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  • Writer's pictureBadriyah

19th Century Bellydancers in 3D

Yes, you read it correctly. There is a way how to admire late 19th century Egyptian dancers in 3D! Even in the 19th century, people could appreciate first 3D images from all around the world, gather together and spend evenings going through images from far corners of the planet. And between those images, several beautiful 3D photos of Egyptian dancers exist. Let me explain how this old type 3D photography worked, and present to you an online-friendly 3D version of those vintage images, so you can explore them in 3D right from the warmth of your home.

Experiencing 19th century

It has all started with my collecting obsession. As you know, I collect vintage items from 18th to 20th century of Egyptian dancers, and while doing that, I gathered several ‘stereoviews’. Honestly, when I bought my first stereoview, I had no clue, what it is. Yes, it consists of two very similar images next to each other, and yes, my immediate thought was : ‘Hey, looks like 3D’, but knowing it comes from 19th century chased the thought out of my head. But curiosity stayed, and with my second and third stereoview I decided to (finally) look it up. I found out that these stereoviews were a common thing already in 19th century. People loved to buy them, exchange them, and enjoyed them with a group of friends and a family. To see the stereoviews in 3D, people used ‘stereoscopes’.

Intriguing, right? So what were my next steps? I searched and bought late 19th century stereoscope, so I could experience this old time activity by myself. I found a seller here in Belgium and soon enough I had this wooden piece of beauty at my home. I took the stereoscope and one of my stereoviews, and I looked. My mind was blown away, seriously. I have seen that ghawazee dancer from 1896 in 3D (!), and through a vintage tool! So many details, such a clear view. So much history in that fragile moment.

Interestingly, the whole magic is based on a simple principle. I explain it and demonstrate the stereoscope in this short video for you, check it out before continuing to read:

Pushing it further

On the day I was shooting the video, I posted a snapshot of the action on my Instagram. Suddenly, I was contacted by Keita from Brooklyn Stereoscopic Community and she asked me, if I would like to present my stereoviews at their meeting. Well, I didn’t know much about steroscopy, but I was happy to present the context behind the stereoviews I had. Joining the meeting, I met a bunch of interesting people, and Ian between them. Ian has a unique collection of more than 100 000 stereoviews (!) and he loves to turn them into ‘anaglyphs’. Never heard about anaglyphs? I am sure you have seen them. Anaglyphs are those 3D blue-red images. They are easy to look at even on your screen; you just need those blue-red glasses. These can be easily bought online.

Anyway, seeing that these 19th century stereoviews can be turned into 3D images that anyone can see (with glasses) online, created a new thought! Let’s turn my stereoviews into anaglyphs and let the visitors of my online museum to see them as well! Ian was so kind that he helped me with this idea, and processed the scans for me. And voilà – anaglyphs of Egyptian dancers from 19th century were born! And I am more than happy to present them to you.

If you visit my museum in Belgium, I will be very glad to let you see the original stereoviews through the 19th century stereoscope, and withness the past in 3D. However, for most of you who are visiting my online version of the museum, you can see the late 19th century dancers through the anaglyphs. Just put on your 3D glasses on and enjoy!

Fom ghazeya to raqisah

And here we go. Here are the stereoviews and their anaglyphs (anaglyph courtesy of Ian Ference). Let me quickly describe what you can see on each stereoview, so you can fully appreciate each of them.

Nubian Dancing Girl, Luxor, Egypt

This stereoview is from 1899, depicting a professional dancer from Luxor, a ghazeya. The dancer wears a typical dance costume from that time period. Notice the thin cords hanging from the belt and compare them with the rich ribbons on the stereoview ‘The Elite Dancing Girl of Cairo, Egypt’. This stereoview is accompanied with a text from those times, and, though as expected, but still unfortunately, it is full of prejudice and disdain towards the culture by Westerners. You can read the full text here.

Nubian Dancing Girl, Upper Egypt

A similar stereoview in topic, but a different dancer. A ghazeya, depicted on this stereoview from 1896, wears a similar dance costume, as the previous one, but has a scarf over her hair and a beautiful coin necklace. Notice her smile. Going through old photographs of late 19th century, smile was not common at all, not just in a case of Egyptian dancers. In general, you can find people in old photographs not smiling. This dancer does, and therefore, I find this stereoview so charming.

The Elite Dancing Girl of Cairo, Egypt

This gorgeous stereoview from 1897 shows a professional dancer from Cairo, probably a raqisah, a dancer performing in an entertainment hall. Her costume is much richer than the one in the previous stereoviews - notice the beautiful fabrics, ribbons, and necklaces. Interestingly, there is one detail, which nowadays dancers would be very aware of and probably retouch it from their photos – the hair stuck on the dancer’s sleeve. See how well it is shown in the anaglyph.

Ali Kaka Dancers at the Arab Market, Zakazik, Egypt

This stereoview from 1896 looks very busy and might not look interesting at the first sight, but believe me, it is incredible. This stereoview depicts a market in Zakazik, two ghawazee dancers and a buffoon called Ali Kaka. Cannot see the dancers? Look at the back of the buffoon. You can see one of the dancers sitting on the back of the buffoon, while the second dancer is hidden behind the first one. The second dancer is not that clear to see. You can notice only her legs pointing to the front. As already mentioned, Ali Kaka is a name for a local buffoon. He usually performed some comedy, while accompanied by dancers. This stereoview depicts the reality of rural celebrations, and therefore is very valuable.

Arab muscle dancers, Cairo, Egypt

This unique stereoview from 1898 is a work of R. W. Kilburn. It depicts two Egyptian dancers, a musician playing a nay, and a woman (singer?) lying on the floor with shisha in her hand. This stereoview is set in a studio in Cairo. Although these entertainers come from Cairo, it is obvious that their clothes and costumes look less ‘elite’ and less rich than the costume of the ‘Elite Dancing Girl’ from the stereoview above. Being an urban entertainer does not always mean richer. We must keep in mind the social classes; some entertainers performed for the low class, while some performed for people with higher social status.

Huge thanks go to Ian Ference for his help with creating the presented anaglyphs, and Keita Wangari for inviting me to the 3D community. Here are some interesting links to check out:

If you would like to support the Raqs Sharqi Museum, in searching for antique & vintage items, buying them, archiving them, preparing scans & translations, and publishing them online so everybody can see them for free, you can become museum's PATRON. Thank you for your help!


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