The typical westerner would probably associate dancing with a cane with Jazz or some other modern dance style, but did you know that dancing with a Cane has its roots in the oldest Martial Arts of ancient Egypt?
The earliest origins lie in El Saiid, which is in upper (southern) farmlands of Egypt. This region is most known for the Middle Eastern rhythm of the same name, Saiidi, which is both heavy and earthy. This rhythm "fuels lunging, hopping, and turning moves, because of its structure: the first Dum on the drum is followed by a sharp Tak sound, creating a hop or release. The double Dum in the middle of the rhythm, pulls the body back, giving the dancer or fighter a solid, earth platform from which to move forwards again." This driving rhythm is played on the Tabla, Dholla, and Riqq, and regularly accompanied by the Mizmar (horn), and Rababa (fiddle).
Saiidi is Arabic for "from Sa'id," and is quite often performed with a stick called Tahtib or Taktib. "This dance with sometimes performed with a snake. The stick is connected to the snake in many cultures, and expresses the relationship between the feminine and the procreating male."
When Belly Dancing with a stick, it represents the masculine aspect, and is both an extension of the dancer, as well as the dancer's partner. Cosmically speaking, the dancer is represented by inner space, while the stick represents outer space. As the dancer spins, undulates, hops, and twirls, she controls the stick, which is an expression of both her partnership and control in her personal relationship. This is done in a playful and flirty way, and is not oppressive. Instead, it is a self-confident expression of the feminine aspect. In fact, both men and women dance with a cane, in particular at festivals and celebrations.
It can be hard to believe that the lighthearted cane-dancing of today was once used to "train warriors for battle, as is evidence and the tomb paintings depicting finding scenes in ancient Egypt." The warriors would practice their fearless moves, steps, and turns, with a stick that was a much larger and heavier staff. "The Saiidi stick dance is also known as the 'dance of the Arab stallions,' because it is believed that the rhythm and masculine steps and postures emulate the strong, gallant moves of that much respected male Arabian horse."
Dating back to Pharaonic times, it was both the northern and southern Egyptians that contributed to dancing with a Tahtib, and then later with an Asaya (cane). The southerners were the ones that "brought much of the basic foot, hip and drum work to the style that later became an intrinsic component of every folkloric show." Mahmoud Reda, of the state-sponsored Reda Troupe of the 1950's onward, performed Saiidi style in many movies, and introduced Saiidi to cinema-goers through his dynamic troupe choreographies.
You can also find similar routines done by all-male troupes, "clad in simple turban style head scarves and Long, brown galebeyas" (a loose-fitting hooded gown). Tapping into the more militaristic style, the "dance is very powerful when performed by an all male ensemble."
And, even though dancing with a stick has its origins in Egyptian style, you will also see Lebanese dancers using sticks in their routines as well.
How to choose your Cane: "The stick used most often in Belly Dancing is a cane with a hooked end. When choosing a cane, look for one that has long enough to lean on, narrow enough for your hand to grasp, and light enough for you to lift without effort."
How to make your own Tahtib:
"You can also use light would like Dowling from a hardware store. It should be light enough to twirl between the fingers. You can decorate a stick, with gold tape and ribbon wrapped around the cane and a twirling pattern."
How to hold the Cane/Stick:
Fisrt off, make sure to "hold it with respect and present it as the powerful stick that it is." Also, like anything else that is new, "patience and time are needed, until one can dance in harmony with a stick, uniting the softness of the body to the strength of a stick, and creating out of both a new element. Yet, once this partnership has been achieved, it is great fun."
How to do the Basic Twirl:
First hold a stick and the non-hooked end, between the base of your thumb and the rest of the hand, resting it in the fleshy part of the hand between thumb and forefinger. Hold the stick upright, with a hooked and high in the air. Keep the stick straight and parallel with your body, open your hands lightly, letting your palm facing upwards as the stick falls down. You should be able to see the short, non-hooked end of the stick poking up between the base of your thumb and forefinger. You need only hold the stick loosely here. Now grasp of the stick with the strength of your fingers to bring it back up to its original position.
Continue this release-grip-release–grip process, keeping the stick parallel with your body, to create a smooth tomorrow. Now try this with a Hip Drop or Hip Left. Other popular stick moves: -Hold both ends of the stick in your hands at chess level as you Shoulder Shimmy. -Hold both end of the stick in your hands at hip level as your Hip Shimmy. -Hold both ends of the stick and your hands at waist level as you rock your body forwards and backwards from right foot to left foot, keeping one foot in front of the other for the entire series of moves. -Rest the hooked-end of the stick on your shoulder. -Hit the stick on the floor on an accent it beat, and kick it back up with your foot to bring it up to your shoulder. -Hit the stick on the floor on an accented beat, then lift it over your head as you turn to the back, hitting the stick on the floor again. Then turn and bring it back up to your shoulder.
-Hold both ends of the stick in your hands at hip level as you do traveling Undulations.
Tip: Keep the movement strong and simple, twirl the stick when the music gets especially festive.
Now that you have some basic moves, let's talk about what to wear!
"The stick dance was once a folkloric dance art, wear the costume it was a long dress and hip scarf, but these days, many dancers use it as part of an (American) Cabaret routine." Most Egyptian "dancers will wear a Baladi dress or a more traditional outfit when performing this style of dance." For the more traditional look, "it would be best to wear a slim fitting Galebeya with a hip scarf and head scarf, lots of coin jewelry, and small chin tattoos."
But what you wear can depend on who you are dancing with. "When performing with men in Saiidi dances, as part of the group, women normally dance without the staffs. Their hip work and turns, interpret the heavy rhythm. However, when performing as a solo or a lead role, the female dancer will usually wear the Galebeya, headdress and heavy gold jewelry as she wields the lightweight cane."
But don't wait until you get the "right" outfit: grab your stick, play upbeat music, and start dancing!
Belly dancing basics by Laura A Cooper Grandmother secrets by Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi Belly dance by Keti Sharif Virginia