In 2016 I began to develop a long held idea of bringing an inspired recreation of late Ottoman period Egyptian entertainment to the stage.
Who were the entertainer’s of Egypt’s past?
The Awalim (sing. Almeh/Alma/Almee/Alima) are the professional female entertainers of Cairo. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries they were known to be skilled singers, poets, musicians and dancers who once performed only for private indoor events for the upper classes of Egypt, and in accordance with the protocol regarding gender segregation for the time period. During the mid 1800’s all female dancers of Cairo were forced south across the country where the Awalim and Ghawazee (public/outdoor dancers and musicians, often speculated to be related to the Spice Road migrants, although there are several individual tribes claiming separate histories and ethnic identification) became virtually indistinguishable from each other as poverty forced high-class entertainers to take lower-class work, and lower class entertainers began to use the term “Awalim” or “Almeh” to bring in more attention.
As time went on these women began to perform in the salas or public entertainment houses and small theaters as dancers and singers of popular entertainment for the general Egyptian audience and European adventurers. This period of time was the dawn of Raqs Sharqi “Dance of the East” being distinguishable by name from the European and popular Latin dances presented in the same venues. What descended from this period has become world wide is known as “Belly Dance” or “Oriental Dance”.
The First Step of Recreation:
Beginning late 2015, I first dove into reproducing the feeling of a specific time period in dance with a 1980’s era Raqs al Shamadan “Dance of the Candleabra”, inspired by the Cairo dancers’ nostalgic reference to this unique performance tradition originating around the turn of the 19th-20th century.
Later in 2016 I developed an a early-mid 1800’s imagination an Awalim/Ghawazee dance performance for the Farrah (wedding celebration). The costume represents a transition from the ladies Ottoman clothing style of full pantaloons, long chemises with overcoats or vests, tarboosh (hat) with fabric wound around and perhaps a scarf tied around the hips when dancing, towards the early 1900’s Awalim costume, defined by skirt, short vest and belt with several long ribbons attached in the front. Here I let the modern movement style of Cairo dancers along with the research on the modern Banat Mazin Ghawazee dancers inform my exploration of technique for the time period. I also used old movie scenes with dancers from as early as the 1930’s to assist with the choice of technique.
In 2017 I will be furthering these explorations in collaboration with dancers, musicians and artists from across Washington and Oregon to create a 50 minute show featuring a “roots dance” tableau of Awalim music, song and dance (including a turn of the century group candelabra dance) in addition to a “descendant dance” tableau of modern, theatrical inspiration exploring light, shape, sound and feeling.
I hope in future years that this project will transition to a full time performance and education company that will serve the Pacific NW’s public institutes to promote cultural diversity, appreciation of the arts and a better understanding for the variety and historical development of dances from the Middle East, North Africa and Arabian Gulf.