Princess Madiha was born and raised in Syria. Her mother came from a royal bloodline in Syria, and although her family did not have the money that came with it, they did have their titles, hence the “princess”.
Madiha was born with a love of music and dance, she told Gisselle Fobbs for her “The Best of Habibi” interview, “My mother told me that my cousin came over one night when I was about 40 days old and played the rababa while I was lying by the fire in my cradle. While he was playing his instrument, my feet were kicking in time to the music.”
When she was five, Madiha watched a film with Samia Gamal. This was her first exposure to oriental dance, and she was hooked. She said, as a child, “Whenever I heard someone walk by the school playing a transistor radio, I felt compelled to stand up and dance. Every time I did this I got sent home from school.”
Madiha’s father passed away when she was just 12 and she and her mother moved in with her two sisters. Two years later the determined teenager decided to be a dancer. She hid this from her family for various reasons. She was hired by Fatma Akef to be a soloist in her dance revue in Humus, Syria. At the age of 15 she also starred in a Syrian movie and shockingly no one in her family recognized her.
Madiha went to great lengths to be able to dance. “After my second job, I was fired because they found out I was only fourteen years old. My agent asked me to try and have my age changed on my passport, and gave me papers for my mother to sign. Since my mother was a country girl and did not read or write, she had no idea her thumb print gave her daughter permission to perform on stage. I brought a witness with me to the passport office to testify that I was eighteen, not fourteen, and they gave me a new passport showing me to be eighteen years old.”
At 16 years old, Madiha began touring. Eventually she performed in places like Egypt and Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, India, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Japan, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and the Philippines, Italy, France, and England and the U.S.
In Japan, because not many were exposed to middle eastern dance, she was introduced with a film about the pyramids of Egypt to explain where she was from, which is pretty funny.
While the tours were successful, she did have her embarrassing moments:
“When I was in Lebanon, some friends of mine invited me over to their table before my show and offered me some champagne. I didn’t know what effect it would have on me. I was fourteen years old at the time. I tasted it, and kept saying, ‘Oh, this is good!’…They kept bringing more bottles to the table. I kept drinking and saying how good it tasted while my friends kept laughing because they were playing a joke on me…During my number I went into the splits and couldn’t get up again…One of the waiters, who was like a father to me, was named Samy. I yelled, ‘Hey Samy.’ I whistled. ‘Come over here,’ and motioned for him to pick me up. They all knew that I had had too much to drink. Everyone was laughing at me. So he came, picked me up, and carried me from the stage while the people were clapping and yelling, “More! more!” I tell you…that was embarrassing! The hangover was unbelievable! I woke up in bed the next day and had no idea how I got there. I didn’t want to see food or drink again for as long as I lived. That was the last time I touched champagne. I hate champagne!”
“When I was working in Tehran at the age of fifteen there was a cholera out break, and hundreds of people were dying every day. My boss at the club was ninety years old. He was so senile that every night I had to have someone introduce me to him because he couldn’t remember who I was. One day I felt the cholera coming on. He told me the best remedy is to drink lots of vodka. So, I drank a whole bottle. When I got up on the stage to dance, all I did was just stand there and stare at the people. The musicians kept saying, ‘Come on, Madiha. Move!’ I said, ‘What? I am moving!’ This was another disaster where I had to be carried off the stage, but I never became sick with the cholera. They put me to bed and gave me soup made with pepper and hot spices. I sweated so much that night that the next morning they had to change the mattress of my bed because it was so wet. The doctor told me that if I hadn’t drunk the vodka, I’d be dead by now.”
Her most embarrassing story is when she danced in Cairo at Sahara City. Tahia Carioca, Samia Gamal, Naima Akef, Nagwa Fouad, Sohair Zeki and more were in the audience, she was only 17 at the time. During the dance the heel of her shoe broke and she fell on stage. She said, “I prayed to God that I could die then and there. When this happened, Tahia Carioca insulted me, and yelled, ‘Get up you___ ___ ___! Are you a dancer or not?’ Madiha continued to dance and proved herself to the Tahia and the rest. She said, “Nothing embarrassed me after that because that was the worst thing that could possibly have happened to me. Most of those dancers became good friends with me after that because I earned their respect. Tahia Carioca was outstanding to me after that. She used to come visit me whenever I was working, and tell the waiter, ‘You tell that girl her mistress is here and she had better come to pay her respects.’ I would always go sit by her like a little pussycat.”
While touring in the states she ended up falling in love and getting married in Detroit where she now teaches.
WHY WE <3 <3 <3 HER:
This is so easy. We love how hungry she was to dance. She didn’t let anything stop her or knock her down. Not only that, but she respected the dance as an art form. She once said “Oriental dance is an art, not a Hollywood or Arabian nights tale of the slave girl dancing for the sultan to show him what she can do later. Oriental dance is an art like ballet or Spanish flamenco. Why drag it into the gutter? When people say to me ‘Belly dance is dirty and vulgar,’ I tell them, ‘The way the dancer presents the steps will make the performance clean or vulgar. Don’t blame the dance, blame the dancer.’”
Known for her crazy shimmies, which she seems to shake out in endless variety, Madiha developed her own unique style. “The only dancer who ever influenced me was Samia Gamal. I would see every single movie she made over and over again to study her dance movements…She was my idol. Every time I would dance on the stage I would picture her in my mind. I still watch some of her tapes now and then. I don’t do her steps anymore because they’re old-fashioned…Now when I watch Samia Gamal tapes, it is only to remember how I used to dance. In her day she was the best, but times change. No one dances the tango anymore. Everything is fast now. Keep moving. Just keep moving, honey. You’re as good as you move. Thirty years ago dancers used very little movement in the waist, hands and arms. The musicians don’t play this music anymore. Now-a-days you have to dance 200 miles an hour. This is how times change. My style is so different from thirty years ago. My style is what the dance might be fifty years from now. Now I take steps from ballet, Spanish flamenco and rock stars, like Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul, and adapt them to my style. Instead of watching Samia Gamal to get steps, I turn on MTV and find steps from rock and roll. This is funny, but it is what the people want, and you give them what they want. I love it. I like life. I like things fast.”
Annnnnnndddddd not only is she an amazing, inspirational legend, she is also a philanthropist. Every year she sponsors an Oriental Dance concert and seminar for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.