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-editing by Izora,
-layout by Meredith,
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Gilded Serpent presents...
Cairo's Costume Disasters

by Leyla Lanty

Tacky, Bizarre, and Surprising Costumes Worn by Cairo's Stars of Oriental Dance

What was she thinking when she acquired that costume?!  Have you ever been watching a dancer in performance - a big star, perhaps one of your favorites - when that question seized your brain so completely that you were no longer able to appreciate her dancing? 

If not, then some might say that you haven't ever been to a performance.

1992, 1994, and 1995: Perhaps something blew into Cairo on the warm desert winds, or maybe the phase of the moon was warped.  Whatever it was, these were the years when I saw three of Egypt's best - Mona Said, Dina, and Negwa Fuad - wearing the kind of costumes which made the audience more inclined to wince than watch their favorite dancers' performances. 

In 1992, Mona Said and Dina appeared in "surprising" costumes.  Could it be that "surprise" was their motive?  Dina's black lycra miniskirts were certainly "surprising," maybe even a little bit shocking.  It was the first time I'd seen anything other than bedla (two-piece cabaret costume), balady dress (folkloric one-piece dress), or thob (gown style cabaret costume) on a dancer.  Yet here was Dina, trotting out two lycra miniskirt and bra costumes in one show!  One of them
(Exhibit A) was a black lycra miniskirt gathered vertically at the front, decorated with multicolor beads and sequins.  Her black strapless bra was restrained by comparison, with a minimal amount of multicolor beads and sequins.  The second outfit (Exhibit B) consisted of a black lycra miniskirt which sported large holes just above the hemline.  Each hole was surrounded by faux gems and sequins of assorted rainbow hues, and a strapless (again, minimally-sequined) black bra, which was cleverly held up by netting attached to a neck band.

Then I went to see Mona Said.  Oh, Mona! Her show started out on a "surprising" note as well, with an appearance in black spandex bike shorts, a sequined black bra, a light bolero vest, and a sequined black gaucho hat!
(Exhibit C)  She wore several costumes that night, ranging from the outlandish Zorro costume through the bizarre lime-green "Mary Tyler Moore" minidress for Melaya Luff (Exhibits D and E), to the hot pink sequined balady dress with johnny collar and big fat zipper up the front which she wore for the zar!  She truly accomplished her objective, that is, if the objective was to be "surprising" and a gossip item for the next several weeks.  To Mona's credit, however, I still remember how wonderfully she danced.

Two years later, in 1994, Dina was the queen of tacky, with her black gown, slit diagonally from right shoulder to left front hemline, pinned together across her torso  with giant safety pins covered with rhinestones.
(Exhibit F) During that show, the pin placed strategically at the bust popped open and she spent the next few LONG seconds trying to pin it back together!  (Perhaps this was more "surprise" than she had intended.)  Her other costumes that evening included an orange knit evening gown, from which one of her breasts kept trying to escape, a peach bedla generously decorated with opaque multicolor plastic beads shaped like miniature fruits and flowers, and a bedla made of black beaded bra and belt with a sheer green chiffon skirt through which her black panties were visible front and back. "Surprise" and "tackiness" seemed the themes of the show. On the other hand, when asked about another dancer's revealing skirt, Mme. Abla was quoted as saying: "Of course you could see her panties. That shows that she's a 'good girl' and wears them!"

And no, I don't remember how she danced. All I remember is the costuming.

In that same year, Mona came a close second to Dina in the "tacky competition" in her balady dress, which in the front was cut off diagonally above her knees and in the back boasted a full-length half-circular skirt.
(Exhibits G and H) The edges and seams were decorated with sequins and hundreds of beads resembling hard candies shaped like miniature fruits, flowers, and nuts.  Mona's other costumes for this show were stunningly elegant gowns, lavishly embroidered with rhinestones, each one featuring daringly placed cutouts filled with sheer flesh-tone fabric.  One hot pink gown, accented with rhinestones and cutouts trimmed with rhinestones and silver sequin, made me exclaim as she entered the room, "Ooooooooh, I WANT this costume!" When she passed my table and I got a look at the two large cutouts which left her buttocks covered only with sheer flesh tone fabric, I added, "...with MODIFICATIONS!!!" (Exhibit I.  I just didn't have the courage to take a flash photo of the rear view.) When I saw the expressions on her musicians' faces, I realized it was a NEW costume! To their (immense) credit the musicians didn't miss a beat, but it's a safe bet that they were "surprised!" 

Exhibit J - Negwa 1994

The next year, 1995, Negwa showed us that she too isn't immune to the impulse to wear something shocking.  Her claim to costume notoriety was a sheer black tulle balady dress worn over a flesh-tone,  full-length body stocking and a multicolored faux-jewel bra and belt. (Exhibit J)  Two weeks after I took the photograph, the costume proved to be a real "show stopper."  The international press reported that when Negwa appeared in said outfit, a man sitting at a table adjoining the stage jumped to his feet, shouting that the show must be stopped so that she could put on some clothes, because he'd brought his family to see her perform.  Negwa stopped the band, put her foot on the man's table and demonstrated that she was fully covered by stretching out the edge of the body stocking at her ankle.  As they say, no matter how "surprised" the audience may be, the show must go on!

Apart from these "surprising" costumes to which I've borne witness, I've found descriptions of some other "gems" posted to the Middle East Dance internet mailing list in July, 2000.  In one posting, Najida mentioned an "unusual" costume worn by Dina on a video.  "The Dina Droopy Drawers costume is on the 1994 PEKO Cocktail Video...sorta like black hot pants and a silver sequin bra....covered in this sheer net thingie with a crotch at her ankles.... Just FUGLY!"  (The year this video was made, 1994, was a good year for surprises in Cairo's nightclubs.  Is it a coincidence, or is there a deeper pattern here?  Hmm...)

