The Amazing Life of the Legendary Taheyya Kariokka: Dancer, Actress, Rebel

The Amazing Life of the Legendary Taheyya Kariokka: Dancer, Actress, Rebel

Badaweya was running on a street that looked strange. It was long, endless even. Lamps and lights were hanging from above. On the sides many people were walking. She started making her way as she ran. Music was following her wherever she went. She kept running until she was blinded by the lights. It was then that she heard a beautiful voice coming from afar.

Badaweya quickened her steps: Souad Mahasen was singing there, and her voice was filling the young Badaweya with pleasure. She had arrived to Cairo, and Souad Mahasen was singing to an audience clapping their hands. The drummer behind the singer sees her. He smiles and starts playing Charleston beats before leaving his spot and coming to join Badaweya. The eyes of Souad soon cross those of Badaweya. With a smile on her beautiful white face, Souad Mahasen exclaims: “Is it you? Taheyya? You came?”

Ever since she left school, no one has called her Taheyya. She turns towards the drummer who was urging her to dance. Badaweya starts dancing with her long hair loose as Souad is laughing. She dances and dances, while the lights are playing, and the people are laughing in this huge space. The space was bigger than the large house, and bigger even than the big lake that stretches beyond the horizon off the coast of Ismailiyya… Badaweya suddenly turns towards the door, she stops and smiles, then she screams: “Oh my!”

Tahiya

This is the dream that Badaweya Mohamed Ali Al Nidani has had repeatedly as a young girl, while she was held captive and tortured in her brother Ahmed Al Nidani’a house. It was somehow an expression of the duality of fear and hope inside of her. She wanted to run away from the suffering her brother caused her and go dance in Imadeddine street, but she also feared the “scandal” that her dancing in a conservative oriental society would cause.

According to her memoirs, written by Saleh Morsi in the 1960s, Badaweya was born on the 22nd of February 1919 in Ismailiyya. Her father worked on a boat, going to Jeddah and coming back once a year. He was over 60 years old, while her mother was forty years younger and called Fatima Al Zahra’. She was his seventh wife. All the previous ones had died soon after marriage.

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Share TweetTaheyya Kariokka was not only a great dancer, she was also a movie star, and a rebel

Share TweetThe amazing life story of Taheyya Kariokka, a rebel and one of Egypt's greatest dancers

During the first quarter of the 20th century, and especially in Sufi communities, it was common that the mother’s family would be named after family members of the Prophet Mohamed. The grandmother had decided to call the newborn child after Sayyid Badawi, whose big shrine is in the city of Tanta. That decision led to a discussion between her and the father:

“What are you planning to call the child?” She asked. Ali Al Nidani knew that his mother wanted to name the child after Sayyid Badawi, so he asked her: “What do you think mother?”

“Badaweya,” she said. To that, Ali answered: “By the Prophet, mother she looks like a Taheyya!”

This is how Saleh Morsi recounts the discussion that led to the father and grandmother agreeing that the child born two days before be named Badaweya Taheyya.

The father died while she was barely able to speak. Her older brother Ahmed Al Nidani took her to his house. After a while he got her out of the nun school she used to go to once he discovered she was attending church. He turned her into a servant for him and his family. Once, as a young girl, she went to a wedding in Ismailiyya where Souad Mahasen was singing, and she danced in front of her. Souad was impressed by her dancing skills and invited her to go to Imadeddine street in Cairo to become a professional dancer. But there was a big problem: If her brother would find out about her going to the wedding and dancing, he would shackle her and torture her. She attempted to escape to her relatives in Ismailiyya and Dahilqiyya several times, and every time, her brother would find and return her, and the torture would get worse.

Tahiya-Abdel-Wahab

According to her memoirs, one night she managed to escape the house, but this time she went to Cairo. She knew nothing in that city except Imadeddine street where all the theaters and casinos were, as well as Souad Mahasen.

Beginnings might affect endings and might even be the main causes. As they say, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. The suffering that Badaweya endured as she was growing up turned into wild drive once the shackles were broken.

Tahiya-Karyoka

Badaweya Taheyya arrived to Imadeddine street, and after moving from one casino to the other, she settled down with the Badia Massabni theatre group. This was her real start. In Badia’s casino she met poets, intellectuals, and journalists, like Ahmed Rami, Ibrahim Nagi, Sheikh Abdelaziz Al Boshri and others. The most important encounter however, was Suleiman Nagib, the head of the Opera house at the time. Taheyya recalls that he convinced her to learn foreign languages and aristocratic protocol. She learned French and English, music and ballet, and other skills to serve her artistic career. Nagib also encouraged her to have a big library at home, and he filled it with books, from world literature with Shakespeare, Moliere, and Dostoevsky, to Arab literature with Tawfik Al Hakim, Taha Hussein, Mohammed Taymour, and others

A star is born

1940 was a crucial year for Badaweya Mohamed (her stage name at the time), as her name changed to Taheyya Kariokka after she skillfully performed the Brazilian Kariokka dance. Audiences were so impressed that she began performing the dance three times a week to become later part of her name. Art critic Sanaa Al Bissi explains that her last performance as Taheyya Mohamed was starring in Wings of the Desert, the first production and debut of Ahmed Salem as director, starring Hussein Sodqi and Roqayya Ibrahim.

