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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Celebrate Egyptian Freedom with the King

The legacy of Egypt in Illinois is a storied one, with two distinct "Egyptian" influences. One, the Southern Illinois area around Cairo, as put here by Stephen Douglas

"In 1858, debating in northern Illinois, Douglas had threatened Lincoln by asserting that he would 'trot him down to Egypt' and there challenge him to repeat his antislavery views before a hostile crowd. The audience understood Douglas: overwhelming proslavery sentiment and Democratic unanimity in Egypt had led to the nickname."
With Cairo, New Athens, Carthage, Sparta, and other classical towns in Illinois, the names (Saluki's anyone?) were there, but the Egyptian influence was pretty much an allegory of a big river, leading toward Memphis, named after the big city on the Nile, with a bit of influence from the various flavors of Masonic orders who called back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians for their ancient traditions.

Like the rest of Illinois, Egypt took to hip-shaking for the 1892 Chicago World's Fair, with Little Egypt being the stage name for two popular belly dancers. They had so many imitators, the name became synonymous with belly dancers generally. Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, (c. 1871, date of death unknown), also performing under the stage name Fatima, appeared at the "Street in Cairo" exhibition on the Midway at the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893.
In 1893, at the Egyptian Theater on the World's Columbian Exposition Midway in Chicago, Raqs dancers performed for the first time in the United States. Sol Bloom presented a show titled "The Algerian Dancers of Morocco" at the attraction called "A Street in Cairo" produced by Gaston Akoun, which included Spyropoulos, though she was neither Egyptian nor Algerian, but Syrian. Spyropoulos was billed as Fatima, but because of her size, she had been called "Little Egypt" as a backstage nickname.

Spyropoulos stole the show, and popularized this form of dancing, which came to be referred to as the "Hoochee-Coochee", or the "shimmy and shake". At that time the word "bellydance" had not yet entered the American vocabulary, as Spyropoulos was the first in the U.S. to demonstrate the "danse du ventre" (literally "dance of the belly") first seen by the French during Napoleon's incursions into Egypt at the end of the eighteenth century. Today the word "hootchy-kootchy" generally means an erotic suggestive dance and is often erroneously conflated with the group of dances originating in the Middle East that we now call bellydance.

Subsequently, several women dancers adopted the name of Little Egypt and toured the United States performing some variation of this dance, until the name became somewhat synonymous with exotic dancers, and often associated with the Dance of the Seven Veils.

Elvis Presley (via the Coasters and Lieber/Stoller sone "Little Egypt") took off with the Hoochie Coochie Dance, here performed by Wilda Taylor shaking what her momma gave her. Elvis was a huge shaker himself, energizing the popular music world in much the same way the Little Egypt energized the world's fair. Elvis and Taylor are shown here tearing it up in the filme "Roustabout".

Back to this week's events, I'll hazard a guess that the solution to a corrupt anti-democratic regime is the soup of democracy (without the Stephen Douglas style appeal to the mob), topped by a big enough helping of spice to enjoy an Elvis movie and some World's Fair style dancing.

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