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"Ghawazi nomads, who were professional Egyptian dancers, are seen in a number of nineteenth-century paintings. Although
by the 1850's, the name almeh was applied to them and, indeed, to all public entertainers, this word more correctly designated
female improvisors of songs and poems. These dancers once used to perform in cafes and at private feasts in Cairo, but an
1834 edict issued by Mehmet Ali had banished them to Keneh, Esna, and Aswan. There, they became something of a tourist attraction.
When Gustave Flaubert visited Esna in 1850, he was entertained by the courtesan Kuschiuk Hanem, who did a famous striptease
dance known as the bee. It was so sensual, Flaubert recounts, that the youths playing the accompanying music had their eyes
bound with handkerchiefs so that their innocence should not be corrupted. To the Egyptians of ancient as well as modern times,
it was quite normal for the sexual act to be sublimated in a dance. On the other hand, the extremely conservative Egyptian
society must have found many things about Europeans, their impiety, their acceptance of adultery, both vulgar and vile. Once
again, it was a question of customs and taboos differing from one civilization to another. Many Western travelers felt ashamed,
or affected to feel guilty, over finding the extremely varied Egyptian dances so thrillingly provocative, but predictably,
paintings of women dancing for men's pleasure enjoyed great success in Europe. Appreciative male onlookers are also depicted
in Theodore Chasseriau's 'Handkerchief Dance' (1849), in which the women seem to be moving as if in a trance. Theophile Gautier,
who visited Algeria in 1845, one year before Chasseriau, described a similar performance, as follows: 'Moorish dancing consists
in perpetual undulations of the body: twistings of the lower back, swayings of the hips, movements of the arms, hands waving
handkerchiefs, languid facial expressions, eyelids fluttering, eyes flashing or swooning, nostrils quivering, lips parted,
bosoms heaving, necks bent like the throats of love-sick doves... all these explicitly betoken the mysterious drama of voluptuousness
of which all this dancing is the symbol.'... this entertainment was, after all, designed to tempt and seduce."- from WOMEN
AS PORTRAYED IN ORIENTALIST PAINTING, by Lynne Thornton
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