Before They Were Belly Dancers

European Accounts of Female Entertainers in Egypt, 1760–1870


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About the Book

Focusing on Egypt during the period 1760 to 1870, this book fills in some of the historical blanks for a dance form often known today in the Middle East as raqs sharki or raqs baladi, and in Western countries as “belly dance.” Eyewitness accounts written by European travelers, the major primary source for modern scholars, provide most of the research material. The author shapes these numerous accounts into a coherent whole, providing a picture of Egyptian female entertainers of the period as professionals in the arts, rather than as a group of unnamed “ethnic” dancers and singers. Analysis is given of the contexts of this dance—that was a legitimate performing art form in Egyptian society appreciated by a wide variety of audiences—with a focus on actual performances—and a re-creation of choreography.

About the Author(s)

Kathleen W. Fraser has had a varied professional career encompassing magazine publishing, foreign development, human rights education, employment equity, and the teaching of essay writing and dance history at the university level. Her dance-related writing has appeared in Dance Research Journal (reviews), Impulse magazine, the UCLA Journal of Dance Ethnology, and Canadian Dance: Visions and Stories (articles), and she has presented at professional conferences held by Dance History Scholars, Conference on Research in Dance, and the International Bellydance Conferences of Canada. She lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Bibliographic Details

Kathleen W. Fraser
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 308
Bibliographic Info: 27 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9433-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1916-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Preface 1

Section One: Background

1. On Writing This Book 9

2. Selected Egyptian History—the Study Period 15

3. Writers and Painters in Egypt from 1760 to 1870 18

Section Two: Setting the Stage

4. A Name for the Dance and a Name for the Dancer 33

5. The Low Reputation of Female Entertainers 43

6. The Geography of Going to the Show 48

Section Three: Going to the Show—Professionals at Work

7. The Corporation of Female Singers—the Chanteuses 59

8. Identifying the Raqqâsin, Corporation 200 64

9. Identifying the Ghawâzî, Corporation 192 72

10. Male Performers—Dancers and Musicians 81

Section Four: The Lives of Female Entertainers

11. Relationships with Various Groups in Egyptian Society 89

12. Professional Relationships with the Audience 99

13. Training 105

14. Economic Position of Female Entertainers 108

Section Five: Biographies

15. Thirty-One Female Dancers and One Male 125

Section Six: Gossip, Hearsay, Rumors and Myths

16. The Missing ‘Awâlim 147

17. The Massacre of “The Four Hundred” 151

18. Banning the Dance in Muhammad Ali’s Egypt 158

19. Myths of Origins of Female Dancers and Singers 167

Section Seven: Building the Aesthetic of Performance

20. A Costume Benchmark Set by Edward Lane 177

21. The Musicianship of Dancers 200

22. The Aesthetic of Dance Movements 205

Section Eight: Choreography and Performance

23. Six Choreographic Elements Basic to the Dance 215

24. Extending the Definition of Choreography 219

25. Three Identifiable Dances 223

26. Accessory Dances 236

Epilogue 241

Appendix One: Biographical Facts About Selected 18th–and Early 19th-Century Travel Writers and Artists 253

Appendix Two: Travelers’ Terms for Female Entertainers: Selected Passages by Date of Travel 260

Chapter Notes 265

Bibliography 281

Index 291