egyptian dance

the history of egypt’s  dance heritage Ancient-TahtibEgypt boasts a long tradition of rhythm, music and dance and is home to one of the most ancient movement languages in the world.

Up to this day, dance and music in Egypt are used to express joy, grief, happiness and vitality. Throughout the country’s long history, movement has been an essential part of rituals, trance, martial arts, and religious and secular dances across all strata of society. The oldest illustrations of music, dance, ritual and martial arts date back to the days of the Pharaohs. They show dancers, musicians and instruments on temple reliefs. Dance played an important role in temple cults, at festivities and burials. But these ancient illustrations tell us little about the dances of the common people, as they only show an elite circle of priests and aristocrats. Neither do we know exactly what the music sounded like, nor how the dances were performed. Nevertheless, there is a striking similarity between what we see in older film documentaries and at traditional tahtib combat meetings, traditional family celebrations and in the Sufi Zikr when the believers fall into a trance at Allah´s invocation.Over the centuries, a giant pool of knowledge has been handed down by oral tradition within the professional entertainer tribes, the religious orders, and families. Over the last 2000 years, however, Egypt has also been exposed to a wealth of new influences through centuries of foreign rule. The changes that have ensued have also affected Egypt’s art. As Arabic influences and Islam have spread, they have had a far-reaching impact on the aesthetics of art which is still predominant today. As the Arab civilization cultivated all arts, dance and music also enjoyed royal patronage and new opportunities for artistic expression.

The early 20th century with its major global political upheavals left its mark on Egyptian music and dance. The growing popularity of European culture and Western lifestyle, especially in the cities, meant that people started to neglect their own cultural heritage. The Egyptian film industry in the ‘40s and ‘50s documented this influence with hundreds of films modelled on European and American film making and lifestyle. This brought about a fundamental change particularly in dance in terms of expression, technique and costume. Later in the century the Egyptian national movement, communism and Eastern European influences left their mark on the performing arts.

On one hand dance no longer enjoyed the support of the elite and the political establishment used it for its political aims. On the other hand the world became more commercialized and underwent fast social and economic changes so that the ancient method of passing down music and dance orally with in the family, the religious orders and the professional entertainer tribes came under threat. The entertainer tribes in Egypt were well known for their endeavours to preserve high-quality music and dance, but by the 1970s it became more and more difficult for them to hold on to and live their dearly held traditions. Within the last 40 years an unbelievable pool of knowledge and skills has been lost with the last masters of their art.

Today the search for an identity is influenced more and more by globalization based on the American model and Islamization based on Saudi Arabian Wahabism. Two extremes that threaten to tear the country apart.

the diversity of egypt’s         dance language Shaabi girl dances Minya 2009Throughout its history, Egypt has inherited many different kinds of dance. They all have a long history and a rich tradition. As dance has many forms and expressions, it is more appropriate to talk about the traditional dance language of Egypt, rather than Egyptian dance.

Moreover, it is difficult to separate secular and spiritual dance in Egypt. Folk dance and high arts are also closely linked. Dance forms can have a secular, sociocultural, political, spiritual and religious character, all at the same time. Dances in Egypt are performed to celebrate many things, such as work, combat, or life, as well as accommodating death in rituals, processions and ceremonies that accompany Egyptians throughout their lives. They include the tahtib, an ancient form of Egyptian martial art, the dances and songs of the fellahin, as well as the bambutia danced by the fisherman in the Mediterranean areas to protect them during their sea journeys. Other songs and dances include those to protect the child in the sebu celebration, the wedding songs and dances of the awalem and the gawazee, the working songs and dances of the fishermen, the songs, rhythms and movements of the kudjat al-zar to free people from bad spirits in the zar rituals, the songs, gestures and steps of the muaddida to mourn the dead at funerals, and the devoted songs and movements of the maddah, who induces the zikhr, a trance-like state enabling the believers to merge with the divine in the inshad.

the recognition of
dance in egypt

Sadjha Minya 2009The great majority of people in Egypt love to dance and  watch dancing. Although dance traditionally accompanies all important stages of life in Egypt and its history is one of the longest in the world, it is still not recognized to a large extent.

Dancers and musicians have always been both male and female – ordinary people and professional entertainers alike.  The professional performers were often people with a low social status. Female entertainers in adition were often confronted with the stigma of  being looked upon as unhonorable women.

Entertainers in other countries, such as Korea, also faced this problem in the past. But unlike Egypt, Korea today has made a move to recognize its dancers and even opened the first dance department at a university in 1962.