Natasya Katsikaris soon posted "Yep, HATED it.  Meanwhile ... Men LOVE this costume!  Go figure. Every woman who watches this video says, great dancer, beautiful bod - what's up with the stupid pants?  Every man who watches it says, ... I don't know... I think it's kinda sexy ... like she's dancing in her pajamas ... and I get to see 'em ... heh heh heh heh ..."

My curiosity was piqued, when my friend Yolanda said she had a copy of the video, I jumped at the chance to see it. Dina's "Droopy Drawers" costume is likely to provoke a strong reaction from almost anyone.  The black "sheer net thingie" is very full shalwar (harem pants or pantaloons), with the crotch at about her knees and the leg bands just below that. Some may classify this as tacky, others as bizarre.  Personally, I think it's a cute sexy idea, which only a star of Dina's stature, not to mention beautiful body, could successfully present.  Your mileage will undoubtedly vary.  Certainly, if you haven't seen this sort of thing before, prepare yourself for a "surprise".

Tara Tuatai continued with yet another sighting of a Cairo star wearing something unusual.  "I saw Hendaya in a miniskirt and bra with a soccer ball pattern on a red base circa 1995ish - unfortunately the Semiramis where she was performing didn't allow photos."  I must admit that sounds a little bizarre, but considering the popularity of soccer in Egypt, it's not too surprising - at least, not to the Egyptians in the audience.

Probably the most bizarre "surprise" costume was sighted by Morocco "The Dancer, Not the Country" and her accomplice Scheherezade (AKA Lucy Smith), on none other than one of the icons of Egyptian Danse Orientale, Negwa Fuad.  In true Negwa Fuad style, she did it several years before anyone else!  I include here, as the final and (in my opinion) best entry in this collection of unusual costumes, Rocky's description of Negwa's "Seafood Delight" costume, as well as the next day's visit with the costume's designer Mme. Abla.

When: August 1986 

Where: Meridien Hotel, Cairo 

Witnesses: Scheherezade, AKA Lucy Smith (we had no camera because our purses were monopolized by big cans of Deep Woods Off to deter the cannibal-size mosquitoes).
What: Negwa Fouad's infamous seafood costume.
  The skirt was made of half-ripped-up tulle, to look like a fisherman's net, and it had appliqués of clamshells and snails coming up the open sides and on the bottom.

That I could live with ...

The belt had: a background of black sequins and beads and right smack all over the front center was a BIG crab appliqué, claws and all (and they didn't have a clue as to what "crabs" are in American English).  

But that wasn't the end of it ... oh no ....

In the back, ALL OVER the back of the belt, was a BIG red lobster, claws, swimmerets and all.  

But that wasn't the end of it ... oh no ....

On each cup of the bra was a BIG crab, with the claws coming around to the
inner, upper top - as though they were grabbing each cup, if you know what I mean ...

But that wasn't the end of it ... oh no ...

Hanging from her bra strap, looking like it was gonna bite her a good one right on top of her right breast, was what I thought was a scorpion.  However, Lucy pointed out to me that it was actually a shrimp, head and feet and all!  At this point, we were laughing so hard (and were the only ones who were getting the "joke") that we had to leave the table and run to the ladies room.  

But that wasn't the end of it ... oh no ...

The next day: I'm at Madam Abla's having my Shemodan dress fitted.  Lucy is sitting in front of me, out of Abla's line of vision.  Abla is sticking pins all over me.  She asks where we went the night before. 

Me: "To see Negwa at the Meridien."
Abla:  "Did you like the show?"
"Of course."
"Did you like the costumes?"
"Most of them."
"Did you see the one with all the sea creatures on it?"
"Yes." (Uh-oh!)
"I made that one. I can make you one just like it."
(Now, keep in mind that I love that woman.  She has made me some of the best costumes in the
entire world.)  "Um - Abla, habibti, it's like this: everyone in America and all over the world knows about
Negwa Fouad.  They know about every costume she wears.  If I turn up in the same costume,
they will say that I am imitating her instead of being me.  I'm sure you can understand...."


Lucy almost chokes.  When Abla leaves the room, Lucy says I should get the Nobel Prize
for diplomacy.  I say I want my Oscar for THAT acting job, so I can thank the Academy and all
those little people out there in the dark...

Do I ever wish we had had a camera.

Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
9-16-05 Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2005, Cairo a review and diary by Leyla Lanty
On Monday night, the opening gala was a great success in all senses of the word! It was one of the best large scale events I've attended.

11-16-01 Giza Club Lecture, Wacky Woman Traveler- Leyla Lanty
Hard work and familiarity pays off.

3-3-01 Giza Academy Awards of Middle Eastern Dance Video 2000 by Leyla Lanty
And the winners are.... Photos added on 5-1-01 take another look!

12-27-00 Special Master Class Weekend with Amina Goodyear and Jacques al Asmar, by Leyla Lanty
....This is why there are many repetitions of words, verbal and musical phrases in Arabic music so that the musicians, singers, and dancers can build on movements with the repetition.

Dina in 1992
Exhibit A - Dina 1992

Dina in 1992
Exhibit B - Dina 1992

Monain 1992

Exhibit C - Mona 1992

Mona in 1992
Exhibit D - Mona 1992

Exhibit E - Mona 1992
Exhibit E - Mona 1992

Exhibit F - Dina 1994
Exhibit F - Dina 1994

Exhibit G - Mona 1994
Exhibit G - Mona 1994

Exhibit H - Mona 1994
Exhibit H - Mona 1994

Exhibit I - Mona 1994
Exhibit I - Mona 1994


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