Nadia Hamdi - Shamadan






"A professional should first love his profession; fame will always take care of itself. When I dance, I can feel the warmth and love of the public, as they clap to the music. It gives me all the energy I need." - Nadia

Nadia Hamdi, originally named Aisha Ali Mohamed Mahmoud, was born into a family of respected musicians and dancers. Her grandfather played the Kanun and two other relatives, a great aunt and a grandmother, learned Shamadan from Zouba el Klobatiyya and Shafiyya el Koptiyya who were celebrated in Mohammad Ali Street as the originators of Shamadan. Nadia herself studied Shamadan with the very well know dancer Nesla Al Adel. From a very early age Nadia exhibited a talented enthusiasm for dance. She began accompanying her grandfather to weddings and her grandmother began teaching her to play Sagat and to balance Assaya and Shamadan as well as performing Nadia's now famous splits. At one point in her early teens, when the family was facing financial difficulties, Nadia danced nightly along side her other female relatives, to help support the family. These late nights held a high cost when it came to Nadia's education. After falling asleep in class one day, it was discovered, by her strict, conservative teacher that Nadia wore traces of lipstick. The ensuing scene was so humiliating, poor Nadia never returned to school.

While still in her early teens and regardless of her teacher's hurtful accusations of impropriety, Nadia was respectably engaged to Salah Mohamed. Salah was also from a highly regarded musical family and was himself a dancer and choreographer. It was Salah who gave Nadia her extremely heavy candelabrum. Salah had made it himself, a Shamadan as unique and beautiful as Nadia.

Nadia and Salah performed for a while in a trio with Mona, one of Nadia's four sisters. Her other three sisters had already followed tradition and retired from performance due to the ravages of childbirth, as well as the pressures of motherhood, and it wasn't long before Mona followed suit. Nadia and Salah had more ambition and talent and the rest of the family agreed. After marriage, Salah and Nadia restricted themselves to one child only, their beloved son Mohamed.

Finally in 1981, after many contract offers, Nadia convinced a reticent Salah to allow her to perform in such five-star Cairo hotels as the Heliopolis Sheraton and the Nile Hilton. The innate beauty of Nadia's soul had shown through in her dance from the beginning. She was a guaranteed success. The Cairo audiences had not been so touched by a dancer in years. Nadia simply dances joy into a room. With Salah choreographing her dances and arranging her special music, this handsome, successful couple dedicated the next seven years to performing seven nights a week. Not only did Nadia dance in the best hotels in Cairo she was also filmed for several movies as well as television. Nadia had become quite a star.

Sadly in 1988, Nadia's mother was diagnosed with cancer and in spite of Nadia's best efforts died. All of Nadia's savings had been spent in futile operations and she had still lost her beloved mother, who had always been supportive and encouraging. Nadia took consolation from their mutual love of dance and her memories.

Religious fundamentalism was on the rise in Egypt at this time and Nadia was placed under tremendous pressure to conform and retire from public performance. Her son Mohamed, the light of her life, was being harassed mercilessly while he was at the University of Music, where he studied Opera and Organ. A fearful Salah and other female performers who had retired and taken back up the wearing of the veil, a fundamentalist adherence, badgered Nadia herself. She finally capitulated and after giving up her dance license in 1993, retired from performance and adopted conservative Islamic dress or Hegab.

One of Nadia's biggest fans was Morocco of New York, who had first seen Nadia dance in 1972 at a wedding in the Nile Hilton. Morocco (Carolina Varga Dinicu) has performed and taught in the United States, Europe, Morocco, Canada, Israel and Egypt and is the director of the 'Casbah Dance Experience'. After several years searching on her return visits to Egypt, Morocco was eventually able to meet and dance with Nadia and a solid friendship was formed that has lasted years. Morocco spent several more years encouraging Nadia to teach, but Nadia had always declined. The time seemed propitious to again encourage Nadia to teach and unexpectedly both Nadia and Salah agreed. Nadia discovered a natural talent for teaching and with her joyous personality was quickly popular and well loved.

It was inevitable that through Morocco, who has a talent for making things happen, (it's called hard work and determination) Nadia would embark on an American seminar tour. Salah was understandably reticent, but was eventually convinced after Morocco personally promised that Nadia would never be unaccompanied. After many bureaucratic difficulties Nadia left Salah for the first time in their marriage and traveled to a strange country whose language she little understood and whose culture was infamous. Although Nadia may have feared how she would be treated in America, she left an indelible impression. An impression so great, she has been begged to return every year since and fortunately for us she has!

