Samia Gamal - A never ending influence

 

I am at a dance course and meet a lovely dancer of Japanese heritage, she introduces herself as Samia. I didn't really thing to much of it, it's a nice name was probably the extent. Days into the course and having become very good friends with her, the topic randomly of names arises, after I explain what my name means and we start to talk of hers, I find that her original name was in fact something completely different and that she had officially changed her name (for something easier to pronounce) to Samia many years ago. Why Samia? She had fallen in love, in love with a truly beautiful, mesmerising and hypnotic dancer the world had known: Samia Gamal!

How is a dancer that stopped dancing over 50 years ago if not longer have such a strong influence and the overwhelming power to amaze even dancers today, so much so they even change their names........

Ironically Samia was not the dancer's original name she was born under the name Zainab Ibrahim Mahfuz in 1924. It wasn't until she was spotted and offered a job by Badeia Masabny, a famous night club owner in Cairo that she was given the stage name Samia Gamal. This is where it all began, the start of a belly dance legend. She was taught, by the night club, ballet, jazz, tap and improvements to an already beautiful Baladi style. 

Samia made very close friends with a dancer there. It was an important relationship. This dancer was Tahia Carioca and I would say to EGYPTIANS the most famous dancer that ever lived. Whenever the topics of belly dancers comes up in Egypt all the oldies will start nattering of about Tahia and how she was the best that ever lived.

With Tahia as a mentor and to share the love of dance with, Samia fast became a very popular dancer in clubs, opening up a door to her acting and dancing film career.  At the same time she fell in love with Farid Al Atrash, a name that comes hand in hand with hers. Say Samia to an Egyptian Samia they say "Ahhh Farid!"

Farid Al Atrash was a famous singer and produce his own film in 1947 "Habib El Omr" (The Love Of My Life). Together with Samia they performed in it. Samia got her first chance to really show off her dancing and that she did. The dance she did in this film was amazing. The film was a massive success. This lead the way for many more hit films with: Samia dancing in them and Farid singing.  They are a memorising duo to watch. Their love and infatuation for each other shines through the films. When I watch them I get goose bumps. The Arab world loved to watch them together. They were the celebrity couple of the time, move over Posh and Becks ;)

When she could no longer handle the obvious love and attraction between them that went on for years she asked him to marry her. He broke her heart and said NO!?!?!? He was of the royal family from Druz and said it would bring shame to his family to marry a dancer. Their love affair ended. Samia was overcome with sadness. She didn’t have the will to carry on dancing, until she was offered to work as a dancer in a European nightclub.

Forward Thinker - The creator of Oriental Belly Dance?

This act of her asking Farid to marry her - though sad - really points something out about Samia! It highlights the attribute what I think has led to her being the famous dancer of then, now and I am sure forever. That attribute? She was a forward thinker, not restrained to rules and doing as has been done before. This woman PERPOSED TO A MAN!!!! Can you imagine it, to ask a man to marry you...... in the male dominated Arabic world ...... in the 40s!!!! There is rarely a story of a woman here in England, the western world, in the 21st century brave enough and progressive enough to ask her man. Instead they sit there twiddling their thumbs desperately waiting and second guessing when he will get down one knee.

Samia was an innovator. An innovator in everything, most, important to us - DANCE.  She didn't dance like other dancers of the time. I would even say that the only similarities her and Tahia had was the occasional costume style.

Samia did her own thing she was softer in her dance a shimmy was rarely seen on her hips. Obsessed with ballet, she incorporated into her dance. The movement of her dance was like no others. She actually moved. Until Samia belly dance was a much more confined dance done almost on the spot. She would float across the room with her legendary arabesques.

I cannot emphasize enough to you how she changed the direction of belly dance. Every time you move vastly across the stage you owe it to Samia. You also do every time you use a veil. Samia was the first to use a one. Belly dance legend (LOL) has it that when she was having ballet training her teacher gave her a piece of cloth to hold, because she needed to improve and make her arm movements more fluid. Samia took to the dancing with the cloth (veil). She would use it at the beginning of a performance for the intro, to increase her confidence and ensure her arm movement where right. The crowed loved it and from then on Samia used a veil countless times in her intros. Her and the veil danced as one the veil as an extension of her movements.

This innovative and progressive manner is what led her to accept the offer to go to Europe. There she became the seed of western belly dance, the world of belly dance we all dance in and learn from today. No dancer has been so famous in the western world. Samia dance all over in Europe and America. She was the first proper belly dancer to star in a western film .... you've guessed it:  "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves". She took belly dance to the whole world and became the most famous belly dancer in the world.

 

A One Off or Someone’s Dance which lives on?

Naturally as she was the one who first brought dance to the western world properly her influence in the dance here is so strong. It may also be so strong because her dance has a lot more western influence such as ballet, because of this her dance was maybe more familiar and accessible to the west than that of other belly dancers of the era. I see Samia's belly dance style, music style and costume style here all the time, everywhere. It runs strong in western belly dance. But des her influences live on in Egyptian belly dance. The famous belly dancers that followed in Cairo were they as strongly influenced by Samia as we are here today. Dancers such as Nagwa Fouad, Sohair Zaki and Fifi Abdou???

It is intresting to think about it? My opinion is yes but not as much as here.... these dancers that followed continued with the more traditional smaller spaced dance and rarely do they do an arabesque, something western dancers rarely don't do (I LOVE doing them!!). Of course they use a veil but do the use it as Samia did?? And yes I know there are other influences.... but I am talking about the core of the dance.

Was she a one off in Egypt, an anomaly that people loved. And loved dearly for her dance her expression her fanatic drama with Farid, but was all considered as something that only Samia did and only Samia will and can ever do.

 And maybe this is at the core of the differences of western belly dance and that of the Middle East. One followed the balletic steps of Samia and the other the Hagala walk of Tahia?

 This is woman who brought the dance to the western world and the western world to the dance. I am so thankful to her, as without her would the dance be what it is now in England? Would I have had such easy access to learn it and go to classes? I think not! 

To probably the world's most famous belly dancer of all time: Thank you!

 

 Samia Gamal in Ali Baba

Sources: General information from asking Egyptian Family and friends, www.gobellydance.com, www.belly-dance.org,www.wikipedia.org

 

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