Ghawazee Dance: Invaders of the Heart. The most famous exponents of Ghawazee Dance in recent times were the Maazin Sisters of Luxor, Southern Egypt. El Said, the south of Egypt and higher up the Nile, surrounds the Valley of the Kings. A different topic from our usual fossil and crystal related blogs for enthusiasts of all ages. You can find these others by going to the home page and accessing the menu of ‘Blogs’, or carrying on shopping as you prefer!
This Ghawazee Dance blog is about the dance history of travelling peoples who settled on this part of the Nile. It explains the dance steps of the style with suggested music for practising. I observed the Ghawazee Dance style by visiting Khariya Maazin in Luxor to dance with her. She is a beautiful lady, now in her senior years. The Ghawazee Dance history dates back to migratory routes from Rajasthan (and possibly China before that). You can read about the effect of migration on music in the fantastic book by Jools Holland, ‘Beat Route’. What a great title!
Ghawazee Dance: Invaders of the Heart – so called because of the stirring effect of the dance on the observer. The effect of the western gaze upon the ‘mysterious east’ has been voyeuristic often and problematic as a consequence. But I think that with a good heart and a genuine desire to understand we might humbly learn and enjoy something of this style of dance – and perhaps help to preserve it.
We will look at areas of human anatomy, consider how our joints can move and what dance movements we can produce as a consequence. Here we go!
Ghawazee Dance: Invaders of the Heart… The Steps
It helps to imagine stepping on firmly packed sand. Squidge the balls of the feet as you take padding steps on the spot. Walk on the spot, giving your weight to the ground from the waist down whilst remaining lifted in the upper torso. You can allow the same hip to press down with the foot, creating a hip ‘drop’. Now try the same but marginally lifting the feet as you go..You can allow this to travel up into the same hip, creating a hip ‘hitch’.
Typically, you will stay in your personal space for this dance and take it with you as you go – walking forward, backwards or by taking a step together, step together, travel to the side.
Ghawazee Dance: Invaders of the Heart… The Turns
By stepping around in a circle, gradually, using the same steps you can do a turn. Be sure to keep your heels close to one another. So step, together and repeat. It is the heels which you bring together.
You might find music published by the Dance Ethnographer Farida Fahmy, useful at this point.
Ghawazee Dance: Invaders of the Heart… The Knees
The knee joints can bend and straighten. In this dance the ‘neutral’ position is ‘soft’ where the knees are just ‘off’ the locked position, or straight leg. By experimenting with releasing one knee at a time, whilst keep up the foot ‘pad’ into the ground, you can play with lifting one hip at a time. You can alternate or make a little repeat sequence on one side. Release, straighten repeat. Or release, release, release, change etc. By alternating and thinking of heavy ‘wobble’ knees you will produce a ‘shimmy’ in the hips which can speed up or slow down. Remember to breathe out as the concentration may make you hold your breath!
If you ‘sit down’ in your stance (not literally!) by taking your feet wider apart and making the alternating knee bends a little deeper you will achieve (with practice) a ‘wobble’ that is characteristic of Saidi dance.
You can use music of a famous Nubian musician, Mahmoud Fadl for this move (click on the link to buy) . I recommend track 14.
Ghawazee Dance: Invaders of the Heart… The Hips
We have already talked a bit about the hips. Here are more ideas to try. You can also use track 13 of Mahmoud Fadl here.
Take your weight off one hip by leaning to the opposite side and repeatedly releasing the freed hip in small movements. The emphasis can be down, down, down – or hitch, hitch, hitch (mini lifts). Shift to the other hip – you might try 8 on each side, or indeed 4,2 or 1.
You can get more showy with this move by leaning back slightly from the released hip and concentrating on one side. As you build confidence, let your foot release on every other drop so that you get a little kick or twist going on. It is important not to actively lift the foot. Imagine there is a piece of paper under the foot we are talking about and on every other drop you either pin it to the floor with the ball of your foot – or scoot it away – drop, scoot, drop scoot..
See also plain hip drops or hitches in the section on feet (above). A ‘Boat’ step is achieved by using the ‘sit-down’ stance described above. Now press each foot into the floor in turn and use that pressure into the floor to send the opposite hip out to the side. Repeat on the other side. The foot pattern resembles the step, hitch. The hips move together, from side to side, creating a pendulum effect – like the swing of a pendulum on a grandfather clock.
By using the ‘sit down’ stance you can ‘hit’ out to the side with single or double percussive hits. Keep it small and with the doubles, make it a 1,2. Alternating sides, you can also move round in a circle and walk forwards or backwards. Or swing round work facing away from the audience. You can ‘stop’ this move by squeezing your glute (bum) muscles, to create an ‘accent’
You can also do this with another move common to this area is the hip swerve. It’s a bit like the twist really. Imagine a Tabla Drum in front of each hip bone and take it in turns to ‘hit’ the drum with your hip. 1,2,1,2. Or you could reverse the visualisation and hit back, back, back in the same way. Try track 15 of Fadl. And try combining it with the Egyptian walk below. Good luck!
The Hagala – or Ya Hizzi a Wizz (goose or duck step) or in western terms, Egyptian Walk, is achieved by stepping the weight down on one foot and imagining that foot is on a bike pedal. Take the weight into the floor on the working foot, press down and then back, imagining the bike pedal going down and back as a result. You can use this momentum to propel the other foot forward – just as though it is on the opposite pedal. Repeat, alternating sides until you get used to this tricky move. You can give the released hip a little shake or shimmy and you can, over time, learn to walk forward, back and sideways using the descriptions for walks above.
