Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Stars of the c.1870s: Shafiqa Al-Qibtiyaa

This is definitely the earliest entry in the "Stars of" series of posts so far, and likely to be the only one from this period I can get a clip (mmm...sorta) and image for.

When your teachers tell you costumes are becoming more risque, they're not kidding

Shafiqa (or Shafika) was born in the Caireen suburn of Shobra in 1851 to Coptic Christians, but was orphaned early on - there is strong evidence that she was supporting herself by the time she was 12. Before she was very much older, she was a protege of Shooq's. I'm afraid I can't tell you much about Shooq beyond the facts that she reached the peak of her career in the mid-1870s and is widely considered the first "Oriental"-style Egyptian dancer.

Although she married young, Shafiqa was smart enough to use her considerable charms to improve her lot by courting some of the most powerful men in Egypt including, according to her biopic, the prime minister.

She was also a savvy enough self-promoter to carve out a niche for herself  by specialising in shamadan. (Some of the material I've read credits her with being the "first" person to dance with a candleabra, but I doubt very much any one individual can claim to have invented balancing stuff on your head while you dance.)

For many years, Shafiqa danced at the El Dorado before opening her own club, or 'salah', Alf Leyla (The 1001 Nights). Despite parlaying her success on stage into running a successful business and becoming one of the wealthiest women of her day, she died cocaine addicted and destitute in 1926.

Now, I promised you a "sorta" clip, and here it is. This is from Chafika el Kebteya (Shafika the Copt), a 1963 biopic starring Hind Rostom as Shafiqa. Here Hind gives us a taste of Shafiqa's legendary shamadan chops:

As an aside, I'm going to do a "Stars of" post on Hind soon. Hind, who was either the "Marilyn Monroe of the East" or "the Egyptian Rita Hayworth", depending on who you ask, was considered more of an actress than a belly dancer, but so many of her films feature her dancing (and she was good enough that Fifi Abdou tried to throw a party in her honour - more on that later) that I think we can claim her as one of ours.

Hind died last August at the age of 81, having famously refused to co-operate with anyone seeking to put HER life onscreen. Ha!

Wee bit more about Shafiqa here:


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