Posted on 21/11/2017 by Kay Taylor

An audience with Eman Zaki

An audience with Eman Zaki …… By Kay Taylor

I knew I wanted to meet Eman Zaki when I saw Tracey Gibbs wearing one of her costumes in the UK.  I had heard the name already but she was based miles out of central Cairo in Helliopolis and I just couldn’t be bothered trekking out there.  Then I worked for Raqia Hassan at several of her festivals, ‘Ahlan wa Sahlan,’ and Eman had her costumes there.  I fell in love with her designs and with Eman as I got to know her.  She is one of life’s truly decent people.  Eman loves coming to England and works closely with Farida Dance who stock many of her amazing designs.

I have spent many hours both with groups and by myself at her atelier.  I have had many pleasant evenings with her and her family.  I was just amazed when she pulled out old black and white photos of her mum who was a dancer.  And photos of herself and her sister Hoda, who were both professional dancers.  ‘Why did you become a dancer?’ I wanted to know.  ‘I loved belly dancing and my mother, Samira Zaid, was a dancer in Cairo from 1946 – 1955.  My sister Hoda was also a dancer’.   Given the culture I asked if Eman had any opposition from within the family.  ‘My mother wanted us to be dancers but my fathers family did not like it at all’, Eman explained.  As a matter of fact she brought her aunt from her fathers side to one Fantasia festival in London and enjoyed showing her how respected a dance form it is here …. And I am sure her aunt will also have clocked how much Eman is respected and in demand as a designer.

Samira Zaid worked at various places in Cairo including at Badia Massabne’s where dancers such as Tahia Carrioca and Naima Akef also worked.  The regime was very strict and dancers pay would be docked if they were late or missed rehearsals.  I was interested to find out what training Eman had had.  She told me: ‘My mother was a very strict teacher, insisting that I learn ballet, tap and jazz dance while in the USA during the 1980’s.  Most dancers in the past were accomplished in more than one discipline which is why she pushed me to learn.’

Eman started her professional dance career in Syria in 1977.  She performed in Jordan, the Emirates, Oman, USA, Lebanon, Cairo, India, Tunisia and Germany.  She stopped dancing in 1989.  ‘Did you enjoy your life as a professional dancer?’ I asked.  ‘Yes.  Because I was lucky – at that time there were more opportunities for good dancers.  I could plan a year ahead and live in good accommodation – just like a tourist.  My ex-husband asked me to stop dancing and so I did.  After we got divorced he still interfered with my career, telling agents not to book me (he was a hotel owner in Dubai), so I came back to Cairo to dance.  Sustaining a dance career in Cairo was much more difficult than abroad.  You have to be very hard and single minded.  It was not the life I wanted so I decided to change my career.’

‘As I was abroad a lot of the time I was sometimes forced to start making my own costumes.  After I stopped dancing, I continued to make costumes for friends.  I opened an accessory shop where everything was hand made by me.  I travelled to Lebanon to learn tailoring and embroidery and began by making evening wear.  With the growing need for well crafted dance costumes, I founded the ‘Golden Lotus’ in 1999.’  Eman explained.  Last year I had a request from dancer Anna Bisco, based in Leeds, for Eman to design her wedding dress.  Anna wanted it to be something she could wear as a costume after.  I think we started the process a year before the actual wedding – which was a good thing – as I had to bring things for her to try then take them back ….. Anna saw Eman when she was in the UK … and also travelled to Cairo.  What she got was a unique dress.

In Cairo, Eman has designed for most of the top named dancers:  Fifi Abdou, Dina, Randa, Lucy, Leila and Soraiya as well as our UK dancers based in Cairo, Yasmina and Lorna.  Also many dancers abroad … Eman says it would be easier to say which countries she doesn’t have customers in.  Interestingly, Eman far prefers dealing with ordinary folk, down to earth people like herself, than the stars!  I couldn’t temp her to tell any stories that could go into print ….. Eman is absolutely discreet when it comes to her clients.

Eman is kept extremely busy with her costume business.  I take groups to see her as well as other designers.  Eman might be a bit more expensive ….. but, everyone always agrees you can see the quality of the craftsmanship.  Earlier this year I organised a sewing trip to Cairo.  Girls were shown how to create a costume from the beginning.  How to make a pattern, sew the costume, how bras were made and, last but not least, different applique and beading techniques.  An amazing process to be shown – and an insight into the amount of work in each costume.

Eman loves sharing what she knows with other people who love the dance.  She brings a touch of the glamour of the 40’s and 50’s, a reminder of that beautiful romantic period with Farid el Atrash crooning to Samia Gamal.  A softer, less complicated, yet entrancing style of belly dance which is completely different to the modern style of today. Eman is always happy to discuss music and how your costume choice can enhance your performance.  As a dancer herself, she brings that extra something to each of her designs.

Eman Zaki will be at the Fantasia Festival this year.  She will have a selection of designs from her new collection for you to try …. Or you can discuss your dream costume – and have it made up for you.  Eman has a range of designs from £250 to £475.  We might even have a few older designs at discounted prices.

Eman will be with the Farida stall, come and see her there.  If you want to make sure you have time to talk about and order your own dream costume, email us  to book an appointment.

Get in touch for more information

Contact Us