Kid Music Series: Sa'idi Dance From Ancient Egypt
Traditional Dance with Style (and canes)!
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
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 décor 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
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.
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
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?
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
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