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The story behind the famous photos of Samia Gamal

You have seen them. I am sure about it. Wonderful photos of Samia Gamal with light coming from her hips. These photos were used many times by plenty of bellydancers in advertisements, posters, lectures and more. However, what is the story behind them? How were they created?

To provide the answer, let’s look into one of the items of the Bellydance museum – LIFE magazine, from 24th March, 1952. In this issue, you can find an article describing the photographic process and five of the famous photos. Here I provide the transcript of the article, together with the featured photos and original descriptions.

The text below, including descriptions of the photos, originates in 1952.


In U.S., Samia and flashlight reveal secrets of ancient art

Ever since he saw Gjon Mili's pictures of Picasso's flashlight drawings in the dark (LIFE, Jan. 30, 1950) LIFE Photographer Loomis Dean has been looking for another art form applicable to the technique. He found it last week at a New York club, the Latin Quarter, where Samia Gamal does the belly dance which won her the approval of King Farouk, who named her National Dancer of Egypt, and marriage last year to a Texas heir, Sheppard King III. To Samia's skirt, just below her navel, Dean attached a flashlight bulb, strung wires around her hips to two tiny batteries. Then he had her dance in a dark room, opened his shutter for a time exposure so that only the flashlight patterns were recorded on film, finally flashed a strobe light to catch the rest of Samia. As his pictures show, the dance which Samia says is 4,000 years old, is somewhat more complicated than the standard American bump and grind. Samia describes it thus: "I move everything at once and round and round and front and back."

Picture on the right

Around and about goes the light on Samia’s belly. She explains theoretical basis of her art by saying it is just Western ballet except that it concentrates on abdominal muscles instead of the feet.

Picture on the left

Sidewise thrust makes a lassolike pattern.

Picture on the right

Samia's feet are displayed after dance with a laugh and remark, "I don’t like not always to be beautiful." The feet get dirty in her short (five minute) but active number. Her high arches, however, retain their pristine whiteness.

Picture on the left

Slithering forward, Samia's light shows how she varies the ordinary human act of walking.

Picture on the right

Samia's husband Sheppard reads magazine while she washes her feet. Sheppard claims he spends all his time waiting for her, but he doesn't mind: "Evah since Ah met Samia Ah been living on a little white cloud up theah." (note by Badriyah: This way the Texan’s accent was noted by the author of the article, meaning: "Ever since I met Samia I have been living on a little white cloud up there.")

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