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Folkloric dances are characterized as having been inspired by activities of both the men as well as women, and as with most of the traditional Middle Eastern dances, emerged from one of the activities of daily life for the typical villager.




Cane Dance
Raks Assaya
or "cane dance" is a personal favorite of the troupe's choreographer.

It is the female version of the tahtib, which comes from the Arabic word for stick or staff, even though the dance is usually done with the cane instead of the staff.

Tahtib is the men's stick dance that evolved out of a display of skill in combat with a bamboo staff. Strongly rooted in the lifestyle of the fellaheen (rural or village people) the tahtib is recognized in the Arab world as Egyptian in origin, very similar to the martial art of Akido. Theatrical presentations involve a mock battle as the protagonists dance, Saiidi style, holding the stick in one or both hands swinging it around above their heads striking it on the ground or against each other's staff in choreographed movements.

PHOTO: Melissa R. Wilson

Raks Assaya, the female version, is coy and flirtatious. The movements have been softened and stylized while still retaining an air of exhibitionism. According to researchers Raks Assaya is the epitome of female charm and one of the most popular dances in Middle Eastern entertainment. It is a common occurrence at weddings, circumcisions, births, and in the floor shows of Oriental dancers.

Middle Eastern and Mediterranean folkloric dances often reflect the activities of everyday life such as fishing, sifting grain, or carrying water. Everyday objects associated with these activities become props in sometimes elaborate, stylized dances.


Water Pot
One of the most exciting versions of North African folkloric dance is the Tunisian Shaba or "water pot" dance. This dance is sometimes performed with large water pots balanced atop the dancer's heads. It is a theatrical depiction of women moving in graceful and fluid unison while balancing these water pots on their heads as they ostensibly return to the village from the community well.

In Tunisia, Shaba the North African word for folkloric, refers to the hip twisting women's dance done in a Tunisian Milaya. The Milaya is several meters of fabric wrapped around the body in a specific way to form a dress. It is clasped at the shoulders usually with decorative jewelry and held in place at the hips with a sash.

When performing the shaba, we love the "astonished" reaction at its conclusion when we remove the pots from our heads to bow and the audience realizes the pots were actually balanced and not affixed to the tops of our heads.



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