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Life Stories of Female Entertainers

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Karin Van Nieuwkerk

From A Trade Like Any Other-Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt
© 1995, University of Texas Press
Courtesy of University of Texas Press, All rights reserved. No part of this work may be printed, reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the written Permission of the University of Texas Press.


This chapter presents the life stories of the female entertainers I know best.1 These accounts are their initial responses to my request to tell me something about their backgrounds and, especially, how they started to work as performers.

I describe four clusters of related female entertainers. In the first section, I introduce Umm Muhammad, the oldest female performer of Muhammad 'Alî Street, and Ibtisâm, who belongs to the present generation. These life histories illustrate the developments in the profession during the last fifty years. In the second section, I present the Madbah family, a family of former ustâwât working at weddings of the lower-middle class. Their careers illustrate one of the patterns by which women start and leave the profession. It will be followed by a general discussion on women's careers in the entertainment business. Bûha and her family, who work at weddings and saint's day celebrations, are introduced in the third section. Their family enterprise is an example of the close relation between family, marriage, and work. It is followed by a general analysis of the socioeconomic and professional background of entertainers' parents and spouses. The last section presents Karima, a dancer working in cheaper nightclubs, and the sisters Imân and Yasmîn, performers in the more expensive nightclubs. Their backgrounds and careers illustrate the differences and similarities between the nightclub circuit and the circuit of weddings and saint's day celebrations.

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