Gilded Serpent presents...
A similar form articles was originally published in
1985 in Habibi Magazine Vol 8, No 9 (Zalot era)
in the mid-1970's , the early sections of "Sirat Al-Ghawazi"
were first published under the title "The Mystery of the
Ghawazi" in Habibi Magazine. The
author, orientalist Edwina Nearing (writing under the nom
de guerre "Qamar el-Mulouk"), intended the series
to be an investigative report on what Lady Duff Gordon in 1865
called "the real dancing girls of Egypt." Now,
in the decades since Nearing's Ghawazi series first appeared,
it has itself become a part of history, its people, places and
events almost as exotic and remote as those described in the 19th
century works the author drew upon for background information.
"The Mystery of the Ghawazi" was reprinted in 1984 by
popular demand and updated in a 1993 article, "Ghawazi on
the Edge of Extinction." Since then, most of Nearing's Ghawazi
material has been out of print. Gilded Serpent is happy
to be able to respond to the continued demand for these articles
by making them available to our readers worldwide.
5 of 9- 1976
the ghaziyyas Khairiyya and Farida
dance in the courtyard of Luxor's Radwan Hotel, I could not help
but sigh a little as I recalled the 19th century lithographs
of Ghawazi and other Middle Eastern dancers, depictions which
had captured the imagination of the Western world and made "dancing
girls" a symbol of the Exotic East. There, in the volumes of
Lane, Gerome and Roberts, the Ghawazi still enchant us after 150
years. They seem not merely to walk, but glide; not to shimmy,
but sway. Like tall palm trees they bend forever in the silent
wind of the printed page, embodying all of Classic grace, Romantic
passion and languor.
Farida did not bend, sway, glide, spin, writhe, twist, or pose.
Their repertoire in general excluded the elaborate, the stylized,
the large and round, or the angular; rather were movements fast
and light, dominated by the ceaseless flicker of the hips and the
softer counterpoint of graceful arms. Here was nothing sensuous
or abandoned, no secretive smirk of the wound-be odalisque, but
a relaxed decorum and looks warm, gay, or indifferent, as circumstances
warranted. The effect was most pleasing, but hardly breathtaking.
In accordance with that oft observed peculiarity of Egyptian dance,
it seemed the ghaziyyas' purpose to interact with the audience
to the extent that the audience was willing, rather than to impose
their will upon it.
Almeh by Gerome
Any or all
of several explanations might account for the disparate impression
conveyed by the old Romantic prints and the flesh and blood Ghawazi
of present-day Luxor: Ghawazi dancing had changed over the years;
the artists of the past had glamourized their subjects; or there
was more than one style of Ghawazi dancing. Trying to sort this
out, I watched Khairiyya and Farida more analytically and another
possibility suggested itself: what I saw now was precisely what
was represented in these paintings and lithographs, and I had
simply been misled by the inherent difficulty of conveying rapid
and unfamiliar motion in a flat and static medium, and also misled
by the unexpected changes which modern fashion had brought about
in Ghawazi costume. The dancers in Edward Lane's famous 19th
century engraving, for example, had always struck me as the cynosure
of elegance, both in movement and dress, but now I recalled that
researcher's statement on the page facing his illustration that
Ghawazi dancing had "little of elegance; its chief peculiarity
being a very rapid vibrating motion of the hips, from side to
side." Lane consistently used his formal training as an engraver
to illustrate specific points in his text, and hence it is not
at all unlikely that he attempted to depict that very side-to-side
shimmy to which he alludes.
Upon close examination
of the ghaziyya in the foreground of his engraving, I found
that the unusual placement of feet and hips, the corresponding distribution
of weight and the distinctive arm position were appropriate in every
detail to the movement which figured most prominently in the present
repertoire of Khairiyya and Farida: a side-to-side shimmy movement.
Engraving by Lane
side-to-side shimmy was performed extensively during the very
fast 4/4 section that comprised the longest part of all the
Ghawazi dances I witnessed in Luxor on this visit, and was the
basic movement to which the dancers returned again and again.
step/movement, the feet are roughly parallel, about nine inches
apart, the weight rather forward on the balls of the feet although
the heels - recalling that Ghawazi presently dance in high, though
not very high, heels - still rest upon the ground. The knees
are bent and the thighs and pelvic girdle pushed somewhat forward
in order to free the pelvis to swing easily. On the first beat
of the 4/4 measure, one moves the right foot a little to the right,
at the same time transferring the weight to that foot and thrusting
the right hip out to the right. The upper torso remains stationary.
