Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Queens of Belly Dancing in Egypt’s Modern History

Bamba Kashar

Nationality: Egyptian

Reign: 1880s-1920s

Bamba Kashar

Born in an affluent and noble family. Her father was a popular reciter of the Quran who died when she was 14. She and her sisters deserted their mother when the latter married another man. Little Bamba Kashar later met a Turkish belly dancing master who placed her foot on the first steps towards stardom.

Bamba Kashar became Egypt’s number one belly dancer. She performed at the mansions of princes and pashas. Egyptians used to nickname her “set el kol”, the literal translation is “everyone’s mistress”. And the word mistress here refers to the feminine of “master”. Bamba Kashar became so rich to the extent that she used to dance while carrying a tray full of money or jewelry on her head.

Badia Masabny

Nationality: Syrian/Lebanese

Reign: 1920s-1930s

Badia Masabny

Queens such as Tahia Karioka and Samia Gamal were graduates of Masabny’s dancing school. They all performed with Masabny, before they themselves become queens of course. Her nightclub, located where the Cairo Sheraton stands now, was considered to be the Moulin Rouge of the East. Masabny’s contribution to Egyptian entertainment was tremendous. She was married to the beloved Egyptian/Iraqi comedian Naguib El Rehany.

Tahia Karioka

Nationality: Egyptian

Reign: 1940s

Belly dancer and actress. Karioka was made in Badia Masabny’s nightclub. Her family rejected her desire to perform as a belly dancer. Karioka left them and later became Egypt’s top belly dancer. As she grew older, Tahia Karioka concentrated on movies and on getting married. She purportedly married 14 times, among her husbands were actor Rushdy Abaza, the heartthrob of Egyptian girls back then.

Egypt had several queens, Tahia Karioka probably tops the lost in terms of recognition and fame. She is my favorite. She used to sing with her dancing moves.

Samia Gamal

Nationality: Egyptian

Reign: 1940s- 1950s

Another product of Badia Masabny’s nightclub. Samia Gamal was a symbol of beauty, sexiness, and elegance who performed in front of Egypt’s King Farouk.

Samia Gamal invented her own style of dancing. She incorporated Latin and ballet dancing moves. Being the elegant woman that she was, Samia Gamal was the first to dance while wearing high heels. Samia just grabs my heart.

Samia went to New York and performed in Latin Quarter nightclub. She was also photographed by the renowned photographer Gjon Mili.

Just like her colleague Tahia Karioka, Samia Gamal had to marry the Don Juan, Roshdy Abaza. Yes, beautiful women had to marry Roshdy. That was the rule back then. Their marriage was very brief though.

Sohair Zaki

Nationality: Egyptian

Reign: 1960s- mid 19702.

Sohair Zaki

Late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat called her “the Um Kalthoum of dance, Sohair Zaki was known for her musical ear. ٍShe was the first belly dancer to dance on Um Kalthoum’s songs. Sohair Zaki performed in front of world leaders such as former Egyptian presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, former US president Richard Nixon and the Shah of Iran.

Before becoming a professional belly dancer, Sohair Zaki tried to be a television presenter. She failed in the audition. The judges should be thanked for turning her down!

Nagwa Fouad

Nationality: Egyptian / Palestinian

Reign: 1960s – early 1980s.

Nagwa Fouad

Just as the 40s witnessed the rise of Tahia Karioka and Samia Gamal, the 1960s witnessed the arrival of two new queens: Sohair Zaki and Nagwa Fouad.

Nagwa Fouad was both a belly dancer and movie actress. She was the first and only belly dancer to dance on a piece of music composed by the legendary Mohamed Abdel Wahab. The music was composed specifically for her! That was unprecedented.

Nagwa Fouad became a queen by a mere coincidence. After moving to Cairo from her hometown Alexandria, she took up a job as a telephone operator at an agency of several Egyptian movie stars. The owner of the agency saw Nagwa dance. He advised her to rent a belly dancing costume and try her luck. That was the best advise given to Nagwa. She went from a poor Alexandrian girl to a millionaire.

Fifi Abdou

Nationality: Egyptian

Reign: 1980s- mid 1990s.

From the 40s till the early 1980s, Egypt had two queens share the throne in a specific era. Fifi Abdou ended this trend, she became the uncontested queen till she was pushed aside by Dina (see below).

Fifi Abdou was both a belly dancer and actress. Currently she hosts her own TV show and has over 518 thousand followers on her Instagram account. That number is humongous on Egypt’s Instagram.

The daughter of a policeman, Fifi Abdou started her career in the nightclubs of Haram Street. She was the highest paid belly dancer in Egypt and the world. It is reputed that she owns over 5000 belly dancing costumes. Fifi’s dancing fees and movies made her one of the richest women in Egypt. She is known for her charitable work including including hosting a huge “street banquet” to feed the poor during Iftar in Ramadan.


Nationality: Egyptian

Reign: mid 1990s – 2013.


Egypt’s uncontested belly dancing queen for over 15 years. She was born in Rome and has a master’s degree in philosophy. Her dancing career started with the famous Reda Dance Troupe where she became the solo dancer. Dina then started dancing in 5 stars hotels where she shocked her audience by abandoning the traditional belly dancing costume for more revealing bikinis and shorts. Her career hit a rock bottom when a leaked video allegedly showed her having sex with Egyptian businessman Hossam Aboul Fotouh. Dina said that she and Abul Fotouh were married in secret and she had no idea he was videotaping her. The ordeal forced her to stop dancing for sometime.

Dina returned back to dancing and her acting, she remained to be the queen until mainstream movies producer El Sobki unleashed Safinaz in 2013.


Nationality: Armenian / Russian

Reign: 2013-Current

Safinaz blessed the land of Egypt a few years ago when she came from Russia to work as a belly dancer. She first appeared in sensational belly dancing satellite TV channels such as El Tet. Safinaz became popular but only to the viewers of these channels until mainstream movies producer El Sobki chose her to dance in one of his films. Millions watched her dance in movie theaters and on YouTube and, voila, a new queen was born.

Safinaz is very famous in Egypt. Her name was among the most googled words in 2014. If you typed the Arabic letter “saad”, the first google reference will be her name which starts by this letter.

Safinaz’s fame drew the attention of the Egyptian government and third class lawyers seeking fame. A lawsuit was filed against her for dancing while wearing a costume that symbolized the Egyptian flag. ٍShe was sentenced to 6 months in jail and a 10,000 Egyptian pounds bail to stop the sentence. Safinaz was once briefly detained for dancing in a wedding without a work permit. A few days later her lawyer announced that she married an Egyptian. It was apparent she did that for the permanent residence and the work permit.

I was blessed and honored to shake the hand of Safinaz. I should have kept my hand in a glove and not wash it ever :(

  Posted by BP at 1:01 am Comments Off on The Queens of Belly Dancing in Egypt’s Modern History