Little Egypt (dancer)

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For other uses, see Little Egypt (disambiguation).
Ashea Wabe is seen here as Little Egypt, in one of a series of photos by Benjamin Falk.

Little Egypt was the stage name for three popular belly dancers. They had so many imitators, the name became synonymous with belly dancers generally.

Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos, (c. 1871 - April 5, 1937),[1] also performing under the stage name Fatima, appeared at the "Street in Cairo" exhibition on the Midway at the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893. In 1898 Mark Twain had a near fatal heart attack watching Farida go through her paces.[2]

Ashea Wabe (born Catherine Devine (1871 - January 3, 1908)[3] danced at the Seeley banquet in New York in 1896, enjoying a fleeting succès de scandale.

Fatima Djemille (died March 14, 1921) appeared at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.[4]

Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos[edit]

In the lobby of the Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone, Arizona hangs a larger-than-life sized painting entitled "Fatima". The original painting is of Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, a belly dancer who went by the stage name of Fatima. She played at the Bird Cage in 1881 before leaving to perform at the Chicago World's Fair, where she made quite the scene and then went on to perform in Europe under the stage name "Little Egypt."[citation needed] This painting was a gift from her to the theatre and has hung in the same spot since 1882. It has six patched bullet holes; one can be seen above the belly-button and a knife gash in the canvas below the knee.

In 1893, at the Egyptian Theater on the World's Columbian Exposition Midway in Chicago, 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. 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.[citation needed]

Spyropoulos stole the show, 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 "bellydance" 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. Today the word "hootchy-kootchy" generally means an erotic suggestive dance and is often erroneously conflated with the group of dances originating in the Middle East that we now call bellydance.

in 1896, she was arrested by New York City police. In a raid on the famous Sherry's restaurant, she was caught dancing her specialty, this time, stark naked, at a stag party given by the grandson of P. T. Barnum.[5]

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.

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.[6]

Ashea Wabe[edit]

Ashea Wabe became front-page news item 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.[7]

Fatima Djamile[edit]

Fatima was the subject of two early films, Edison's Coochee Coochee Dance (1896) and Fatima (1897).[citation needed]


Legacy in film[edit]

Legacy in music[edit]

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

Legacy in literature[edit]

Loving Little Egypt is the title of a Thomas McMahon novel, set in the late 19th century.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chicagoans Pay Silent Tribute to 'Little Egypt,'" Rockford (Ill.) Morning Star, April 9, 1937, p. 3
  2. ^ The Love Goddesses(1965) documentary; Janus Films
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Deaths for 1921: Fatima Djemille
  5. ^ Panati, Charles (1998). Sexy Origins and Intimate Things: The Rites and Rituals of Straights, Gays, Bi's, Drags, Trans, Virgins, and Others. Penguin Books. p. 291. 
  6. ^ "Little Egypt--Remember? In Defense of Wriggles", Omaha World-Herald, April 4, 1936, p. 4
  7. ^ "'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
  • 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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