Between the first and second beat, the pelvis is allowed to "rebound"
part way to its original forward position, and on the second beat,
the right hip is thrust more strongly to the right and swung back
slightly, the momentum of this thrust pulling the left foot off
the floor and a little to the right, that is, a little closer
to the right foot. This is the precise moment which Lane may
have captured in his engraving. The pelvic girdle still faces
the same direction as it did at the outset and does so throughout
the side-to-side shimmy, but the whole pelvis at this point is
set to the right and slightly back of where it was originally.
Between the second and third beats, the pelvis is swung to its
original forward position and continues through to the left, and
on the third beat one transfers the weight towards and onto the
left foot, the left hip at the same time sliding to the left.
Between the third and fourth beat the pelvis is allowed to rebound
part way to its original forward position, and on the fourth beat
the left hip is thrust more strongly to the left and slightly
back, allowing the momentum of the thrust to pull the right foot
from the floor in preparation for the small step to the right
which begins each new measure. Foot movement is inconspicuous.
There is no break between one measure and the next; the hip action
is smooth and continuous, relaxed but precise, the pelvis, if
viewed from a point directly above the head of the dancer, describing
a very shallow, convex crescent.
It may be
helpful to express this as:
and . . .
Lane's engraving faithfully reflects the carriage and movement
of the arms for the side-to-side shimmy. The arms are disposed
out to either side of the body, the shoulders relaxed so that
the upper arms are slightly forward of the torso and seldom as
high as shoulder level. The elbows are broken considerably and
the forearms carried a little forward of the upper arms, the hands
generally floating at shoulder or face level, palms facing each
other or turned outwards and slightly down. The wrists and hands
of a skilled ghaziyya, such as Khairiyya Mazin, are especially
graceful and fluid, a characteristic which seems to have impressed
Lane, Roberts and others greatly, judging from their illustrations.
are no dramatic or complicated movements, such as one sees in
standard oriental dancing, but despite the rather static view
given by the above description, the arms and hands, like wind-stirred
branches, are never still.
a hand flicks briefly to the hip or waist, or both sweep downwards
across the body to one side. So far this applies to the better
sort of Luxor Ghawazi dancing in general; with regard to the side-to-side
shimmy, however, the basic arm position is sometimes augmented
by a gentle waving of the forearms from side to side, as may be
seen in Lane's and Roberts' illustrations. It should be noted
that this is not necessarily synchronized with the beat of the
music or the movement of the hips, which would lend a grotesquely
metronomic or mechanical aspect to the proceedings; and often
the declination of the forearms once to the right and once to
the left over each measure runs slightly over a full measure of
the music, and the level at which one or both arms is carried
changes at uneven intervals. Nor is there anything vigorous in
this, as it is meant as a contrast to the shimmy, a complementary
rather than an analogous color. The delicacy of movement of the
wrists and placement of the hands shows to greatest advantage
here, in spite of the encumbrance of the finger cymbals with which
the dancers generally accompany the shimmy in a running pattern
of eight strokes to the measure.
