en-us-Old is Gold - Taheya Carioca


Taheya Carioca is among the most important figures in the history of Egyptian cinema. With over 200 productions under her belt, she wasn't just an exceptional dancer. Taheya was also a skilled actress, having participated in films, series and plays of various genres, playing surprisingly different roles.

However, behind her tempting smile and star status was a fierce woman, deeply involved in Egypt's political affairs, both before and after the 1952 revolution.


Taheya Carioca was born Badaweya Mohamed Ali Elnedany Kareem, in 1915, in the Egyptian city of El Ismaeleya, daughter of Mohamed and Fatma. Her father was a boat merchant who married six times. At age 60 she married her mother who was only in her early twenties. When her father died, she was very impacted and could barely speak. She was sent to live with her older half-brother Ahmed. As a child, she showed talent for acting and dancing, but her brother, who was deeply opposed to her dancing, would, in the name of his reputation and family honor, repeatedly beat her. While living with him, she was treated like a slave and chained. Every time she tried to escape, he found her and tortured her even more, until one day he shaved her hair to prevent her from leaving the house.

Reaching the age of 13, she couldn't take it anymore and, with the help of her nephew Osman, fled to Cairo to be with Souad Mahassen, who was known to her brother.

Mahassen was, at the time, a famous Syrian singer and dancer based in Egypt. Taheya asked for a job at Souad's nightclub, but he refused to employ her, due to the bad reputation she would get for working there. However, many of Suad's friends got to know Taheya through visits to her home. They all advised Souad to put her in one of her shows as a chorus girl, but she refused. After some time, she relented and made her an extra in one of her plays, following the advice of actor Beshara Wakim. Taheya studied at Ivanova Dance School before moving to Mohammed Ali Street, which was Cairo's equivalent of Broadway.

When Mahassen was forced to return to Syria with her husband, she left Badaweya in the capable hands of her friend, Badia Massabni.

Massabni was a Syrian-Lebanese singer and dancer, her casino was in the heart of Cairo. Kings and princes from around the world, including King Farouq of Egypt, flocked to the Badia Casino to hear the latest music and watch the best dancers. The name 'Taheya' was given to her by Badia, while her artistic last name was bestowed by her audience, who witnessed her perfect interpretation of the world-famous "Carioca" dance.

Carioca, is the name of a song and dance from 1933 that appeared in the movie Flying Down to Rio, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and that gained worldwide attention. Choreographer Isaac Dickson, who worked at Badia's casino, suggested this style for a solo by Taheya. After becoming fascinated by Brazilian rhythms, she asked her percussionist Zaki to play a similar beat on his tabla and thus introduced Latin rhythms into her show. From then on, she became known as Taheya Carioca.

But she is also known for her loyalty to authentic oriental music and dance. Her curvy body, deeply sensual gaze and the rhythmic sway of her hips have attracted the attention of the Egyptian public for decades.

Competition at the Badia Casino was tough, especially against Samia Gamal, who also danced there early in her career, but her style was totally different from her professional rival.


Taheya rose to fame in 1940, five years after joining Badia's dance troupe. However, this cost her dearly. Her sister, Fatma, was married to Aly El Gedawy, who divorced her when Taheya rose to fame. He refused to remain married to a woman whose sister had such a "dishonorable" profession. After the divorce, Fatma left her daughter, Raga'a El-Gedawy, with Taheya in Cairo.

During this time, Egypt was suffering under the weight of British colonialism and the World Wars. However, Taheya would go onstage at night as usual, just as an excuse to drive her car after her performance, loaded with a trunk full of weapons to El Ismaeleya, where the volunteer soldiers would be camped to fight the British.

Another famous, pre-independence anecdote is that Taheya secretly helped then-officer Anwar Al-Sadat hide from British soldiers.

It was also in 1952, during the Free Officers Movement to overthrow the monarchy, that she married officer Mostafa Kamal Sedqy. However, he left the group, disapproving of the intention of a coup d'état. Together, Sedqy and Carioca secretly distributed leaflets inciting the masses to revolt against the Free Officers.


When the government discovered the pamphlets and her secret marriage to Sedqy, they arrested her, and that was only her first time in prison, in 1952. It was during this time that Taheya uttered one of her many famous phrases: "ذهب فاروق وجاء فواريق" (Faruq is gone and many Faruqs arrived in his place).

Left-wing activist Naela Kamel said she was one of the figures who most impressed her during her five years in prison. She said:

"When Taheya walked in, the entire prison rose to its feet. Political prisoners of all ranks, throughout the day, tried to pass by her cell or glimpse her presence from far. Officials and even the prison director himself, went to her in the cell, in the name of peace, welcoming her, offering their services and tending to her needs ".

Taheya used her privileges to protect the prisoners from the inhumane conditions they were forced to live in. She made headlines when she led a hunger strike inside the prison, demanding basic human rights for female prisoners. They maintained the strike until a human rights commission visited the prison and its director was replaced.

After her first stint in prison, Taheya would often open her home to former prisoners as they recovered from seclusion. She got over her multiple prison stints and let her political work seep into her acting chops. She has been in films and plays filled with political satire and social commentary, especially in her later years on stage and TV.

Before we delve into Taheya's success as an actress and high society dame, let's go back to her dancing talent. It was generally agreed in the artistic world that Taheya had refined the dance of Egypt to a level never achieved before. To the point that dance started to be compared to the arts admired by high society. She was known to have commented that in ancient Egypt dancing was a form of worship to the gods. It is impossible to list the names of the hundreds of dancers who learned directly or indirectly from his fantastic style.

