I remember loving to spin when I was little. When I got spinning fast enough it seemed almost like I was staying still. I could see the world whizzing by but the immediate space around me seemed to stay still, my arms felt free of gravity, and my momentum kept me spinning long after my feet were too exhausted or confused to carry me on their own. It was kind of a surreal feeling.
But then I would stop and fall over, watching the ground tilt this way and that while my body tried to make sense of where I was.
And I would only spin for a few minutes at a time. Sufi dancers spin forever.
After our long tiring walk and long afternoon nap yesterday we woke up just in time to make a quick dinner and head off to Wikalat al-Ghouri to watch the Whirling Dervishes. We left Rachel at the Houses, which is a good thing because we ended up having to wait a long time for the show to start and we didn’t think she’d be able to handle just sitting there for that long.
Seating is limited, so if you want a seat you have to get there plenty early. The doors open at 7:00 PM, but the show doesn’t start until 8:30 PM. We got there at 6:45 and I was glad we did because there was already a little crowd gathered around. We were able to grab chairs near the front, but the whole room filled up soon after we got there. I’m glad we didn’t have to stand to watch the concert. I’m not sure Mom or I would have been able to handle that.
The show was so amazing! And the best part is that it was absolutely free! I asked Andrew how they manage to give weekly concerts for free and he said they probably have a waqf (endowment) that stipulates free community concerts or something.
First they had some musicians on stage who danced around a bit and showed off what their instruments could do. The man on the finger cymbals was such a ham!
All of the musicians did a little bit of dancing and spinning; I actually think that BYU’s Folkdance Ensemble should consider putting together a number like this because I haven’t been impressed with the dances they have chosen to represent the Middle East in the past. The drummers in the vests were fun. They were spinning and dancing in circles. It was interesting to watch, but truthfully we were all waiting for the real Whirling Dervishes to come out.
To put it simply, Sufi whirling is a religious ceremony involving a lot of symbolism…and spinning. Quite often there will be one dancer in the middle with other dancers spinning around the middle man, which apparently represents the solar system. There were a lot of hand gestures, which were obviously indicating God, man, and scriptures. Tannoura dancing is original to Egypt and is much more festival-ready than the more demure Sufi dancers we’ve seen whirling in Istanbul and at al-Azhar park. Andrew said he read somewhere that their costumes weigh around 11 kilos! That’s a lot of clothes to wear!
The first dancer to get up on stage was spinning for forty-five minutes straight—I kid you not—and when he stopped, he didn’t even look like he was going to hurl or anything. He stood there, as composed as could be, took his bow and walked off stage in a straight line. It was amazing!
Apparently the spinning is a sort of meditation for Sufis, which I could almost understand since I found spinning both fascinating and relaxing as a child. The part about not hurling after 45 minutes of spinning, though, I don’t understand since I can only imagine how queasy I’d be after 45 minutes and have seen Rachel puke after only 5 or 10 minutes of continuous spinning.
The next group of dancers to come on stage only spun for 15 minutes or so, but they had more skirts on than the first marathon-spinner and did some cool tricks with their skirts.
The performance lasted for 75 minutes and we were transfixed the whole time. It was an incredibly polished performance with wonderful fluidity between numbers. We had no complaints, except, perhaps, that it was a little too loud for our liking.
When the music stopped our ears were still ringing with the sounds of horns, flutes, drums, and singing. For hours.
The show was very captivating, though, and we’ll definitely try to make it back for a few more performances. It’s on my mom’s list of top 5 things to do in Cairo, so comes highly recommended. I’m not sure anything else is on that list yet…
When we picked Rachel up from the Houses she was wearing a nightgown (presumably Sarah's). We carried her home wearing that nightgown and without putting her shoes on. She thought that was the most absurd thing.
"I'm wearing my jammies outside!" she laughed, "And no shoes on!"
Well, of all the outlandish things to do; that's living life on the edge, Rachel!