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Islamic Cairo, Cairo, Egypt.
Tannoura Sufi Dancing in Cairo: Trance of a A Dance
One of the most breathtaking experiences to have in this city is to witness the amazing Sufi dancers perform in the heart of Islamic Cairo. Without sounding clichéd, it really is a feast for the senses, and will have you gazing in amazement at how the musicians' fingers move so fast, and how the twirlers don’t drop down in a dizzied frenzy.
So popular is this show that in high season one used to have to wait upwards of two hours at the door. Luckily, they've remedied the situation by providing tickets for audience members to pick up at the Wikalat Al Ghouri entrance in advance. Admittance to the show is still free which is no doubt part of the reason for its popularity. The audience is often made up of enthusiastic tour groups jostling to catch one of the group's thrice-weekly performances.If you’re lucky enough to make it inside, brace yourself for what’s about take place. You may not be prepared for how utterly enthralling the show is. The performance begins on a subtle note, with two teams of musicians poised on the stage and balcony inside the Wikalat Al Ghouri courtyard. The starting notes ease you into what's to come.
As the show continues, each musician gets a chance to display their talents; and solos prevail. All are amazing but some reach such expert heights; viewers may be left speechless. We’ve never seen anyone so dextrously tickling a tabla, or so enthusiastically turning zills into instruments in their own right as opposed to their usual use as decorative accessories for belly dancers.
Then come the dancers. The show is never the same, so we won’t attempt to detail the sequence of performers, who usually wear traditional white Sufi skirts before changing into the brilliantly coloured pieced tapestries, in which they twirl, twirl, twirl, and twirl. Lifting the skirts up at various angles, it’s simply amazing that they can go on for so long, and with such heavy layers in the Cairo heat.
While coloured clothing is not a part of the Sufi tradition, it must be remembered that this particular performance is just that: a performance meant to entertain and delight and perhaps leave a bit of intrigue about the spiritual tradition behind it, in which the whirling dancer is said to experience a direct connection with the divine. This tradition infuses the performance with a strong sense of reverence.
The audience gets to witness the flurry of colour and excitement while the performers celebrate their art. Some get so involved that their fiery, wild gazes are both frightening and enchanting; and one can’t help but feel moved.
As the show comes to a close after the several acts and costume changes, the spinning intensifies before the musicians come back on stage for their final farewell. You’ll be left in awe of what you’ve just witnessed, and may even feel a little empathetically dizzy. It’s not rare for people in the audience to feel as exhausted as the dancers, as if they've just participated emotionally in the dancers' performance and are still processing the kaleidoscope of a show.
You can’t leave Cairo without paying a visit, and it may be one of the most spellbinding things you’ll ever see.