The young girl who dreamed of running away from her brother to dance, became the most well known dancer in Egypt, rivaled only by Samia Gamal. However, many preferred her over Gamal because she could dance in small spaces. Art critic Tareq Shennawi says that: “Taheyya could dance in a few centimeters, Samia, on the other hand, could only perform in large spaces.”

Taheyya was not only a dancer, she was also a film and theater star. According to Sanaa Al Bissi she took part in about 300 films, notably The Youth of a Woman, The Mother of the Bride and Samara.

She also formed a theater group and performed around 18 plays with her husband Fayez Halawa. She was most famous for playing the role of “Shafa’at” in The Youth of a Woman. Tareq Al Shinnawi thinks that this role will remain a reference for any actress who wants to play the daring woman who would do anything to please herself even if it means extramarital sex.

The girl who was born to a father married 6 times before her mother, will herself end up being married 14 times. Her first husband was Antoine Issa, the nephew of Badia Massabni. In the same year, she married Mohamed Sultan Al Basha, one of the richest people in Egypt. And then one marriage followed another: the director Fatin Abdel Wahhab, an American officer named Levi, the artist Roshdi Abaza, Mostapha Kamal Sodqi, the rich Abdel Moneam Al Khadem, doctor Hassan Hussein, the singer Mahram Fouad, Ahmad Sabri Zulfiqar, the theater writer Fayez Halawa, and finally the director Hassan Abdel Salam.

Rajaa Al Jadawi, her niece asserts that Fayez Halawa had a special place in the heart of her aunt until the end. She even found their wedding ring placed with her most precious belongings after her death.

Taheyya the Rebel

Kariokka’s uncle, Hassan Al Nidani was famous for kidnapping occupation soldiers and impaling them in Ismailiyya. She was politically active. She even hid Mohamed Anouar Al Sadat as a young officer in her house, when he was accused of assassinating Amin Basha Othman and spying for the Nazis. She was also a member of several communist groups. Once she embarrassed King Farouk while he was attending a casino show, telling him after she finished her dance: “Your Highness’ place is not here, but in the palace”. The king subsequently left the place.

Taheyya supported the revolution of 1952, but was imprisoned for 100 days in 1954 along with her husband Mostafa Kamal Sodqi who was a member of the royal guard before the revolution. They were arrested and charged with conspiracy against the regime. She then said: “One Farouk is gone, but a bunch of Farouks took his place” referring to the way the officers of the 1952 revolution were behaving very much like the king they deposed. Taheyya also helped the fedayeen against the English occupation and smuggled weapons for them. She even did weapon training to join the ranks of the resistance against the tripartite aggression of 1956.

Tahya
Taheyya’s shoe

Despite her great success and high social standing, Taheyya always kept her shoe within arm’s reach. She would use it against anyone who she felt insulted her. It was as if the feeling of insult she felt as a child haunted her.

There are four instances in which Taheyya used her shoe. The first one was during her work with Badia Massabni. She raised her shoe in the face of Hassan, a member of the royal family and the son of the princess, after he pulled her while she was dancing. This led King Fouad to ban nobility and royalty from visiting what he called lowly places where common people go. The second instance was during the Cannes Film Festival in France after she was provoked by pro-Zionist American actress Susan Hayward speaking badly about Arabs. Taheyya replied by insulting the actress, which led American star Dany Kay to intervene in defense of his colleague, but was surprised by Kariokka’s shoe in his face, and stepped back.

تحية-كاريوكا-مع-رشدى-اباظة

The third instance was when Kariokka travelled with her husband Roshdi Abaza to Beirut. While they were there, she caught him in a night club in an intimate moment with his french friend Annie Barnet. She raised her shoe and pulled the french woman by her hair, teaching her a hard lesson, and divorced Abaza. The fourth instance was in the Samiramis hotel on the Nile in Cairo. The victim was an American senator. A number of artists were invited for a party attended by Egyptian and American officials. The senator asked the actress Faten Hamama to dance but she refused, so he pulled her. Taheyya was quick to react, grabing her shoe and beating the senator. This story is reported by Samir Sabri who was present that night.

The young girl who had her nephew smuggle sweets for her while her brother held her captive and tortured her in his house, was very generous with the poor. Rajaa Al Gidawi recounts how Taheyya had a special place in her house for poor people to eat, drink and ask her for favors. She also adopted a child before she died and the child was later raised by the artist Fifi Abdo.

During her last days, Badaweyya Taheyya wore the veil, and went to Hajj several times. It is said that she became close to Sheikh Mohamed Metwalli Al Shaarawi, one of the most well known clerics in Egypt. On the 20th of September 1999, she died.

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