Naima Akef (7 October 1929 - 23 April 1966) was a famous Egyptian belly dancer during the Egyptian cinema's golden age and starred in many films of the time. Born in the Nile Delta to the Akef Circus family, whom her grandfather, Ismail Akef was the founder, after retiring from his work as a gym teacher and trainer in the Egyptian Police Academy. He opened his small circus in Bab El Khalq district in Cairo, where he built it into a famous animal training and acrobatic extravaganza, and helped build the foundation for Naima's future stardom.
Ismail took Naima under his wings when she was just a toddler, training her in various arts of Circus performance. Her parents were a popular acrobatic act and by the age of 4, Naima was travelling and performing with the family. In fact, she was reportedly the best trapeze artist in the family.
Her first cousin was a renowned dance trainer and choreographer and it has been said that he trained dancers from Casino Badia all the way to modern-day superstar Dina. Together, the Akef family travelled across the country and around the world.
In 1943, at the age of 14, Naima's parents separated and the Akef Circus disbanded. The only life Naima had known had come to an end but her grandfather used his connections to get her an audition with Badia Masabni. Needless to say, Naima was hired on the spot and quickly became Badia’s clear favorite.
At the time, Naima Akef was the only performer who could sing and dance. Further to that, Naima’s suppleness in dance seamlessly combined the strength and flexibility she developed as a young acrobat with a grounded Balady energy. According to the Belly Dance Museum website Naima Akef’s graceful performance was never vulgar.
As a result of Circus upbringing, Naima understood elements of creating a successful show. She had her own chorus line that she trained and choreographed, in addition to creating her own dance steps for maximum effect. Naima is rumored to be the first to dance completely choreographed numbers, at the time her contemporaries such as Samia and Tahia, did mostly improvisational dance even if the chorus line was choreographed.
In 1949, around the age of 20 she had starred in her first film and because of her quick rise to fame and her increasing popularity, the other girls at Casino Badia ganged up on her in an attempt to get rid of her. Having been raised in the circus, Naima was probably no shrinking flower. She took them on and won, but the ongoing tension from the situation led Badia to make the hard decision to let Naima go for the sake of peace with the majority of her dancers.
Once Naima left Casino Badia she worked for Badia’s rival Beba Azzadine. She also joined one of the first professional Egyptian folkloric groups, Leil Ya Ain Group, which went on to find success internationally. It was on one of the Groups tours to Moscow that Naima participated in the Youth Festival’s folklore dance contest and won first place. Her name and picture is still listed in the Bolshoi Theatre’s Hall of Fame today.
She then went on to dance at the Kit Kat Club. It was here that Naima met Hessein Fawzy, a famous musical film director. It was soon discovered that Naima had a natural talent for the screen to add to her seemingly unending list of talents. Her life would be changed forever by this fateful meeting.
Naima Akef changed the dance into something completely free of sexual innuendoes and it became about flexibility, beautiful execution and elegance on the stage plus her sense of humor She could work in one place, and she could also use a large area- she was fundamentally trained in the circus.