Taheya used to host both official national celebrations and private royal parties. As she was fluent in both English and French, she was able to maintain her position among foreign state leaders, aided by her extensive library, which she often consulted to become the cultured and eloquent artist that she was.


Director Togo Mizrahi was the first to cast her in a film, Dr. Farahat (1935). In 1937, she appeared in Wara' Elsitar (Behind the Curtain) directed by Kamal Selim.

Soon, Taheya became a familiar face as an oriental dancer to the point where she appeared in seven films by 1942, most of them directed by Togo Mizrahi.

However, she worried about being treated only as a belly dancer, as she saw herself as a talented movie star, especially after the success in the role that Togo Mizrahi gave her in Leila, Bint El Reef (Leila, the Country Girl -1941).

Taheya decided to produce films to become a recognized actress, so she created, together with actor Hussein Sedqy and director Hussein Fawzi, a production company they called Sherket Alshabab (Company of Youth). They produced Aheb Elghalat (1942), which marked his first leading role.

Despite the success of this film, which was followed by other films, Taheya still needed a spectacular success that would prove her talent. This was achieved in Taqyet El Ekhfa, The Concealment Cap (1944), directed by Niazi Mostafa.

With the end of World War II, musical comedies began to flourish in the hands of Hussein Fawzi, Ahmed Badrakhan and Helmy Rafla.

Taheya was able to constantly insert herself into the commercial formula of this type of film, like her competitors Samia Gamal and Naima Akef. Both limited their work to one person: Samia Gamal was almost always present with Farid Al-Atrash, while Naima Akef appeared in the films of her husband, director Hussein Fawzi.

Taheya stood out from them for collaborating with everyone, be it actors, producers or directors. She regularly appeared in films with well-known singers such as Mohamed Fawzi, Karem Mahmoud, Abdel-Aziz Mahmoud and also Farid Al-Atrash.

Taheya has always maintained a good reputation among the public, partly because she doesn't dance in well-known night clubs, unlike Horeya Mohamed, Beba Ezz-eddin and Hekmet Fahmy. Most of her dance numbers have been performed during local or international tours. She was also not interested in acquiring the title of palace dancer, like Thuraya Salem. Even her ambiguous relationship with King Farouq was on a surprising equal footing.

Taheya was smart enough to keep up with the changing tastes of the public. Starting out as one of the stars of musical comedies, which were prevalent during the 1940s and early 1950s, she switched from social dramas, in which she was prominent, to family comedies in the 1960s, where she benefited from aging gracefully while reserving a spot to herself on the screen.

Taheya didn't mind playing good supporting roles alongside leading roles. She did this with Leila Mourad in Shate' al Gharam, with Aziza Amir in Qisma u Nassib, with Faten Hamama in Ibn ElHalal, and with Magda in Shate' El Assrar.

Indeed, she did not be busy with subjects that diminished her focus on film. She did not have a company, like Badia Masabni or Marie Mansour, nor did she enter politics, unlike Hekmat Fahmy. And she didn't get involved in disputes with her competitors, as happened between Beba and Badia.

Taheya has been married 14 times. Her list of husbands included renowned actor Rushdi Abaza. One of the anecdotes is that Taheya taught Rushdi how to smuggle weapons and thus perform his "first" act of political resistance against British colonialism.Unfortunately, on a trip to Lebanon, Taheya caught Rushdi's involvement with a French woman, in a bar on Al-Hamra Street, in Beirut. An epic fight ensued, where Taheya dragged the woman by her hair and demanded a divorce.

It is true that she went through several failed marriages, such as the one with the singer Muharram Fuad, the playwright Fayez Halawa and even with an American army officer who took her to the United States, a fact that stalled her career in 1947, but she wanted to go to Hollywood and work there. Appearing in 22 films by 1946 was enough to stamp Taheya's image in viewers' minds. So when she returned to Egypt after the divorce, she appeared in six films in a row, and then 28 more over the next four years.

Taheya was a very determined woman, which made her successful in the tough world of belly dancing, in addition to being a great dancer, no doubt. But no one has ever come close to her impressive virtuosity in wordplay, gestures and ironic flirtation.

Taheya became an idol for Russians, Americans, Germans, Ukrainians, Italians, Armenians, Dutch and French. Everyone was drawn to Taheya's artistic mastery and she proved to be a source of inspiration for a whole new generation of dancers. She has been awarded numerous times in the film industry as well as in theater and by the government of Egypt, but the best prize she received was the love and respect of her loving audience around the world.

As a woman, she broke many barriers, took up a severely despised profession, raised her niece alone and had all her money taken by force by her last husband. She later turned to orthodox Islam. A return that more dancers made in old age, leaving her admitted 14 or more husbands in oblivion.

A personal and sad touch about Taheya's life is the fact that, despite her many marriages, she was unable to become a mother, something that saddened her until her last days. But this has led to her being completely involved with the children of her brothers and the rest of the family, as well as helping and maintaining several orphanages, shelters and children's charities. At the end of her life, she adopted a baby girl, Atiyat Allah, "gift from God".

Taheya died on September 20th, 1999 at the age of 79 from a heart attack. Fifi Abdo took it upon herself to raise Atiyat along with her daughters.

His famous quotation is a precious message for the new generations: "Every oriental dancer must express life, death, happiness, sadness, love and hate, but above all she must have dignity".

Claudia Cenci