Little Egypt Doesn't Dance Here Anymore

Canadian Art


Hamilton Arts Inc February 8 - March 14, 2020

Articule, Montreal January 25 - February 24, 2019 

Little Egypt Doesn’t Dance Here Anymore centers on the iconography surrounding the historical figure of Little Egypt, the stage name of the first belly dancer to premier the dance form in North America during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Attracting over two million attendees, Little Egypt’s “hoochie koochie” routine on the Cairo Street Exhibit was the most visited and most profitable act of the Exposition. While the dance was heavily censored in the public realm for breaking strict Victorian era social codes, it gained popularity in private halls and banquets frequented by wealthy men. Taking advantage of a new and lucrative market, Western women increasingly commodified and mythologized Little Egypt by using her recognizable moniker to promote their own imitations of the dance. Loosely interpreted imitations of belly dancing’s form, costumes, and music eventually culminated into a now familiar cinematic trope that widely circulated during Classic Hollywood cinema (1920s-60s) and whose iterations continue to ripple into today.

Comprised of installation, drawings, video, and material culture, the exhibition tells this history through its offering of over 100 images of entertainers that have replicated, reinterpreted, or referenced Little Egypt. Nahed’s use of carbon paper, American dollar bills, and found footage in her work allude to the ways Little Egypt’s representation is tied to ideas of transfer, circulation, and authorship. And while the exhibition starts off with the 1893 World’s Fair, the survey of Little Egypt’s image and influence over the last century reveal direct and indirect contact with popular figures including Thomas Edison, Rhonda Fleming, Elvis, and Cher.

Photo Credit: Guy L'Heureux

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