The following is a modified transcription of a conversation between Tahia Carioca and Beata and Horacio Cifuentes in 1994 from the video, Oriental Fantasy VII: Tahia Carioca in Berlin, Germany.
Beata: So, Madame, you started taking ballet when you were a young girl?
Tahia: I started classic ballet. Ten years after, I started to be an Arabic dancer.
Beata: You started with Madame Badia Masabni?
Tahia: Yes, I started there. I was fourteen years old, very young. I started with a group. I never danced solo. It was with four girls, a quartet: two Italian girls, an English one and one Egyptian, myself. When I started it was twenty pounds (now about $7 USD) a month, later forty pounds a month. You know where the Sheraton is in Cairo? The theater was just down from there. Everyday we started work downtown by where the Sheraton is now. We walked there from downtown to the matinee. Everyday there were three matinees: two for women only, one for men and women. We started at nine in the morning, and finished at four. Five hours everyday we worked. There were about fifteen girls, and with the men that were with us there were about twenty of us. Farid Atrache, Mohamed Fauzi, Samia Gamal — all of the ones everyone knows were with Badia Masabni. She had a beautiful group. She would change the program every fifteen days. All of the big singers of Egypt were there. We had music, singing and acting, not only dance. She had lots of big stars in her group.
Beata: And what do you do now?
Tahia: My work, my cinema work, I read the scenario (script). Sometimes I had five scenarios to chose. I had to read them. I can’t let somebody read them for me. I had to read them and see.
(Editor’s note: Tahia performed in about 300 films, plays and television soap operas, and was still working on a TV series until two years ago.)
Beata: So you are not retired and comfortable. You are still working?
Tahia: Yes, busy with work. Even if you have a trouble, if you work, it makes you forget everything.
Beata: You stayed in the theater hour after hour with no complaint. When it is work, it is work.
Tahia: My eyes…I had about ten scenarios. I love my work. I love it, really. I don’t love anything in my life but my work.
Beata: At which age did you stop dancing, and only acting.
Tahia: 32 years.
Beata: Was it for a special reason, or a special part?
Tahia: I never stayed until I aged. I feel that I left when I was at the top. They only remember me as I was. When Samia went back to work, I said, “Don’t work. You will regret it.” She did regret it…She said to me, “They are going to pay me lots of money.” I said, “Shit, what is the money. Don’t ever come back. Stay (away), so that the people will remember you as beautiful.”
Beata: We are interested to know your opinion about religion, the Koran. How do you see the dance? The fundamentalists see the dance as bad.
Tahia: I am not fanatic. I go to church, mosque. I have lots of friends—Christian, Jew, Muslim. Sometimes, you know, now and then, you go see a man. Sometimes you stay at home. Right now I am happy to stay at home and read the Koran. I am not young. I am finished.
Beata: Do you think the fundamentalists, the fanatic fundamentalist are trying to forbid…? Do you think they will ruin…?
Tahia: We are not like the Saudi Arabian or the Kuwaiti, or something else. In Egypt it is always open. We will never be closed (she makes a gesture of being covered). You see girls with short skirts (on the streets). We will never go back. Yes, some fanatic people, but okay, they will stay until we kill all, finished.
Beata: In the forties, they never wore anything on their middle, now it is forbidden (to have the torso uncovered).
Tahia: Nobody told us to cover. It is more like you dance with a nice thing here (pointing to her abdomen). Maybe she is making a sleazy movement, but not because of the net. I dance with a galibiyya…is more sexy when you do it.
Beata: Has the dance lost something today? Did it change or lose?
Tahia: We danced without talking to the public. When you talk with the public, it is finished. No technique now. Before, we had it. You see it.
Beata: There are so many foreigners, especially dance artists in Egypt!
Tahia: I don’t know now. I know before that we are respectable. Everybody respects the dancer. Now I don’t think it’s the same.
Horacio Cifuentes’ early dance training included the Folkloric Troupe of Columbia, the American Ballet Theater in New York and the school of the San Francisco Ballet. By the age of 21 he was dancing major solos with the San Francisco Ballet. He later studied Oriental dance with Magaña Baptiste, Suhaila Salimpour, Bert Balladine, Ibrahim Farrah, and Shareen el Safy, among others. He has taught and performed extensively in the U.S., Canada and Europe, and is co-owner of Tanzstudio Halensee with his wife, Beata, in Berlin, Germany, where they produce “Oriental Fantasy” each Spring. www.oriental-fantasy.com