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

Isaac Dickson:
Dance Instructor to Egyptian Stars

 

By Priscilla Adum

 

 

Table of Contents

 

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What Was Isaac Dickson Known For?

Isaac Dickson (sometimes spelled as "Dixon") was one of the most important choreographers and dance trainers in Egypt during the Golden Era of Egyptian dance and cinema. Everyone who was anyone was trained by Isaac Dickson. He also operated his own dance company.

Badia Masabni hired Isaac Dickson for training all the dancers at her Opera Casino, including teaching them the foreign dances that were included in the shows. He choreographed the shows at Badia's casino, primarily the group numbers and the fantasy pieces.

For example, a flyer advertising a show at Badia's Casino Opera mentioned that Isaac Dickson was the choreographer for a musical revue show titled "Two Lucky Hours."

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Badia Masabni, known as The Queen of Theaters, employed Isaac Dickson to create shows for her Casino Opera nightclub.

One of the dancers in Isaac Dickson's dance company was named Gina. She was a familiar face in many Egyptian films, usually as a background dancer. Occasionally she had speaking parts as well, but for some reason was never cast as a leading actress or dancer.

Badia Masabni

Training Taheya Carioca

In the early to mid-1930's, the star dancer in Badia Masabni's club was a teen-ager named Houriya Mohamed. Another teen working in the club as a background dancer was Taheya Mohamed.

Houriya became very upset because Isaac Dickson was training Taheya for a raqs sharqi solo, and complained bitterly to Badia Masabni. At the time, Houriya was one of the few dancers besides Badia who was permitted to do a raqs sharqi solo in the shows. Badia didn't want to upset her star dancer, so she asked Isaac to train Taheya in a non-raqs sharqi dance number that she could perform without antagonizing Houriya.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Taheya Carioca.

Isaac came up with the brilliant idea of teaching Taheya the carioca dance from the 1933 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film Flying Down to Rio. This film had become immensely popular in Cairo at that time. Taheya became so adept at this dance and so well known for it, that patrons would request it by yelling out "Carioca! Carioca! We want Carioca!" Meaning that they wanted to see Taheya performing the dance. This is how she became known as Taheya "Carioca".

Taheya Carioca

Training Samia Gamal

Isaac Dickson was the person who taught Samia Gamal how to dance. According to a 1968 interview that Kawakeb Magazine did with Samia Gamal, her first solo dance performance at Badia Masabni's club was a failure. Samia then hired Isaac Dickson to train her one-on-one. He became her personal dance instructor for a fee of 10 pounds, payable in monthly installments of 50 piasters per month. 

Dickson maintained friendships with the stars of stage and screen of his time. At one party Dickson hosted for all his celebrity friends, actor Rushdie Abaza proposed to Taheya Carioca.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Samia Gamal performs in a scene Isaac Dickson choreographed for the movie Sigara wa Kas (A Glass and a Cigarette).

Samia Gamal

Fairouz Arteen

Fairouz Arteen, the child star, mentioned in a 2010 interview with Khaled Btarawi that film director Anwar Wagdy brought her to Isaac Dickson to receive dance training for her films.

Dickson was the man who trained Fairouz for her film Dahab to dance like Samia Gamal, Taheya Carioca, and Badia Masabni. The scene begins at 1:04:43 in this video clip, and she does Taheya first, then Samia, then Badia. For Badia, she wears a gallabiya and plays finger cymbals. You can see that she mimics all three to perfection. Every step, every gesture is exact. 

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Fairouz Arteen (center) appears in a scene from her movie Yasmin.

Fairouz Arteen

Additional trainers and choreographers (other than Isaac Dickson) who worked with the dancers at Badia Masabni's clubs over the years included:

Badia Masabni Preparing a New Show

 

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What Was Isaac Dickson's Background?

Isaac Dickson is a mystery to me. I have spent countless hours researching, digging up old articles in Arabic, reading, investigating and trying to find out who this enigmatic man was and where he was from. My search for the background and nationality of this influential dance trainer has led to several different possible answers.

In an Arabic-language article I read a long time ago, the author claimed Isaac Dickson was an "Egyptian Jew" who collaborated with Israel. I have not found any further evidence to support this claim. The author of that particular article gave me the impression of being fanatically anti-Israel and seemed to see bogeymen and spies lurking around every corner. So I don't lend too much credence to that statement.

What I have come across repeatedly in many articles in Arabic, some written by respected art critics, is that Isaac Dickson was Lebanese. This seems to be the most widely accepted nationality and the one that shows up most often in articles that mention him. Although the name Isaac Dickson is not a common Lebanese name, it's quite possible that it could have been a professional name. Then again, such a name in Lebanon is not unheard of. 

A friend of mine visited Farida Fahmy at her flat in Cairo and took the opportunity to ask Farida about Isaac Dickson's background. Farida said that though she certainly knew who he was, she did not know his nationality. It had never crossed her mind to ask. She said that back in the 30's and 40's, the society was so cosmopolitan that nobody cared where people were from. 

Until I find evidence to the contrary, I will accept the most prevalent version, the one that recurs in most articles about him: that he was Lebanese. As a person of Lebanese heritage myself, it makes me smile (ok, a bit smugly I admit) to know that the face of Egyptian belly dance was forever changed by two extraordinary Lebanese people who took up residence in Cairo — Badia Masabni and Isaac Dickson.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: This advertisement appeared in 1940 to promote a new show at Badia Masabni's Casino Opera.

Casino Opera Flyer

 

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Isaac Dickson's Movie Career

Isaac Dickson trained dancers and choreographed the dance sequences of many Egyptian Golden Era films. Some include:

  • 1948: Amiret al Gaziera (Princess of the Island). (In imdb.com this is spelled as Amert Al Gezera.) Includes dancing by Taheya Carioca.
  • 1955: Sigara wa Kas (A Glass and a Cigarette). Includes dancing by Samia Gamal.
  • 1952: Hamati Kombola Zorria (My Mother-in-Law is an Atomic Bomb). Includes dancing by Taheya Carioca.

Dickson also held some minor acting roles. He played a bit part as a doctor in the 1952 movie Mustafa Kamel, which was directed by Ahmed Badrakhan. He is the one standing up in this still from the film.

The scene appears in this video clip at the 1:18:35 mark.

Isaac Dickson

Dickson played a bit part as a notary in the 1947 movie Fatma, which starred Oum Kalthoum. In the film, his character is addressed as "Ya Foreigner" and although his Arabic is perfect, he speaks with a foreign accent.

The scene appears in this video clip at the 1:57:45 mark.

Isaac Dickson

 

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Related Articles

 

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About the Author

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. 

Priscilla

 

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