Meditation and Entertainment
The original Whirling Dervish dance was – and is – a dance mediation. However, the whirling dance has long been adapted for entertainment as well, with the performers using multicolored, multilayered, skirts that are manipulated to create optical illusions rather than spiritual enlightenment.
The whirling dance performed for entertainment is called TANOURA. It evolved from the dance meditation that migrated to Egypt with the Sufi Almoez Ledun Ellah Alfatime. Theatrical versions of the Sufi dance began to appear in Egypt in the late 19th century. The best dancers use more than one skirt, separating and combining them while twirling for hypnotic optical illusions.
While a tanoura dancer whirls, s/he may play large sagat (TOURA) or a frame drum.
Mohamed Shahin: Whirling dervish, or ‘raqis tanoura’ in Arabic (literally translated as ‘skirt dance’) is the traditional dance of the Sufis, and has its origins in the Turkish Ottoman Empire. It started as an alternative form of worship within Islam, and is performed as a way of inducing an intense personal communion with the divine, of inducing ecstasy.
Sufi practitioners of the dance wear long white kaftans, fez-like hats, and a heavy white skirt traditionally made of wool, in which they spin for hours around a fixed imaginary point. With his circular motion and accompanying hand gestures, the Sufi dancer engages in a sort of physical prayer, whereby he emits a huge bout of energy to the heavens. Sufi dancing is usually done in groups, with one man in the middle whirling, while the other practitioners dance around him in a circle. It is as if the dervish were the sun, and the dancers revolving around him, the stars.
The Egyptian tanoura dance is similar to the one practiced in Turkey in all but dress. Primarily performed for theatrical rather than spiritual reasons, Egyptian dervishes wear ornate and colorful skirts and incorporate the use of accessories to demonstrate the difficulty of the dance and the dancer’s skill.
From article written by Maura Enright, BABA YAGA Newsletter
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Whirling dervishes at the Rumi Festival in Konya.
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Article and photos by Kashfi Halford and Matt Fidler, The Guardian