Photo of Shira



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

Cabarets, Casinos, Salas, Theaters, and Cinemas: Entertainment Venues in Egypt's Golden Era


By Priscilla Adum and Shira





Advertisements for Egypt's entertainment scene between 1900 and 1950 use varied terminology to describe the places where the shows are held. They mention such terms as sala, cabaret, casino, theater, and cinema.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo shows what Badia Masabni's Casino Opera looked like in 1944.



Types of Venues

The definitions below refer to the most common uses of the words, but often there were exceptions.


The term "cabaret" was used in Egypt in the early 20th century to identify an establishment which served alcohol and geared the entertainment toward a more adult audience. The content of the comedy monologues and plays was usually more adult than that presented in casinos and salat.

Sometimes the same establishment would offer "casino" or "sala" entertainment in the afternoons and early evenings, and "cabaret" entertainment late at night. For example, in 1938 Badia Masabni's listing in the "Where Will You Go Tonight" section of Al Ahram for her place named Casino and Cabaret Badia said, "Cabaret Starting At Midnight".

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo in a gilded frame with an advertisement for Stella beer showed the entertainers at the historic casino Shahrazad on Alfi Bek Street in Cairo. Its owners say it opened for business in 1903. As of 2015, this photo was high on the wall above a staircase — it was impossible to photograph it from a direct angle. As of 2019, it was no longer there. Photo copyright 2015 by Shira, all rights reserved.


Casino was the popular term for a club which typically had a seating area as well as an outdoor garden and café, which was sometimes on the roof. Sometimes the term was used interchangeably with "sala". It referred to a place where families could go to eat and watch a play. These often offered a ladies-only schedule on certain days of the week. Several of Badia Masabni's newspaper ads promote a daytime performance for women only, such as this one from 1935. A "casino" such as Badia Masabni's was not a Las Vegas style gambling place - there was no gambling there.


In the early 20th century, terminology in Egyptian entertainment advertisements referred to places that showed motion pictures as "cinemas", as opposed to places that provided live entertainment as "theaters".

For example, in 1931 Badia Masabni announced in an advertisement for the grand reopening of her summer establishment The Blind Bridge Casino that she had remodeled it since the previous year. The newly remodeled site featured a cinema, a theater, and a cabaret, all at one location.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: These tables and chairs furnished the Shahrazade as of 2016. Although the furniture is modern, the seating arrangement provides a view into the type of seating used by salas, casinos, and cabarets of the past. Photo copyright 2016 by Shira, all rights reserved.


The word sala (plural salat) meant "hall", and it usually referred to indoor cafés that provided entertainment along with eating and drinking, with no outdoor open area or garden for the guests to sit in. According to The Arabic Theatre in Egypt (1), these were comparable to European music halls. The seating areas were arranged as tables and chairs. Alcoholic beverages were not served, allowing respectable women families to enjoy the shows with their families. The advertisement for the Casino Opera's grand opening promoted that one of its features was a "tea sala".


The primary difference between theaters and casinos/salat was the arrangement of the seating. Theaters arranged the chairs in rows, all facing toward the stage. Casinos/salat arranged the chairs around tables in a setting that allowed eating and drinking while enjoying the show.




  1. Nevill Barbour, "The Arabic Theater in Egypt" in Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London Vol. 8, No. 1 (1935), page 180.


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. 




Copyright Notice

This entire web site is copyrighted. All rights reserved.

All articles, images, forms, scripts, directories, and product reviews on this web site are the property of Shira unless a different author/artist is identified. Material from this web site may not be posted on any other web site unless permission is first obtained from Shira.

Academic papers for school purposes may use information from this site only if the paper properly identifies the original article on using appropriate citations (footnotes, end notes, etc.) and bibliography. Consult your instructor for instructions on how to do this.

If you wish to translate articles from into a language other than English, Shira will be happy to post your translation here on along with a note identifying you as the translator. This could include your photo and biography if you want it to. Contact Shira for more information. You may not post translations of Shira's articles on anybody else's web site, not even your own.

If you are a teacher, performer, or student of Middle Eastern dance, you may link directly to any page on this web site from either your blog or your own web site without first obtaining Shira's permission. Click here for link buttons and other information on how to link.



Explore more belly dance info:

Top >
Belly Dancing > Index to the Belly Dance Then & Now Section


Share this page!

On Facebook


 Top > Belly Dancing > Index to the Belly Dance Then & Now Section

| Contact Shira | Links | Search this Site |