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Approaching Transnational America in Performance

Edited By Birgit M. Bauridl and Pia Wiegmink

The volume is uniquely located at the interdisciplinary crossroads of Performance Studies and transnational American Studies. As both a method and an object of study, performance deepens our understanding of transnational phenomena and America’s position in the world. The thirteen original contributions make use of the field’s vast potential and critically explore a wide array of cultural, political, social, and aesthetic performances on and off the stage. They scrutinize transnational trajectories and address issues central to the American Studies agenda such as representation, power, (ethnic and gender) identities, social mobility, and national imaginaries. As an American Studies endeavor, the volume highlights the cultural, political, and (inter)disciplinary implications of performance.

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Performing ‘Little Egypt’: Ashea Wabe and the American Harem Scenario (Martina Koegeler-Abdi)


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Martina Koegeler-Abdi

Performing ‘Little Egypt’: Ashea Wabe and the American Harem Scenario

Abstract: The belly dancer Ashea Wabe reached national fame as ‘Little Egypt’ in her provocative performances on and off stage in the late nineteenth century. I argue that her strategic embodiment of colonial harem fantasies was integral to the development of an American harem scenario that merges orientalist fantasies with the specter of U.S. slavery.

On January 12th, 1897, the Chapman trial filled a New York court room to the brim, buzzing with excitement. The court expected its most prominent witness: ‘Little Egypt.’ A few weeks prior, the police captain George S. Chapman had raided Barnum Seeley’s bachelor party at Sherry’s, looking for the infamous belly dancer Little Egypt. He was following a lead that the dancer was supposed to do an oriental dance and appear naked, a moral crime at the time. However, his raid was unsuccessful and Seeley took Chapman to court over the intrusion, where he sought to defend his actions. Through the trial the tumultuous bachelor party reached fame nationwide as the “Awful Seeley Dinner” (Carlton 76), particularly because Chapman did not manage to find Little Egypt—she was hidden on the premises—and rumor had it she may still have danced naked. Patrons claimed they kept sending her wine to maintain her spirits, and that she performed later in the night after Chapman had left (“High Jinks at New York” 1). The case...

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