Nadia Hamdi - Shamadan, her famous split


I can't remember why I was so determined to go to Nadia Hamdi's workshop in Richmond, VA., which was sponsored in part by Morocco and in part by Scheherezade (Lucy Smith) of Scheherezade Import, Rockville, VA. (Nadia's tour in its entirety was co-sponsored by Morocco, Sadira of Madison, WI, Scheherazade of Richmond, VA and Amina and the Aswan Dancers of San Francisco, CA.) I had never been to a really large workshop before. Over the years I had read of different famous dancers touring the United States and I always thought if a tour came close enough to me it would be a good idea to go, but money was always tight and I never really got motivated. There was something motivating me this time, however, even if I don't remember what it was. I do remember being so enthusiastic that I encouraged all the dancers I knew to go. I felt that somehow this workshop was going to be important. In the end Veshengo, Laura, Renee (two close girlfriend/dancers) and myself drove together up to Richmond, about a five-hour journey. We were all so excited and had no idea what to expect.

There was a show scheduled for Friday night in which the workshop participants had been invited to perform. None of us were brave enough to perform that night but we really looked forward to our first seminar show, and were tickled to see the marquee out side the Motel read "Welcome Middle Eastern Dancers" in larger than life letters. We came home with a classic cheesy photograph of the three of us laughing beneath it.

The show that night featured dancers like the Jewels of the Nile, Zashti and Janeeta, Princess Salima, Latifa and Saroya. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and zaghareeted to our heart's content. There was also plenty of opportunity to shop, with many different venders selling everything from instruments to complete costumes. Veshengo quickly spotted what he had hoped to find, a new Doumbec, a handsome Egyptian Doko in fact, and at a very reasonable price. He quickly snatched it up and caressed it at every given opportunity throughout the night. At the end of the evening the four of us were so enthused we could contain ourselves no longer and spontaneously engaged in a little drumming and dancing in the hallway outside of the large room where the workshop activities were held. Although there were still a few people milling about we thought most everyone had left. Veshengo was really happy with his new Drum and Laura and I were dancing for each other with Renee's encouragement egging us all on. When suddenly a very distinctive Zaghareet ripped through the air. We all froze then turned to see Nadia grinning at us, clapping and finger popping, obviously thrilled to see our spontaneous combustion of happiness. I'll never forget how I felt at that moment.

It's so difficult to convey in print the power and charm of Nadia's personality. She exudes an extremely youthful and generous spirit. She put a room full of dancers at ease in minutes and some of them were highly respected dancers in their own right. She taught from the large stage used in the show the night before, placed about a quarter of the way into the room, allowing dancers to surround her from all sides. There were so many workshop attendees that Nadia regularly switched dancers from the back of the room to the front or from behind her to the other side so that every one had a good view and so that she herself could scan the participants for those who needed some correction or (joy of joys) encouragement and approval. She taught by repetition, the traditional style of teaching in Egypt, demonstrating the choreography over and over for hours, stopping to try to answer questions after each repetition. Nadia knew very little English, depending on Morocco's interpretive skills to help her make her point. Often when she had difficulty helping someone comprehend a move, she would place their hands on her own hips or belly and let them feel the move as she demonstrated. I thought this a very effective way of side stepping the difficulty with communication. Language was a constant barrier, which for me only made the experience more real, more meaningful and poignant. She worked so hard, twice as hard as we did and never once did that sweet smile or bouncing steps falter. She inspired the title Madam and we all used it with reverence.

On Saturday Nadia demonstrated her classic Sharki style with her choreography to "Mashaal" which she performed that night in the show. It was a beautiful somewhat complex, piece of choreography utilizing veil for the introduction. "Mashaal" is a fairly long piece of music, around ten minutes, which allowed Nadia's choreography to be packed with fun and interesting moves. Like Finger-pops with sharp pelvic snaps and a hip shimmy performed over a fairly deep-kneed lunge, with the shimmy being emphasized from the buttocks. On occasion Nadia would slip in a variation of a move just to spice things up and see if we were paying attention. I learned something new every time.

The show that night was exciting and varied, with all of the performances being inspired by folkloric dance styles. Some of the highlights were:

The Women of Selket - (VA) performed a cheerful and floating Saudi Arabian Thaub Nashal (Wedding Thobe) dance, utilizing the ever popular Khaleeji (gulf) music called "Ibba'ad".

Caravan East - (VA) performed an Egyptian village shawl dance wearing recreations of Fellahin (peasant) dresses and colorful fringed shawls from the regions of Sharqiya, Gharbiya, Boheria and Kalubiya. Their costumes were designed by Chelydra with choreography by the one and only Cassandra.

