Taheya Carioca’s Dance Analysis – part 1
Taheya Carioca is a belly dance legend, no one doubts it. She was a star of Casino Opera and she shined on a silver screen as well. Taheya was multitalented – she was an actor, dancer, singer, and an excellent finger cymbal player. Her dance style is so unique that it inspires dancers until today.
In my following research, I have looked at several aspects of her performances in movies. I have analysed 179 dance videos, spanning from 1936 to 1966. There is so much data and results that I will separate the article into two parts. This one, the first one, focuses on all dance styles Taheya Carioca performed in the movies, while the second part will focus purely on her Raqs Sharqi.
Although I do not use academic language but try to make the text easily readable, I am following the structure of a scientific paper. If you do not want to spend time reading the whole article, you can always read a quick summary of the results in the section Conclusions. If you want to see all the results and understand them in a broader context, please start reading from the Section Results and Discussion. However, to fully follow the research and see how it was done, I would recommend reading the whole article.
Data and Method
The source data consist of 179 dance clips from 69 movies, spread across 30 years, from 1936 to 1966. The source of the data were Egyptian movies placed on the platform YouTube, as well as clips of the channels ‘rorenit’ and ‘TheClassicCaroVan’ on Vimeo. The dance clips have different length, from 30 seconds to 5,5 minute. Some dance scenes are even longer than that, such as a dance scene from the movie The Beauty's Veil (منديل الحلو, 1949) which is 7,5 minutes long. However, these long dance scenes include several dance styles. For a better analysis, I have separated the dance scenes into distinguished clips. If the dance (style) repeated in the dance scene several times, I included it only once in the analysis.
During the analysis, I have looked at several aspects, from dance styles, costuming, to the usage of props. In this article, I will describe and discuss only those, which are focused on the overall description of the dance scene, including all dance styles. In the upcoming article, I will focus on Taheya’s Raqs Sharqi purely.
Dance Styles and Stylizations
One of the most important tasks was to categorize the dance styles Taheya was performing in each dance clip. This was not an easy exercise, especially in the cases where a lot of fantasy was inserted into the movie scenes. To make it clear and being able to perform the analysis, I had to define categories of dance styles and stylizations. The word ‘stylizations’ is very important here. Both in the case of Western dances and Egyptian dances. We have to realise that although Taheya was trained in many dance styles, her performance was influenced by many factors: from the director’s ideas, until the choreographer’s ideas. Furthermore, as a professional Raqs Sharqi dancer, Taheya’s interpretation of Ghawazee or Awaleem, would be different than the real traditional dances. Therefore, I considered Awaleem/Ghawazee to be rather a stylization into the ‘role’ than performing that style.
Raqs Sharqi represents Egyptian theatrical form of dance, created during the end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. It is characterized by specific hip movements, musicality and aesthetics. For most of the belly dancers, this style is very much familiar; therefore, I am not going to get into detailed definition, as it is not goal of this analysis.
Awaleem & Ghawazee
This group includes both styles of Awaleem and Ghawazee. The reason why these two are merged is that both Awaleem and Ghawazee were non-Raqs Sharqi performers, in the sense of theatrical performances. Ghawazee, for this analysis, are rural performers, performing at both social and public events, while Awaleem are urban performers, performing at social events. Although the dances by Awaleem and Ghawazee had the same base as the early Raqs Sharqi, during the time, the dance styles became different. Taheya, trained Raqs Sharqi dancer, would not perform in the same way as Awaleem or Ghawazee. Her attempt would be more in a sense of stylization, by costumes and imitation of some typical dance vocabulary of these dance styles.
We have to realise one more thing; watching a movie scene from a wedding does not mean that the shown dance refers directly and only to Awaleem. It depends on the class of the people portrayed in the scene. During the Golden Era, there were more solo Raqs Sharqi performers invited to perform at weddings, especially for the middle and upper class, while Awaleem troupes slowly started to disappear (1). Therefore, in some movie wedding scenes, Taheya’s dance style is categorized as Raqs Sharqi, while in others, depending on the audience and the stylization, Taheya’s dance is categorized in the group of Awaleem/Ghawazee dances. This comes mainly with the stylization, as the base of Taheya’s dance stays in Raqs Sharqi.
