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Nelly Mazloum (1929 - 21 February 2003) was an Egyptian actress, dancer and choreographer of Greek origin who taught ballet, modern dance, folkloric Egyptian dances and artistic oriental dance. Known for her sense of humor, she is famous for her role in the movie Ibn Hamidu along with Ismail Yasseen.

The early years

Nelly-Catherine Mazloum-Calvo was born in Alexandria, Egypt into a Greek family. Her father was an Italian from Naples and her mother a Greek from Asia Minor. Her father created costume jewellery and her mother was an able pianist. They owned a hotel across the street from the Alambra theatre. Mazloum suffered from paralysis of the legs at the age of two and walked again after years of loving care by a paediatrician and his wife, a ballet teacher. That's where she learned to dance.

At the age of five, she auditioned at the theatre and started a dance career as a child prodigy, from 1939 to 1945, working in two shows a day, all year: in Alexandria in the summer months, in Cairo during the winter, the darling of the elite society. She danced at the famous Opera Casino, run by Badya Masabni, where oriental dance greats started. There were two shows: a matinee, for families, which ended at eight o'clock (and where Nelly danced, always under the watchful eyes of her mother, who was her shrewd impresario), and then the other one, where spirits were served. The little girl, once her own dancing was over, stayed on to watch the rehearsal of the great artists such as Samia Gamal and Tahiya Karioka, directed by an Italian choreographer, who would create special moves for them. She appeared in front of King Farouk, in the same show as Samia Gamal and Umm Kulthum. Most of the time she danced ballet or modern dance.

In 1939 the 10-year-old Mazloum appeared on her first film, I prosfygopoula (The refugee girl), a Greek language movie starring Sophia Vembo, on a screenplay by D. Bogris, followed in 1940 by Ben Nareen.
The golden years

In the 1940s and 50s the strikingly beautiful young woman danced in all the choicest venues, creating her own choreographies, and as an actress in the theatre and in the cinema, for about 17 films. Of those, she performed oriental dance only in two. One is Shahrazad (1941) starring Hussein Sedky, Elham Hussein and Samia Gamal, the other one was Soliman's Ring (1946), directed by Hassan Ramzy (the uncle of percussionist Hossam Ramzy). Simone Gasser (Meissoun),[1] a Swiss oriental dancer who took seminars with her, says: "According to her, the reason why she didn't do Raqs Sharqi in films was because 'everybody else did it' and they wanted her to do other dances because she could." According to Mazloum's daughter Marianna, "There were some 300 Egyptian dancers doing oriental very cheaply, they could be hired for 5 pounds per film, while my mother commanded a hefty cachet of 100 pounds because she was the only modern dancer in Egypt at that time — so why 'waste' her on something everybody else did?" She also ran a successful ballet school, which provided young artists for the National Opera of Cairo.

Nelly liked the luxuries in life, and she enjoyed life to the full. She was married six times. One of her husbands was a Greek-Egyptian named Andreas Roussos (unrelated to engineer Yorgos Roussos, the father of (Demis Roussos). She was married to him for four years, and he was the father of her two children: Emanuel and, two years later, Marianna (also known by her pet name and stage name Marhaba). Marianna says:

My father was very rich, the owner of a candy factory. He didn't want my mother to dance, so she stopped performing and concentrated on research. Although her main training was in ballet, she never missed a chance to learn Egyptian dance forms. When I was small I remember we visited my father's sweet factory and when there was a festivity, we watched the girls dance to music from the radio. Outside the building there was a cul-de-sac where these poor people always held their weddings, borrowing the tables from the factory.Moreover, she took the car and chauffeur and went around to watch people in their original surroundings, Bedouin marriages in the desert etc... She traveled the whole country for many years, from the desert to the villages, souks, cities, always looking for new dance movements.During her visits to the rich Egyptian ladies, on the other hand, she would watch their dance too: a different sort of dance, more refined than the beledi or the shaabi - she calls it hawanem. She absorbed it all. An avid reader, she never visited a bookstore without coming home with 30-40 books. She once took a whole year to study books in the National Egyptian Museum, looking for descriptions of dances and costumes in ancient times. The director gave her a special permission, and she had to handle the fragile manuscripts with gloves.

The Nelly Mazloum troupe

Eventually, Mazloum divorced her husband, opened a ballet school, and returned to performing, ready to form her own dance company. The members were all amateurs, some taken from her ballet school, some from the field of gymnastics, some were students and some had another morning job.[2] After two years of hard work, they staged, in 1956 (three years before the creation of the Mahmoud Reda troupe), a show with Egyptian folklore, the first of its kind. Her troupe started with 25 people but soon grew to 40 dancers (20 female and 20 male) with a 50-people orchestra. The dance style she called Raqs el Ta'biri (Expressive Dancing) and was her own artistic elaboration and stylization of the raw material of folk dances she had seen and studied. The programme included scenes from rural life. By then she had started dancing again and took part in the performances. Now her school had two branches, the ballet school (for the girls of the elite society) and the folkloric school, for the training of company members. Marianna Mazloum said:

The company presented only the folkloric style of dance. Raqs Sharqi was not considered worthy of the stage, at those times, it was only done in nightclubs or in parties. As for Raqs el Hawanem it was done inside the homes. There was no company in Egypt which presented oriental dance on the stage.

