Because she was the victim of a million copycats all of whom used the name “Little Egypt”, there is some fuzziness about whom the true original artiste was, although sources name Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, ak.a. “Fatima”, who performed in the “Streets of Cairo” pavilion at the World Columbian Exposition in 1893. Clad in harem pants and a sheer top that left her midriff exposed, she did a sexy, snake-like dance, wiggling her abdomen and writhing her arms whilst beguiling the male patrons with a look of “come hither”. Initially presented with an anthropological rationale, the exhibition’s baser charms became its selling point almost instantly, much as an issue of National Geographic in the hands of an adolescent becomes pornography. Her act, which raised the brows of many, became known variously as the “belly dance”, the “cooch dance” or the “hoochy coochy”. By the following year it had become a national craze, with scores of Little Egypts to be found in carnivals, dime museums, and amusement parks all over the country.
Little Egypt was inducted into Coney Island USA’s Sideshow Hall of Fame in 2011.
And, of course, let’s not forget the awesome Lieber and Stoller song!
And to find out more about the history of show business, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.