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New and Second-Hand Costumes: Our Elegant and Not So Elegant Dancers



Translated By Priscilla Adum





This article is from an Egyptian magazine from the early 1930s. It gossips about the famous belly dancers of the time and their costume quirks, though not always in a very flattering way.

Click on the photos to see more detail.



The Article

Each one of our dancers tries first and foremost to be unique in her elegance even more so than all of her fellow dancers, particularly when it comes to costumes. For this reason we see costume styles renewed and renovated regularly.

It is well known that the best raqs bedlah* which cost tens of pounds are those of the famous dancer Beba, and this is disclosed by other dancers themselves who say that she has no difficulty obtaining money.** She doesn't own any cheap costumes of the "wardnary" {fiery flower)} type that are worn by second rate dancers.

The famous dancer Houriya Mohamed made her own costumes when she began as a dancer and every one of her bedlah had a special and unique style. But her mother then noticed that other dancers copied her so she preferred to design and make them herself {for her}.

Hekmet Fahmy, before travelling to Budapest, used to have her costumes made by the best dressmakers. However, she finally thought of making them herself. Her first attempt in this field was the bedlah that she wore to dance in the casinos of Europe, so she is enormously proud of this bedlah and from that moment forward she no longer goes to the dressmaker. We don't know if that's due to a financial crisis or due to other reasons. Only God knows.

As for Karima, it's well known that she is zealous about her art, and she also wants to stand out among her colleagues. So, every season she asks her costume maker to make a bedlah for her and she names it the Bedlah of the Season. Karima wanted to have a bedlah of the season this summer, so she had a very wonderful costume made before Madame Badia Masabni opened for the season. But wind is what ships dislike, and Badia didn't allow Karima to dance. The reason given was that she was somewhat overweight and dancers must have slim bodies. At that, Karima responded "Well, what about Mary George?"

As for the rest of the dancers' bedal, they're almost all the same in style, except for the colors.

It's important for us to say something about the different ways dancers pay for these costumes. Some of them pay all at once, others pay in installments. Some pay fairly and others try to cheat the dressmaker. Among the most fair dancers are Beba and Hekmet and Karima Ahmed.

On the other hand, for example, the dancer who annoys costume makers the most is Fathya Fouad. Last week a big fight ensued between her and one of the costume makers because he demanded that she pay for a bedlah that he made for her a year ago.

Right behind her and coming in second as far as not paying on time is the dancer Kawsar who, every time she wants a to have a bedlah made, the costume maker must look up towards heaven and say "My God, let me get through this safely!" We don't know if he wants to stay safe from the bedlah or from Kawsar.

Page 1

Taheya Carioca maintains a characteristic haughty attitude in front of people, so she doesn't want to deal with the costume maker and she deals with other dancers themselves. So she comes up to Karima Ahmed:

Taheya: I saw that you have a nice bedlah. Would you consider selling it, my sister?

Karima: You're welcomed {to it}

Taheya: For how much?

Karima: How about 4 pounds, my sister?

And if Karima gets the 4 pounds within 4 months she can consider herself lucky.

One dancer who doesn't pay up either agreeably or by fighting is Hekmet Kamel.

And what about Khayria Sadki? She pays the price of every bedlah in full...... but when would that be? When she meets one of the nincompoops.***

And thus, we find that many dancers present a beautiful appearance in front of audiences and are sweet talkers, but they're like the adage that says: "He who sees the decorated front door doesn't see how thirsty he is" {Meaning: You can't judge a book by its cover}

The two main people in Egypt who are professional dance costume makers are George and Ellen. The first one is the costume maker for the classy dancers and the latter is for the second rate dancers.



* The original Arabic article uses the words "raqs bedlah" or just "bedlah" to refer to bellydance costumes and "bedal" to refer to the plural form if they are talking about more than two costumes. However, TWO of them specifically would be "badlatain".

** The words used in Arabic here insinuate that Beba made money from other activities besides dancing and her clubs... and not particularly in a good way.

*** Nincompoop refers to one of those men who habitually showered belly dancers with gifts.


The Picture Captions

First Page

Top: TAHEYA CARIOCA, Lower Right: SAFYA, Lower Left: Khayria Sadki

Second Page

Kneeling in the Center: MOUNIRA MOHAMED, Top Left: FATHYA FOUAD, Top Right: HEKMET KAMEL, Bottom Right: HEKMET FAHMY wearing the bedlah that she made with her own hands. Bottom Left: KAWSAR

Page 2



Close-Ups of the Dancers

Click on the photos below to see more close-up views.


On Page 1 of the Article

Tahia Carioca Tahia Carioca
Safya Safya
Khayria Sadki Khairiyya Sedki


On Page 2 of the Article

Mounira Mohamed Mounira Mohamed
Fathya Fouad Fathya Fouad
Hekmet Kamel Hekmet Kamel
Hekmet Fahmy Hekmet Fahmy
Kawsar Kawsar




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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