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Asmahan




 
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Welcome to Asmahan

 

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Egyptian Bellydancing in london

 
Asmahan was inspired to become a dancer while at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in San Francisco where she saw a performance of Bal Anat, a troupe of Middle Eastern dancers trained by Jamila Salimpour. It was an experience which would change her life. The exotic dances were very old-world, the costumes of coins, ethnic jewellry, antique fabrics and oriental beadwork were a designer's dream, opening a new world of creative potential. The dancing was enchanting, feminine, and spiritual. The music and energy was out of this world. After the show she approached Jamila, complimenting her on a beautiful, artistic achievement. Jamila took her hand and said, "you look like an ancient Egyptian, come dance with me".

At this time Asmahan was a couture designer with her own shop, Aquarian Princess, making one-off originals for rock stars, society hostesses and the San Francisco art scene. She attended Jamila's classes which were very difficult and competitive. It demanded a level of body control, technique and co-ordination which was an impossible puzzle at first. Along with dance training and choreography came playing finger cymbals, drum lessons, music lessons, costume, and history instruction. The creativity involved in designing couture dresses was now applied to dance costumes. At this time everything had to be "pre-Napoleonic" which meant before any western influences. Becoming more interested in a professional dancing career, Asmahan sold her business and moved to North Beach where she opened another shop, Shekinah, with her long time friend, Donna Seid. She studied intensively with Jamila for three years and began performing at the Greek Tavernaand on Broadway at The Casbah.


After three years dancing in San Francisco, Asmahan left the United States to dance in London, which had a flourishing Middle Eastern dance scene. The most famous singers, dancers and musicians of the Arabic art scene were performing nightly. The Gallopoli, a renowned Turkish restaurant with a dinner show offered her "Star" billing. The classical training from Jamila with strong Turkish influences was a good preparation. At the Omar Khayyam she found another dancing style, "Modern Egyptian". This was a very dramatic, poised style with complicated choreography performed with large orchestras, costume changes, and speciality folklore shows. This she would have to learn by watching the famous stars from Cairo who were coming to London to work in the glamourous clubs. After the Gallipoli show, she would be off to see Aisa Shariffe, Mona Said, or Nahed Sabri. A tape recorder was hidden in her handbag to record the music which was the new modern style from Cairo. There were no commercial recordings of this music at this time. The entrance music was original compositions for the star dancers.

The next club for Asmahan to be a feature dancer was The Pars Persian 1001 Nights. This was a cabaret show featuring six dancers and six singers from all over the Middle East. It was a fantastic and exciting education. Asmahan was always so amazed that these artists accepted her, even the guests thought she was Arabic. It was a great advantage to really look Midddle Eastern. The vidette (star dancer) Soroya, from Algeria, gave Asmahan private lessons and new original music with special choreography. This music was "Ranet el Khol Khal." Now designing and making new glamourous costumes and dancing in the modern style she was developing her own image. For three years she performed at the most prestigious clubs: Shehrezade, El Nile, Sultan's Palace, and L'Auberge. Now she wanted to fulfill a dream to do the sword dance as a tableaux with a costume change.


The next career move was to Vienna to be the star in a beautiful club called Asmahan, where she could do a costume change and perform the sword dance. The show was a sensation. OPEC ministers and Europeon Royality made it a very glamourous venue. Now her dreams of being a professional dancer were coming true. The next challenge was to try to work in the big time---Cairo.



 
 

asmahan in egypt
 
about london belly dance

 
Upon arriving in Cairo, Asmahan accepted a dancing job in a small hotel show in Opera Square, the Atlas Hotel. It was sort of a dive, but was a place that a lot of famous dancers had gotten their first start. Aisa Shariffe had danced there a few years before. Alot of Movie Stars came to hang out and played poker with an exclusive clientele. After two months she was invited to see Fifi Abdou, the top star. In the middle of the performance Fifi started joking on the microphone and came to the table to ask who she was. The celebrities at the table teased Fifi that this was a big star from California. Fifi pulled her up onto the stage to make fun of her, but Asmahan danced to Leylet Hob to rapturous applause from the audience. The manager asked her to sustitute for Fifi. Two weeks later Asmahan was signed for a two month contract to dance at the Meridian Hotel with her own orchestra. This was the first opportuntiy to perform for the sophisticated Egyptian audience. She had to form a band, pay for rehersals, design the show format, and teach the musicians the technique for the tableaux. The most exciting element was the fact that now the sword dance show would be accompanied by a folkore group using the mizmar and saidi drums.

