About Saiidi Dance & Music

This is intended as a supplement to  Intermediate classes and Saidi workshops held between 2005 and the present.

The Said (also spelled Saiid ) is a region of Egypt, located along the Nile banks from Cairo south to about Aswan. (South of the Said is a region known as Nubia.) The people of the Said have historically been farmers, known as fellahin, but now also include a rural working class as the region industrializes and changes.

The “gypsy” or Rom dancers (the female ones) of Egypt are known as Ghawazee (plural, singular is ghaziyeh). These women are a dying kind, with few acknowledged working professional dancers left. Khariyya Mazin, for example, is the last female dancer in the Mazin family line. The Ghawazee dancers, and their male musician relatives who play for them, are their own cultural subgroup, but while culturally distinct, the music and the rhythms are largely inseparable from the rest of the Said. Exceptions would be songs and ballad related to the history of their families and people. Gypsy dancers and musicians, in many areas of the world, have long mastered the art of fusion, borrowing and assimilating music and dance wherever they live. Ghawazee dance has a number of distinctive elements that are not discussed below. Families of this ancestry have traditionally been looked down on in Egypt by native Egyptians, and been pushed the margins of society. Traditional livelihoods include entertainment, iron working, and the raising of bulls and horses.

The specific rhythm called Saidi is measured in 4/4 time. It is very earthy, bouncy, and tends to make people want to bop along with it. It is played like this:

dumtek     dum dum tek

1       +   2  +       3       4

OR

dumtek dumdumdum       tek                       tek           dumdum        tek

1       +    2      +      3            4                   1     +      2      +       3             4

The second variation is often played at the beginning of a Saidi piece or when transitioning from another rhythm within the same piece of music. The Saidi rhythm is not always just for Saidi dance and music. The onus is on the dancer to listen further to the instruments being played–the rhythm also appears in music for baladi, fellahi, Bedouin, shaabi, and raks sharqi dance.

Most Saidi music is characterised by a particular, distinctive sound, comprised of a small number of instruments. These instruments are very different than those used for classpregnant in cairo (3)ical raks sharqi or raks baladi. Saidi and Ghawazee groups tend to be small, with 6-8 musicians, including: several drummers, one of whom plays the tabl baladi (a large frame drum played with a stick and the hand or a smaller stick), also doumbek and tabla or darrabouka (smaller goblet-shaped drums); perhaps sagats (finger cymbals)–all Ghawazee dancers use them; perhaps req (tambourine); and most noticeably, melodic instruments including the mizmar (a double reed, nasal-sounding oboe relative), mijwiz (double-reed, double-barrelled oboe-like horn, part of the bagpipe family), arghoul (a deeper sounding reed instrument), nay (wood or papyrus flute), and/or rebab (upright gourd and fret board violin relative, bowed or plucked).

These instruments take turns usually to play the main melody while the others play a drone (a single prolonged note in the mode/key, or maqam, that is being played), or sometimes repetive phrases. Sometimes the musicians will play call-and-answer with the melody and with the drummers. The drummers will usually start with one laying down the basic rhythm and its tempo, then may play a little call-and-answer with the main musician. When playing for dancers, this has the practical effect of calling the dancer(s) to the song, letting her/them know what is being played and at what tempo. Rarely will you hear oud, guitar, violin, saxaphone, accordion, brass horns, qanun, or keyboard in traditional Saidi music, although there are now plenty of cross-over pop songs that mix elements of traditional Egyptian music.

Saidi dance is characterised by large, earthy, sometimes repetitive movements. Most of what is taught and performed by professional dancers is of the “folkoric” school (e.g. Reda and Khomeyya groups)–standardized, stylized, theatre steps based on steps collected from regions around Egypt, but NOT what you might actually see everyday folks dancing in their homes.   Not all Saidi dance is based on Saidi rhythm. Sometimes, the other basic rhythms are used, such as baladi, maqsum , fellahi, and ayoub. Typically hip movements are emphasized downward, backward, and outward. Dips in the knees and heel drops are added to diagonal figure 8 hips, large hip circles with a back emphasis, full camels/undulations, and travel steps such as step-hops and basic Egyptian. Many movements are borrowed from the movements of horses, with pawing feet and proud, high chest bounces.  Arms and hands are often held lower nearer the hips, or one hand held in near the ear.

