stage while a couple of my singers would sing a song for about 5 mins while I changed into another costume ( with the help of my dresser who I paid to work with me)  to come running back and do my Tableau.

 When I first got there the only tableau I could do was Assaya so I had changed into a nice one piece dress with knee length fringe and danced Balady style. Back then the star dancers did not do Tahtib style assaya, it was a more feminine flirtatious stye, which I still prefer. I later had learned how to dance with Chamadan as well as Melaya. 

Now that I was under contract for six nights a week at 12 midnight I had to have 12 costumes. I had to wear a different set of two each day.

I could do as many parties outside the hotel as I wanted before my nightclub performance but I had to have an agent for those. I dealt with a couple of local agents for weddings and the more I took the more money my orchestra would make. I vaguely remember that I had to pay dues to belong to the Artists Union as well.

  At that time we were only allowed one hotel contract at a time with in each city zone,  so many of the famous dancers rotated their hotel contracts every 3 months and did as many privately owned nightclubs as they wanted. 

I never did the private nightclubs, I wasn't comfortable with them and I had enough work to keep me and my orchestra happy. 

Most of those musicians that worked with me had a day job of some type and did music at night especially if they were married and had a family. 

As time went on and I became more established and started making money it was suggested that I have my own music composed for me. Every well known dancer in Cairo had music composed for her each year and it was usually used after the Ramadan break during Eid, that's when we all got back to work with our new shows.  

I was introduced to Mustapha Hamido who was the accordion player for Nagwa Fouad, he composed my first pieces of music.  Then I was introduced Ibrahim Akef who would create a beautiful choreography for my newly composed opening piece as well as the opening for my tableau. The rest of the music in my shows was improvised.

I also had music composed for me by Farouk Salama who was a very well known composer of dance music. I still have the original music notes. 

As time went on I was constantly going for costume fittings because when you are performing 6 days a week you get bored of wearing the same stuff. 

There is so much more I can tell about my experiences in Cairo at that time, but the main point that I want to make is that when I went to Cairo I went with the intention of being accepted as a good dance artist and I wanted to dance like an Egyptian. I couldn't dare be a foreigner and impose my own ideas on them. It just wasn't going to work. In time many Egyptians thought I was Egyptian, I was often asked what Egyptian city I was from and many were surprised when I told them that I was born in Scotland and grew up in Canada. 

I take pride in the fact that I was accepted as a good dance artist and not because of my appearance, scandalous costumes or physical movements.  I was also very careful with my personal life and behaviour in public as all eyes were on me!

I believe that I was the first Canadian dancer to obtain a licence to perform in 5 Star Hotel nightclubs which was something that only top notch Egyptian dancers were able to retain. 

Many foreign dancers performed in Egypt but not all of them were accepted, not all danced in nice places, none of them had their own orchestra. I had many of them crying to me about their horrendous experiences. 

I feel that I may have been one of the few who were influential in paving the path for foreign dancers in Egypt. 

What I see now from social media would never have been accepted in Egypt back then.  Our dance was elegant, creative and very artistic. 

We took so much pride in our costumes and presentation. The dance style was very "Egyptian" and not gymnastic, balletic, jazz or samba. 

With time everything changes, music, politics, globalization,  we all have our different taste or appreciation in art, we connect with what makes us "feel".  

As Ibrahim Akef used to tell me during my lessons with him " Lift your head and dance like a Princess! You are a Princess" 

Perhaps this is not a fashionable thing to say these days but that is what I experienced. 

