Sometimes stories about dancers take on a life of their own. It can be difficult to track down the origins of these stories, and sometimes it even becomes unclear which dancer they originally referred to. This article examines two widely-repeated stories, in search of the facts underlying them.
The First to Dance to Oum Kalthoum?
Who was the first dancer to perform to the music of Oum Kalthoum? Some say Tahia Carioca, while others say Soheir Zaki.
The Widely-Told Story
Timeline of Dancers Performing to Oum Kalthoum's Music
Some have suggested that, since Oum Kalthoum's career as a singer began in the 1920's, perhaps other dancers performed on stage with her before Tahia Carioca. However, since Carioca stated that she was the only dancer ever to dance with Oum Kalthoum while she sang (see above), it is reasonable to believe that Carioca indeed was the first/only. A bold statement such as Carioca's would surely have drawn public attention and contradictions if it were incorrect.
She Sings With Her Body?
The Widely Told Story
There is a widely-repeated quote saying that Soheir Zaki could "sing with her body". One version of the story attributes the quote to Anwar Sadat, whereas another version attributes it to Mohamed Abdel Wahab. There are reports of a similar comment being made about Tahia Carioca.
The version of the story about Soheir Zaki most widely repeated by dancers appears at the beginning of an interview with Zaki published in Habibi Magazine in February 2002. it said, "Anwar Sadat once said to her, 'You are the Um Kulsoum of dance. As she sings with her voice, you sing with your body." According to Francesca Sullivan, the interviewer who wrote the Habibi Magazine article, Zaki personally told her this story about Sadat's comment during the course of the interview. (7)
Proof exists that Soheir Zaki did perform in front of Anwar Sadat. In 1974, Zaki performed at an official dinner party attended by Sadat, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and their wives. The June 13, 1974 issue of the Herald-Journal reported that she tweaked Kissinger's hair and gave kisses to Pat Nixon and Gihan Sadat.(8) The same Associated Press story also appeared the same day in the Lawrence Journal-World with a photo of Zaki.(9) The version of the story published in The Age says that there were 600 guests at the dinner, and it includes a photo of Zaki dancing directly in front of Richard Nixon.(10)
The Herald-Journal version of this Associated Press story reports that after the show, Sadat and Nixon shook hands with that evening's performers. However, this story does not i mention the quote attributed to Sadat regarding Zaki singing with her body. The opportunity existed for Sadat to speak to Zaki, but if he did say this, the Associated Press story did not report it.
A similar comment was reported about another dancer, Tahia Carioca, 26 years earlier, in 1948. An article in Al Qabas dated March 8, 2011(11), quotes Oum Kalthoum as telling Carioca, "You sing with your waist." This comment is said to have been inspired by one of Oum Kalthoum's concerts in which she invited Carioca to join her on stage and dance as she sang. The quote was also reported in en.v Issue 003 Culture & Society Edition (12), in which, at the bottom of a profile of Tahia Carioca, it says, "Tahia Carioca sings with her body - Um Kulthum." Given that Oum Kalthoum was friends with Tahia and her mother (as reported above), it is very likely she did say this.
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