The story of dance is also a story of colours, of the world’s beauty in many colours laid out before our eyes, and of the lessons beauty has taught our eyes, ears, hands, and voices as we celebrate the simple joys we all share. Dance is a natural expression of joy, inseparable from parties, celebrations, and festivities, and as such can be understood and experienced by everyone.
What are the colours of North Africa? Blue for the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic ocean which wash against the shores, bright greens for the rich farmlands. Yellow for the dry earth and the desert sands. And red, of course, always red. Red for Morocco, red for blood, red for bravery, for life, and the delight of freedom.
Funoon presented Berber dance in the Ahouache style - village festival dances of swirling skirts, and swaying arms and shoulders. These are group dances where the performers cut and combine into patterns that are more conversations than choreography.
Jill, Amanda, Sarah, Rachel, Karen, and Jo dancing in all shows of the Funoon wa-Alwane tour, in Liverpool, Leeds, London, Newcastle, Newport, Rotherham, and Salford. Costumes by Baladi Bazaar (Beverley Smith). Berber headdresses, tiaras, necklaces, and slippers from Morocco. Photos: Cecil / Jo Hirons
The shamadan dance of Egypt came from the tradition of weddings and night-time street processions - and also from ordinary Egyptians playfully flouting nonsensical and contradictory rules issued with alarming regularity by fire-fearing city authorities in the 18th and 19th centuries. These stipulated and increasingly reduced the size and number of candles that could be carried by members of the wedding party until one enterprising dancer - or more than one, since legends naturally have several variants - invented the shamadan, or candelabra dance. 1920s cabaret queen Badia Masabni took this enormously popular dance from the streets to the stage, and from there it passed to the movies in the 1940s; in the 1950s and 60s Mahmoud Reda added many of the tricks and turns you see today. Amongst the stories told, it is also said that all those who are loved, and are lost, or far away, may be once more present in the room for as long as the candles are lit. And, whilst the candles are lit, the stars have come down from heaven.
Beverley and Sarah dancing in Liverpool, Leeds, London, Newcastle, Newport, Rotherham, and Salford. Choreography by Khaled Mahmoud. Costumes by Baladi Bazaar (Beverley Smith). Spare shamadan kindly loaned by Loveday Bellydance.
Photos: Cecil / Jo Hirons
The sword dance is probably as old as the sword itself. It may well be the dance of the bride in the Bible’s Song of Solomon, or a dance performed in her honour, but as well as being a dance of marriage and happiness, the sword dance could also be a dance of sadness for those who had lost their husbands and protectors. As such it was performed all over Egypt in 1811 by the Awalim, the courtesans and learned women of Cairo, in memory of their patrons, the Mamelukes, murdered by the despotic Mohamed Ali Pasha. This legendary performance gave the dramatic sword-dance and the dancers who included it in their repertoire an unbeatable star quality suitable only for the most impressive entertainments. As such it was thought a fitting entertainment for those who came to Egypt from all over the world for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, and, thanks to the famous painting produced afterwards by Jean-Leon Gerome, the Arabian Nights inspired sword dance has become inseparable from bellydance.
Leigh, Jess, Irene and Wendy dancing in London, Newcastle, Newport, Rotherham, and Salford. Swords and costumes by Baladi Bazaar (Beverley Smith). Photos: Jo Hirons