When “Little Egypt” scandalized New York

In 1896, a young woman named Ashea Waba—who had adopted the stage name Little Egypt—was invited to do some belly dancing at a bachelor party held at swanky Sherry’s restaurant in Midtown.

Belly dancing had recently been introduced to America. Victorian-era audiences were shocked by the sexy stomach swiveling—so much so that the dance was given the nickname the Hootchy-Kootchy.

Normally the Hootchy-Kootchy was performed in belly-bearing skirts or pantaloons, like in the photo of Little Egypt at left. 

But  cops were tipped off that she would be dancing naked. The vice squad came to Sherry’s, and Little Egypt was arrested.

After a trial that made all the New York tabloids, she was cleared of violating any vice laws.

Little Egypt then launched a burlesque troupe of Hootchy-Kootchy dancers and raked in $500 a night.

She died in her West 37th Street apartment in 1908 of “gas asphyxiation.”

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One Response to “When “Little Egypt” scandalized New York”

  1. bellydancenajla Says:

    Ashea Waba was one of the many dancers who took the stage name “Little Egypt,” but the woman in the photograph is actually Fahreda Mahzar, who was a Syrian dancer who performed at the 1893 World’s Fair under that stage name. Donna Carlton’s “Looking for Little Egypt” is a fascinating look into the original LE and the ways in which the World’s Fair system altered the dance.

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