To have a real baladi dance in the movie, the director would have to ask a non-professional dancer to dance in the scene. Baladi dance is a dance of ordinary people. If a dancer is a professional Raqs Sharqi dancer, it will be always visible. This doesn’t mean that Raqs Sharqi performers were not (or should not be) asked to do Baladi or imitate it. In this analysis, if the settings of the scene were suggesting that a non-professional dance character was dancing, e.g. a daughter in a living room, though portrayed by Taheya, a professional Raqs Sharqi dancer, the dance was categorized as Baladi. Like in the case of Awaleem/Ghawazee, it was rather an imitation.
This category was not defined at the beginning of the study but emerged during the analysis. It was necessary to include this category and redo the analysis for its correctness. This dance style differs from Raqs Sharqi in many ways, e.g., less hip work, nearly no shimmies or hip accents, more travelling steps and arm movements. Interestingly, this dance style seems to correspond to “oriental dances” or “belly dance” performed in Hollywood movies in 1930’ and 1940’ by American actors. However, to support this, a deeper analysis has to be done with regard to other dancers.
This category includes folklore and character dances of Middle Eastern and North African countries. Because of the same reason as with the Awaleem/Ghawazee dances, this category includes all stylizations into folkloric and character dances, based on the usage of typical dance steps, costumes, or simply based on the lyrics and settings of the accompanied song.
This category includes dance styles or attempts to perform Latin and Western dances, including musical, jazz, tap, standard dances, rumba, carioca, or mambo.
This category collects dances, which appeared once or maximum twice in the analysis, and could not match any other previously mentioned category.
One of the aspects being categorized was the environment, in which the dance scene was set. It consists of:
High-class establishments: including stages, theatres, entertainment halls for the high class;
Low-class establishments: including cafés and entertainment halls for lower classes;
Wedding, Celebration, and Party environments;
Home: an environment in a family circle, without any specific celebration;
Fantasy land: usually, this type of environment would not include any audience, but would be staged on a wide stage; and
Outside: open-air environment, or staged 'outside' environment but not as a part of a stage show
Props are a very important part of some dances; therefore, I have looked into what kind of props Taheya used in her movie performances. The props explored in this analysis are:
Sagat (zills, finger cymbals)
Music instruments (other than sagat)
Background dancers are sometimes part of a movie scene. In this analysis, I looked at how many clips include chorus dancers, and in what styles they were prominent.
Taheya was a great singer, as well as a dancer. I looked into how often she sang in her dance scenes, and what styles were usually accompanied by her singing.
Results and Discussion
This section provides the results focused on the broad range of dance styles Taheya performed in her movie scenes. Each section includes graphs and discussion of the results.
Dance Styles and Stylizations
There is no strikingly dominating dance style in Taheya’s movie performances. Although Raqs Sharqi is the most common, it is part of only 1/3 of all movie clips. Only if we consider Raqs Sharqi, Awaleem/Ghawazee, and Baladi as a category of Egyptian dances (category of Folklore/Character consist of dances also from other countries than Egypt; therefore not included), it would take more than half of all dance clips of Taheya Carioca.
Second most common dances (16%) are Awaleem/Ghawazee and Folklore/Character. Approximately one-tenth of movie clips is devoted to Baladi, or to Latin Western dances. Oriental Fantasy takes up 7% but clearly forms a distinguished category. Category Other forms 10% of all movie clips and includes dances such as Tahitian, African, Indian, Mexican, or Pharaonic dance, as well as many other fantasy dances.
Most of the Folklore/Character dances are Dabke dances. There are some performances referring to Muwashahat, and dances of Beduins, Tunis, and Algeria. In most of the cases, the dances are rather stylizations or imitations than indigenous folkloric pieces.
The vast majority (63%) of the environment in the studied movie clips is High-class establishments. The second most common environment (but only 15%) is Wedding/Celebration/Party environment, while the third is the Home environment.
If we look only at the High-class environment, we will find that the distribution of dance styles and stylizations is very similar to the general distribution through all environments. This does not provide too much valuable information.
More interesting is to look at how big portion of clips per category would be staged in High-class establishments. Surprisingly, up to 80% of Folklore/Character dances were performed in High-class establishments, especially theatres, as a part of a staged show. Nearly 70% of both Latin/Western and Raqs Sharqi was performed in High-class environment, which is not that surprising. However, more than half of Awaleem/Ghawazee movie clips were performed on a stage. Neither Awaleem, nor Ghawazee natural environment is a stage. However, in movies, we see that if (especially) Ghawazee stylization were included in the scene, it was rather an imitation of the dance as a part of a bigger staged show.
