Event—Public Programming

Middle Eastern Dance at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition


From Puck Magazine, 1893

Erika Ochoa and Meiver De la Cruz

Watch a video recording of this event.

The World's Fair introduced Middle Eastern belly dance (inauthentic as it probably was) to audiences on the Expo's Midway Plaisance. Join us to explore the history—and try your hand at—Middle Eastern dance forms in the United States.

10:30 am "Dancing Remains: Female Entertainers Before, During, and After the Columbian Exposition of 1893"

Meiver de la Cruz revisits the historical precedents and ideological legacy of the dances presented at the "Street in Cairo" exhibit in the Midway Plaisance, to challenge prevalent representations dancers as non-agential objects of the gaze. Current research and technology give us more archives and subjects to consider: the Egyptian and foreign Muhammed Alí street performers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Cairo; the imported performers of many backgrounds working in the Fair's Turkish café chantants, the Persian Theater, and the "Street of Cairo" Exhibit; the many "Little Egypts" beyond the Fair that toured and performed in fairs and festivals around the US, and the immigrant and American women who entertained in both the Arab World and the US throughout a politically transformative twentieth century. These highly politicized historical locations somehow have generated research narratives of a colonized, self-exotifying female dancing subject void of any political directive or agency. The dance (movement repertoire), the archive, and the archiving practices of dancers themselves prove the opposite.

11:15 am What Did Middle Eastern Dance at the Fair Look Like?

Erika Ochoa demonstrates three styles of Middle Eastern dance present at the Fair:

  • Ghawazee from Egypt
  • Ouled Naïl from Tunisia
  • Cengi folk dance from Turkey

11:30 am Interactive Belly Dance Workshop

The audience is invited to participate in a workshop for beginners.

About the Speakers

Meiver De la Cruz's work fluctuates between artistic and scholarly production that address the intersections of globalization, racism, and sexual violence, using scholarship, dance, and performance as part of community organizing and empowerment work. Currently she is Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance at Oberlin College and a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University. Her dissertation investigates Arab-American movement practices and performance (social, staged, and ritual dances) as well as formal Arab dance pedagogy in the US, to locate dance as a primary site for the creation and neoliberal circulation of Arab-American identity. She has been teaching dance technique since 2002, and lectures widely on the history and global context of Middle Eastern and North African dance forms at universities, women's groups, and for artistic and community groups.

Erika Ochoa is a contemporary artist and certified instructor of Middle Eastern, particularly Egyptian-style dance. In addition to owning and managing Pineapple Dance Studio in Forest Park, Illinois, she teaches weekly at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

Download a PDF flyer of this event to post and distribute, and check out a Quick Guide to related materials in the Newberry collection.

This event is part of Art Design Chicago's Near North Design Day, featuring special tours, artmaking, live performances, artist demos, and movement workshops at cultural destinations across the Near North Side, including Chicago History Museum, DePaul Art Museum, Edgar Miller Legacy, the Newberry Library, Art on Sedgwick, Roger Brown Study Collection, and Sedgwick Studio. Take a trolley among these locations from 10:30 to 3:30.

This event, funded by a grant from the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, is part of our programming in connection with the exhibition Pictures from an Exposition: Visualizing the 1893 World's Fair. See it from September 28 to December 31, 2018, at the Newberry.

Your generosity is vital in keeping the library’s programs, exhibitions, and reading rooms free and accessible to everyone. Make a donation today.