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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Gabriel Lekegian: Capturing Memories of Egypt



Collected By Priscilla Adum





Gabriel Lekegian was an Egyptian-Armenian photographer who owned a studio in Cairo during the 1880's, in the Ezbekiya part of town near the Shepherd Hotel. He took pictures of the pyramids, the tombs, temples, and different aspects of ethnic culture and dress. His photographs and his colorized photographs are rare.




Lekegian's Photographs

This photo was founds in a box at an estate sale in New York. The contents of the box included a leather-bound folder full of photographs by Lekegian. The folder contained this picture, along with several other colorized photos.

The studio identification number on this photo says: No. 226 Danseuse (Chafika). The word "danseuse" is French for "dancer", and "Chafika" is a French spelling of the Egyptian woman's name "Shafiqa". Around the time Lekegian was operating his studio, there was a famous dancer named Shafiqa the Copt, but it's unclear whether this photo is her. Many do believe it could be. Click here for a more detailed discussion of whether this could be Shafiqa el Coptiyya.

There also exists a black and white original version, though I don't know if that one came from the same folder.

The colorized version is dated 1900. The original is probably much older.


This photo is identified only as Danseuse 427. "Danseuse" is the French word for "dancer". Danseuse 427

This photo of an Egyptian dancer is only identified as "Danse Du Ventre" with a number that looks to be 471. ("Danse Du Ventre" is French for "dance of the stomach" or "belly dance".) Most of Lekegian's photographs date from the mid to late 1800s.

This dancer's costume is interesting. If you look very closely, you can see that underneath her vest she is wearing a light colored blouse made of fine mesh that is very similar to the mesh fabric that antique assuit was made of. It seems to have been somewhat see-through because the seam lines are quite visible through the tiny holes of the fabric. It's not difficult to imagine that at some point within the following 20 or 30 years dancers discarded the see through mesh underblouse and began wearing only the decorated vest/top with a skirt and hip sash.

You have to enlarge the photo quite a bit to make out the mesh fabric of the top - click here to see an enlargement that shows the detail.

Dancer 471

The caption written at the bottom of this photo in Arabic doesn't give any information about the identity of the woman in the picture. It only says that this is one in a series of postcard pictures that portray people such as "Eastern dancers, Awalem accompanied by their musicians, barefooted Bedouins in typical dress, unattractive prostitutes with bare breasts and bellies, and housewives in relaxed rest or drinking coffee or smoking nargileh".

The caption under the photo says:

Sitting Relaxedly
Photographed by G. Lekegian, Cairo

Relaxed Woman
The auction house that sold this photo titled it "Arab dancer". Arab Dancer
These women are Nubian musicians. The musical instruments they are holding are known as tamboura. Nubian musicians
This photo was identified as "Turkish woman relaxing at home." Turkish woman



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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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