“Among the many forms of entertainment available to the fair-goers, one of the most popular acts was the performance of a belly dancer called Fatima. A hit of the Midway Plaisance, which ‘featured over a score of exotic dances,’ Fatima’s was ‘the wildest of them all.’ She danced with such ‘wild abandon’ and her movements were so lewd that the police felt obliged to step in and stop her act almost daily. As Fatima’s act grew in popularity, a rumor began to circulate. She was really a he, the gossipers claimed, a rumor that has been since verified by historian Joe McKennon.” (p33)
“Maybe he saw Fatima, the wildest of them all, over at the Turkish Village. This female impersonator when last heard of in 1933 was the father of five and grandfather of seven.”
“Female impersonators of the Ouled Naïl also entertained in some cities of Algeria (It is possible that at least two impersonators came to Chicago with the Algerian Village troupe).” (Carlton p29-33)
“there was a small number of young male performers called Khawals. The Khawals were Egyptian male tradiitonal dancers who impersonated the women of the Ghawazi and their dance. They were known to impersonate every aspect of the women including their dance and use of castanets.”We have already considered the cross-dressing belly dancer Hasan el Belbeissi in 1849 who was mentioned by Gustave Flaubert. Most histories of belly-dancing acknowledge the Ghawazi influence in both style of dance and costuming. (Carlton p36-45)
“Some 1896 photographs provide a rare instance of a sideshow dancer who is convincingly genuine: Fatima, a Coney Island performer. Her poses are common ones in the Oriental Dance of today. Her costume has interesting authentic touches and was probably assembled by someone familiar with Egyptian jewelry and traditional Eastern symbols.”
Fatima at Coney Island
- Joe McKennon. A Pictorial History of the American Carnival. Carnival Publishers of Sarasota, 1972: 1.34.
- Donna Carlton. Looking for Little Egypt. IDD Books, 1995. Passim. 60, 62, 78 for Fatima.
- Erik Larson. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic & Madness and the Fair That Changed America. Vintage, 2004: 312.
- Joe Nickell. Secrets of the Sideshows. The University Press of Kentucky, 2005: 49.
- Jim Elledge. The Boys of Fairy Town: Sodomites, Female Impersonators, Third-sexers, Pansies, Queers, and Sex Morons in Chicago’s First Century. Chicago Review Press, 2018: 33-4, 89-90