World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Hahbi'Ru Dance Ensemble

: Raqs Baladi, Raqs Sharki
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2006

A republic in North Africa, Egypt’s geography spans into Asia, contains two deserts (Sahara and Sinai) and was home to the ancient Nile River civilization. Regarded as the cultural center of the Arab world, its capital Cairo has for centuries been a renowned center of learning, commerce and the arts. Egyptian culture blends an elemental earthiness with sophisticated ancient traditions.

While dance has had an ambiguous place in Arab society, during pre-Islamic times farmer communities known as fellahin, danced at social gatherings and weddings along the Nile River. The typical dance movements of fast hip shimmies, syncopated hip drops and broad arm positions were derived from this “dance of the people” or raqs shaabi. Eventually taken to cities, it evolved into a style of folkloric entertainment known as raqs baladi, or “country dance,” which began to appear frequently in large theatrical productions. The urban cabaret solo style became shaped out of these traditions as well. In Egypt, “belly dance” is more aptly called, raqs sharki (translated as “dances of the East”).

The most typically seen belly dance is the cabaret style popular in Middle Eastern restaurants throughout the United States where curvaceous women dance with uncovered bellies. In Egypt this style is often performed with women’s bellies covered by light black gauze, and there is also a tradition of male belly dancing. In the early 19th century when Egyptian women were banned from performing in public, male dancers known as khawals replaced them. They combined elements of male and female costuming to prevent being mistaken for women. Middle Eastern dancers have also been long admired for their skill performing with props that are twirled or balanced on different parts of their bodies.

Hahbi'Ru Dance Ensemble formed in 1991 to preserve older styles of Middle Eastern and North African dance. They perform at festivals and private parties.


TITLE OF PIECE: Ya Ain Muleiyatein (“The Life of My Eyes”)
CHOREOGRAPHER OF RAQS AL BALLAS: Rita Aldarucci and Paul Oxman
MUSICIANS: Frank Aviles, Hector Bezanis, Michael Caxton, Sandy Hollister, Sean Tergis

Recreating the joyfulness of a community gathering, Hahbi'Ru Dance Ensemble performs three dances incorporating elements from Egypt’s folkloric and urban traditions, fusing them with contemporary western staging. The opening dance, Ya Ain Muleiyatin ("The Life of My Eyes"), makes extensive use of finger cymbals. Next, Raqs al Ballaas evokes images of village women transporting water from the local well as dancers balance water-filled pots on their heads. The final Raqs al Saneiyya culminates into a dramatic improvisational solo with a heavily laden tray balanced on the head of one of the group’s male leaders.

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