Shoulder shimmies and hip shimmies are larger, looser, and slower than for sharqi dance. Most shimmies are 3/4. Most movements are performed flat-footed. Like baladi, saidi has a more relaxed, happy feel to it. Isolations are not performed strictly on 2 planes of movement (e.g. up and down, forward and back).  The dancer does not dance in the”column” of  Orientale style.  This is the kind of dancing people do when they are getting together for celebration and rejoicing.

What we regard as “traditional” Saidi dance is actually more conventional, based on a movement repertoire used by the 2 main folkloric troupes of Egypt, Khomeyya and Reda. Throughout the 1960’s, especially, members of these groups toured Egypt, collecting steps from different regions and towns, interviewing local dancers, and adapting this information to create a theatre- or movie-worthy version of these folkstyles. As Sahra Saeeda Kent explains in her Journey Through Egypt coursework, these dances are like “fantasy” versions of folk dance–what local men and women fondly wished they wore and danced in their best vision of themselves. It is folkdance dressed up, fancied up, and made into more of a storytelling device.pregnant in cairo (5)

Saidi dance also includes cane dance, known as raks al assaya . Men dance with tahtib–a large, long, heavy bamboo pole, while women dance using a shorter, lighter, cane that often has a crook. Men combine hops, turns, twirls, tosses, low dips, and travel steps in their dance that is partly a martial art and partly a game–they attempt to strike each other’s staffs, shoulders, underarms, and forearms.   Many movements imitate horses.

Stage versions have been stylized to remove much of the combat. Women’s assaya dance is partly a parody and partly an homage to the men’s dance. It has also evolved into a form all its own. It includes more twirling and more use of the cane to pose and frame movements of the ribs, shoulders, hips, head and torso. Women’s dance has a more fun, playful feel, as it would be unfeminine to dance in a way that could be seen as dangerous. Women are not supposed to look like they will cause harm.

Men and women alike traditionally wore a long, loose tunic dress sometimes called a gallebeya. Men often wear pants underneath, a neck scarf, and a white or blue head covering. Often they are dressed in white or blue. Women tend to wear brighter colours, a head scarf which may be decorated, and a hip scarf. Men and women often wear shoes, the men in low boots or slip-on shoes, and the women in ballet-type slippers or low-heeled, “Daisy Duck” shoes.  Modern costuming has evolved into very elaborate, decorated, tight dresses for women that may have no sleeves, deep v-necks, cut-out sections, and heavy fringe. Canes, too, can be heavily embellished with sequins, beads, and metallic tape.

There are historical references in writings and paintings and photographs of Saidi dance done outside in the marketplaces (by professional dancers only), at outdoor wedding celebrations, in the streets, in camps, or on bare floors inside the home. Men and women who do not work as professional dancers do not traditionally dance together. Women do not dance publicly unless they are working dancers.

Video Recommendations:

Hadia’s Instructional videos/DVDs, Volume 2 and 3, available from <www.hadia.com>; Dances of Egypt by Aisha Ali; portions of Sahra Saeeda Kent’s Al Dounya and Sahra Saeeda shows; Nourhan Sharif’s cane instructional video; Best of Lucy performance show.

Music Recommendations:

Hossam Ramzy’s Best of Baladi and Saidi, Rhythms of the Nile; Musicians of the Nile’s From Luxor to Isna or Charcoal Gypsies; Afrah Baladna Saidi; Gypsies of the Nile’s Rahhal.

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by Nicola, updated February 2012

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