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Houriya Mohamed: Taheya Carioca's Arch-Rival

 

By Priscilla Adum

 

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Houriya's Storied Career

Getting Her Start

Houriya Mohamed was born in 1917 or 1918 (sources vary). She started dancing at a very young age, taught by Na3ema Abdo. She began her dance career performing with Na3ema's troupe.

"Houriya" in Arabic means "a beautiful heavenly woman".

By 1933, Houriya was already the best dancer at Fathya's Garden and was garnering much attention from the press. That same year she left Fathya's Garden and began working for Badia Masabni. It did not take long for her to become the most popular dancer at Casino Badia. 

Houriya Mohamed

The Rivalry with Taheya Carioca

Houriya was one of the most well-known young dancers in Egypt in the 1930's. Some reports have suggested that Taheya Carioca originally learned to dance from watching her. Taheya was a young teen when she arrived at Badia's club in 1933, and Houriya (despite her young age) was already an experienced dancer who had worked at other clubs before coming to Badia's.

At this point, Houriya was one of Badia's star performers in general, as well as one of her few solo raqs sharqi performers.

A rivalry which lasted a lifetime quickly ensued between the two girls, and caused more than one unpleasant encounter between them. Taheya quickly became popular with the club's patrons. It is common knowledge that Houriya was so jealous that she once destroyed one of Taheya's dance costumes prior to a performance. Some say that it was really Houriya's ever-present mother who destroyed the costume. Either way, Houriya sent her mother back to the countryside after the incident.

On another occasion Houriya was very upset because the club's choreographer Isaac Dickson was training Taheya Carioca for a raqs sharqi solo. Houriya complained bitterly to Badia Masabni. At the time, Houriya was one of the few dancers besides Badia who was permitted to do a raqs sharqi solo. Badia didn't want to upset her star dancer, so she asked Isaac to train Taheya in a non-raqs sharqi dance number that she could perform without antagonizing Houriya.

Houriya Mohamed

Isaac came up with the brilliant idea of teaching her the carioca dance from the 1933 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film Flying Down to Rio. This film had become immensely popular in Cairo at that time. Taheya became so adept at this dance and so well known for it, that patrons would request it by yelling out "Carioca! Carioca! We want Carioca!" Meaning that they wanted to see Taheya performing the dance. This is how she became known as Taheya "carioca".

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo shows Houriya Mohamed with Emad Hamdi. The photographer was Van Leo, the leading glamour photographer of the Golden Era.

Houriya complained loudly once more, and Badia responded, "There's the door. It's wide open for anybody who wants to leave". And leave she did.

By 1936 Houriya had left Casino Badia and begun touring Egypt with her own troupe. They performed in such important clubs as Casino Monte Carlo in Cairo and Casino Alf Leyla in Alexandria. 

Houriya Mohamed

Many years later, Houriya Mohamed and her mother were at an event at the El Auberge Nightclub, which Taheya Carioca had attended as well. That night, singer Abdel Ghani al Sayed performed his famous song "Ya Wala Ya Wala" and he spontaneously changed the lyrics of a line in the song to "De Taheya Ya Wala" as a way of acknowledging Taheya's presence in the audience. Taheya in turn began to dance. This infuriated Houriya because this song's original lyrics were (and still are) "De Houriya Ya Wala wi Loulia Ya Wala" and this was her signature song. Abdel Ghani al Sayed had sung it in the 1944 film Shareh Mohamed Ali in a scene with Houriya dancing. The fact that he changed the lyrics as a nod to Taheya was too much for Houriya to bear — she and Taheya got into a terrible and violent (and well reported) hair pulling fight that night.

Houriya made her silver screen debut as a dancer at least two years before Taheya Carioca did. She was billed with just as much importance as any of the actors in the movie. For example, see this translation of an advertisement promoting her film El Dahya.

In contrast, Taheya was not even mentioned in the credits of her first dance performance film, Kafr el Darak (listed as Ghafir el Darak in imdb) which was released October 29, 1936.

Houriya's success in cinema never reached the same level as Taheya Carioca, who achieved superstar status over the course of her career.

Rivalry aside, Houriya Mohamed's contribution to Egyptian dance was important, and she was indeed one of the loveliest and most graceful dancers of the Golden Era. I like her dancing just as much Taheya Carioca. She died on July 22, 1970.

Houriya Mohamed Closeup

 

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Houriya's Career in Cinema

These are some of Houriya's cinematic credits:

1935 El Dahya (The Victims)
1942 Bahbah fi Baghdad (Bahbah in Baghdad)
1944 Hassan wa Hassan (Hassan and Hassan)
1945 Sharia Mohamed Ali (Mohamed Ali Street)
1948 Bulbul Effendi (Mr. Nightingale)
1949 Fatma wa Marika wa Rachel (Fatma, Marika, and Rachel)
1952 Eddini Akhlak (It Is Unbelievable)

The photo to the right shows one of the advertisements that was used to promote El Dahya. Houriya Mohamed is the person in the center, doing the splits.

Advertisement for El Dahya

The photo to the right shows a dance scene featuring Houriya Mohamed from the 1949 film Fatma wa Marika wa Rachel. Click here to view the video clip of this scene.

The film's plot is about a man, played by Mohamed Fawzy, who is in love with three women of different religions. Fatma is an Egyptian Muslim, Marika is Greek Christian, and Rachel is Jewish.

According to the film's credits, the choreography in this scene was created by Ibrahim Baghdadi. In the beginning of the clip, the silhouette shows a woman reading the coffee grounds in a coffee cup. Then the dancers come out of large coffee cups. The song is "Wad Ya Asmar" ("Brown Skinned Guy"), and it's about someone who was able to see her true love in a cup of coffee grinds. 

Houriiya Mohamed

 

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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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