Nadia Hamdi - (Cairo, Egypt) Nadia's first performance was her satirical Maleya Liff. The Maleya is a shawl, which is worn with a particular style of wrapping and is meant to be a somewhat conservative article of clothing. In this dance, Nadia is gently poking fun in the flirtatious tradition of Mohamed Ali Street dancing. The shawl is a symbol of her ambivalence, especially when she takes it off and wraps around her hips. The stunned American audience for some odd reason was baffled by Nadia's vibrant, orange fringed "flapper" dress, clunking wooden sandals, tacky see-through face veil, gum smacking and mischievous gestures. I thought I'd die laughing when she pulled a long strand of gum out of her mouth, slapped her hips, fainted putting on eye make-up and called out "Fashion!" As they say in the fashion industry "she was totally 'Vogue'". Nadia's sweet and innocent sense of humor was lost on the jaded American audience, who simply didn't get it. Actually several of us did get it and enjoyed it thoroughly. In fact I remember reading several reviews of other dancers performing this cute choreography after Nadia had returned home. Truly original

Oriental Expressions - (NC) First performed a theatrical version of a dessert dance, one of the few Egyptian Folkloric dances in which men and women dance together. All the parts were played by women complete with mustaches. This was a light-hearted performance, which began with rhythmic clapping involving the audience. Returning later in the show, Oriental Expressions entertained us with a lively Saidi (Upper Egypt) dance, choreographed by Morocco, utilizing the wonderful distinctive music of famous Egyptian Rabbaba musician Metkal K'nawi. These ladies were loads of fun, in their lovely bright costumes and good ethnic jewelry.

Folkloric Productions - (NY) Performed an absolutely fabulous Algerian Ouled Nail dance traditionally performed in front of audiences in hopes of garnering the dancer a large dowry. With beautifully colored, voluminous costumes appropriately held together with fibula and capped off with charming plumed headdresses, these two graceful yet lively dancers looked just like an Orientalist painting come to life. Outside of Nadia's performances this was my favorite of the evening. Great costumes, great attitude, great music and great choreography I was very impressed!

Nadia - Shamadan - Nadia's second performance was her famous Shamadan. This was what I had been waiting for and it was well worth the wait. Nadia's skill at Shamadan is amazing. The audience seating had aisles running down either outside edge and an aisle running down the middle with space between the stage and the first row of chairs. Nadia slowly made her way up and down all the aisles giving everyone plenty of time to take a photo, especially during her splits. We were all mesmerized and jubilant at the spectacle before us. I will never forget her performance!

The Sahara Dancers - (DC/FL) performed Raqsat Al Guedra a trance dance of the Tuaregs of Morocco. This piece began very solemnly with darkly clad dancers and a tar player ascending the stage slowly followed by the heavily veiled central dancer who began her dance with the distinctive sharp hand gesture of the Guedra. Building slowly, then transitioning into a faster rhythm accompanied by the audience clapping, the dance continued to build. The costuming and headdresses were very well done and the audience enjoyed this performance very much.

Nadia - Raqs Sharki - Nadia's third and final performance was a show-stopping finale. Beginning with a spiced up version of the "Mashaal" choreography she had taught that day, she proceeded to charm us all over again. After a long, full day of instruction and two prior performances, she captivates the audience with her beauty and elegance. Nadia connects intimately with her audience. During "Mashaal" she would laugh at the students in the audience whom she knew would recognize the moves she was executing. Ever playful and light hearted. Nadia was adored by all. She continued her performance to a lovely piece of music featuring strings and Oud and when she regretfully (for us) came to a stop she received a heart felt standing ovation!

The only draw backs to the evening were a sound system which might have been better and a gentleman announcer who definitely could have benefited from a good bit more coaching in the pronunciation of the majority of his introductions. Also there were video copies of the show which could be ordered at the time and when viewed gave evidence that much better lighting had been required for the show to be truly visible in video format. The ensuing video does not do the show justice, and because of technical difficulties none of Nadia's Shamadan performances were unusable, which I feel is a tremendous shame. The videos of the classes Nadia taught, however, were excellent and I have found them very useful in helping me remember the choreography.

Nadia Hamdi - Maleya Liff

On Sunday Nadia instructed us in her humorous Maleya Liff, which I mentioned above. Nadia spent a great deal of time traveling from student to student making sure they understood the mechanics of wrapping themselves in their Maleyas (veils), and the finger positioning for authentic Egyptian finger snapping. Nadia sounded like a gunshot when she popped. She can produce the loudest snap I think I've ever heard! You can hear it on the videos transcending the audio system, which is quite a feat.

This was a wonderful weekend, which I will never forget. Nadia taught much more than choreography, she was a constant example of hard work, skill, professionalism, personal bravery and a laughing generous spirit. I sincerely hope to have the privilege of studying with Nadia Hamdi again!


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This page last modified: December 22, 2005