Sunday, December 27, 2009


The phenomenon of repeating trends and the cyclical nature of pop culture is such a given that we’re all familiar with the phrase “Everything Old Is New Again”. This applies to art, fashion, cinema and yes, even to the world of belly dance.

While the general public has always had a rather dated and archaic view of the art of belly dancing ( veiled dancers wearing jingling coin costumes with big skirts; women who turned their husbands into “sultans” with the drop of a hip and the wink of a heavily made-up eye) fashion trends in Arabic music and dance have moved light years beyond that tired old cliché.

Recently, cabaret-style oriental dancers have favored minimalist, fringe-free haute couture costumes , and those dancing in the realm of Fusion have taken vast liberties both stylistically, conceptually and in costume choices.

In the past few years Arabic dance music- Oriental , shaabi style or otherwise -has been almost thoroughly Westernized, utilizing everything from traditionally “western” instruments such as piano or synthesizers, to crazy samples to musical influences that include hip hop , Bollywood, Brazillian, Electronica, New Age, and on and on.

While all this is fun to dance to ( not to mention thrilling, experimental and modern) sometimes it seems as though it would be nice to go back to the elegance and simplicity of a by-gone age, a time that nobody dancing today has experienced. What I am referring to Egypt’s Golden Age of Belly Dance, which was the fertile, creative period spanning the early 1940’s to the late 1970’s.

The Golden Age produced a veritable galaxy of stars, and preserved their artistic contributions both in film and on audio recordings. We’re talking films like the classic black and white “Tamer Henna” starring Naima Akef to later movies like the sassy 1972 Suad Hosni vehicle “ Khalli Balak Min Zou Zou”, and many other films which featured radiant dancers such as Samia Gamal, Tahiyya Karioka ( her name is spelled many ways, phoentically) and towards the latter part of the time period, Soheir Zaki, FiFi Abdou, Nagwa Fouad, Nadia Gamal, and many others.

We still see their legacy today- many of them have signature steps or combinations named after them; all of them starred in numerous films as well as appearing live on stage, all over the world.

Some singers that became internationally famous during that era were Om Kalthoum, Asmahan, Fairuz, Sabah, and Ahmed Addewiyya; and their work still sounds as fresh and wonderful as the day it was recorded. The same rings true for composers of the day, many of whom also did double duty as singers as well as acting in the movies: Farid El Atrache, Abdel Halim Hafez, Mohamed Abdel Wahab.

Though many younger dancers are not fully aware of this rich history, many are starting to return to the glamorous, smooth belly dancing style of yore: by using music that sounds less modern and more traditional, and by simplifying movements to straight Oriental; and there also seems to be a resurgence in the popularity of retro- costuming: fuller skirts, more fringe. These days, with the internet and Youtube, evidence of this period- and invaluable research on the time itself- is only a mouse-click away.

How wonderful that Hollywood Music Center has recently embarked on a large, multi- disc project entitled the “Golden Era Of Bellydance”! This series of CD’s will concentrate on the music of the artists of the Golden Age period. Though the music is not the original film scores, it is faithfully reproduced by the Ferqat Al Tooras Orchestra, featuring musicians like Aboud Abdel Al, Ahmad Fouad Hassan and Mohamad Al Arabi. The instrumentation is old-school: naid, oud, accordion, kanoun,walls of cellos. The orchestration is acoustic and reflects the feel of the era, and the traditional arrangements are truly stellar.

The first disc in the series is “ Golden Era Of Bellydance,Volume 1: Tahiyya Karioka”. From the opening strains of “Ha Akbalu Boukra”, you will be transported to a by-gone era of dapper fez-sporting men in tuxedos and glamorous dancers in costumes complete with shoulder epaulets, pin-up hair do’s and belly-covers.

This disc also features one of the best versions of Farid El Atrache’s famous “Leyla”, whith an amazingly slinky intro; awesome renditions of “Al Hobbi Kidda”, “Sahara City” and Om Kalthoum’s lovely “Al Atlal”.

All of the pieces on this fantastic CD sound retro, but have none of the crackles, pops and glitches of the original recordings. They are also all in the three-to six minute range, making them perfect to easily incorporate into routines.

Whether you just want to listen to beautiful, vintage- sounding Arabic music or are planning on dancing to these songs, this CD is a must…and I can’t wait to hear the others as soon as they come out!

Order this CD:

Pictured: 1940's-era Tahiyya Karioka


  1. Its gone to the top of the "Must Have" list.

  2. Thanks for this...a little bit of wonderful history and I can't wait to get this CD.

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