Golden Age: Samia Gamal and Zeinat Olwi

I watch lots of YouTube videos for information and inspiration.

(Aside: not instructional ones, as I’ve said in class before free instructional videos on YouTube are worth exactly what you pay for them. If you want instructional videos support the dancers who make them and buy yourself a copy.)

This term the intermediate class are studying the signature moves and style of some iconic Egyptian dancers, so these posts will be an extra resource to supplement what we do in class. I hope other dancers will enjoy the videos too! Two of my favourite channels for dancers in old Egyptian movies (usually referred to as the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema) are lebdancer and TheCaroVan who both haveĀ  incredible collections of uploads. It’s worth checking the notes under the videos and reading the comments (how often does anyone say that!) for music and film titles, plotlines and biographical information. All the background information in this post is taken from what they have written.

Samia Gamal

“Samia Gamal was born on May 27th 1924 as Zeinab Khalil Ibrahim Mafouz in the village of Wana el Kess, Her father was a tailor and her mother was Moroccan. When Samia was thirteen she went to live with her sister and brother in law in Cairo. At age 14 she found work at a cloth printing factory and after that she worked in a hospital as a nurse.

When she was 15 her dream of being a dancer came true one day when she was sitting at El Gamal Cafeteria and the son of the owner, Moustafa Gamal, overheard her saying how much she’d love to meet Badia Masabni and become a famous dancer. So Moustafa Gamal told her that he could introduce her to Badia. He arranged a meeting between them. Badia selected the name Samia for her and hired her for a salary of 6 pounds a month.

Samia decided that she would become a great dancer. She firmly believed that dance was like a science that must be learned and that it wasn’t just about shaking the waist and the belly. She asked Lebanese choreographer and dance instructor Isaac Dickson to work with her and train her. She also attended dance school were she learned Samba, Rumba, Tango and Rock & Roll. She also took ballet classes from a foreign ballet instructor named Sonia Ivanova.

Her first film roles were as an extra. Later, Farid El Atrash chose her to star in a film he was producing called Habibi El 3Omr. They were very successful as an onscreen pair and went on to make several more movies together. She made about 50 films in her lifetime.

Samia Gamal married twice. She lived in Houston during her marriage to American Shep King. During that time she danced in 15 states in a period of 16 months and earned approximately 10 thousand pounds, which were seized by her husband. The marriage ended in divorce and she returned to Egypt. Samia Gamal died on December 1, 1994 at Misr International Hospital after a six day coma. She was 70.”

Full text can be found here.


Samia has long been one of my favourite dancers, there is such joy in every movement she makes. She is constantly moving without ever looking busy or fussy – a difficult balance to pull off! That constant movement is not just in the hips, but in the arms and feet as well, notice how many of her hip movements are layered over step patterns. There is a sweet softness to her movements, quite a contrast to the modern powerhouse style of dance in Egypt (although there are exceptions, which I’m saving for a later post). If you like Samia’s style of dance I highly recommend going to a workshop with Eman Zaki, who captures her feeling perfectly and has a wealth of stories about this era.

Zeinat Olwi

“Zeinat Olwi was an Egyptian bellydancer who was born in 1930 in Alexandria. At age sixteen she fled to Cairo where the young Zeinat remembered that she had a female relative who had been rejected and disowned by the family for having become a dancer. Zeinat begged her relative for help and told her she would be willing to work even as a background dancer at Badia’s club. After much convincing, her relative took her to meet Badia Masabni who immediately saw a diamond in the rough, and hired her on the spot. Within six weeks Zeinat was a regular background dancer at Badia’s club.

Not long after, she was performing as a soloist and Badia Masabni increased her salary accordingly. She became well known for her excellent dancing and for her special ability with the assaya. People came to Badia’s club just to watch her perfom and she soon had a loyal fan following. Not long after this, she caught the attention of the media and soon the newspapers were comparing Zeinat with the famous dancers of the day like Samia Gamal and Naima Akef.

She began performing in theatre shows appearing with such famous singers as Abdel Aziz Mahmoud and with groups such as the Shecoco group. She was offered film roles but she preferred to appear in films as a dancer and not as an actress, because she considered herself first and foremost a dancer. She accepted some small acting roles but not leading roles. She appeared in over 22 films and surprised everyone by retiring early in 1965 as a way of protesting against discriminatory laws and against the harsh treatment suffered by bellydancers at the hands of Egyptian police. She tried to form a dancer’s syndicate but was not successful. Zeinat Olwi died in 1988 at age 58 of a heart attack. She had been a heavy smoker. She died alone in her Cairo apartment, where a maid discovered her three days later. The only two people from the entertainment industry to attend her funeral were Fifi Abdo and Taheya Carioca.”

Full text here.

Make sure you read the plot summary for this one so you know why the bride is so unhappy! Zeinat Olwi is a relatively new dancer to me, and there aren’t many videos of her online. I find the combination of the controlled elegance of her dancing and the knowing cheekiness in her expression very appealing. There is more contrast in her dancing than in Samia’s, more use of sharp movements and some very tight, controlled shimmies (Dina wasn’t the first to do them like that!). She strongly favours her left side and is clearly very strong and flexible – look out for her shoulder rolls with a backbend, she makes them look effortless.