“Archaic dances still influence our moving center, for they are rooted in the cosmic memory of our planet. They may disappear into past but always find their way back to us through research work and spiritual identification.”
So Here’s The Deal:
It’s hard to know where to start with Nelly Mazloum. She was an intellectual, an entrepreneur, an actress, a choreographer, a dancer, a teacher of modern, ballet, egyptian folkloric, and traditional oriental dance.
Where was Nelly from?
Nelly-Catherine Mazloum-Calvo was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1929. She was of Greek and Italian descent. Her father was a jeweler from Naples, Italy and her mother was a pianist from Anatolia. Her parents owned a hotel across the street from the Alhambra theatre.
How Nelly began to <3 Dance!
When Mazloum was just 2 years old she suffered from poliomyelitis, or paralysis of the legs. With lots of hard work from her pediatrician and his wife, who was a ballet teacher, Mazloum was able to walk again at age 4. And then there was no stopping her! “Dance became her passion and the very symbol of life.”
How It All Started:
She officially began her dance career at age 5 and was called a prodigy child by the media. In 1939 she landed her first film role in a greek film, I Prosfygopoula (The Refugee Girl).
Nelly performed modern dance and ballet at the Casino Opera run by Badia Masanabi (click here to read more about Badia!). Although she danced in the early afternoon, she would stay into the evening to watch Samia Gamal (Read up on Samia!) and Tahia Carioca (Learn more about Tahia!).
Nelly’s golden years were the 1940’s. During this time she performed and acted in approximately 17 films. She performed oriental dance in only a few, Shahrazad (1941) and Soliman’s Ring (1946).
In 1947 she established a ballet school in Cairo for girls from elite society. She also trained dancers for the National Opera House in Cairo.
At 19 years old, in 1948, Nelly was named the Prima Ballerina at the Royal Opera House in Cairo.
Love of Folkloric Dance
In the early 1950’s Nelly travelled all over Egypt studying folkloric dances including Bedouin and Ghawazi in their natural surroundings.
Mazloum’s daughter Marianna later said of her mother, “My mother met and talked with remarkable human beings: teachers, musicians, writers, poets and archaeologists, who knew a lot about the culture and tradition of Egypt she was also an avid reader and researcher who studied books in the National Egyptian Museum, looking for descriptions of dances and costumes from ancient times; the director gave her special permission, provided she handled the fragile manuscripts with white gloves on. When attending private family parties of the elite, she would observe their dancing, which had a more refined style than the balady (Native) or the shaabi(Popular) – she called that refined style: ‘hawanem’”
Nelly Mazloum was a trail blazer. “She was the first to bring on the stage popular, religious and typical traditional stories accompanied by original music especially composed for her company, and live singing recounting the loves, tribulations and adventures of ancient popular heroes.”
*The Troupe and The Academy*
In 1955 when Nelly was 26 she created her own dance company, The Nelly Mazloum Troupe. Her company was made up of amateur dancers. Some were from her ballet school, some gymnasts ( she herself was involved with gymnastics), students, working women, etc. The troupe began with 25 people and grew to 40 in no time, they also had a big orchestra. Nelly was the director, choreographer, teacher and a performer in the company.
They were the first dance troupe to record Egyptian folk songs and dances from remote regions of Egypt and perform them on stage and on t.v.
She created her own style called the Nelly Mazloum style or as the media called it “Raqs el Ta’Biry’,” or Expressive Dance.
In 1958 the troupe danced at the Cotton Fair Festival at the Grand Palais in Gezira, Egypt.
In 1960 the Egyptian government founded the Egyptian National Ballet Academy under the direction of Alexei Jukov from Moscow. Nelly was appointed by the Ministry of Culture as his assistant to protect the content of Egyptian Classical Dance. She served in the is position for 3 years.
In 1961 the National Folkloric Academy was formed under the direction of another Russian, Boris Ramazen. Mazloum served in a similar position as with the National Ballet Academy. Ramazen taught students Egyptian dance, but Mazloum felt that he had degraded traditional Egyptian dance, so she quit. She did learn what not to do and it helped her form her own teaching technique, mentioned above as the Nelly Mazloum Oriental Dance Technique.”
In the same year the Minister of Culture, Dr. Sarwat Okasha, who was very excited about her work, gave her Masrah al Ayem, a floating theater - she and her company toured many villages in Egypt.
Later they participated in the Helsinki International Youth Festival, where they won a silver medal for folkloric dance, Al Ghazi (the weaving of the bridal veil).
