"What Be Shakin’, Nagwa?"

Posted 01/03/04

By Jerry Cosley

I’ve looked everywhere in my personal trash collection but, sadly, cannot find one of my most cherished possessions -- a citation written against me by one of New York City’s Finest. It documents my brief association (some might say "fling") with Egypt’s then premier belly dancer, Nagwa Fouad.

It was an early evening in May 1962, and the cop in question -- one Timothy Hanlon -- had been dispatched to the ritzy Waldorf Astoria Hotel to deal with complaints by the hotel’s guests and management regarding a raucous disturbance emanating from the suite occupied by Nagwa and yours truly. Yes, we had been warned by several calls from the front desk to "knock it off" and/or "hold it down," but Nagwa was intolerant of such pleas and refused to stop, saying Ahmad would "never forgive" if she failed to satisfy the Americans on this, her first appearance in the U.S.

With Nagwa, it was always Ahmad this, or Ahmad that, and early in our relationship I sensed that this man back in Cairo, Ahmad Hassan, was some sort of Svengali in her life. "That is wrong, Ahmad would not approve," seemed to be her Egyptian version of "No way, Jose." Nonetheless, Nagwa was in my charge and I was determined to see the assignment through. After the cop tucked the citation into my shirt pocket and left, I told her, "Nagwa, we’ve been at this for hours and it’s as good as it’s gonna get … we can’t do this anymore!"

To emphasize the point, I unplugged the boom box we had been using to play her tape collection of slithery, wailing Egyptian music -- heavy on bongos and tambourines. She had spent several hours before the dresser mirror in the suite rehearsing such Cairo favorites as "Qamar Arba’tashar" (Moon of the 14th) and "Adwoua Al-Madina" (City Lights), accompanied by my enthusiastic applause. But she had insisted that the boom box volume be cranked up full because, "Nagwa does not dance by quiet!" Thus, the otherwise friendly visit from the gendarme. When I told him Nagwa was the #1 dancer in the Middle East he commented, "Yeah, sure, Mac!"

The look on her face showed she was deeply offended by our insensitive American ways, but she finally agreed to call it a day if I would order us a drink and something to eat from room service. Easily done, and after I had signed for the service I almost had to physically shove the bellhop out the door as he was slobbering over the sight of Nagwa in her scanty dance costume. She had a Whisky Sour and scrambled eggs, and I had my traditional Strip Steak (medium-rare), fries and a cold beer. It was not an unpleasant dining interlude, but after assuring her that the performance the next day could only be BOFFO by American standards, I fled downtown to my own seedy accommodations near TWA’s offices at 605 Third Avenue.

At the time I was still based in Chicago, but had been called in for temporary duty on the New York corporate staff to help with the grand opening of TWA’s stunning new Flight Center at Idlewild International Airport (now JFK). Designed by the late Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, it truly was a thing of beauty. TWA did all things First Class in those days, and we were mounting a huge Grand Opening Charity Ball at the terminal for the glitterati of New York society, business community and news media. Along with the rest of the staff, I was supporting the effort by grinding out an endless chain of speeches(1), press releases and brochure copy.

The gala would feature haute cuisine and chefs from various nations we served around the globe, and such international entertainment as Nagwa and Fiesta Espanola, the Spanish National Flamenco Dance Company, among others. I drew a break from dull writing assignments when I was told to gather up a boom box, a dozen Roses (yellow), a stretch limo (white), meet Nagwa when she stepped off our flight from Cairo on May 21, park her in a suite reserved at the Waldorf, and (importantly) "make certain she’s happy."

I’m pleased to report that there were no international incidents, Nagwa’s performance at the Ball was electrifying (she called her dance the "Egyptian Twist"), and when I put her on the flight back to Cairo on the 29th, she smiled, kissed me on the cheek and told me, "You’re a sweet little boy!"

Well, indeed, yes I was.

Jerry Cosley (1960-1985) served in Public Relations/Corporate Communications in CHI, LAX, SFO, MKC and NYC.

(1) "To the eye, the sweep and flow of the terminal’s lines, suggestive of a great bird in flight, are symbolic of the spiritual heights and limitless potential of air transportation." ("Who writes this crap?" asked TWA’s Chairman at the time, Charles C. Tillinghast, Jr., during one speech run-through.) 

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