Masābnī, Badī’ah By Shay, Anthony
Badī’ah Masābnī was a professional actress, singer, and dancer from the Levant. She settled in Egypt in the 1920s and eventually opened a highly successful nightclub, Casino Badī’ah. The highlight of the variety shows, which featured both Egyptian and European dances, acts, and skits, were performances in which she often starred, especially as a comedienne. She is associated with the modernizing of belly dance from a static nineteenth-century dance to a new dance genre that became known as cabaret belly dance, with hundreds of thousands of devotees and practitioners around the world. The new dance genre, often called raqs sharqī (Oriental dance), which was included in her nightclub revue and later in Egyptian films, often featured a soloist accompanied by a chorus line, incorporated movements from ballet as well as elements from Hollywood films, and involved a new use of space. Masābnī also revolutionized the costume that is familiar to filmgoers and viewers of belly dance performances by dancing in an elaborately decorated brassiere with a long skirt slit up the sides, and a coin girdle. Her tumultuous life was profiled by the media throughout the Arab world, but in spite of her contributions to belly dance, she remains little known in the West.