This led to Mazloum becoming the official choreographer of the Cairo Opera including the first all Arabic classical operetta, which the president attended on opening night.
From 1959-1964, Nelly was the choreographer for the Koumeya dance troupe of Al Masrah al Kaoumy, the National Theater.
In 1964 things changed. There was a new Minister of Culture and a new regime. A slander campaign was started against her in the press and Mazloum decided to pack up everything and move to Greece.
In Greece she founded the Athens International Dance School where she taught ballet and modern dance.
In 1985 Mazloum began teaching Oriental Dance again, using her famous technique and signature style, “Hawanem,” the dance of high nobility (click here to learn more!) She also developed an exercise program called “VIVICORPOREAL ® Psychosomatic Alignment Technique for AWARED CONSCIOUSNESS,” that specifically supported Oriental Dance, “Its conception is especially structured on the important Sufi principles of Double Consciousness Body Coordination involving the whole person into an expanded, free and regenerated way of being.” (click here to learn more!).
Mazloum gave a series of seminars where she introduced this technique and was the first to introduce Pharaonic Dances.
In 1990 she began writing her book “Nelly Mazloum Oriental Dance Technique,” (find it here! ).
Why We <3 Her:
We love Nelly Mazloum because she was an innovator. She developed her own techniques, movements and way of teaching. She was interested in many forms of dance and brought them all together in her practice. We love that she was so interested in experimental styles like pharaonic dance and that she shared her knowledge.
In 2001 she founded the Nelly Mazloum Mediterranean Archaic Dance Research Institute or MADRI. This non-profit organization was formed to preserve ancient Mediterranean dances and well as her techniques. We love that she wanted to educate dancers and preserve culture.
Read even more about Nelly in this interview from Best of Habibi
“Art,” she said, “is not linked with age or nationality; it is linked with creation and presence and if the artist can give and enjoy, she must continue to perform.”
SO HERE’S THE DEAL:
We can’t believe we haven’t done a TBT post on this beauty yet! She’s a legend in the belly dance community and a true artist.
Nagwa, whose birth name is Awatef Mohammed El Agamy, was born in 1943 in Alexandria Egypt. Her father was Egyptian and her mother was Palestinian.
When she was just a few months old she and her parents moved to Jaffa, Israel. Unfortunately, her mother passed away shortly after the move. Her father remarried another Palestinian woman, who treated Nagwa like her own. When she was young her father moved to Alexandria to make arrangements for her and her stepmother to move with him. While he was gone Jaffa was taken over by the Jews and Nagwa and her step mother had to escape. They spent some time living in refugee tents in Arish, Egypt. They eventually reunited with Nagwa’s father, but he re married again. Nagwa’s step mother took Nagwa with her to Cairo where she raised her.
Later in Nagwa’s life she would follow in her step mother’s footsteps, adopting a girl whose parents had died in a car accident. She raised her, provided for her and sent her to college.
Nagwa graduated from school at 14. This is when her dance career began. When she was young, Nagwa had danced at family functions, social gatherings and weddings. After graduating she started performing in small clubs.
One of the venues she danced at was Abdeen Casino. It was there that she met Ahmad Fuad Hassan, a violin player, composer and conducted who would become her husband for 6 years. She said of her husband, “Hassan was 17 years older than me, but I needed him. He nurtured my amateur’s talents… He taught me the importance of studying and working on my talent if I wanted to be a big star. He trained me at the Nelly Mazloum Dance School and I joined the National Dance Troupe to study folklore with Russian teachers.”
Nagwa was trained in ballet, jazz, and tap dance in addition to Belly Dance. Her dance background made her very unique and added a lot of dimension to her performances.
WHY WE <3 HER:
Nagwa really took belly dance to a whole new level. She added depth and dynamic to the dance drawing from her knowledge of other dance forms. Her life experiences also enhanced the emotion of her performances.
In 1976, she commissioned Mohammed Abdel Wahab, and Egyptian composer, to compose his first/only piece for a dancer. The song is titled “Qamar Arba’Tashar,” or Full Moon of the Fourteenth. This paved the way for other songs like “Set El Hosen,” by Mohammed Sultan. Nagwa said this was a transitional point in her career.
Photograph of Samia Gamal during her dance sequence in the American film “Valley of the Kings”, in 1954. One of my all-time fav pictures of Samia! :D
Glamorous Naima! From the film “Aziza” (“عزيزة”).
Photo source: مغارة الذكريات
Soheir Zaki dancing at a wedding for President Sadat’s son in 1974.