The show was very successful and she was offered to dance at the Mena House Oberoito substitute for Hanan. Now Asmahan had her own small orchestra of fifteen musicians plus a four piece folklore group. She was begining to make a name for herself, and was asked to dance for Nagwa Fouad at the Cairo Sheraton. After that she worked at the Hayatt El Salem for Aisa Shariffe. These were the most famous dancers in the world and it was an honour to dance in their footsteps performing for the most discerning audiences in the Middle East. The greatest moment came when Tahia Carioca came backstage to congratulate her and was amazed to find that Asmahan was not Egyptian. For two years she was working two or three shows a night rushing from one hotel to another, with the hope of securing a contract of her own at a five star hotel establishing herself as a star. After one month at the Nile Hilton substituting for Mervet Badri, the management of the hotel, having heard rave reviews, came to see her show. The next day her impresario called to arrange an appointment to meet the manager and sign the contract to become the star at the Nile Hilton. The manager. Hassan Humza, was so astonished that she wasn't Egyptian he could hardly speak. He would not sign her because she was "not Egyptian". Asmahan was the first foreigner to ever work in the five star hotels and she had been considered Egyptian. But the managers were not ready to sign an American. It would take another five years before that would happen.

It was coming to the Christmas holiday season and an offer came to dance at the Sheraton Hotel in Hurgada. This was lovely location on the Red Sea with many distinguished guests from all over the Middle East. There were also many important Egyptians from the hotel industry and government officials and ministers. One of the guests was the area manager of Hilton, who asked her to star at the Ramses Hilton when it opened in a few years. The christmas and new years season was a welcome two month break from Cairo. After two years of working every night several shows a night, exhausted and disenchanted, she decided to return to London.

The night club scene was very good in London. As Asmahan had worked in Cairo, she now had more status (the other artists called it "having a name") and could do a costume change with the sword dance. She danced at Elf Leila wah Leilaand Cave du Rois.The two years in Cairo had refined her dancing, given her a new style of costmes and given her a desire to develope a more original show. Mona Said, Sahar Hamdi, Safra Usri, Nelly Fouad, Zizi Moustafa, and Shu Shu Amin were all dancing in the top clubs. All the most famous singers Ahmed Adaweya, Wadia Safie, Mouharem Fouad, Suad Mohamed, Tony Hanna, and Sabah were performing with some of the best musicians in the Middle East. This was a very stimulating and exciting artistic environment. The big difference for Asmahan was not having her own orchestra which would work everywhere with her and would play to their best ability at all times.

Asmahan found the perfect music she had been wanting to match her dancing style. She always had wonderful creative relationships with the musicians and was respected as an artist. The musicians are the life blood of the dancers life. They are amazing characters and all of them work in fascinating combinations to create distinctive music for each dancer. The musicians actually play through the character of the dancer. She is like a conductor with the form of her dancing style affecting the shape and modulation of the music. Mohammed Salem had composed a beautiful piece for the Magencey (entrance music) and agreed to sell it to her. She had a studio recording of the music made, a musical score written, and copyrighted the composition.

An opportunity came to dance in Tunis at a beautiful club called Paradis du Liban. The orchestra which played for her was the National Radio Orchestra, and the dinner club was located next to President Bourgiba's palace. It was very elegant with an artistic presentation, the new magency music was superbly played by the orchestra and it was always a thrill to receive that special applause every night when she placed the sword on her head.

