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Samia Gamal: Biographical Profile



By Priscilla Adum



Table of Contents



Translator's Comments

This article about Samia Gamal appeared in Arabic on the online site The link to the original Arabic article appears below the translation. I didn't translate every single word because it was a long article, but I did translate the more important parts.

There are a couple of small discrepancies between this article and the 1968 interview that Samia gave to Fouad Moawad at Kawakeb Magazine. This article says that Samia when began working for Badia Masabni, she was paid 6 pounds per month. In the 1968 interview, Samia says that it was 3 pounds per month.

Also, regarding Samia's nickname "the barefoot dancer", this article says she was given this nickname because one of her shoe straps broke when she was dancing at a club and she kicked off her shoes to finish her dance. However, in the 1968 interview, Samia says that it was because a producer in one of her films asked her to dance barefoot. That started everyone gossiping and speculating that she couldn't afford shoes. I would wager that the broken strap incident is true as well and both events probably contributed to her nickname. 

The article originally appeared in Arabic at at this link, which is now defunct. The translation was made in 2010:سامية-جمال/

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo of Samia Gamal accompanied the original article.

Samia Gamal



Early Life

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 8 years old, her mother died and her father remarried. The new wife was very cruel to her, treated her like a servant, and would often beat her. When Samia was 13, her father died too, and she found that she was no longer welcome in her stepmother's home. She went to live with her sister and brother-in-law in Cairo. Her sister's husband earned a very poor salary so Samia learned to sew to help supplement the family income. She helped her sister with the household chores and took care of her nephew.

Samia's bedroom overlooked a neighborhood cafe where the radio was always playing. She would listen to it from her bedroom and she heard for the first time the voice of a new singer named Farid El Atrash.
At age 14, she found work at a cloth printing factory, and after that she worked in a hospital as a nurse.

One of their neighbors was a woman who loved to go to the movies. One day, she took Samia with her to see the film Malaket el Masara7 (The Queen of Theaters) which featured Badia Masabni. Thus began Samia's fascination with dance. She dreamed of being a dancer at Badia's club among famous dancers such as Hekmet Fahmy, Beba Ezz el Din, Houreya Mohamed and Gamalat Hassan.

One day when Samia was 15 years old, she arrived home late from the cinema and her sister's husband beat her. She ran away to a neighbor's house.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo of Samia Gamal accompanied the interview in Kawakeb Magazine that featured her.

Samia Gamal



Becoming a Dancer

Samia's dream of becoming 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. Moustafa Gamal told her that he could introduce her to Badia. He arranged a meeting between them. Samia took the last name Gamal in gratitude to Moustafa Gamal, of El Gamal Cafeteria for introducing her to Badia. And Badia selected the name Samia for her.

Badia hired Samia for a salary of 6 Egyptian pounds per month. However, on the day of Samia's debut as a solo dancer, she was nervous and she froze. Her dance performance was a complete flop, and the audience booed and hissed. Badia was not impressed and put her back in the chorus line as a background dancer.

From that moment on, 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. He trained her for two dance numbers, one to the spanish song Fire Dance, and another to Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody. Samia also attended dance school were she learned Samba, Rumba, Tango and Rock & Roll. She took ballet classes from a foreign ballet instructor named Sonia Ivanova.

Samia wanted to find just the right costume to catch Badia's eye so that Ms.Masabni would allow her to dance as a solo dancer again.Taheya Carioca presented her with a beautiful costume as a gift. Soon after, she was reinstated as a solo performer and became well known for her fire dance which she danced surrounded by flames with a tambourine in her hand wearing a fiery red dance costume. Badia then doubled her salary.

Samia then went to dance at a casino in Suez City where they paid her Egyptian 20 pounds per month. Upon her return to Cairo, she worked as a dancer at the Kit Kat Club and at the El Dollez club where she earned the nickname "The Barefoot Dancer" after one of her shoe straps broke making it impossible to continue dancing. She took off her shoes and finished the dance barefoot. Her salary was now up to 40 pounds per month.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Samia Gamal dances barefoot in this scene from her 1955 movie Sigarah wa Kas (A Glass and a Cigarette).

Samia Gamal



In Cinema

Samia Gamal's first film roles were as an extra. In 1943 she was given the lead role in the film Min Fat Ademoh Tah, which flopped at the box office. She went back to working as an extra in several films until Mohamed Abdul Wahab gave her a dancing part in his 1945 film El Hob El Awal (First Love). She danced to one of his compositions and was a huge success. She signed a contract to make more two films in 1945, El Bani Adam (Sons of Adam) and Taxi Hantour.

Later, Farid El Atrash chose her to star in a 1947 film he was producing called Habibi El 3Omr (Love of a Lifetime). They were very successful as an onscreen pair and went on to make several more movies together. Samia made about 50 films in her lifetime.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Samia Gamal plays the role of a mischievous genie in this scene with Farid al-Atrash from her 1949 movie Afrita Hanem (Genie Lady).

Samia Gamal married twice. She lived in Houston during her marriage to American Sheppard 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. In 1962 she married actor Rushdie Abaza.

Samia Gamal died on December 1, 1994 at Misr International Hospital after a six day coma. She was 70.

Samia Gamal



Related Articles

Samia on Stage and Screen

Non-Dance Projects

Personal Life





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. 




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