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December 25, 2012

La Belle Fatma (fl. late 19th/early 20th Century), Algerian dancer with her Troupe, who toured widely in the late 1880s and 1890s, appearing in Paris and London (from a drawing by Jules Garnier, probably after a photograph, Hugues le Roux and Jules Garnier, translated by A.P. Morton, Acrobats and Mountebanks, Chapman & Hall Ltd, London, 1890, pl. opposite p. 73)

‘When one is satiated with the abnormal and monstrous, the thoughts naturally tend towards those entertainments which exhibit the perfection of human beauty.

‘It must be admitted that in this respect the public taste has improved. The infantile and Oriental admiration which the crowd displayed for enormous women, the “fat lady” who weighed 250 lbs., is declining so quickly that the “colossus” has nearly disappeared from the fair. And really pretty girls are now exhibited in the “Halls of Mystery.”

‘The success of the “Beautiful Fatma,” hastened this revolution. No fair of any importance is now held without some imitation of the “Beautiful Fatma” being on the ground. I noticed the <I>Pavillon Marocain</I> amongst the most successful of these imitations.

‘We enter. The booth is clean and prettily decorated; at one end three women in Oriental dresses are singing a harsh melody accompanied by the traditional thrumming on the bamboo drums, which look like butter pots. They are called, if names are asked for, Aïcha, Dora, and Hardiendja. But there is a Fatma in the house. She is a negress about twenty years old, a fine specimen of her race: at its base the nose is almost as wide as her thick lips, and by this detail Fatma shocks all our ideas of classic proportions; still, when looking at this tall, well-made girl, I, for the first time, understood what travellers mean when they speak of the beauty and exquisite grace of negro women. I spite of all defects there is a pleasant harmony in the dark face, brightened by the most mischievous eyes. And when Fatma dances before the negro Bouillabaisse, – first comic actor to the Sultan of Zanzibar, – ; her graceful swaying movements, her languid attitudes and smiling gestures rouse in her audience that innate sympathy with Oriental view of women, the gentle, soulless creature of the East, which lies dormant in the heart of every man.’ (Hugues le Roux and Jules Garnier, translated by A.P. Morton, Acrobats and Mountebanks, Chapman & Hall Ltd, London, 1890, pp. 70-72)

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