August 31, 2010

Fatima ("Little Egypt") in Skagway 1898.

Above photo: PEMCO-Webster and; Stevens Collection; Museum of History and Industry, Seattle /Corbis

Friends of Soapy Smith member, Rich sent in the following portion of an email.

"... Also, in the pictorial book "Great American Bars and Saloons" by Kathy Weiser...there is a similar photo to the one in your book of Jeff Smiths Parlor. However, in this photo there are 11 [possibly 12] men milling about out front. You 'probably' are aware of this photo...but just in case, I thought I would mention it."

.....there is a hand painted sign: 'Little Egypt Tonight'...on the building next to Jeff. Smiths Parlor.

[I don't know whether the duplicate photo you put on the blog was cropped and the sign was not visible.]

Apparently during that era, there were other women using the title 'Little Egypt' throughout the country.

The real Little Egypt 'may' have actually passed through Skaguay. I wonder if Jeff and the gang saw the show? :)"

In response I did a little searching. At the Skagway Historical Society blog I found a post on "Little Egypt" in Skagway. Wikipedia had an article as did the website, History of Oriental Dance (Belly Dance) which published the following.

It is believed the first major appearance of belly dance in America happened at the World’s Columbian Exposition aka the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The fair featured a re-creation of an Egyptian market aptly named “Streets of Cairo” where vendors sold Egyptian goods, and dance and music groups from countries like Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Tunisian, Algeria, Turkey, among others, shared their cultural tradition on the stages along the “midway”. The dancer’s hip and stomach movements were considered vulgar and strange compared to the popular waltz and ballet which were acceptable forms of dance of the time. The nearly, fully covered dancers were also considered very controversial for not being corseted, which was the fashion trend and “respectable” custom of the day.

An entertainment promoter for the Exposition named Sol Bloom quickly took advantage of the controversy surrounding the foreign dancers and began billing the dance as the “hootchee-kootchee” dance in order to get more customers. This advertising tactic was a huge success. Soon, others including Vaudeville promoters, labeled its all-American adult entertainment as “hootchee-kootchee” dance in their popular shows, which later became known as burlesque, the precursor to modern day stripping or “exotic” dance. Though burlesque dancers used some of the movements they saw the foreign dancers do, it was not in part or in whole the same traditional and folkloric dance as performed by the “real” belly dancers at the World’s Fair.

The World's Columbian Exposition introduced Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, the original "Little Egypt." Afterward numerous dancers took on the style and name of "Little Egypt" to cash in on the popularity of the new dance.

During the Klondike Gold Rush Vaudeville pioneer, John Considine of Seattle hired Farida Spyropoulos to perform in his People's Theater. It would have been easy to catch a ship to Skagway and perform there as well.

The photograph above comes from the Alaska State Library and although the name is misspelled they agree that Spyropoulos, the original "Little Egypt," danced her way into the hearts and minds of the residents of Skagway. It is likely too that Soapy caught the show.

A connection to Tombstone, Arizona

In Tombstone, Arizona at the Bird Cage theater hangs a painting of "Fatima." According to the website History of Oriental Dance (link above),

At the Exposition, a Syrian-born dancer named Farida Mazar-Spyropoulos (pictured below) performed with “The Algerian Dancers of Morocco” under the name “ Fatima”. Farida later claimed to have been the first “Little Egypt”, but did not perform under this title at the Exposition. Since then many dancers, Middle Eastern and otherwise, have used the name “Little Egypt” to promote themselves, some more respectably than others.

The Bird Cage theater claims Spyropoulos was oriental and that her painting hung in the bar since 1882, however this would be 11-years previous to her "discovery."

"Little Egypt"
(But which one?)
The comments on Youtube regarding this video debate whether this is Spyropoulos or not.

*Special thanks to Rich for questioning.


1 comment:

  1. Pam Potter writes the following:

    "Jeff, thanks for bringing this up, it is an interesting topic. For more information on "Little Egypt" and "Fatima" see LOOKING FOR LITTLE EGYPT by Donna Carlton. There is a picture of "Fatima" on the boardwalk in Coney Island in 1896. There is also a drawing of her on the cover of the Police Gazette, March 31, 1894."


Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions left here. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith