Raqs Roots: Awalim Recreation
Origins & Development
Who were the entertainer’s of Egypt’s past?
The Awalim (sing. Almeh) are the professional female entertainers of Cairo. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries they were known to be skilled singers, poets, musicians and dancers who once 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. During the mid 1800’s all female dancers of Cairo were forced south across the country where the Awalim and Ghawazee (public/outdoor dancers and musicians, often speculated to be related to the Spice Road migrants, although there are several individual tribes claiming separate histories and ethnic identification) became virtually indistinguishable from each other as poverty forced high-class entertainers to take lower-class work, and lower class entertainers began to use the term “Awalim” or “Almeh” to bring in more attention.
As time went on these women began to perform in the salas or public entertainment houses and small theaters as dancers and singers of popular entertainment for the general Egyptian audience and European adventurers. This period of time was the dawn of Raqs Sharqi “Dance of the East” being distinguishable by name from the European and popular Latin dances presented in the same venues. What descended from this period has become world wide is known as “Belly Dance” or “Oriental Dance” and today the terms "Awalim" and "Ghawazee" are distinguished by an urban vs. rural dichotomy of entertainment for middle to lower class Egyptians.
The First Step of Recreation:
Beginning late 2015, I first dove into my first experiment in reproducing the feeling of a specific time period in dance with a 1980’s era Raqs al-Shamadan “Dance of the Candleabra”, inspired by the Cairo dancers’ nostalgic reference to this unique performance tradition originating around the turn of the 19th-20th century. (See the pictures above in the gold dress with me wearing the candelabra. I spent over 30 hours making the fringe for that costume!)
Later in 2016 I developed an a early - mid 1800’s imagination of an Awalim/Ghawazee dance performance for the Farrah (wedding celebration). The costume represents a transition from the ladies Ottoman clothing style of full pantaloons, long chemises with overcoats or vests, tarboosh (hat) with fabric wound around and a scarf tied around the hips when dancing, towards the early 1900’s Awalim costume, defined by skirt, short vest and belt with several long ribbons attached in the front. Here I let the modern movement style of Cairo dancers along with the research on the modern Banat Mazin Ghawazee dancers inform my exploration of technique for the time period. I also used old movie scenes with dancers from as early as the 1930’s to assist with the choice of technique.
In 2017 and 2018 I collaborated with dancers and musicians across Washington and Oregon to create two more tableaux of Awalim in the 1890 - 1910's entertainment hall setting and gave my first workshop on Awalim Movement in Spokane, WA. I had also begun to take some private lessons with a prominent dance researcher of this period named Nisaa (Heather Ward), author of Egyptian Belly Dance in Transition: The Raqs Sharqi Revolution in 2017 and started to realize there was more of a distinction between lower Egypt (Cairo and the Delta region) and Upper Egypt (Saiid and Nubian regions) than I had previously realized.
Moving to China
In 2018 when I relocated to Guangzhou, China I knew I would be off the stage for a year or more while I focused on other work, so I spent a lot of time dreaming and planning, taking online lectures and repetitively examining archival photos for new details and inspiration until I was able to funnel that collected information into the next part of the process.
One of the biggest things that happened in 2019 was visiting Egypt for the first time to complete my "Journey Through Egypt" certification and do a little bit of research about the Awalim and Shamadan dances. I was there for a full month and had the pleasure to study with some great artist like Hany Morgan (Tura/XL finger cymbals), Yasmina of Cairo, Dandash (Awalim/Shamadan), Khyriyya Mazin (Banat Mazin Ghawazee), Saad Hassan (Kafafa), Mostafa Booriy (Assaya/Stick Dance), and Ahmed Awedony (Nubian). I danced under the Egyptian stars and I can't tell you how much life the music and experiences there gave me.
In May of 2019 I was hired to teach my first ever intensive in China. It was 20 hours over 5 days on early Raqs Sharqi history, Awalim technique with a historically inspired choreography, Raqs al-Shamadan history, contexts, technique and preparation for Awalim style floorwork as well as an introduction to sagat (finger cymbals) and a 1980's inspired Shamadan choreography.
The intensive taught me a lot of things and it really encouraged me that more and more people around the world are showing interest in these special subjects. I've been working online with a few students from different parts of the world and connecting with other like - minded artists about these niche subjects and their curiosity and hunger is driving my own.
The summer of 2019 I was back in the U.S.A. visiting 10 cities from coast to coast while teaching a few workshops and private lessons on Raqs al-Shamadan and Awalim history and movement in addition to presenting two new experiments with the 1890's-1910's era Awalim dance style and a new Shamadan dance and mini-lecture for the Seattle Arab Festival.
Since my return to Guangzhou in the fall I launched a Patreon which hosts some new movement tutorials inspired by the mid-20th century awalim Nabaweya Moustafa, among other content; started creating a coloring book of staged and traditional dances from Egypt and other parts of the MENAT (Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, Arabian Gulf, etc); and have been focusing on lessons with my online students from Australia and Belgium.
I'll be back in the U.S.A. by summer 2020 to teach at some excellent events (like Jamballah in Portland, OR) and am planning to visit Toronto, Canada for the first time between August and November! 2020 is also bringing some exciting changes of location and I'll be back in Egypt to continue my training and research by mid - November.
Details will be finalized and made available on my events page in early 2020 so check back soon for the next part of the adventure in dance research and recreation!