Updated: Jun 10
From “Golden Era Belly Dance with Badriyah” episode #64 of the Belly Dance podcast “A Little Lighter” with Alicia Free
Golden Era Belly Dance enthusiast Badriyah of Belgium loves to bring us back to a time when bedlah and Raqs Sharqi dancers frequented movie screens. To an era of rapid growth for belly dance. A time when some of the most famous Raqs Sharqi performers were also film stars, and Fifi Abdou had just started her dance career.
Belly dancers in the Golden Era had to cultivate many talents. They performed a myriad of different dance styles in addition to belly dance, especially if they were performing in a cabaret or a movie. The dance styles could include tap dance, Latin dance footwork (rhumba was popular), and sometimes even pharaonic dance inspired by hieroglyphs.
In the interview with Badriyah on Belly Dance Podcast “A Little Lighter,” Badriyah revealed much of her findings from the research she has done on Egyptian belly dance films from the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s. After years of studying Golden Era Belly Dance Movies, Badriyah has a short list of favorite films. This makes it much easier for dancers who do not read or write Arabic to find these classic belly dance films. And all 3 of these belly dance film stars were once dancers in Badia Masbni’s nightclubs. Drum roll please…
The 3 Best Golden Era Belly Dance Movies for Belly Dancers
#1. Afreta Hanem, Little Miss Devil 1949 فيلم عفريته هانم
In this famous Farid Al Atrach film, Samia Gamal emerges from a genie lamp. And there is the scene where Samia Gamal does a djinn oriental fantasy dance (https://youtu.be/XTYIhR-7Zw0?t=4520) with big kicks, backbends and lunges. It is very interesting to compare the fantasy dance moves to the Raqs Sharqi style dance Samia performs in other scenes in the same film.
#2. Ahebbak Ya Hassan, I love you Hassan 1958 أحبك يا حسن
In this film, Naima Akef sits in a restaurant with her little pencil skirt on, clutching a pocketbook and dreaming of herself dancing in the entertainment hall next door. She brings us into her daydream as she runs on stage and spins out of her 1950s street clothes and into her harem pants and bra costume. (https://youtu.be/oeCN7ZVfUdM?t=502)
According to Badriyah, “This is one of the best choreographies I’ve ever seen. Seriously. It’s like seven minutes long. And she used the same choreography when she traveled to Russia in 1957 for the Youth Festival in Moscow and won a gold medal there. One of the dances she performed was this Mamluk Dance.”
In another scene, Naima dances herself out of bed (https://youtu.be/IwDAYcGjFys?t=7) as her neighbors on Muhammad Ali street dance and play. They play violin on their balconies, accordion in sunny windows, and a group of ladies sing together and smoke hookah inside. It’s adorable.
And there is also another woman who thickens the plot because both her and Naima are in love with the same neighbor. So there’s a little bit of fighting, but in the end Naima and the singer work it out.
#3. Ahib Al Ghalat, I like Mistakes, 1942 فيلم أحب الغلط -
This film features Taheya Karioka of Badia Masabni’s Casino Opera doing 1940s Egyptian belly dance moves as well as rhumba and Pharaonic Dance. In this story, Taheya is a young dancer who falls in love with a doctor who she thinks is a famous director. She dreams of being a star, and she wants to act in a movie and also fight for her love for the doctor.
Samba and Egyptian: https://youtu.be/BIPICQLiZog?t=589
Pharaonic Dance: https://youtu.be/BIPICQLiZog?t=2739
If you want to see Taheya do a beautiful folkloric style line dance too, you can check out The Victorious (1952) ! الفيلم العربي - المنتصر - ت.
So what color were the belly dance costumes in the Golden Era films?
We all wish that we could see these black and white films in full color and see what Golden Era belly dance costumes really looked like.
Badriyah said: ”I asked the designer from Cairo Eman Zaki what colors the Golden Era belly dance costumes were. She said you can look at the movie posters. And costume designer Madame Abla said the old belly dance costumes from movies were often pink, blue and green.”
And rhinestones were not used! If you want to recreate a Golden Era belly dance costume, use beads, pearls or metals.
Try this Golden Era Belly Dance Move
Try a pelvic-forward hip circle! Badriyah describes this Golden Era dance move in the podcast too. You can spread your feet wider than your hips and start a big hip circle starting on the right side, pushing your hips really nicely forward. When you get to the back of the circle, don't try to finish it in the same manner as the front of the circle. After you transfer the weight from right around to left in front, then you can just cut across the back without leaning forward to finish the circle.Transfer your weight completely forward in your hips, bend your knees and lean back.
And if you bend your knees even more and spread your feet even more, you can go deeper. That is what Taheya doing when she does this move in the scene where she is wearing a dark bra and belt and dances in a nightclub in the 1951 film "A Night of Love" ليلة غرام. She starts the move about 56 seconds into the dance in that scene. (https://youtu.be/VOL55ekpqMc?t=56)
Taheya slightly tilts her arms toward the direction where she is going, and this tilt gives her a beautiful dance posture. If you start on your right leg and you forward and around to the left, curve your upper body toward the left and look left diagonal down.
Would you like more Golden Era goodies? Badriyah also discusses some of the 300 vintage bellydance items she has already collected for her future Belly Dance Museum. She also tells us what she is still looking for. Hint: One item she has not acquired yet is a belly dance costume worn in the 1940s or 50s by a famous dancer like Samia Gamal!
Enjoy the full interview with Badriyah on belly dance podcast “A Little Lighter”, as well as interviews with Suhaila and Isabella Salimpour of the Salimpour School, Jillina of Belly Dance Evolution, folk and fusion pioneer Jill Parker, Carolena Nericcio of Fat Chance Belly Dance, urban and oriental dance fusion artist Ebony Qualls and more dancers who have thoughtfully shaped our current era of belly dance.
Thank you to Maher Bahloul for help with the Arabic sections of this article.
Full podcast with Badriyah: https://bellydancebodyandsoul.com/badriyah-interview/