SOHAIR ZAKI

I’ve been researching Sohair on the internet what did I find? Well the main thing was lots of fans quoting her on their websites as one of their most loved dancers and saying that they are envious of her amazing hip work.Sohair is an extremely well known dancer, and was very high competition for the other dancer of the time; 

 

Nagwa Fouad.Sohair Zaki was born in 1944, in Mansoura, a town in lower Egypt. Very close to where the now famous dancer Randa Kamal was born. Her family lived there until Sohair was nine and then move to Alexandria. Sohair by that time was already, like all dancers, totally in love with music. Sohair would always dance around listening to the radio, it was natural to her. Because dance is part of normal day life in Egypt, at parties, weddings, when friends coming round: her friends and neighbours had seen Sohair dance, many a time and could see she was something special. Alexandria had a good night life, being along the coast and a favourite holidaying spot for Egyptians. I know me and my family in Egypt would often go in summer.  Alexandria's coasts were lined with Greek nightclubs. Sohair started working in them. I don’t know her exact age, I would say she was about 12-14 years old and probably had been offered the job, due to her being well known by locals as a good dancer. However, I do know her father was strongly against her dancing and was a big problem she had to deal with. Fortunately, (but only) for her dance career, he died quite soon after Sohair started wanting to dance. Her mother re-married soon after. Sohair couldn’t have asked for a better step-dad, he really started her dance career. Her step-dad became her manager. He organised an orchestra and started getting her work.   Her family moved again, this time to Cairo. Cairohad a large night life at the time, yet not as big as in the times of Naima Akef and Samia Gamal. Sohair, in this city of opportunities for dancers, began to work her way up in the dance world. Starting off with small clubs and occasional weddings, She built a name for herself, until she was working in top hotels and clubs. Sohair stared working in TV shows that would open with a dancer. The chorographer for the shows was Ibrahim Akef, Naima Akef’s cousin. She learnt a lot from him, taking what she liked and forming her own style.Sohair performed in over 100 films but unlike other dancers she would only really dance, so her parts where small. Because Sohair stuck to dancing, she wasn’t really in to acting’ it’s really hard to list the films she appeared in, as she isn’t listed as an actress. I only have a list of a few films she performed in. 

 

   

    * 1964    Matloub zawja fawran  (A wife is required Immediately)

    * 1964    Ana wa hua wa hia  (Me, Him and Her)

    * 1968    Setta banat wa ariss ( Six girls and a bride)

    * 1976    Fatenah we el saalouk (Beauty and the Scoundrel)

    * Email me if you know anymore films she has appeared in

 

As you can see from film clip 1, Sohair was still a teenager when starring in her first films. Her rise to fame was quite quick it was mostly due to her own merit and hard work as apposed to having contacts in the industry. This isn't hard to imagine happening; when you look at her beautiful dancing you can see why she could have become so popular, so fast. Sohair is known for her soft curvy hips, very different to the sharper movements of Nagwa Fouad. She would always dance in a sweet, innocent, loving way; pulling cute, adorable faces while looking over her shoulder at the audience. All over the web I see her being hailed as "the sweetheart of Egypt". I agree, she was a sweet heart by also very strong and competitive especially when it came to Nagwa Fouad.

 

Sohair had succeeded, we had all been pulled in by her innocence and mesmerised by her infatuating hips. Egypt was in love with her in her signature two piece costumes with a netted middle and panelled skirt (the picture at the top is a prime example). Over night she became an Egyptian icon, everywhere, in Egypt, anything to do with music, cassette covers, posters ect would have her face on them. Even now, when I buy music from Egypt she's often printed on the front cover.

 

Not only had Egypt and the Arab world been hit with Sohair fever - US President Nixon, was also a fan of hers. A more important fan however was the Soviet Minister of Defence, during the 60's and 70's, Martial Andre Grotchko, who was completely besotted with Sohair. The Egyptian government took advantage of his love for Sohair, to acquire weapons from the old USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) following the defeat of 67. Sohair Zaki also received accolades and medals from the Shah of Iran, the Tunisian president, and Gamal Abdel Nasser, the second president of Egypt, all for her great achievements in dance. It saddens me today that some people in Egypt think very low of belly dance when it has done so much for the country. This was Sohair’s contribution.

 

Sohair Zaki also did stage productions with an orchestra, she had put together. These shows were simple, in comparison to other dancers. She always performed as a soloist with no background singers, dancers, troupe or props (veil, stick). She didn't need them, because Sohair had the gift of being able to read music like a book. All she needed was her excellent orchestra. Together they were captivating. Sohair would stand on stage, her eyes slightly closed and just move as one with the music, and occasionally give the audience the sweet cheeky looks, they craved.  This natural ability in reading the music and dancing as one with it, gained a lot of respect from the orchestra.

 

Sohair Zaki was the only dancer, other than Tahia Carioca, brave enough to perform to the music of Oum Kulthoum. It is suggested that Oum Kalthoum was annoyed when she first heard that someone was dancing to her songs. She thought it was degrading and therefore asked the famous composer Muhammad Abdul Wahab to go and find out about this dancer. Wahab like most, was instantly infatuated by Sohair's sex appeal and amazing dance. He reported back to Oum Kulthoum and said there was nothing to worry about. He told Oum Kulthoum that "As you sing with your voice, she sings with her body".

 

Sohair met her husband on a film set. Her uncle-in-law was the famous film director Hassa Al Seifi. This further helped Sohair’s film career. Sohair suffered form quite a few miscarriages through out her career, she’s been quoted saying it was probably due to her busy and stressful dance life juggling Shows, Films and TV that made her miscarriage. She had her only son in 1986 she calmed her dance activities a lot after this.

 

The Gulf War of 1990 and 1991 brought an economic downturn and rise in Islamic fundamentalism to Egypt. Nightclub owners could no longer afford to stay open. So, Sohair Zaki. chose to mostly retire while at the height of her career. She continued to perform occasionally throughout the 1990’s.

 

 In May 2001 Sohair Zaki began to teach dancers from around the world at Raqia Hassan’s annual “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” festival in Cairo. Sohair Zaki was quoted on dancers from other countries: "They will never be up to the Egyptian standards; the Egyptian belly dancers' standards. They don't have the lively spirit.  They don't have the sense of humour and they don't have the musical ear. They only perform steps that they learn - 1,2,3,4. But they don't have the spirit."  What she doesn't realise is that spirit like hers is a hard act to follow !!

 

"I need dance, as anyone needs air to breathe" 

(Thank you to Issam who helped me with this article)

Sources: Francesca Sullivan, Making The Body Sing, Cairo Times, 2001 and  www.yasser-best.blogspot.com

botm_bg