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  • Writer's pictureBadriyah

Naima Akef in Moscow

Naima Akef was an excellent Egyptian dancer. No doubt. Did you know she represented Egypt at World Youth Conference in Moscow in 1957?

Below we present you the translation of an article about her visit in Mocow, experiences, complaints on the Egyptian Ministry of Guidance, and more. The article appeared in El Kawakeb Magazine on September 3rd 1957 and was translated by Karim. Enjoy the reading!

Bahlawana (Acrobat) in a bathroom of alabaster

The Egyptian youth delegation returned from Moscow after it represented Egypt in the World Youth Conference. The delegation achieved great success! The artistic element was prominent among those who represented Egypt in this delegation. Naima Akef won a gold medal for her so-called dance "The Mamluk Dance", and "Aziza", Abdel Wahab's musical piece, won another award.

Naima Akef told us while lying in a bathroom of pure alabaster about her journey with the "Ya Leil Ya Ain" band and how she felt when they announced that she had won the gold medal for Egypt out of 122 countries.

Naima Akef said:

"When they announced that I won the gold medal, my mind returned years ago, since I was a "naughty" child who loved to dance and jump. I practised singing and playing the sagat (percussion instrument used in belly dance). I would still "roll over" and hit with my feet over the neighbours' heads who lived below us. These neighbours used to revolt and get angry until we moved to a ground floor of a small house, where I found my complete freedom. When they announced my winning (Me! Who got kicked out by neighbours) – I laughed, thanking God that I didn't give in to the request of our neighbours and stop practising, dancing, jumping and hitting with my feet over their heads."

Naima Akef holds the gold medal that she won and the certificate that she received as the best dancer in the Youth Festival.

Naima Akef recounted her memories of the trip, saying:

"In the midst of this victory that filled me with flowers and joy, I regret seeing some of the actions taken place by the officials of the Egyptian Arts Authority. "The “folklore troupe” for which the audience went happily crazy when it performed on the opera stage was not the same troupe that presented its art on the stage of Moscow theatres. It saddens me that I am Naima Akef, who was happy to join the folklore troupe to work for a simple wage. It saddens me to say that my travel with the band was not desirable. And I feel that these matters have no place on the pages of the magazines, so I prepared an additional report that I will submit to the officials in the Ministry of Guidance. And what I like to say is that I have not travelled as the leader of the “Ya Leil Ya Ain” band, but I was among those chosen by the Youth Welfare Council as part of the delegation."

"The Folklore Troupe consisted of twenty musicians; only six of them participated with me when I performed the "Mamluk Dance" and "Aziza" dance. I was about to get angry. I thought about not participating in the contest and apologized for not dancing, but I feared that Egypt would lose its role among the participating countries. Nevertheless, I succeeded, and my dances received great encouragement. Moreover, the word "Ya Wala" that permeates the music of "Aziza" was well received by the Russian audience, and the participant journalists chased me in the festival to know the meaning of the word "Ya Wala – O Boy"."

Note from Badriyah: Here you can see a part of her winning performance from USSR:

"It was a beautiful trip; Moscow is a great city, and its people, women and men, have a high level of morals. On one evening after I danced in Gorky Park and took my way to the "Hotel Ukraine" where I was staying, a Russian lady got in my way and embraced me, and she held me to her chest and kissed my face, then took hold of both of my hands, pulling them warmly. She left me and walked on her way without saying a word. And this incident was happening by the same lady every night; she would meet me, hug me, embrace me and then pull on my hand so hard and violently that my fingers were in pain. And one night, she pressed very tight on my hand, so I screamed, saying in Arabic: Be careful, woman! You think I got a hand of steel! And I was surprised by her saying in Arabic: "Oh, forgive me, Madame Naima, I just love you so much." I knew that she had studied Arabic to memorize the Qur'an and laughed when I apologized to her for my rude attitude. Then she said that she did not know that the pressure on my hand hurts me and that this is a Russian custom followed by Russian women when they shake hands with each other."

Naima Akef in Moscow between the great famous actor Alexanov, who is like Youssef Wahby in our country, and Mr Ahmed Youssef, General Observer of Fine Arts in Egypt at Bolshoi Theater, the largest theatre in Moscow.

One of the Russian artists liked my dance so much that he never left my husband and me except when we went to sleep. He was always with us throughout our stay in Moscow. With us in restaurants, parks, and taxis, he always carried sculpting tools, and when we settled down somewhere, he rushed to get them out and went to work on my bust, staring at me. He started making it since we met him in Moscow, and I didn't have enough time to stand before him to finish it. I was amazed and astonished by this man for days. He did not know anything other than Russian, and he did not exchange a single word with me except for smiles and laughter for a reason or without reason. I asked the translator who accompanied us: "Does our friend not know anything other than laughter?" And she answered me saying, "That's his nature, and he has no worries so as not to laugh." And I told her: "One day, he will get married, and he will remain concerned and stop laughing, and she smiled saying: "He is married and has ten children!" I asked her again in astonishment: "He is married! And from where does he feed his wife and ten children?" I learned from her that he is a well-known artist, and the state pays artists fixed wages that guarantee their lives and provide them with a good standard of living."

On the day of the dance competition, the time for me contradicted my original work on the “Timurvich” theatre. So I called the administration of the competition to ask for my appointment to be rescheduled so that I could attend. But they said that I could participate at any time I wanted after my stage work ended.

And when my husband and I hurried to go to the palace (Competition location), we found all the roads leading to it were closed, except that the driver got out of our car and approached the policeman and showed him a permit he was carrying. But all the cars had the same permit authorizing them to pass on the roads closed between the festivals palaces.

When I danced on the stage, no one applauded for me, as it was forbidden for the audience to clap not to provoke the competition judges. However, when my dance ended, the judges themselves applauded for me, and I repeated the dance three times, for which I got the gold medal.

Note from Badriyah: Naima Akef danced the same choreography in the movie Ahebbak Ya Hassan (1958). She used also the same costume:

On the sidelines of the trip to Moscow!

Saleh Al-Karani, the musician, one of the youth delegation to Moscow, told us his memories of the trip, which we summarize quickly in the following points:

  • During the trip, the delegation had two administrations: the trip administration and the relations management. A strange competition occurred between the two administrations over the issuance of orders and decisions.

  • Training the Egyptian delegation on the anthem of peace was neglected. All members of the other delegations memorized this anthem.

  • The ship stopped in the port of Latakia in Syria to carry the delegations of Arab countries to Moscow. However, the management of the trip did not organize a reception for these delegations, who were cheering for Gamal's (president of Egypt) life whenever they met the Egyptian delegation.

  • The ship arrived at the port of Odessa, the first Russian town where the Arab delegations landed. The Russians came out to receive and welcome these delegations with flowers, songs, and gifts. And this tremendous welcoming continued all the way by train between Odessa and Moscow. Had it not been for the fact that some of the musicians from the journey members were memorizing the tone of the peace anthem, the Arab delegations would not have found what they responded to in these massive welcoming.

  • In every Russian house we entered, we found pictures of Faten Hamama. We asked more than once about Faten Hamama and what delayed her to attend the festival. Faten is very famous in Russia.

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