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Little Egypt was the stage name for at least three popular belly dancers from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. They had so many imitators the name became synonymous with belly dancers generally.
Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos, (c. 1871 – April 5, 1937), also performing under the stage name Fatima, got her start at the Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone, Arizona. In 1893 she appeared at the "Street in Cairo" exhibition on the Midway at the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago. Legend has it that Mark Twain had a near fatal heart attack watching her go through her paces.
Lorraine Shalhoub (born December 20, 1931 in Brooklyn) used the name Little Egypt for her acting career.
Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos
Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, a belly dancer who went by the stage name of Fatima got her start at the Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881. In the reopened saloon's lobby hangs a larger-than-life sized painting she donated entitled "Fatima". It bears six patched bullet holes; one can be seen above the belly-button and a knife gash in the canvas below the knee.
In 1893 Spyropoulos went to Chicago to appear at the World's Columbian Exposition. At the Egyptian Theater on the fair's Midway 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. The melody that accompanied her dance became famous as the Snake Charmer song. Spyropoulos, the wife of a Chicago restaurateur and businessman who was a native of Greece, was billed as Fatima, but because of her size, she had been called "Little Egypt" as a backstage nickname.
Spyropoulos gained wide attention, 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 "belly dance" 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 18th century.
Some time after the fair Spyropoulos went to Europe, and performed under the stage name "Little Egypt."
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. Spyropoulos then claimed to be the original Little Egypt from the Chicago Fair. Recognized as the true Little Egypt, she always disliked being confused with Ashea Wabe, after Wabe's performance at the Seeley banquet in 1896 ended up in her arrest and a full-scale New York City scandal.
Spyropoulos danced as Little Egypt at the 1933 Century of Progress in Chicago at the age of 62.
At the time of her death, she had filed suit against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for the use of her name in the motion picture The Great Ziegfeld, claiming that the producers of the movie failed to ask her consent.
Ashea Wabe became front-page news in 1896 after she danced at a swank Fifth Avenue bachelor party for Herbert Seeley. A rival promoter reported that Wabe was going to dance nude and the party was raided by the vice squad. Though the raid precluded Wabe from completing her act, she nonetheless admitted to local authorities that she had been paid to dance and pose "in the all-together", a euphemism for having no clothes on. Theodore Roosevelt, then a New York City Police Commissioner, supported the police captain who conducted the raid and who was subsequently vilified by the city media for interfering with a party held by upstanding gentlemen. Only later did the story come out that Wabe (a.k.a. Little India) had every intention of performing in the nude and would have done so had the police raid not occurred.
The raid brought some amount of fame to Wabe. She was hired by Broadway impresario Oscar Hammerstein I to appear as herself in a humorous parody of the Seeley dinner. She might have then been forgotten except for a series of photographs taken by Benjamin Falk.
On January 5, 1908, she was found dead in her apartment at 236 West 37th Street, New York City, by her sister, having apparently died from gas asphyxiation. She was said to have left an estate of over $200,000.
Fatima was the subject of two early films, Edison's Coochee Coochee Dance (1896) and Fatima (1897).
Legacy in film
- The American Mutoscope and Biograph Company released three short reels in 1897 with a dancer billed as Little Egypt.
- In the 1940 Mae West movie My Little Chickadee there is a humorous reference to Little Egypt in dialogue between West's character "Flower Belle", substituting as a teacher, and an elderly pupil called "Pop".
- Little Egypt is a highly fictionalized 1951 film about the legendary World's Fair dancer, produced by Universal International, and starring Rhonda Fleming in the title role.
In the second episode of the TV series “The Waltons”, Grandpa Walton say he saw Little Egypt in the Chicago World's Fair.
In the season 7 episode of the TV show "M*A*S*H*", "They Call the Wind Korea" , Colonel Sherman comments that the camps water tower, "sways in the wind like Little Egypt".
Legacy in music
- Rock and Roll tunesmiths Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller penned a song entitled "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)" that was a 1961 hit for The Coasters. In the song, Little Egypt is depicted as a burlesque dancer/stripper, "wearing nothing but a button and a bow". The song has been covered by other artists including Elvis Presley.
- Ray Wylie Hubbard mentions both Tempest Storm and Little Egypt in the title track of his album Snake Farm when discussing the singer's girlfriend Ramona who works at a reptile house.
- Well a woman I love is named Ramona
- She kinda looks like Tempest Storm
- And she can dance like Little Egypt
- She works down at the snake farm
- Well a woman I love is named Ramona
- Hank Williams Jr. mentions Little Egypt in his song "Naked Women and Beer".
Legacy in literature
Loving Little Egypt is the title of a Thomas McMahon novel, set in the late 19th century.
Legacy in Wrestling
- Angelina Altishin wrestled at GLOW Glorious Ladies of Wrestling as the Little Egypt character in the 80's.
- "Chicagoans Pay Silent Tribute to 'Little Egypt,'" Rockford (Ill.) Morning Star, April 9, 1937, p. 3
- Carlton, p. 77.
- Borough of Manhattan Death Certificate no. 811 for 1908, New York City Department of Records, Municipal Archives of the City of New York, 31 Chambers Street, Room 103, New York City 10007
- "TheOscarSite.com Deaths for 1921: Fatima Djemille". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2010-09-05.
- "Little Egypt". IMDb.
- "Little Egypt--Remember? In Defense of Wriggles", Omaha World-Herald, April 4, 1936, p. 4
- Carlton, pp. 66 - 67.
- "'Little Egypt' Dead; Coroner Suspicious in Death of Seeley Dinner Dancer," Baltimore Sun, January 6, 1908, p. 9; "The Fatal Curse of the Wicked Seeley Dinner. 'Little Egypt's' Shocking Death Only Latest Tragedy in The Long Record of Disasters That Keeps On Following The Feasters at The Revel." New Orleans Item, January 26, 1908, p. 40
- WoollyTunes (9 September 2011). "Mae West teaches a room of school boys in "My Little Chickadee" 1940". Archived from the original on 2021-12-12 – via YouTube.
- Carlton, Donna (June 1995). Looking for Little Egypt. International Dance Discovery. ISBN 978-0-9623998-1-7.
- Kennedy, Charles A; Saffle, Michael, editor (1998). "When Cairo Met Main Street: Little Egypt, Salome Dancers, and the World's Fairs of 1893 and 1904". Music and Vulture in America, 1861-1918. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities. New York: Garland. pp. 271–298. ISBN 0815321252.
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