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Mini-Reviews of Movies from the Middle East or North Africa with Dance Scenes



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The very first full-length motion picture in the Middle East or North Africa was Leila, made in 1927. It was a silent movie, and it included a dance scene featuring Bamba Kashar. In the decades that followed, as "talkies" found their way into the movie industry, Egyptian filmmakers made many musicals, and dance was prominently featured in many of them.

Today, those of us who appreciate raqs baladi can find much pleasure in watching these vintage movies. But, it can be hard to discover which ones contain good, satisfying dance scenes. Here's a look at a few of them, with comments on what they are like.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Marie Wilkes, Iowa City, iowa.




The Movies

Gharam fil-Karnak (Love in Karnak)

Year Released  1965
Dancers Mahmoud Reda, Farida Fahmy, Reda Troupe
Shira's Feedback Lots of excellent dancing, wide variety of dance styles, highly recommended!

A fellow named Salah (Mahmoud Reda) starts up a dance company (Reda Troupe) and prepares it to perform at the Luxor temple. Salah and his dancers must overcome a number of obstacles, but in the end they succeed and the movie ends with an extended dance sequence showing their debut performance. There are a total of 9 dance scenes in this movie. Some of them are very reminiscent of the Hollywood movie musical, in which people are doing ordinary everyday things (such as going to the train station to board the train to Luxor) and then dance just bursts out of them. Others are more folkloric, such as the rehearsal scenes and the grand finale. All of them are delightful to watch. Highly recommended!



Habib el Omr (Love of a Lifetime)

Year Released  1947
Dancer Samia Gamal
Shira's Feedback Of all the clips I've seen of Samia, the ones in this movie aren't my favorite because most of the music and accompanying dance is very Westernized, not very Egyptian at all. Still, it's nice to see some of her dance scenes in the context of the movie they come from instead of isolated on a compilation of dance clips.

Six musicians (including Farid al-Atrache) and a dancer (Samia Gamal) travel from their small town to the big city to seek their fortune in show business. The dance clips all show Samia performing in various nightclub environments. The editing interferes with enjoying the dance scenes by cutting away from Samia too often to show close-ups of other characters. It seems to treat the dancing itself as unimportant, as peripheral.

Habib el Omr


Khally Balak Men Zouzou (Pay Heed to Zouzou)

Year Released  1972
Dancer Souad Hosni
Shira's Feedback Lots of dancing, insights into Egyptian culture of the 1970's. Other movies have stronger dancers, but still definitely enjoyable.

A young woman named Zouzou leads a dual life - college student by day, working dancer by night. There are 7 dance scenes total. These include three dance scenes in which the character Zouzou performs as a soloist, two featuring a group of college students rehearsing an ensemble piece, one in which Zouzou's clan dances around at a party, and a brief one in which a fellow does a comic dance in his boxer shorts. Souad Hosni was never a working dancer - she was an actress who was coached to dance for this movie role. But even though dancing wasn't her primary profession, she performs skillfully and this movie is enjoyable to watch.

Khally Balak Men Zouzou


Tamra Henna (Henna Flower)

Year Released  1957
Dancer Naima Akef
Shira's Feedback There are three dance scenes featuring Naima Akef, and I love the way she dances! This is one of my favorite Egyptian movies.

This Egyptian movie explores a theme similar to that of My Fair Lady. A rich fellow named Ahmed uses his wealth to help a Gypsy dancer named Tamra Henna (Naima Akef) transform herself into an upper-class lady. In the first two dance scenes which are 5 minutes and 3 minutes respectively, Tamra Henna performs as the star of the show at a moulid (saint's day carnival), which offers us a glimpse into what one of the environments for public raqs baladi was like in villages throughout Egypt. In the third dance scene, which lasts about 3 1/2 minutes, Tamra Henna is a guest at a society party and is bullied by her rival into dancing.

Tamra Henna



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