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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Exposition Universelle 1900 in IRIS Magazine

 

By Priscilla Adum

 

 

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Introduction

While searching through the National Library of Spain, I came across this August 18, 1900 edition of IRIS magazine from Barcelona. It has a small but very interesting article about the Universal Exposition in Paris that year and it talks about the dancers at the "Teatro Egipcio" in the Palais de Trocadero.

It's not a very flattering article and it's clear that the writer didn't think much of the Egyptian dancers. Among the things the article says is that the dances were not so much Egyptian as they were Arab and Berber, and for this reason they shared similarities with the dances of Andalucia.

What's more interesting are the pictures. There is not only an illustration of a dancer with a shamadan (candelabrum) but there are photos of a dancer smoking a nargileh (water pipe) as she balances it on her head, and a dancer lying on the floor balancing four drinking glasses on her abdomen. This was appararently not uncommon because the article about Shafiqa el Qubtiya that I translated says that Shafiqa also used to balance four drinking glasses on her abdomen during her performances.

The photo to the right is the cover of the magazine. It shows the August 18, 1900 date, indicates it is Number 57, and says the price is 25 cents. Click on the image to see more detail.

Iris Magazine Cover 1900

 

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First Article Page

The headline at the top says "The Egyptian Theater in the Exposition of 1900" and the image shows a dancer lying on the floor balancing four drinking glasses on her abdomen.

At the bottom right is a drawing of a dancer with a shamadan (candelabrum). The caption under her says, "The dance of the Candles." The caption under the dancer in the middle says La Danza de Los Estremecimientos, which means the "quivering dance" or the "quaking dance". I'm reasonably certain it's referring to shimmies.

Numbers [in brackets] below refer to footnotes at the end of this section.

The text on the page says:

Exotic theaters with indigenous people abound in the Exhibition, and it is not unusual that one of the favorites is the Egyptian, whose specialty is the authentic dance of the Awalim[1].

The French have already nationalized the danse du ventre[2], helped by our glorious exported heroines, and it seems they prefer the abdominal sport rather than Javanese, Japanese, Indochinese, Eskimo, and Congolese dances, all of them full of deep philosophy. The dance of the Awalim is certainly very funny, but it's not so much Egyptian as Arabic or Berber, and hence its resemblance to Andalusian dances.

As for the performers, they're surely not Awalim but rather, empty souls. Severe critics have written of their absolute incapacity for passion. An eminent French writer who uses the pseudonym of Ceferino Cazavan had the misfortune to fall madly in love with an Almeh in Cairo, and it would have been better to fall in love with a mummy from Ramses II's time. She did not know what he was saying when he declared his ardent passion to her. Under that poetic countenance there was absolutely nothing, a statue of ice would have been more responsive.

Footnotes:

  1. Awalim is an Arabic word, the plural of Almeh. The term refers to the educated women of Egypt who performed for the upper classes with poetry, singing, and dance.
  2. Danse du ventre is a term the French applied to dances of the Middle East and North Africa. It translates to English as "dance of the belly".

Iris Article First Page

 

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Second Article Page

Numbers [in brackets] below refer to footnotes at the end of this section.

This page shows:

  1. Two dancers playing sagat (finger cymbals)
  2. A dancer smoking a nargileh (water pipe) as she balances it on her head. The caption beneath the picture says "The Dance of the Nargileh".

The text on the page says:

It must be because of the Muslim education which reduces women to the farthest extreme. It is as pernicious as the opposite extreme. The fact that these dances affect the character of belly dance is telling of the kind of people they are. They are very different today from the times when the Egyptian empire was the most illustrious due to its very elevated civilization and the majestic nobility of its arts.

However, a reminder of the past remains amid all of this. And how could it not? In a country where so many things from specific time periods take root, from the Pyramids to the language — because as is common knowledge, the Coptic language is still preserved.[1]

It's important to note that the Awalim's detachment eliminates from the dance in question the calculated mischief that afflicts artists of that region and beyond the Pyrenees. Their role is purely mechanical. One could say that it's necessary to drink the water of the Nile, and not of the Seine, more or less filtered, to properly understand and appreciate that show. And that's how time is spent at the Exhibition, which everybody knows is a colossal failure, to the point that exhibitions are "called to disappear" like other things... that don't disappear.

There is, however, something worth going to the Exhibition to see. It's not exactly machines or industrial progress; rather, quite the opposite. It is the toilettes[2] exhibited in the Salon of Light and in the Palace of Fashions. The wise assure us that anyone who wants to see true artistry will satisfy their taste by visiting the stands, but it's understood that it isn't necessary to produce a Universal Exhibition to admire the creations of the dressmakers.

Otherwise, don't think that when it comes to dance anyone can beat us. In that aspect, Spain triumphs completely, even if in other subjects our role is the most ridiculous and snubbed imaginable. Whereas the Grand Egyptian Theater at the Trocadero presents fidgety[3] dances and a show titled, "One Night in Baghdad", in our own show "Andalucia in The Times Of The Moors" which is set in the time of the Moors, they go all out. At the Palais Royal d'Espagne, whose basements are occupied by a flamenco troupe, they perform "The Fair". In the very Theater Del Vieux Paris, they present as the main attraction "Las Sevillanas"[4].

So, let's see who coughs at us. We are the first choreographic nation in the world, and we already know what the people of Paris will ask the state sponsored workers we sent there:

"Do you dance Sevillanas, or what do you dance?"

On the other hand, read the letters of Jacinto Octavio Picon. The soul sinks to the feet upon learning of the role we play in the numerous pavilions we've built to showcase our backwardness and our laziness. We have talked about the workers, and we sincerely pity them, firstly for having served.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Linguists have determined that the language of ancient Egypt (which was known as Kemet in ancient times) still lives today in the Coptic Christian liturgy.
  2. "Toilettes" is the French word for toilets.
  3. This might also be a reference to shimmies.
  4. Sevillanas is a beloved Spanish folk dance.

Page Two of the Article

 

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Related Articles

 

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About the Translator

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 

Priscilla

 

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