This post is the first in a new series for this blog: the Stars of Dance Spotlight, which will feature bios, commentary, pictures, and videos on selected icons of the belly dance stage. I personally believe that part of being a dancer is understanding the history behind the dance, and therefore it's important for dancers to know the performers who have shaped the stage before them. Kicking off the inaugural post in this series is a look at the beautiful and talented Samia Gamal!
Samia Gamal was born in 1924 in the small Eyptian town of Wana. Her family later moved to Cairo where she eventually met Badia Masabni (the women considered to be the founder of modern Oriental dance, we'll do a spotlight on her later). Samia was extended an invitation to dance with Badia's dance company at her famous casino. Samia studied under Badia's star dancer at the time, Tahiya Karioka. Samia soon became a famous and respected soloist in her own right. She began adding her own fusions and modifications to the dance by incorporating both ballet and Latin influences into her dancing. Additionally, she is credited with being the first belly dancer to wear high heels while dancing.
Samia starred in many Egyptian films, frequently opposite Farid Al Atrache. Together they become known as the Egyptian Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In addition to being love interests on screen, it is rumored they were love interests off screen. However, Farid refused to marry Samia due to her lower social standing.
In 1949, Egypt's King Farouk declared Samia "The National Dancer of Egypt", which combined with her tabloid marriage to a so-called "Texas millionaire" in 1950, rocketed her into international star status. Her second marriage was to the famous Eygptian actor Roshdy Abaza, who she also starred in a number of films with.
Let's look at a few video clips of Samia dancing. The first clip is from the 1952 Egyptian film Don't Tell Anyone, also starring Farid Al Atrache. I like this clip because I think it shows off Samia's overall style, which to me is very soft, rounded, light, and graceful. There aren't many sharp stacatto movements or isolations. She employs a lot of hip circles, various figure 8s, arabesques, and camels; all balanced on top of her signature high heels.
The second video clip is of Samia dancing in the 1955 Egyptian film A Glass and a Cigarette. I selected this one for sharing as it's a beautiful piece that she floats through, and the ballet influence can really be felt in the arms and her overall grace.
And another short movie clip from the 1954 American film Valley of the Kings. This was a fun one because you see her acting side come out a bit more as she teases the stuffily-depicted Western woman.
And a fourth movie clip from the 1949 Egyptian film I Love You Only, which also starred Farid Al Atrache. I selected this clip because I like the creative stage setting and I also think it illustrates how Samia drew from other dance traditions, which can be seen in the overall choreography and footwork. In this one I especially get a sense of Hollywood influence, as certain movements, and even the attire, are evocative of Carmen Miranda.
Samia danced until the early 1980s. She passed away in 1994 at 70 years of age, forever leaving her mark on the world of Oriental dance.