Folkloric Dance Regions of Egypt : Sequins and Shimmies
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Folkloric Dance Regions of Egypt

by Alessandra on 10/08/18

Egypt, the birth place of what is commonly known as modern day belly dance. A land of rich cultural traditions and heritages. Many of the movements in modern day belly dance can be traced back to having roots in various Egyptian folkloric dances. In this month's post, I want to take a summary look at what those eight regions are and the some of the main dance forms originating there.

The six main regions of folkloric dance in Egypt are Cairo, the Delta, Nubia, Siwa, the Suez Canal, Sa'id, the Eastern Desert, and the Western Desert.

Many famous dancers have called Cairo home, including Badia Masabni and both of the Egyptian National Dance Companies, Firqit Reda (Mahmoud Reda's troupe) and Al Kowmeyya al Funun al Shaabiya. As the home of Egyptian cinema and media, Cairo can really be attributed as the locale in Egyptian that took raqs baladi ("dance of the people") and created theatrical folkloric dance, as well as raqs sharqi, or modern day belly dance.

The Delta
The Delta is the area including and surrounding Alexandria in the north. It's an area that encompasses a diverse population, and thus draws dance influences from diverse sources, including rural fellahin ("farmer") and Ghawazee. Two famous Ghawazee groups hail from this area: Sumbati Ghawazee, who are famous for floorwork with Shamadans and being able to balance a chair in their teeth, and the Ghawazee of Tanta. Also due to this area's proximity to Greece, there is some inclusion of Greek dance forms. Raqs sharqi from this region is typically bouncier and more energetic.

Nubia is the area bordering Sudan. The basic step of this dance is to the right foot in front stepping down on the best, the ball of the left foot in back stepping on the "and" of the beat, while the arms move loosely and symmetrically. Men will lean forward, while women stand up straight. Hip work is not traditional.

Siwa is an oasis located in the far west of the country. Siwa people are of Berber heritage. Traditionally a very private people, if you check out Tamalyn Dallal's book, 40 Days and 1,001 Nights, you will definitely get a more in-depth picture.  Dance in this region is only performed in public by males, in which the backside of the dancer makes circles, punctuated by a down hip accent.

Suez Canal
While originally an area populated by Bedouins, with the building of the canal, international dances were brought in and influenced the traditional dances of this region. Dance from this region is typically bouncy and performed in a "turned-out" position, almost as in ballet. Musical instruments from this area include the traditional Simsimeya, but then evolved to include a European style of hand-spoons and a variety of drums.

Sa'id is the area running along the Nile in the middle of Egypt. The most popular and well-known public dance of the Sa'idi people is raqs assaya ("stick dance"), which has been widely incorporated into belly dance. In this dance, the dancer carries a "stick" (a cane) and performs the well-known basic footwork of stepping to the side on one and lifting the opposite foot and knee up and slightly across the standing leg on two. Raqs assaya has a basis in Tahtib, which is a style of martial arts performed by men in which they fight with sticks. Other styles of dance from this region include Kafafa and versions of raqs beledi.

Eastern Desert
The Eastern Desert is populated by the Beja people. In Beja dances, the men carry a sword, while the women do not. The inclusion of what belly dancers refer to as "camels" is a common movement, as well as frequently tilting the head backwards so that the face is parallel to the sky.

Western Desert
The Western Desert region is predominately comprised of people of the Awlad Ali bedouin tribe. Once a nomadic people, they are presently mostly settled, however still living in tents. The famous Haggalah dance is from this region, which is performed by a female dancer and incorporates frequently use of the Haggalah style of hip shimmy.

P.S. Want to really dive deep into folkloric dance in Egypt? Then consider signing up for Sahra C. Kent's Journey Through Egypt courses. Another option is that there's two days left (until October 10th) to purchase the online learning Bellydance Bundle that over 27 dancers / teachers / contributors have come together to offer.

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