Badiaa Masabni, a true wonder woman of her day, was a dancer, singer, actress, and entrepreneur. This quadruple threat was born in 1892 to a Lebanese father and a Syrian mother in Beirut, and was a pioneer in Arabic Dance’s evolution as a performance art.
In 1926, Badiaa opened up Egypt’s first music hall in Cairo. The nightclub was called “Opera Casino” and offered a variety of entertainment to attract both European and Middle Eastern audiences. Baidiaa also offered a 6 o’clock show for only women that was packed every night. Badiaa hired artists from Egypt, but also from Sudan and Europe. Her choreographers came from out of the country and her stage shows had a strong foreign influence. It was this fusion of multiculturalism that gave today’s Raqs al Sharqui (Dance of the East) its’ glamorous stage-show start. It was on Badiaa’s stage that stars such as Samia Gamal, Tahiya Karioka, and Naima Akef were born.
In addition to taking Arabic Dance to the stage, Badiaa Masabni influenced the style of the dance as a performance art. Originally performers would stand in one spot, and the upper body and arms did not play a particular role in the movement. Badiaa incorporated the Western idea of traveling around the entire stage and exploring the use of space. She encouraged dancers not only to hold their arms out to the sides, but also to use serpentine, flowing patterns of arm movement. Badiaa introduced the use of the veil and taught choreography to traditionally improvisational dancers.
Badiaa also had a strong understanding of Middle Eastern music. She loved to play finger cymbals and would sit with the band to play for the dancers in her nightclub. This led to the now common ritual of hiring a musician dedicated to playing just zils as part of the ensemble. Badiaa also hired classically trained musicians to join the traditional line-up of riqq (tambourine), zurna (winded instrument), and tabla (Egyptian drum) players. The taqsim (improvisational solo) could be explored and more intricate rhythms we’re introduced to the dancers at her club.
Badiaa Masabni passed away in 1970. She was a true feminine character with the strength of Superman and the allure of a beautiful woman. Her innovative and artistic eye was well paired with her business-smart intuition. Badiaa’s influence brought Arabic Dance to the stage and her impact on the style of Raqs al Sharqui is seen today worldwide. Badiaa Masabni will forever remain a pioneer in this performance art that will be embraced for years to come.
Ziva Emtiyaz loves being inspired by the Wonder Women of the world. Explore your inner and outer strength on the dance floor with Ziva in Arabic Dance II, Shimmy Pop, and Shimmy Pop Toning at Hipline. Reach out to Ziva at email@example.com and www.zivadancer.com .
Badia Masabni. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2013, from
Buonaventura, W. (2010). Serpent of the Nile. Northampton, MA: Interlink.
Richards, T. (Ed.). (2000). The Belly Dance Book. Concord, CA: Backbeat.
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Ziva Emtiyaz is an award winning International Dance Artist excited to share her knowledge and life experiences about the big world of dance!