Saidi DanceBy Ashraf Hassan
The Saidi dance is from Upper Egypt, between Gizeh and Edfu.The Saidi people are upper Egyptian farmers. Usually a Saidi dance is lively, energetic and earthy. The dancer uses one or two sticks, originally made of bamboo.
There are two types of Saidi stick dance: Raks Assaya and Tahtib. The word Tahtib means dancing with sticks and it is originally a kind of conflict with sticks between men to show their power. Tahtib is the oldest form of Egyptian martial arts to have survived. Tahtib dancing is a product of Egyptian martial arts from the pharaonic times. The Pharaohs painted this kind of dance on the walls of their temples and their soldiers learned it.
Tahtib was considered, at that time, to be weapon training. The ancient Egyptians performed stick fencing or stick fighting as a tribute to the pharaoh. This type of fencing was probably based on an actual fighting system used in combat with a shield and a sword - as with the wooden bukko in Kendo which then evolved into a system with its own rules and methods.
The fighting stick appears to have been used as a battlefield weapon. There were advantages of teaching stick fighting, along with other combat sports such as a wrestling, the main advantage being that the Egyptian army could be kept trained and ready for war.
In many respects, it resembles the sport of single stick. Like other martial arts of the world which are tied culturally to dance and music traditions, such as Brazilian Capoiera and Indonesian Silat. Tahtib is a special art form in that it combines both real combat aspects, and aesthetic aspects, and the concept of The Game or Play.
There are five distinct areas of study in Tahtib, and a recognized expert in one may not necessarily know much about another. The modern style of highly choreographed Tahtib dance seen in stage performances in the Middle East is far removed from the wild nature of play seen at festivals and other social gatherings, where real blows get mixed in with the game of fakes and counters.
Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics indicate that Tahtib along with Sebekkah were the primary fighting styles taught to the Egyptian military. Royal families were trained in an advanced style of these arts at a very young age to deter assasination attempts. Much of what was known of Sebekkah and Tahtib have been lost, but there are still a few authentic practitioners believed to inhabit Egypt.
There is NO historical evidence to prove how Tahtib was created. However, there is historical evidence referencing the Pharaoh Menes (c305-285BCE), who unified Egypt and his desire to have the world's greatest army.
Supposedly, he invited the greatest warriors throughout all of Africa, India, and several other locations in the Middle-East to train his armies. This was probably the catalyst for the first Olympic Games. Elements of Tahtib can found in the more well known martial arts of the world; namely Eskrima (Filipino Stick Fighting), White Eyebrow Kung Fu (Bak Mei), Pencak Silat, Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Hwa Rang Do, Ninjitsu, and various Capoiera styles.
Tahtib has changed over years to be just a kind of dance with Stick. Stick dance belongs to folk dances. The stick is regarded as a symbol of masculinity, i.e. a phallus. Although the dance form originally started as male-only, there are women who perform dressed as men and dance with other women.
Another female version of stick dancing has been developed with a flirtatious and generally less aggressive style, and incorporated into cabaret or "belly dance." The stick used for this type of dancing is generally thinner, more lightweight and hooked at one end like a cane, and generally embellished with metallic-coloured foil or sequins.
Stick fighting has been used to settle disputes between members of rival families, mostly in the Egyptian countryside. The men's stick dances are very dramatic and manly dances - not to be confused with the coquetry of the women's dance. Tahtib is a favorite dance at any festive occasion, such as weddings, welcoming parties, and harvest festivals. It is also practiced by the men as a pastime and used as a means of self-defense.
The stick itself is about four feet in length and is called an Asa, Asaya or Assaya, or Nabboot. It is often flailed in large figure-8 patterns across the body with such speed and violence that the displacement of air is loudly discernible.
There is another form practiced from horseback known as "Horse Stepping" which uses a stick that is nearly 12 feet long. Raks Assaya is performed by men and/or women and shows off a more acrobatic version of handling the stick. The women's version of the stick dance is, of course, much more feminine and graceful, and can only lightly imitate the Tahtib.
One story claims these women's dances are a parody of the men's stick dances. They make the movements cute and flirty and omit the fighting. The women flaunt effortless control of their much smaller stick or crooked cane. They use it unabashedly as a frame for the body movements. Some of the women's movements echo the 'tahtib' and sometimes the men imitate the woman's style.
Stick dance can be danced in a duet or in a group from men and women. The traditional men's costume consists of long pants, two galabeyas with wide sleeves and a round neckline, and a long scarf wound around the head. The women wear a Beledi dress with a belt or scarf around the hips and a veil on the head.
The music used in Tahtib features the tahvol (bass drum) and a shrill pipe. The tahvol is a double-sided drum worn with a shoulder strap so it hangs sideways in front of the drummer and is played with two sticks. The right hand uses a heavier stick with a hooked head to beat out the "dooms" which drive the heartbeat of the rhythm, while the left hand uses a light twig as a switch to produce rapid-fire staccato "kahs". (Doom = the deep sound from striking the center of the drum with the right hand or with a knobbed stick; Kah = the higher sound from striking the edge of the drum with the left hand or with a light switch.
Saidi music is typically played by traditional instruments such as the Rababa (the grandfather of today's violin), the Mizmar (a horn which emits long, whiney tones), and various percussion instruments such as the dumbek and the tabla beledi. The music of the Said has a very special rhythm, it is a 4/4 time signature and we call it Makloub. There are some other variations, for instance one version instead of dum at the beginning, two dums will be played. Makloub means reverse and it is played thusly:
Dum Tak ke Tak Dum Dum Tak ke Tak
or Dum Tak Dum Dum Tak.
I studied classical ballet and folk dance at the Academy of Arts in Cairo for 9 years, to be a professional dancer. I also studied for four years at the Academy of Arts and have a bachelor degree as a dance Teacher. I was engaged as a professional dancer for six years at the Opera house in Cairo and danced with different folk groups in Cairo, such as, El Kawmia and Reda group. I went on to work with famous Egyptian oriental dancers, such as, Nagwa Fouad and Azza Sherif. I moved to Germany and was engaged as a professional dancer in different Theaters for many years. In 1988 I began to work as a Choreographer and instructor in Oriental and folk dance. I teach oriental dance and folk dance workshops worldwide. Now, I live in Cairo again and have my own dance group!