Meet Badia Masabni, a Pioneer of Oriental Dance.
A strong-willed and soulful woman with a rough and inspirational history, Badia Masabni became an innovator of Middle Eastern Dance in the early twentieth century. Born in Syria, Badia was a well traveled and talented dancer, singer and actress.
In 1926 she opened the first successful Egyptian music hall in Cairo, Egypt called Opera Casino, later known as “Madame Badia’s Casino,” which offered live entertainment such as singing and dancing, even hosting matinee shows for women only (how fun!). It was here that Middle Eastern dance would be elevated from a traditional folk dance to a performing art. As Cairo was then the hub of entertainment in the Middle East, curious travelers flocked from all over the world to see the famous “Belly Dancers” of Badia’s cabaret. Her establishment fostered two of the biggest names in Belly Dance history: Samia Gamal and Tahiya Carioca.
Badia’s direction and vision highly contributed to the development, presentation and professionalism of Oriental Dance as we know it today.
Badia Masabni Pioneered 5 Concepts That Elevated Middle Eastern Dance:
1. Establishment of Oriental Dance as a form of respected entertainment. Because Badia’s cabaret was inspired by European cabarets, they appealed to a wide audience catering to upper and middle classes. The entertainment had to be refined, classy and professional.
2. Usage of stage, space and presence. Traditional dances often used basic footwork. Badia exposed her dancers to advanced traveling steps and utilized the stage with intricate formations making the performances more dynamic and exciting.
3. Improvement of arm work and posture. Badia began incorporating different arm positions besides the typical second position. Arms were raised above the head, circled around and undulated (what has evolved into “snake arms.”) Good posture was also encouraged.
4. Choreography. Badia created some of the first Oriental Dance group choreographies! They were simple but controlled. Her inspirations presumably came from Western dances such as ballet, jazz and modern dance.
5. Props. Badia was proficient with finger cymbals (my favorite!) She performed, sang AND played finger cymbals at the same time! In addition, she trained her dancers to perform with props such as the the veil adding to their skill level.
Badia Masabni was a determined woman who contributed greatly to the improved technique, greater respect and increased professionalism of Oriental Dance.
Stay tuned for more Historical Influences!
“A Biography of Badia Masabni” by Egyptian author Tarek Hashem, 2010, translated by Priscilla Adum. For orginal text, click here.
Video courtesy of Gilded Serpent