In 44% of the clips, background dancers accompanied Taheya Carioca. Interestingly, the background dancers are mostly common in Latin/Western dances. Up to 70% of Latin/Western dance movie scenes featured chorus dancers. More than half of Folklore/Character dances of Taheya were accompanied by a group of dancers. The rest of the styles featured chorus dancers only in about one-third of cases.
In most of the cases, Taheya was not singing while dancing. In that 21% of movie clips where she was both singing and dancing, it was rather in Latin/Western, or Other dance style scenes. One would consider that most of the Awaleem/Ghawazee scenes would include singing, as it used to be a natural part of both Awaleem and Ghawazee performances. But only 1 in 10 movie scenes of Awaleem/Ghawazee by Taheya includes singing. It points out again that movie scenes portraying these two groups of performers were rather inaccurate imitations. One cannot use these clips as a source of studying Awaleem and Ghawazee styles.
In nearly 60% of cases, Taheya did not use any prop in her dances. This is obvious especially with Latin/Western dances, and Oriental Fantasy. Surprisingly, also in about 80% of cases of Folklore/Character dances, no prop was used. Stick was typical for Taheya’s Baladi dances, it was used in 40% of the cases, while in Awaleem/Ghawazee dances, a stick was used in 11% of Awaleem/Ghawazee scenes. There was no stick used in Folkloric/Character dances by Taheya.
The most common props would be finger cymbals and a veil, appearing in 16%, resp. 11% of all movie clips. Finger cymbals appeared mostly in Raqs Sharqi, and Awaleem/Ghawazee dances. Finger cymbals were used only in 5% of Baladi dances. There is one exception, where finger cymbals were used in Other dance styles. Taheya used sagat in a Romani/fantasy dance scene in the movie Youth Days (أيام شبابي ,1950).
Interestingly, Taheya used a variety of props in her Baladi dances (though half of them were without a prop). One can find a stick, a tray, or a ney as a prop used in her Baladi.
Music instruments were used as props as well, but only in 3% of all movie clips. These would include drums, rumba shakers, castanets, or a ney. There was a variety of other props used, such as a sword, veil sleeves, scarfs, and trays.
Watching movie dance clips of Taheya Carioca, one can find a variety of dance styles and stylizations in her performances, ranging from classical Raqs Sharqi, through Character dances, to dances such as Indian or Tahitian dance. The most common is Raqs Sharqi, although it takes up only about one-third of the clips. Between Other dance styles, dances such as Tahitian, African, Indian, or Pharaonic dance appeared. Folkloric/Character dances included Dabke, Muwashahat and dances of Beduins, Tunis, and Algeria.
A new category of a dance style/stylization emerged during the analysis – Oriental Fantasy. It might seem on a first sight to be similar to Raqs Sharqi, but lack of shimmies and hip work, no usage of typical Raqs Sharqi props (a veil, finger cymbals), more movement with arms and wide usage of travelling steps suggests that Oriental Fantasy is a separate dance style.
The vast majority of dance scenes were staged in High-class environments, such as theatres. Interestingly, dance styles, where a stage is the opposite of a natural environment, such as Folkloric/Character dances, and Awaleem/Ghawazee, were mainly performed on a stage. Also, singing, being a natural part of Awaleem/Ghawazee repertoire, appeared in a minimal form when performed by Taheya. Her singing accompanied mostly Latin/Western dances. However, in general, the majority of Taheya’s dance scenes do not include her singing.
Taheya mostly did not use any prop while dancing. And if she did, it was finger cymbals or a veil. Finger cymbals were mainly typical for her Raqs Sharqi dance, while they appeared only in one case of her Baladi.
Using Taheya’s interpretations of Awaleem, Ghawazee or Folkloric dances as a study source of these dance styles is not recommended. They are usually placed in an unnatural environment and do not include specifics typical for the styles. Taheya, as a trained professional Raqs Sharqi dancer, was not part of Awaleem or Ghawazee troupe; therefore, her interpretation is rather (and understandably) an imitation of the styles.
Taheya Carioca’s dance analysis proved that Taheya was multitalented. She performed a broad variety of dance styles, she sang, played finger cymbals, and used a wide range of props. More detailed analysis of Taheya’s Raqs Sharqi will be the main subject of the second part of this article.
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(1) Trade Like Any Other, Kathleen Van Nieuwkerk