Middle Eastern dance performer, choreographer and instructor since 1976. I started my "Raqs Sharqi" dance career in Vancouver, Canada using my existing name "Star Bell" with my teacher Farideh/ Cathryn Balk (R.I.P.) who was a protégé of Jamila Salimpour of California. Young, free and enthusiastic I devoted my life to the dance, travelling internationally to enjoy the experience of live Middle Eastern music and culture. I performed in Lebanese, Moroccan, Egyptian, Turkish, Persian and Greek clubs and restaurants, hundreds of weddings, concerts, cultural festivals, television appearances and feature films. There was no internet and access to film was limited. As I was teaching and studying the different dance and music styles I finally settled on Egypt as my focus. From 1982 I lived and performed in Cairo for 4 years. I was the first Canadian dancer to acquire a license to perform in 5 Star Hotel night clubs in Cairo where I was the main attraction in several including the Cairo Marriott, Ramses Hilton, Salam Hyatt, and Siag Penta. At that time this was a position held only by top ranking Egyptian dancers, so it was a great honor for me and I feel had opened a door for many foreign dancers who came after me. When I was first contracted in Cairo I was asked to change my name from "Star" to the Arabic translation "Negma" in order to appear less foreign. I didn't care for the hard sound of the Egyptian "G" so I chose "Badia" instead which has a beautiful meaning for me. In the past the late dancer "Ahmed Jarjour" had suggested that I change my name to "Kawakeb" but I declined, in his memory I used it for my dance group in later days. My name is not to be mistaken for the famous “Badiah El Mousabni” (Bah-dee-ah) which means “Unique”. My Name is pronounced differently and has a different meaning – “Badia” sounding like “Nadia” and means Desert Oasis or the place where the Bedouins live. It can also mean the start of something new, or someone who came to be seen, I felt that this was appropriate for me. I chose to use only a first name and not follow it with an Arabic last name which was unique at that time. I could have used Badia Negma, but I saved that for when I returned to Canada and used Badia Star. A beautiful meaning for me, "Desert Star". I had costumes designed and made for me by Madam Abla (R.I.P.) and Madam Rowya. I learned every single detail of how Egyptian costumes were made because Abla allowed me to sit and watch while I enjoyed tea and conversation with her in the workshop located in the Mohamed Ali district of old Cairo. I had original music scores composed for me by Mustafa Hamido and Farouk Salama who were both well known for their dance compositions for other famous Egyptian dancers,. Mustafa Hamido was with Nagwa Fouad for many years. I was blessed with the good fortune to study with the late Ibrahim Akef (R.I.P.) (cousin of dancer Naima Akef) who choreographed several dances for me and taught me much about improvisation and stage presence. I also had some time with Rakia Hassan who choreographed a piece for me. I attended authentic Zar sessions for women in a village outside of Cairo which was a ritual closed to foreigners. I recorded the music of one session which I still have on file. I am truly grateful to Nando Abib who was my primary agent in Cairo, to Dr. Negm Nabil who is now one of Egypt's masters of percussion, and to Mohamed Shamroukh (R.I.P.) my orchestra leader and Nai player who kept me safe and kept all those 15 musicians and singers in my orchestra under control and on time for all our gigs around Cairo! In 1986 returned to Canada to further my education in Health and Wellness and eventually become a mother of a beautiful daughter. In Canada I performed within the Middle Eastern communities under the name "Badia Star". . I taught dance classes, choreographed for my performance group El Kawakeb, trained other professional dancers and teachers and co-produced the CD “Raksit Badia” for Belly dance with @Ali Kurdi who composed and recorded the entrance /megance “Raksit Badia” for me. I retired from professional dance performance in 2005 for personal reasons. I am currently focusing on my wellness business, including teaching Yoga, Yoga Therapy, Shiatsu, Reiki and Wellness Coaching, but I have been encouraged to offer weekly classes and private lessons on Zoom as well as workshops; national an internationally upon request for dancers who are interested in Older style Raqs Sharqi (Belly dance) I am forever grateful to all the Egyptians who accepted me as an accomplished dance artist and helped to make my dream come true. I am grateful to the people, musicians, singers, clients, agents, of all Middle Eastern communities who kept me safe and encouraged me. I will never forget the abundant kindness and support extended to me. I thank all of my fans and hundreds of students, many who have become accomplished teachers and performers, who have supported and encouraged me throughout my dance career and to those who continue to inspire me to keep my foot in the Oasis!

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