Princess Ali, of Barnum and Bailey's circus, performs an Egyptian dance in the Edison Company's studio. As she dances, some musicians perform in the background to provide accompaniment.

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Princess Ali
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In the background, three accompanists stand, one beating a tambourine, another playing a flute, and the third (only partially visible) clapping. In the foreground, Princess Ali, dressed in North African clothes and waving a scarf in each hand, dances; after a slow turn, she lays the scarves on her shoulders, faces the camera, and undulates. Then, rhythmically, she turns again. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Egyptian Dance  »

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Princess Ali was featured in Barnum and Bailey's Circus. See more »

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Featured in Edison: The Invention of the Movies (2005) See more »

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A typical example of Kinetoscope cinema

During the last decade of the 19th Century, the Edison Manufacturing Company revolutionized entertainment with the introduction of the Kinetoscope in 1894. A creation of Scottish inventor William K.L. Dickson, the Kinetoscope was the very first device able to exhibit motion pictures in the world, showing the short films through a peephole viewer on the top of its design. Soon after the opening of the first Kinetoscope parlor, the new invention became enormously popular, as nearly everyone was fascinated by the idea of a machine able to reproduce images captured previously. Those very first short films were very different than what now know as movies, as most of the times the short films depicted entertainment acts such as popular vaudeville performers, and sometimes sport events. Just like the members of the "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" show did before, several members of Barnum and Bailey's circus would also become stars of the early cinema.

In 1881, two of the greatest circus of the U.S. were combined by their founders and so the legendary "Barnum & Bailey Circus" was born. It became the most successful circus in America and Princess Ali, professional dancer, was one of its members, and like many other performers, Princess Ali stepped in front of William Heise's camera and did her show for the Kinetoscope. Her performance consisted of a "danse Du Ventre", an oriental belly dance accompanied by several of her musicians who perform the traditional Raks Sharki music. As can easily be imagined, the performance loses an enormous amount of its power without the chance to listen to the music along with Princess' dance, but there is no doubt that this wasn't an obstacle to make her sensual and exotic dance a very popular attraction among the male audiences of its time.

While certainly nothing outstanding without sound, the dance of Pincess Ali captured by the Kinetoscope's camera is still a piece of enormous historical value, as it is the only surviving film of the ones made with the "Barnum & Bailey Circus" in that year. As written above, due to the implicit eroticism of exotic dancers like Pincess Ali, this movie became widely popular and so many more movies similar to this one began to be done. The trend culminated with the 1896 film "Fatima's Coochee-Coochee Dance", where dancer Fatima executed a belly dance considered too erotic to be shown and therefore her pelvis was censored by a Chicago censorship committee. By 1895, Kinetoscope parlors were enjoying an enormous popularity thanks to films like this. Sadly for Edison and company, on that very same year two French brothers were beginning to make films in a very different kind of devise. A devise that would change the world and sent Kinetoscope to oblivion. 5/10


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