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Badia Masabni and Beba Ezz el-Din Reveal How They Learned to Dance


Translated by Priscilla Adum





Translator's Note: This magazine page from the 1930's contains an interview with Badia Masabni and part of one with Beba Ezz el-Din. I have been unable to determine which magazine, or the exact date of the issue. In it, Badia tells where she learned to dance and who her teachers were. She offers some words of advice for dancers which might be useful even today, eighty years later.

Beba Ezz El Din also talks about her own dance beginnings, though unfortunately her interview is apparently continued on another page of the magazine which I have not been able to locate.

I can't help wondering if some of Badia's responses to the questions were a deliberate jab at Beba. Beba was an ambitious Lebanese girl who had started out in Egypt as one of Badia's dancers, and who had caused Badia quite a bit of grief in the past. 

In the interview, one of Badia's teachers is referred to as "Mountaha el Amerikaniya", which means "Mountaha the American". Both the word "Amrikaniya" and the word "Amrikiya" are considered as correct ways to refer to an American. It's very common in Arabic to give people nicknames according to their appearance. So, if she was a light-skinned woman with light hair or eyes then it would not be unusual for her to be called "Mountaha the American" or "Mountaha the blonde", or any other nickname that might describe how she looked. It's not really a reliable indicator of her nationality. Mountaha is an Arabic name.

Badia Masabni and Beba Ezz el-Din


Among Dancers of Cairo and Alexandria,
How Did Some of Our Dancers Learn the Art of Dance?
Badia Masabni and Beba Ezz el-Din Tell



Madame Badia Masabni

Madame Badia Masabni was sitting down during a rehearsal, with her legs propped up on another chair, so we could tell that she was in a good mood and would be willing to answer any question we asked her. So we asked: 

INTERVIEWER: These Egyptian dancers who are dancing [here] right now, do they need to have a teacher, or is it not necessary?

BADIA: Any dancer who tells you that she dances without having been taught is a liar. Nothing can be correct without having been taught. 

INTERVIEWER: Ok then, so who taught you the dance?

BADIA: I learned the dance in 1914 from a woman in the Levant named Baheya Simeka and another woman named Mountaha el Amerikaniya. You have no idea how that expression youda3 sero fi ad3af khalco really applied perfectly to me. [Translator's Note: This expression refers to someone who proves to be talented or skillful at something that nobody thought they would be skillful in.] [Editor's note: Badia would have been about 22 years old in 1914.]


BADIA: The first salary I had as a dancer was 15 lira which was nothing. As fate would have it, the war began, and do you know how much my salary increased to? It was suddenly 45 lira!

INTERVIEWER: Bravo, and this certainly means that you progressed quickly. Where was the first place you worked at as a dancer?

BADIA: At a café called Khristo Café in the Levant.

Badia Masabni

INTERVIEWER: So, was your first stage appearance as a dancer?

BADIA: No, I had learned [to sing] some Egyptian songs such as "Ya Men3anesh Ya Beta3et el Lous" ("O Fresh O Almond Seller") and "Makli fi el Sawani Foul Soudani" ("Roasted Peanuts On A Tray"). Step by step, I learned to dance from Bahiya and Mountaha. As for playing sagat [finger cymbals], I learned that on my own. Playing them is just instinctive in all of Lebanon and Syria. For this reason, you won't find any Egyptian dancer who can play sagat as skillfully as dancers from the Levant who are also skillful dancers as well.

INTERVIEWER: And what does a dancer need to do in order to stand out?

BADIA: A dancer who wants to stand out and who works towards becoming famous has to put all of her thoughts into her work before any other subject or interest. First of all, if she doesn't have an instructor to coach her or a dancer colleague to give her lessons, then she must have an outline of the dance she's going to perfom. If she has success with this outline, then she needs to renew it daily and add to it daily. For example, if she sees a beautiful dance, she can take the beautiful things from it and add them to her own dance, modifying them somewhat so that no one can say that she is blindly copying others. 

I believe that it's easy for the Egyptian dancer to work towards being an outstanding and admired artist. However, her mind must not always be thinking about men, because many times I will see a dancer neglect her work and arrive late to rehearsals. Or, she arrives late to the sala, and when I ask what her excuse is, she'll tell me she's late because she's in love with someone and she went out with him, or that he's angry with her and she was trying to convince him to make up with her. However, if she forgets about all of that and just works towards being an outstanding dancer, her public will be the first to love her and they will be the first to follow her.

Badia Masabni



Madame Beba Ezz el-Din

And Madame Beba Ezz el-Din, before being a sala owner, was well known for being a skillful dancer to the extent that people talked about her and about how well she danced. I asked her as she was sitting at her sala in Alexandria:

INTERVIEWER: How did you learn the dance?

BEBA: Are you kidding?

INVERVIEWER: I swear by God that I'm serious.

BEBA: Ok, then listen to these serious words. I learned it myself without any teacher.

INTERVIEWER: Does this mean you just began to dance right out of the blue?

BEBA: Well, don't forget that you must know that not everyone who wants to dance can dance. 


BEBA: She has to be interesting in her dance.

[The rest of Beba's interview was continued on another page, which was not available to the translator.]

Beba Ezz el-Din




About the Translator

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 




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