What I Learned About Dance from Samia Gamal

Samia Gamal Bellydance golden era

I have been interested in Golden Era dance for quite some time. I would leisurely watch videos on TheClassicCarovan and sometimes get up and copy the dancers. However, I never got the idea to recreate a dance scene until I saw Samia Gamal in the 1956 Egyptian movie “Zenouba”.

I have the song used in this clip from Jalilah’s Raks Sharki 5 Stars of the Casino Opera album. I thought it would be incredibly easy to copy the dance as dancers of that time were more simplistic in their movements than the stars of today.

I WAS WRONG.

Before I get into what I learned, let’s talk about Golden Era for a minute.

What is Golden Era Dance?

Golden Era doesn’t refer to the heyday of Raqs Sharqi. It refers to the booming business of Egyptian cinema, which had a lot of dance numbers by the legends of Egyptian dance (bellydance). We tend to combine this term for cinema to also talk about the dancing. Many of the dancing stars of movies paved the way for Raqs Sharqi today. Dancers like Samia Gamal and Tahia Carioca were some who were the forbears of this dance art.

So… What did I learn?

It Wasn’t Simplistic

As I stated before, I thought recreation would be easy because of simplistic movements. This is wrong. In her opening, she kept a syncopated beat with her feet while expressing the melody in her arms and hands and in turns. This was a mind boggler for me, which caused me to sing-songy the melody while clapping my hands to the rhythm to get it ingrained into my mind. This caused my kids to start singing it also, because I did it so much (repetition is key!).

After 30 minutes of getting the melody and rhythm in my mind and body, I spent an hour missing the steps and trying to piece together the entrance part, which was only 1 minute. I got frustrated and stopped for 2 hours. I came back and, like I said repetition is key, my body instantly started to keep up.

You Don’t Have to Do Everything

You may notice that dancers in the Golden Era used only a few movements in a piece with slight variations in direction, height, and arm placement (to name a few). The changes were so slight but completely altered the look of the movement. When you break down what these dancers are doing and analyze the small changes, you really come to appreciate how amazing an artist they are. Knowing your music and tapping into your own experiences to covey emotion and a story is truly unique.

The Dancer I’ve Always Wanted to Be

Breaking down and performing Samia Gamal’s performance showed me the amazing beauty of this dance. It showed me how these things reveal they are truly an artist who understands the music and its minute details and accents. This inspired me to be the same kind of artist. It’s not about showing off, it’s showing that you have a deep understanding of the emotion, structure, and beauty that Middle Eastern music holds. Thus, conveying it through your body as the personification of the music.

Before I recreated this dance number, I had liked Samia Gamal but she wasn’t my favorite. After diving in and seeing this seemed so effortlessly put together mesmerized me. I fell in love with Samia Gamal and she is one of my favorites. Of course, after I meticulously breakdown other performances, I’m sure it’s going to be difficult to choose an absolute favorite!

See my Zenouba recreation below on my Youtube channel!

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