First Question: Where can I find a good source of authentic information about Cane Dance aka Raqs Assaya; Raqs Asaya
- Research and watch Egyptians (and their devoted students) who perform Raqs Assaya or Tahtiyb
- Read articles about the history of these dance forms, the people of the Said and the Ghawazee
- Watch performances of these dances by folkloric companies and the dancers of the golden era and the 80’s from old movies, videos and YouTube such as Fifi Abdo, Mona al Said and Lucy.
The use of the cane or stick can be seen in dances from many eastern countries, the country that is best known for its cane dance is Egypt. So, Egypt would be the most obvious and likely place to begin your search and because this is a traditional folkdance, the Egyptians best suited to guide you would be their professional folkloric dancers. The cane dance or Raqs Assaya had its origins in the man’s martial art/dance form called Tahtiyb, from the Said region (Upper Egypt). This was a skill enhancing training for combat using the Nabout or stick, which evolved into a stylized and elegant form of dance performed by Saidi men. This was eventually adopted and adapted by the female Ghawazee performers who had been banned to the Said region in the 19th century. These professional performers used a smaller and thinner stick, imitated some of the men’s movements, but also added skillful tricks and incorporated shimmies, and other feminine hip movements.
Following the golden era of Raqs Sharqi that began in the 1950’s, the great star Nagwaa Fouad began to present traditional folkloric dance as part of her nightclub performances, sometimes bringing musicians and villagers to Cairo to perform in her extravagant shows. The next generations of dancers chose to perform the baladi style and folk dances themselves. This led to the ‘orientalization’ of this charming and delightful dance, balancing the playful, stronger movements of tahtyb and cane with the more fluid and feminine movements of sharqi. For more background info I invite you to read my article, Cane Dance: Raks Asaya. I also recommend that you search for articles on the Guilded Serpent www.gildedserpent.com as some very knowledgeable writers submit to this site.
As a Canadian dancer who began my career back in the early 70’s (before there were such things as dance oriented tours, festivals or even dance classes in Egypt) I was very fortunate to find two professional Egyptian folkloric dancers from the National Egyptian Folkloric Company “Firqat Kowmeiyah” living in Canada; Denise Enan and Lala Hakim. I studied with both of these wonderful artists and teachers, in Ottawa and Montreal respectively. I continued to study with Denise, who had been the lead dancer for the company for many years before moving to Canada and who was an amazing wealth of knowledge, generosity of spirit and natural charm. Although I love all of the dances and music of Egypt, Saidi and Cane are definitely my favourites. Denise Enan is my favourite and most trusted teacher of folklore and cane dance, while her husband Ahmed Enan is a master artist and choreographer of Tahtyib.
Second Question: Where can I learn Cane Dance aka Raqs Assaya?
- Take classes and workshops with the “experts” i.e. Masters of Egyptian folklore and the students of these masters.
- Explore and study Saidi music, its rhythms and instruments
- Study DVDs and online classes by both the masters and their students.
Thanks to Denise’s status as a principal dancer of the National Kowmeiyah Company, when I traveled to Egypt to absorb and learn as much as possible, I was able to meet and attend rehearsals of the company and see their performances in the famous Balloon Theatre. I was even able to receive occasional coaching from some of the dancers. I would also go out night after night to the huge selection of major hotels and night clubs to drink in the magnificent music of the orchestras, study the dancers, including their folkloric and Saidi segments which often included Raqs Assaya and Tahtyb. OH those were the sweet days!!
After Cairo, I traveled south to the town of Luxor in the Said and home of the Banat Mazin Ghawazee. I spent many days dancing with the sisters in their home and gradually absorbing their unique movements and style. I could kick myself for refusing to trade my American belly dance coin belt for one of their traditional beaded skirts!!! They had never seen a coin belt before and I had never seen a ghawazee skirt, but apparently we both preferred the belt. These sessions often turned into events with their musician cousins, the extended family of the famous singer Metkal Kanawi. This extended family are part the Saidi “gypsies” who have maintained their timeless tradition of music, song, dance and entertainment through the eons!! Few things can pull at my hearts strings like the strings of the rough and raw rababa, joined by the etheric strains of the ancient nai (flute). There might also be earsplitting and piercing mizamar (which only die hard dancers and fans adore)or the mellower buzzing mijwiz, all accompanied by the tabla, riq and zaghat of the Mazin sisters. Once this raw, lively and edgy music gets into your veins it is in there forever with its power to transport you right back to the timeless, place, people and energy of Luxor – EVERYTIME!!
Throughout my career, I have been so lucky to be to these special places, to experience and learn first hand from so many incredible people like Denise and other Egyptian dancers who are also undisputed masters of the cane including Ibrahim Farrah and Mohamed Shelaby.
I hope that I have inspired you and given you a couple of ideas of what and who to seek out and where to seek them out. It is worth every effort. I would also like to share a bit of what I have learned about this delightful dance right now, in my Volume 2 Raks Sharki Series, which includes how to hold and twirl the cane, some wonderful steps and techniques and finishing with a really fun and lively complete choreography to a song called Ayeela Tayeeha buy the incomparable singer, Ahmad Adawiya. You can also take advantage of our Christmas Cane Promo Price from now until January 15th by clicking on the Tell Me More link right here.
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