With the exception of folk dance, which does not fully embrace Egypt’s dance heritage, dance does not appear in the curriculum of schools and universities in Egypt at all.Today, as in the past, professional public performers are still confronted with the controversial situation, that dance is loved but inacceptable as a profession. With the rise of religious fundamentalism, the situation has deteriorated.

The official invitation of Al Fajr Cie to perform at a highly respected theatre festival in Alexandria with a programme based on the Egyptian dance language is therefore remarkable.

performances today
& in the past
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Performances in the past were very different from those that we see today.  Many dances were performed in small rooms, in yards, on the streets, or in market places, on moulids, in the harbours, on ships, in the gardens and palaces of the Arab Dynasties and the houses of the noble and the rich, and in the cafés and cabarets in the cities.

Today commercialized shows can be seen in hotels, clubs and other places where there are tourists, but their expression and movement and musical quality have lost their essence.

Egyptian folk dance groups perform at open air festivals and theatres and show a respectable, although choreographed and sometimes artificial version of the traditionally improvised repertoire. Zar ceremonies are officially forbidden in Egypt and only take place in secret and protected places. The Sufi rituals are performed in the closed Sufi circles and are difficult for foreigners to gain access to.

tradition & modernity Dance is usually grouped into three main categories:

Classical ballet
› Traditional dance
› Contemporary dance

But a fourth group has so far been neglected:

› Traditional- based contemporary dance

Examples of traditional-based contemporary dance include Butho from Japan, and creative dance from Korea. The latter is a new interpretation of Korean traditional dance. Artists draw inspiration from the Korean Shamanistic tradition, among others. Creative dance represents the oriental cosmology and traditional aesthetics and these characteristics make it unique in many ways. The basic movements and rhythm of this form are quite traditional while the contents are very contemporary.

CKstock sw

Marie Al Fajr sw

Traditional-based contemporary dances contribute to the diversity of dance expression. The artistic and teaching work that we at tanz raum stand for should be seen in this context.

We don’t perform and teach traditional dances; we work on developing traditional- based contemporary dances based on our in-depth knowledge of the tradition.

egypt’s dance aesthetics

Dance in Egypt is a vibrant blend of movement, gesture and aesthetics based on a strong tradition paired with rich cultural Arab and African influences.  Egypt’s dance heritage is unique and a special traditional cultural expression. At the same time it is one of the most universal dance languages. Egypt is one of the most abundant sources of inspiration for dancers today.

Characteristics of Egypt’s dance aesthetics are:


perfect spinal alignment allowing softness and fluidity
› a strong centre that initiates the circular, uninterrupted flow of movement
› intricate rhythmical patterns flow through the entire body
powerful legwork, complex footwork and stepping techniques
› strong elements of free improvisation together with the music
› legwork, spinal movement, rhythm and arm gesture form a whole body language
that expresses emotion in an abstract way

These characteristics contribute to the universal feel of the dance language of Egypt and allow for freedom and liberation of the human body within the constraints of a strong discipline.

everyone can benefit The modern and traditional forms of Egyptian dance find more and more followers in the west among young and old, amateurs and professionals.

This dance form is a holistic method to help improve body awareness and posture. It strengthens the whole body – arms, legs and torso. By helping you to breathe more deeply, tensions dissolve and energy can flow more freely along the spine. In many ways, this form of dance has a positive impact on our state of mind, our understanding of other cultures and our life in general. Anyone can do it! If you love rhythm, music, culture, dancing and working out, as well as meeting people with the same interests, come along to our courses. We hold international workshops with qualified teachers for all levels from beginners to advanced, up to professional level. The current dates for weekly classes, workshops, dance weeks and percussion seminars in various countries are listed in the calendar.


Dance in Egypt is a vibrant blend of movement, gesture and aesthetics based on a strong tradition paired with rich cultural Arab and African influences. Egypt’s dance heritage is unique and a special traditional cultural expression. At the same time it is one of the most universal dance languages. Egypt is one of the most abundant sources of inspiration for dancers today.

Characteristics of Egypt’s dance aesthetics are:

· perfect spinal alignment allowing softness and fluidity

· a strong centre that initiates the circular, uninterrupted flow of movement

· intricate rhythmical patterns flow through the entire body

· powerful legwork, complex footwork and stepping techniques

· strong elements of free improvisation together with the music

· legwork, spinal movement, rhythm and arm gesture form a whole body language that expresses emotion in an abstract way.

These characteristics contribute to the universal feel of the dance language of Egypt and allow for freedom and liberation of the human body within the constraints of a strong discipline.