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The History of Belly Dance, Part 3

With the advent of the industrial revolution came international communication and travel. People began visiting other countries and tourism became a viable source of revenue for countries around the world, including the Middle East. This explosion of world-wide interaction between countries brought about the growth and development of belly dance as a public performing art in four major countries: Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and the United States. And, from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, belly dance grew in popularity. But also, the artists themselves became popular and even grew to become epic stars of film and stage.


Dance has been a cultural tradition in Egypt for thousands of years. Many paintings and sculptures show Ancient Egyptians dancing. Throughout history, Egypt has spawned different types of dance, from ancient Egyptian dance, to traditional/folklore dance, as well as theatrical dance such as belly dance. Of these, Oriental, or “belly dance”, has undoubtedly been the most recognized and popular

Its popularity as a theatrical style began in the early twentieth century in the cabarets of Cairo, many of which were started by belly dancer and impresario, Badia Masabni. She is considered to be the originator of Egyptian belly dance as a performance art. She was not only responsible for opening a number of nightclubs, but also for launching the careers of early Egyptian stars, Samia Gamal and Tahia Kariokka.

Badia Masabni

These dancers were part of a period known as “The Golden Era of Belly Dance”. Tourists flocked to Egypt to see the Pyramids, but also, to see the grand floor shows of Cairo. Egyptian film included belly dancers, who were (and are) comparable rock stars in the west.

Samia Gamal

Tahia Karioki

Billboards to this day line the streets of Cairo advertising their films and floor shows. The negative underbelly of an Egyptian dancer's world is that Egyptian's have always had a double standard or, a love-hate relationship with belly dance. One would never have a wedding without a belly dancer, but one would never have their daughter become one!

During this period of belly dance’s heyday, (1920’s – 1950’s) the political climate in Egypt was fairly liberal about belly dance. This all changed when Islam became a political power to be reckoned with during the building of the high dam in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Sohair Zaki

Nagwa Fuad