I was exchanging tweets with Heidi Leon about belly dance — she has just taken it up — and I thought I’d tell her about Nadia (actually I meant Samia, see ps below) Gamal, possibly the greatest belly dancer of her era, perhaps of all times, and my favourite. I also have a weakness for Tahiya Carioca if only for the name which always made my sisters and I giggle when we were young in Beirut. She was our reference for anything vulgar. Am not sure why. She wasn’t, as you can see from the video below. We must have been stuck up bourgeois girls.

In any case, I googled Nadia and found various links and videos. I like this one best. She is still very young and gorgeous, slim without being skinny; and as a bonus there is also Sabah in the video, also still very young and pretty.

In my days, there were two singing divas in Lebanon. Feyrouz, a heavenly voice but ugly with crooked teeth, and Sabah, a glamour puss with a sexy voice. Both are still alive and are old versions of their young selves. Feyrouz less scary than when she was young and Sabah still trying to hold on to those gorgeous looks with some help, and not from her creator! Watching Nadia and Sabah reminded me of my youth in Beirut when I hated both Arabic music and belly dancing. I only liked western pop music and to my shame, it was mostly French pop. Now, I love Omm Kulthum, Nadia Gamal, even Sabah but only when she was young and many others. As for pop music, it has been replaced by classical and opera. I wonder if I should look at myself closely in the mirror to see if I have aged like Sabah! As for gorgeous Nadia, she died quite some time ago, without I think turning into a caricature of herself. Have to check on that. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this snippet of Egyptian high life when it was gay and sophisticated.

Ps. A Lebanese friend drew my attention to the fact that the dancer I am thinking of is not Nadia but Samia and here is a video of Samia Gamal. I can’t work out if the first video is Samia or someone else who’s almost as good but called Nadia. perhaps one of you will be able to tell me.

There is 12 comments on this post

  • Anissa these video’s are brilliant!

  • lots more on you tube. they make me want to take up belly dancing but sadly i have no sense rythm 🙂

  • Vulgar? haha. How funny is, if we stop to think how we used to think and see things so differently when we were young(er).

    In Latinamerica, I also grew up with popular references to some vary famous exotic salsa and mambo dancers as Tongolele, and I can recall I considered them vulgar too; mujeres de la noche. Unworthy women.

    Nowadays I see them as gorgeous beautiful women, proud of themselves and their bodies. Free women who were making history and transmitting ancient culture rites with their dancing’s.

    Thanks for sharing this Anissa, and for encourage me to learn more about the arabesque dancing and culture.

    Salam Alaykum


  • you’re welcome heidi. you’re right about changing perspective with age. i can’t imagine why we thought tahiya was vulgar. she’s pretty classy and dances so well. it must have been her name. i look forward to seeing you dance in the flesh. salamat…

  • Hi all! Thank you for this post. I treasure it. Oriental dance is fortunately getting more attention and respect nowadays that the dance boom is hitting us through popular TV-shows etc. I am SO glad dance in general is gaining more interest. It is a true art, sport, a fantastic way of expression emotions through physical movements etc. Me myself so wish to go to Cairo and stay for a while while improving my own capacity for oriental dance. Am working on it. Keep dancing (even if it is only in your hearts:-))!

  • for me, it’ll have to be in my heart or head!!

  • Anissa

    Thanks so much for this entry! It was great timing for me because I assigned my students an essay on the history and politics of belly dancing and so I showed them the clip of Tahiya Carioca from your blog – she was mentioned a lot in the essay.

    What a different world it was back then.


  • Indeed it was. And to think we used to mock tahiya when we were young. She’s divine.

  • this is awesome blog you have here! 🙂

  • I’ll never forget an Egyptian movie about Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya, the first female Sufi saint. When she died, she ascended to heaven, ecstatically belly-dancing!

  • this is amazing charles. i must try and find this film to watch it.

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