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Kid Music Series: Sa'idi Dance From Ancient Egypt

Updated on November 28, 2015

Traditional Dance with Style (and canes)!

Egyptian Stick Fencing
Egyptian Stick Fencing | Source

How Did Ancient Egyptians REALLY Dance?

Do your children think that ancient Egyptians danced with angled arms and jutting hands and feet?

I taught a unit on Egyptian dance and one of the first things we needed to do was explore the Western stereotype of the dance and why it was not authentic. This incorrect idea probably started with viewing the pictures drawn on the walls of pyramids; human figures were drawn very angular with bent hands and feet. The actual dances during the times of the Pharaohs were athletic but in a more fluid way like belly-dancing.

A type of dance that was based on martial arts was often performed in front of the Pharaohs. It was called Tehtib. Men would play war games and show their ability to battle with sticks while on or off horses. This exhibition of fighting showed prowess and strength. Eventually it developed into a type of demonstration that had dance-like qualities. Part of this dance also included a slow, horse-like stepping.

A Stereotype is Born: Dancer in a Cleopatra Costume

We thought this was how Egyptians of old danced.
We thought this was how Egyptians of old danced. | Source

The West's Fascination with Egypt

Although Western culture has always had an interest in Egypt with its pyramids and history, there was a giant peak during the 1920s. Tutankhamen's relatively intact tomb was discovered by archeologist Howard Carter and his team in 1922 and the world went wild with interest. Newspapers ran stories and popular Western culture reflected this interest with clothes, jewelry, home d├ęcor and even architecture.

Along with this interest came a homogenizing of what ancient Egypt was really like. The silver screen took liberties on clothes and furniture on sets to make a more dramatic effect.

But some things they got right, for example flappers started using kohl or dark eye liner to outline their eyes.

Egyptian Belly Dancers from Cairo in 1862

| Source

The Origins of Sa'idi

Most sources say that Sa'idi (pronounced Sigh-ee-dee) originated in Upper Egypt. It is historically tied to this country's ancient culture. Sa'idi is danced with a stick or cane for both men and women. The men's dance is more earthy and percussive. The woman's dance is more fluid and delicate.

Lesson Procedure

For teaching purposes, I combined male movements and less-flirty female movements so all the students could enjoy all the moves. I improvised simplifying moves to do with the music. For example:

  • step and lift other leg and foot sideways back and forth like a show horse stepping
  • cane/stick held with 2 hands raised overhead, twirl around to the beat*strolling in a tight circle swinging the cane and hitting the floor on a specified beat.
  • rolling snake movement from thighs up to the head
  • snake arms
  • hip gyration while slowly turningI

Music to Accompany Your Sa'idi Dancing

Saidi Festival (Saidi Medley)
Saidi Festival (Saidi Medley)

We practiced our traditional dancing with these recordings along with others cited below. From my research I think these old Sai'di folk songs are about as close as we can get.

 

Walk like what?

Walk Like an Egyptian
Walk Like an Egyptian

For a contrasting experience and for fun we danced the fake Egyptian style to the Bangles tune at the end of class.

 

What is an Ethnomusicologist?

The dances from Egypt cannot be separated from the music. As with any dance, the style of instrumentation, the arrangements of the songs, the rhythm and the note range all help determine the movement for the dancer's body.

Studying this music is for everyone but analyzing the music in detail and drawing correlations to dance or culture is usually done by experts and students in the ethnomusicologist field. An Ethnomusicologist is someone that studies music as it pertains to the culture of its origins.

The Study of Music and Culture

This was one of my favorite music classes in graduate school. I took the course that concentrated on Asian and Southeast Asian music. We would be given musical pieces from different countries and analyze the form. We delved into detail on the instrumentation, the layers of sound, and how the music was broken up into sections. It was sometimes necessary to develop my own notation code for a piece. Many times the tonal range and rhythms were too complex to fit into Western notation so you needed to become inventive.

Examples of Sa'idi Dance

Here's where you can get ideas on dance steps you would like to teach your own students.

Saidi Egyptian Dance

The Tahteeb

Silk Road Dance Company - Saidi

Tahtib - Egyptian Men's Stick Dance

Other Excellent Song Choices:

Song - Artist - Album

Saidi Party - Upper Egypt Ensemble - The Masters of Bellydance Music

Saidi Rara - Al-Ahram Orchestra - Virginia Presents Khan Al Khalili

Album - Artist

Traditional Arab Music - Arabesque, Hassan Erraji

Put on the music and have some fun! Questions? Comments?

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    • Kim Milai profile image
      Author

      Kim Milai 3 years ago

      @flycatcherrr: Thank you for visiting. I too was disappointed that the Egyptian walk wasn't authentic. I enjoyed doing these dances with my students.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 3 years ago

      Just a tiny bit disappointed that the "walk like an Egyptian" style of dance turns out to be no more than a Pyramid-art-inspired stereotype, but it's lovely to see the "real" dancing - so very lyrical and yet dramatic!