The Awalim Recreation Project
From fairly early on in my dance journey, there has been voice echoing in my mind, driving me to answer the question "What came before?" Over the years this question has propelled me backwards in a search through time, passing phases of exploration in various eras of Egyptian dance history towards remnants of information about the traditional entertainers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. As I learned more about this period of time and began to experiment with what movement might have looked then, a vision took hold to present a dance show in the style Cairo entertainment halls at the turn of the 20th century.
Informally established in 2017, this project has grown and shifted in the years since, as I gain a better perspective on the vastness of information needed to clearly and accurately portray that initial vision. I've continued to learn, research and experiment with creating what I hope is a reliable speculation of movement and technique for the traditional dancers near the end of the 1800's, and I'm very grateful for the opportunities I've had to present my findings and personal interpretation of the material internationally for live and online seminars.
During this time I've produced several small scale solo or group reconstructions and watched the rising trend of curiosity for history and folklore within the global raqs sharqi community, which happily has allowed me to connect with other dancers around the globe who share my deep love and drive for understanding the roots of the dances we practice. I'm excited to collaborate with artists over the next year to produce an online show exploring the traditional dance, music, songs and costuming of Egypt's traditional entertainers. Stay tuned for more information for our 2022 show premier!
Who were the entertainer’s of Egypt’s past?
Various names have been ascribed within the culture, to the traditional entertainers of Egypt over the last several centuries which were then adopted by foreigner travelers often with little understanding of contextual meaning of the terms.
The most common we find are ghawazee (pl.) ghaziyah (sing.) and awalim (pl.) almah (sing.)
The meaning or association of these titles to performance context has shifted since the beginning of the 19th century and although being quite archaic are not in common use by Egyptians and other Arabic speakers, still are used often within the global dance community to refer to traditional dance artists of Egypt.
The ghawazee are female dancer-singers of various tribes which are speculated to have migrated to Egypt in the distant past along the spice road, who were and are the entertainers of Egypt's rural middle and lower classes. There are many groups across Egypt even today, but their traditional way of dancing is dying out or being replaced by modern raqs sharqi.
The awalim are the professional female entertainers of Cairo. Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries they were known to be skilled singers, poets, musicians (and possibly dancers) who 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. Beginning in the 1830’s many awalim were forced out of the urban centers in a series of banishments with restrictions and regulations around performing continuing into the next century. Over time the class distinction between the urban awalim and the rural ghawazee was lost, yet the association to city or country context remained.
Near the turn of the 20th century these women began to perform in the new European style cafe chantants and entertainment halls as dancers and singers for the general Egyptian audience and European adventurers. Up until this point the context for awalim and ghawazee to perform had been family events like weddings, circumcisions, the birth of a baby or public festivals known as mawalid. This change in venue and context was a major key in the development of raqs sharqi ( meaning “dance of the east”) a dance we now recognize as an iconic expression of social entertainment throughout the middle east and known globally as as “Belly Dance” or “Oriental Dance”.