They performed in high-end venues like the Montaza Gardens.[3] In 1958, the company was showcased in the great International Fair for Egyptian Cotton, at the Grand Palais in Gezira, and won more and more acclaim, as testified by numerous newspaper articles.[4]

In 1959, Mahmoud Reda, his brother Ali Reda and his sister-in-law Farida Fahmy co-founded the Reda Troupe. It is unclear why some of their collaborators, such as Atef Farag, claim to be the first to present folkloric dances in the theatre and to be "the first Egyptian dance company to record Egyptian folk songs and dances from many different and remote regions of Egypt and perform them on stage."[5]

In 1959-60, the Egyptian government wanted to establish a National Ballet Academy and called Mr. Jukov, assistant teacher at the Bolshoi Ballet in the then Soviet Union, to help. Mazloum was chosen as his assistant, for her knowledge of classical dance and Arabic. For three years she was his right hand. The next year, another ambitious project was formed: the establishment of a National Folkloric Academy and yet another Russian, Mr. Ramazen, came for that purpose. Again Mazloum was his bridge to the local talent. He came to her in the morning to learn the movements of folkloric dances which he then showed to the dancers in the afternoon. However, when she saw that the Russians adulterated the Egyptian style and made it more Russian, she quit the job. But her experience with them was invaluable, helping her to organize her knowledge of technique and create a method for her own school — what would emerge as her signature style.

It was a time of great political favour. The Minister of Culture, Dr. Sarwat Okasha, was so enthusiastic about her work that he used to buy tickets for poor people to see her shows without paying. In 1961, he gave the company a floating theatre, a boat, which toured the Nile back and forth, stopping to perform at every village.[6] Mazloum also did experimental styles like pharaonic dance[7][8] (she presented it at the first 'Sound and light' show [6]), a "desert dance" with veil,[9] etc. One of her great successes was the biblical story Ayub el Masri, in 1962.[10] It was also the year she and her company participated in the Helsinki International Youth Festival, where she was awarded the Silver Medal for her folkloric dances Al Ghazl, representing the weaving of the bridal veil. She became the official choreographer of the Cairo Opera, for opera and operetta productions. She choreographed, among others, Mahr el Aroussa (The bride's dowry) in 1963, the first all-Arabic classical operetta.[11]

After having formed the Ballet Academy and the Folkloric Dance Academy, the government approached her about forming a National Folklore troupe (without her). She replied "the troupe without me does not exist" and refused, remaining independent. Mahmoud Reda's troupe[12] became the National Troupe.
The move to Greece

In 1964 the government changed, and the minister of culture fell in disgrace, with all his proteges. Most of Mazloum's dancers were lured to the National Reda company, with a higher pay. The new people in favour made life for Mazloum very difficult, starting a slander campaign in the press. She packed all her belongings, put her children temporarily in a boarding school, and left Egypt for Greece, starting afresh. There, she buried all the tokens of her past career in a series of trunks and vowed never to dance again, but concentrate on teaching and propagating the art of dance, founding the Athens International School where, again, she taught ballet and modern dance. She changed her name to Nelly M. Calvo, so that people wouldn't associate her with her past self.
Teaching dance and the MADRI foundation

From 1985 she restarted teaching oriental dance, creating the Nelly Mazloum Oriental Dance Technique (1988), which includes her own signature style, called ["Hawanem"][13] the dance of high nobility which she was the first to introduce in Europe and has become her signature style. She also started giving a series of seminars abroad, fighting to ban the word "bellydance" in favour of "oriental dance". She also developed her own system of working out, called the Vivicorporeal Psychosomatic Alignment Technique, to support Oriental dance.

In 1990 she wrote Oriental Dance Technique (1992)[14] and in 2001 she founded the Nelly Mazloum Mediterranean Archaic Dances Research Institute (MADRI), a nonprofit organization aiming at evolution and preservation of Mediterranean Archaic Dances[15] As Mazloum wrote: "Archaic Dances still influence our moving center for they are rooted in the cosmic memory of our planet. They may disappear into the past but always find their way back to us through research work & Spiritual Identification."

She died on 21 February 2003.

Her daughter, Marianna Roussou Mazloum, has continued teaching the traditional Nelly Mazloum Oriental dance technique as well as Vivicorporeal classes and has continued in her role as the co-founder of MADRI in Athens, Greece. The Madri Institute organizes classes and seminars on the Nelly Mazloum Oriental Dance Technique and Vivicorporeal, in Athens and abroad.
External links

Official Site


Nelly Mazloum "Oriental Dance Technique" 1990. Greek edition "Astir" Athens 1992 ISBN 960-220-097-9
Fahmy, Farida (Melda). (1987). The creative development of Mahmoud Reda. A contemporary Egyptian choreographer. Master thesis, University of California, Los Angeles

^ [1]
^ News cutting from Le progres Egyptien, Cairo 1961
^ News cutting from La bourse Egyptienne, 1956
^ Programme of the International Fair for Egyptian Cotton, Cairo 1958
^ [2]
^ Magazine Touristique, Cairo 1961
^ Picture of 1948, in Nelly Mazloum's book Oriental Dance Technique
^ News cutting, Images magazine, Cairo 1950
^ News cutting from Images magazine, 1961
^ Programme of Ayoub el Masri, presented by the Nelly Mazloum Company at the Mohammed Farid Theatre
^ News cutting from Imagesmagazine on the Operetta Mahr El Aroussa, 1963
^ [3]
^ [4]
^ [5]
^ Official Site

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