Now a new project caught her imagination which would require all the artistic skills and resources at her disposal. She would create an avante-guarde, rock-video-format film using Middle Eastern images to weave a fantasy. This would be a dance sequence cut with images of dancers from history, queens, and goddesses.She became the executive producer, which in this case meant doing everything. This film took over her life for two years. It included traveling to Cairo three times, having original music written and recorded, scouting locations, meeting ministers, getting permission from all the various agencies, and finding a local production company. She also designed and made all the costumes, created the props, and planned the shots.



 
 

The rock video company MGMM who had produced the most famous videos of the time, were hired to produce the film. Duran Duran-Wild Boys, Whitney Houston -How Will I Know, and Tina Turner -Private Dancer, were examples of their work. The crew would consist of eleven key people from London and the rest would be hired on location. A one week location shoot in Cairo, with all the equipment brought in with the crew, was a fantastic success. The first day of shooting was at Dr. Rageb's Pharoanic Villagefor all of the ancient Egyptian scenes. The second day was at the Ismail Pasha Palace at the Marriot Hotel for the dance sequence. The Pyramids provided the background for the sword dance and the final third day of filming. Back in London, viewing the rushes, it was evident there wasn't enough footage to complete the film, so another day of shooting interior scenes was organized. Asmahan got permission to use the Omar Khhaym Night Club, which had a lovely classical arabic decor. Asmahan directed these set-ups as well as produced and acted in them, these shots provided the necessary interior and special effects. The film was edited in one of the most sophisticated studios, and the result was a twenty minute short of striking originality, using romantic images of the Middle East, like a dancers memory of the history of the ancient dancers that preceded her.

The famous Egyptian movie star, Nabila Ebeid had seen photographs of Asmahan in her costumes at the studio of Bastet, and contacted her to design the dancing costumes for her new film, Al Raqassa wal Siyassi, (The Dancer and the Diplomat). While she was in Egypt for this project, she signed a contract for the Ramses Hilton Hotel. She would go to Madame Raqia Hassan to develope the show. This would include hiring an orchestra, rehearsals, choice of music, choreography, and sequence of program. This would be a production show with two singers and four costume changes. As always the tableau would be the sword dance with saidi drums and mismar . The music for this show was an original composition by Mustafa Hamido. The atmosphere in Cairo was wonderful, the audience was full of celebrities, society people, other artists, and Arab tourists from the Gulf. Asmahan trained with Ibrahim Akef to ad another dimension, a more open and balletic influence to her dancing.This was a very successful season with everything looking great for another contract, and then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. With a real sense of crisis and the war starting in three days she left Egypt. The Gulf War had begun and the Middle East was being consumed by forces which would destroy the quality of the entertainment business.

Back in London there was a serious world recession due to sky rocketing oil prices and political instability in the Middle East. These were very difficult times for the the professional performers as the venues for artists were disappearing. She danced at a Persian club called Saaghi.The Middle East was in political, cultural, economic, and spiritual crisis. Even in Egypt, the situation was declining, the most famous dancers were only working weekends with only six five-star hotel shows left, where there used to be twelve hotel shows working seven nights a week.

After two years Asmahan signed once again with the Ramses Hilton Hotel for the summer season. She designed and made all the costumes and produced the show. The orchestra was fantastic with two singers, a Khalegy show, and folklore sword show with coin costume and ethnic saidi musicians. The dancing scene had continued to deteriorate and so had the quality of the guests. The deep love and passion for the art of dance was not evident as it had been before. The rise of muslim fundamentalism and intimidation of artists and night clubs and pressure to stop guests from attending shows was taking effect. The flood of cheap Russian dancers was bringing the dance scene down, and also foreign dancers were all undercutting each other producing low quality shows with small orchestras. The reputation of the dance was being ruined with the public. In the face of all these factors Asmahan returned to London.

Asmahan is now teaching Egyptian Dance at Pineapple Studios. She is dancing at private parties, weddings, hen parties, Middle Eastern resturants, and hotel venues. Also she is developing a musical extravaganza using the subjects closest to her heart: the beauty and magic of the music, dancing and art of the Middle East.




 

Egyptian Bellydancing
 
Egyptian Bellydancing


 
 
 

       
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