The above combination is typical of the Maazin Sister or Ghawazee Dance style. Click on the link then hunt around on Youtube. Contained, exquisite movements – happening all over the body in ‘layers’; in response to the music. Some of the movements may seem simple, others much more difficult to perfect. But then try combining them simultaneously. Keep it tiny.
You can create a small figure of 8 movement by lifting the hips one at a time on the Egyptian walk instead of pressing into the floor. You can do the same by pressing straight back each time with the ‘swerve’ movement as the hip arrives at the front.
Ghawazee Dance: Invaders of the Heart… The Torso
This blog obviously assumes a working knowledge of Egyptian Dance, so I’m going to speed up a little now…
The belly can ‘pulse’ by making small little accents in and down, at the belly button. Use youf finger tips to press back, back, back to get the hang of it. Keep your chest lifted at the breast bone at the same time.
Try the mini ‘8s’ at torso level too!
Ghawazee Dance: Invaders of the Heart… The Chest
The breast bone can do mini ‘lift’ accents. Keep your chin lifted too so that the weight of your head is not pressing down and making the movement difficult. Now do the same but drop, drop , drop..
Put your hands on the back of your rib cage and encourage it to ‘slide’ from side to side horizontally. You will be thinking about your back but the movement with be visible across the front of the chest. It can be percussive, to create accents on travelling continuously. Think of the difference between making a journey for the joy of travelling – or for the sole purpose of arriving at your destination. One is a fluid sliding side to side motion and the other a percussive ‘tak’ accent to the side.
Similarly, stick out your breast bone. Now do the chest slides but thinking of the breast bone making a crescent in as you travel. You lift your chest out at each side but dip in as you travel each time.
Try the mini 8s in the chest. Try playing with horizontal or vertical 8s and altering the speed and size with the music. Track 5 of Fadl can be used to practice or try track 4 for accents.
Imagine your torso is a rolling pin – held vertically. Imagine if you place two hands around the rolling pin and rotated it backwards and forwards in a rocking, rolling motion. Now take this visualisation into your torso and see if you can produce a beautiful 1,2,1,2 rocking motion in your chest, breast bone lifted, shoulders back. Keep it subtle, just in the rib cage and shoulders. The fleshy parts of you stay out of the picture!
Ghawazee Dance: Invaders of the Heart… The Shoulders
The shoulders can move (each one alternating) forward and back. The style is small and fast here. In the same way as the chest, you can make these moves percussive or flowing. Arriving or travelling to continue the metaphor. The faster and smaller you make the move, yuou have a shoulder shimmy!
Pull up both shoulders a little (elegance is everything) and let them go by repeating little bounces or shrugs – play around with accenting up or down each time. Ie shrug down , down. Down. In tiny, playful moves.
Ghawazee Dance: Invaders of the Heart… The Head
Follow directions for the chest slide but in the back of the neck this time to get your head to slide on the top of your neck. Tiny moves here – both to avoid a stiff neck and also for the beauty of the move. Just a little hint is what is required. The Musicians of the Nile have an album called Egypte with a track called ‘Sibs’ that is slow enough for practising both types of slides, also for accents and many of the torso and hip moves.
The Musicians of the Nile are a family of musicians who come from the same traditions as the Maazin Sisters. Look them up online and learn all about them. They are such accomplished musicians and a close knit group that playing is fast, with interweaving rhythms and subtle unexpected changes and migrations – a bit like the journey that brought these peoples to Egypt originally. The fun and beauty of the dance is all about keeping up with these changes in an equally subtle way. Switching and combining all of the movements, with several happening simultaneously at any one time.
Ghawazee Dance: Invaders of the Heart… The Arms
Arms are out but not fully extended, framing the body and often with the hands holding and playing ‘Sagat’ or Zills (finger cymbals) . A fast 1,2,1,21,2, rhythm works well to accompany, adding to the general raucous style of the music. It’s an acquired taste, but one which you will come to love if you get used to it.
The wrists can also display out or in – bringing the hands at right-angles to the arms – think of getting a cheeky free spray on your wrist as you pass the assistant demonstrating a new perfume. The hands have a beautiful rippling movement – achieved by moving between straight fingers and pressing all fingers back altogether. The ‘front’ of the knuckles ie in the centre of the palm are key to this move and you may need to exercise them to build up the required flexibility. Avoid curled over fingers, it’s not part of the look!
Ghawazee Dance: Invaders of the Heart… The Finished Look!
As we have gone along, I have given hints for combining moves etc. You can now have lots of fun moving to the music, on your own, or with friends. In pairs, try standing back to back and leaning slightly back, touching at shoulder level.
Or side by side in pairs, trios and longer lines, walking forwards, then reversing in unison. This is easier if one person (the taller, I suggest) stands a pace behind the partner and tucked in quite closely sideways. You can then experiment with everything we have discussed here. And playing with sticks as you can see the Maazin Sisters do on Youtube clips. The subject of a whole new discussion but take a look and see – be playful – but careful!
For getting up to speed, try track 3 from Mahmoud Fadl or try the Maazins and Quenawis together by choosing Track 5 from the Musicians of the Nile, Luxor to Isna.
Have fun with Ghawazee Dance and I look forward to seeing photos of the results on Facebook! Happy Playing!
The author recommends Celebrating Dance Festival in UK for further authentic study of this and related dance styles