The Stars of the Golden Era of Egyptian Dance

Just the Dance
August 29, 2015
Interview with Serena Ramzy by Helen Santa Maria
January 9, 2016

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The Stars of the Golden Era of Egyptian Dance

During my years of dancing it was pointed out to me a few times that the way I danced was simple and different from “current” dancers.
I was puzzled by such a comment at first as all I was doing was to following the footsteps of my virtual teachers (all in videos.) They were the dancers from the Golden Era of dance in Egypt and to me they were not simple; not too flash or complex, but never too simple. In reality they were actually incredibly rich in content and artistry, but not demonstrating too much physical effort, which is in itself a task that is hard!

The first thing I learned from them was that I should be like ME, just as they were being themselves. I strived to follow their style of “precise & rich simplicity” to the best of my ability as I was, am and will always be incredibly inspired and influenced by them.
When we were blessed with the gift of YouTube, I became more aware of the different ways and approaches that grew in other communities of belly dancers that I was not so connected with at that time. I was very impressed by the physical capabilities of some dancers, how much hard work they had been putting into their way of dancing. I can really appreciate the effort, as I do know how hard it is to master techniques that precisely.

Still, my heart continued and continues to beat with love for the Golden Era’s unique, precise & rich simplicity that is not an easy task to master.
I have been studying and absorbing the style of dancers like Naima Akef, Samya Gamal, Taheya Karioka, Zeinat Olwi, Naemat Mokhtar and many others since 1996.
By 2007 I felt ready to teach and share my understanding with my students as such a task needed this much care and time to be presented. It is amazing how easy is to look at one of the Golden Era Dancers and say, “Oh that is so simple and easy…” till you attempt to do it yourself… not just similar to them, but really do it properly…that is something else.

The Golden Era style of dance is not only about the movements and steps they used, or costumes, or looks… it is about who they were and who they were “being” in the film and the representation of a culture in a period of time.
The role of a dancer is not to be the sexy thing, as Naima Akef proved many times, but more of bringing beauty by dancing the music.

The dance was presented as an art form, entertainment and expression, much like now. But at that time it seemed to me that dancers had much more respect from the Egyptian society than they have now.
I have heard from several Egyptians when asking their opinion about the dance, and not all involved with the dance, that there is no more dancing like there was then, said with a feeling of longing and somewhat disappointment.

An admirable aspect that I have observed from studying this style is that it was never a competition of who can do more, but having the aim of being more individual and unique by being themselves; not by being like the other dancers and doing more than them or be stronger than them, but just being themselves. I guess if they were too busy trying to find out what others were doing in order to copy them, they would not have time to be as good as they were. So here is a tip… not for the month, but for always…

Do YOUR thing, girl!!! By all means, be inspired, be influenced – even be capable of doing what others do, but… be yourself!

Now that is a good style to have!!!!!!!!!

Ultimately, this is what the audience would want to watch and appreciate.

I do feel that currently, in regular education from the regular schools of dance, much technique and body motion is taught and also standardized. This is all very good as all dancers need technical ability, understanding and training. However, I am not 100% sure of standardizing. I believe in establishing the basics and developing technique from there….but this is a subject for another text.

Moreover, as a dancer becomes more experienced and able she needs to dance as if it was dance poetry. Dance is the language of body and soul. We need words and grammar, but we also need thought and emotion to tell a story.
The way you phrase and use the words is almost more important than the words themselves. Your accent while speaking the words that millions speak is what makes it yours. The same applies to dance, just exchange the words for steps and movements and you have dance poetry.

Studying the above artists gave me a wide scope of vocabulary and diverse approaches, inspired by their own styles and artistry, helping me immensely in understanding how to make my own dance poetry.

When a dancer learns the style of someone like Naima Akef, not only will she be learning the techniques and depths of Naima’s interpretation but also she will move away from her own habits and challenge the anatomy of her own dance to accommodate the genius of Naima Akef: accuracy, perfect translation & perfect emotion in flight.

Once one delves in depth into the realm of Samya Gamal, you will find that what may seem to the inexperienced eye as an imperfection and lack of creativity transpires as an amazing visual illusion of being inaccurate, while taking a bite of every 16th beat of the music to enhance her interpretation and to capture every nuance of the music composition, even with a flick of her hair.

The list of dancers you can study is endless; from each of the ones mentioned above and others I have been immensely inspired and have learned a vast variety of movements. Each one of them took me on a journey where I did not want to return.

Each dancer I have studied the style of has widened the horizon of the ocean of knowledge that I have gathered from these artists, making the dance as we know it today, even where it seems so far from what they were doing… you will find their in influence there somewhere.

Any of the dancers of today, definitely including myself, have learned from someone who learned from someone who learned from someone and so on, that have learned from the starts of the Golden Era. Therefore, learning directly from them is the closest anyone can get to learning from the real thing and to the dancers before them, who in their turn where even more genius for having inspired them and who inspire us today.

This is true in other styles of dances. Tap dancers truly acknowledge the amazing work of their masters Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powel, Ginger and many others.
In ballet, Lady Margot Fontaine and Rudolf Nureyev, Balanchine are revered till today – not thought as simple and out of date!!??

It is not only a matter of reference use, or because it is fashionable now to study vintage material. It is because they are our history and our background and without the understanding of them and their art, we have no basis in our dance and the art form gets more and more watered down and altered. Development is inevitable and also desirable, but not without a stable and solid foundation to stand upon.

Enjoy the roots and the beauty of a dance style from an Era where dancers were the impersonation of the music in their own special way. Very special times J

We owe it to them and to ourselves.

Much love,