19th century dancing girls, a lithograph by L. Hagne
after an illustration by David Roberts
popular alternate arm position for the side-to-side shimmy and
other movements commonly performed with it, such as hip thrusts
to the side and pelvic half-circles, is to allow one forearm to
drop parallel to the ground in front of the body at about breast
level, while the forearm of the direction of travel (i.e., the
right arm if one is moving to the right) is held up and out to
the side at right angles to the upper arm, which is roughly parallel
to the floor, so that the hand is at head level. The palms are
held relaxedly in and the cymbals played continuously. Khairiyya
would modify this slightly in order to frame the brief little
head slides, done over one measure in time to the music, with
which she sometimes followed her side-to-side shimmy with pelvic
half-circle combination: she would raise the one forearm from
breast level to within a couple of inches of the chin, the hand
drooping gracefully, palm downward, from the wrist and acting
as a focal point or center line emphasizing the level movement
of the head from side to side, while the other hand was drawn
in somewhat closer to the head and raised above it. Farida
preferred to frame her head slides by the simpler expedient of
raising both hands above the head, the palms down and knuckles
almost touching, rather like a flamenco dancer with castanets;
but whichever arm position was used as a frame, the cymbals did
side-to-side shimmy was used to travel to the right or to the left
with equal facility, depending on the foot with which the dancer
led off, it was most typically used by the Banat Mazin in the "circle
riff" which occurred so often in their dancing and which
may be the figure illustrated in David Roberts'19th century
lithograph. This is performed by two or more dancers moving in
unison. The general idea seemed to be so well known that Farida,
although an inferior dancer and not accustomed to performing with
Khairiyya, was able to perform a number of permutations of it with
Khairiyya, as were several of the spectators. One may imagine
a circle four to six feet in diameter traced upon the ground, one
dancer standing on one side of it and the other facing her from
the opposite side; e.g., if one dancer is at the northernmost point
of the circle, the other is at the southernmost, both dancers facing
inward. They move sideways along the line of the circle, usually
counterclockwise, ever facing each other and maintaining much the
same distance from each other, like the two hands of a clock traveling
at the same speed.
side-to-side shimmy was the most common movement executed during
the "circle riff," it was often alternated with a series of hip
thrusts in the direction of travel, four hip thrusts per measure.
Another common movement, which often followed a series of side-to-side
shimmies and grew naturally from them, was a smooth, level, isolated
swing of the pelvis from left to center-forward to right to center-forward
to left, three or four times, in a convex crescent deeper and
slower than that of the side-to-side shimmy. This was the only
movement in the Mazin store which had in it anything of the rounded
or sensuous. The pelvic half-circle might in turn be followed
by a couple of quick head slides, as noted above, and a quarter
pivot forward with four thrusts of the leading hip.
of the "circle riff" performed by Khairiyya and Farida involved
the use of a cane, with which Khairiyya danced briefly. The two
ghaziyyas faced each other the cane's length apart, and as they
circled with the side-to-side shimmy, Khairiyya placed one end
of the cane against her waist above the navel, dropped the other
end against Farida's waist and removed her hand from the cane,
so that as they continued to circle shimmying, the cane was held
in place only by the equalized pressure of their torsos against
either end. I saw this with a shock of recognition, for it was
somewhat similar to what I had seen years before in a "Ghawazi
Dance"choreographed by Sami Yunis of Egypt's
National Folk Arts Ensemble. There three girls had also formed
a circle moving counterclockwise, and each had balanced one end
of her staff against her right shoulder and the other end against
the left shoulder of her right-hand neighbor, all acting at the
same moment and continuing their dancing without a pause in the
circle's rotation and without touching the staves with their hands.
this stick balancing idea again was reassuring, as Professor Yunis
had told me that his choreography of the Ensemble's Ghawazi material
was based upon research done among the Banat Mazin. But what,
then, was the basis of the Ensemble's most recent "Ghawazi Dance,"
a flamboyant tour de force of writhings and whirlings and
elaborate armwork which more resembled the great oriental dancers
Samia Gamal and Nabawiyya Mustafa
at their most inspired, than the simpler, lighter art of Farida
and Khairiyya Mazin?
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Mazin Struggles to Preserve Authentic Ghawazi Dance Tradition
by Edwina Nearing
when Khairiyya Mazin retires, one of the most distinctive traditions
of Ghawazi dance may come to an end.
Part 1 by Edwina Nearing
Begun in the mid-1970's , the early sections of "Sirat
Al-Ghawazi" were first published under the title "The
Mystery of the Ghawazi." We are happy to be able to respond
to the continued demand for these articles by making them available
to our readers worldwide.
2 -- 1976 posted 5-16-04
Part 3 - 1976 posted 8-8-04
Part 4 - 1976 posted 9-12-04
Part 5 - 1976 Posted
Part 6 - 1976 posted
Part 7 - 1976
Part 8 - 1976 posted12-3-05
Part 9 - 1977
From Rags to Rhinestones
am most proud of having taken up dance later in life and having
become an acclaimed professional-level performer.
Photos from Sumaya’s
Chicago South Side Hafla by Shira
new to the Midwest, I thought it would be fun to attend one of
Sumaya’s haflas and meet other members of the greater Midwestern
comic by Lynette
dare they pollute our pond!"