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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
African erotica

The Ghawazee dancers of Egypt were a group of female and male traveling dancers. Like most forms of oriental dance, much of the history of the Ghawazee dancers is unknown due to a lack of historical documentation. An ethnic group that has been exoticized in Western travel literature regarding and cinema portraying Egypt since the 18th century, they are seen as particularly sensual and are probably the origin for the contemporary notion of belly dance.

The Ghawazee were banished from Cairo to Upper Egypt by Muhammad Ali. Typically, the Ghawazee are represented as Gypsies, with a particular attention to their music and dance styles, featuring mizmars and heavy bass lines. Representing diverse historical backgrounds, most of the Ghawazee of the Qena region belong to ethnic minorities such as the Nawar (or Nawara), Halab, and Bahlawen.

Particularly well known are the Banat Maazin family, Nawar gypsys that settled in Luxor and were filmed in the 70's and 80's. Many consider the Maazin family to be the only practicing family left of the original line of Ghawazee dancers.

The style of dance and costuming of the Ghawazee has been especially influential in crafting the look of American Tribal Style Belly Dance. Traditional Ghawazee dress consists of a Persian coat with slits, known as a Yelek. The abdomen is covered by these coats. Turkish harem pants are worn under these coats. The coats are typically ankle-length, though some modern Ghawazee troupes wear a shorter version over a full, knee-length skirt. Ghawazee dancers often adorn their heads with elaborate headresses, with dancers often accompanying themselves by playing zils, or small cymbals that are used by dancers in many forms of Oriental dance.

The Ghawazee Tribe in the 19th Century

The Ghawazee tribe of dancers were very famous in Egypt during the 19th century. The singular of a woman in this tribe is called Ghazeeyeh and a man Ghazee, though Ghawazee was generally understood as applying to the females. The Ghawazee perform unveiled in the streets. Rapid hip movement and use of brass hand castanets characterize their energetic dance. Musicians of their tribe usually accompanied them in their dance.

The dress of this tribe of dancers is that of the middle class of Cairo. However, ornaments are added to their ensemble. They usually wore kohl around their eyes and henna on their fingers, palms, toes and feet. According to Lane, these women are the most abandoned of the courtesans of Egypt. He describes them as being very beautiful and richly dressed.

The Ghawazee perform in the court of a house, or in the street, before the door, on certain occasions of festivity in the harem. They are never admitted into a respectable harem, but are frequently hired to entertain a party of men in the house of some rake. Both women and men enjoyed their entertainment. However, many people among the higher classes and more religious disapprove of them.

The Ghawazee considered themselves a distinct race apart from the rest of the Egyptians. They claimed to be descendents of ancient Egyptians, possibly the class of female dancers ho amused the Egyptians in the times of the Pharoahs. The members of this tribe generally did not marry outside their own people. Most members marry, but hold off doing so until their careers as dancers are over. The husband is subject to the wife and performs for her the offices of a servant and procurer as well as an accompanist to her dancing. Their lifestyle is similar to that of a gypsy in that they travel from one town to another and take work as it comes, being a main attraction at celebrations throughout Egypt. The language of the Ghawazee is the same as the rest of the Egyptians; but they sometimes make use of a number of words peculiar to themselves in order to render their speech unintelligible to strangers. They are Muslim in faith and often pilgrim to Mecca

Other Dancers in Egypt in the 19th Century

Often there were girls of the low class who tried to pretend to be part of Ghawazee, but in fact were not. There were also a group of men who were considered of a very low position who were called “Gink”, a vulgar signification that expressed their character. These men were generally Jews, Armenians, Greeks, and Turks.

Many people liked the dancing of the Ghawazee, but felt it was improper because of its being danced by women who should not expose themselves in this manner. Because of this, there was a small number of young male performers called Khawals. The Khawals were Muslims and natives of Egypt and impersonated the women of the Ghawazee and their dance. They were known to impersonate every aspect of the women including their dance and use of castanets. Their appearance, however, was both female as well as male. They wore a tight vest, a girdle as well as a petticoat. However, their appearance was more female than male. They grew their hair very long, plucked out any facial hair, applied kohl and henna and even sometimes veiled their faces in public. They are sometimes preferred to the Ghawazee at festivals and often dance at public celebrations as well.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ghawazee" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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