A swing, a spin and a swirl

El Horriya, the Egyptian folk dance group that was in Bangalore, brought together their costumes, instruments and music through their grand dance performances

When we hear of Sufi dance, we usually associate it with whirling by Dervishes in long white robes with a characteristic cap (sikke) on their head. “But the Sufi whirling of Egypt is quite different because of its vibrant attire,” observes Nasr Al-din Muhammad, Founder-director of El-Horryia, an Egyptian folk dance troupe, in an exclusive chat with The Hindu.

A spectacle of Egyptian dance forms was made available to the Bangalore audience by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in association with Drishti Art Foundation at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan recently. El-Horryia rendered a taste of some of their forms. They were invited by ICCR as part of a year-long project to host 40 foreign troupes from Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other countries.

“Egyptian whirling is called ‘tanoura’ where a person is robed in a colourful skirt costume which when rotated repeatedly would form a rich vista,” mentions Muhammad. He continues, “Tanoura signifies submitting oneself to God. By spinning in repetitive circles, it is believed that an elated state is reached. Outside religious circles, tanoura is considered a folk dance in Egypt.”

A swing, a spin and a swirl

To perform tanoura, “it takes years of training, since it has to be taught slowly. Teachers increase the number of rotations gradually depending on how much a student can take at a go,” explains Muhammad, who began his school El-Horryia 25 years ago.

Tanoura is also a dance of amusement as the dancer turns swiftly offering myriad of surprises. Describing the Sufi-dance, Muhammad details, “the dancer first rotates forming different patterns with the circular plates in his hand. He then slowly lifts one of the skirts up forming two whirls, one upper and the other lower.”

Is it tailored to the Indian audience? Muhammad quickly answers, “a special component is added to the Indian shows to represent Indo-Egyptian relationship that has a long history of mutual trade and friendship. The performer unfurls flags belonging to both the countries and ties them up and as he swirls, the flags swing as if they were two sides of the same coin.”

“Apart from tanoura, we have various other traditions of dance. To mention a few, the ‘Pharaonic dance’ is the one that is set around the Pharaoh, the monarch of ancient Egypt. Our wedding ceremony dance is known as ‘farah eskandrany’, that showcases the wedding traditions of Alexandria. Drum dance of Egypt, ‘nubian’, comes from the region Nubia, area along the Nile river. ‘El-assaia’ is a flirt dance performed with sticks,” he explains.

For some of the dance pieces, the music is a live performance by the members of the troupe . “We use different percussion instruments like tora, sahidi drums, mazar, tabla and dof for these items,” elaborates Muhammad.

A swing, a spin and a swirl

Properties form a major aspect of the Egyptian folk dance. From flags, shawls, drums, dummy horse to human puppets, the properties build an environment of a grand-fair. The horse dance exhibits the dynamic relation between a horse and its master. Muhammad mentions, “we have incorporated various sounds a horse produces such as sound bytes of its roar, scratching of feet and also defecation in order to generate moods of celebration and laughter.”

“My wish is to preserve the cultural and oral heritage of the land I come from. As more and more number of people learn, perform and further teach others, the folk practices continue to exist and reach future generations,” says Muhammad who wants to do his bit to preserve this rich tradition.

At a time when we are forgetting our own performing art forms, the evening of folk dances by the Egyptian artistes was a reminder to look at similar forms locally.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 5:59:27 AM |

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