Gilded Serpent presents...

Nadia Hamdi

Shamadan or Candelabra

Dances along the Nile, Part 4

by Gamila El Masri and Lucy Scheherezade
posted March 15, 2011
Part 1: Raks Al Asaya - Cane
Part 2: Raks Al Balas - Water Jug
Part 3: Melaya

BennuGilded Serpent is proud to announce that we will be reprinting a multi-section article, "Dances Along the Nile," from the publication Bennu, courtesy of New York's Gamila El Masri. Formerly a print publication, Bennu was a labor of love that is now available in pdf format on CD. This publication is a valuable resource for Oriental dancers and we are pleased to be able to offer our readers this sample and to add this content to our archives. Our thanks to Gamila Al Masri for the republishing rights. For more information about ordering Bennu on CD, please contact Gamila through the linked byline above.


The Shamadan (candelabra) is the premiere balancing prop with two or three tiers of lighted candles flickering in the stage light; it's a beautiful spectacle. There are a number of ways of performing Shamadan:

  • the wedding processional called the zeffa,
  • the “Mohamed Ali Street”style--passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter,
  • the traditional elegant theatrical presentation of Egyptian folkloric companies, and
  • the cabaret version.

For the facts and history of Shamadan, inserted below is an article by Lucy Smith of Scheherezade Imports.

Photo courtesy of Sonia AsmahanFact Sheet: Shamadan Dancing
by Lucy Smith-Scheherezade

  • Zouba el Kloubatiyya was the first dancer to use a klob (candle lantern) balanced on her head during a zeffa, the Egyptian wedding procession. Shafia el Koptia, “The Coptic Christian”, not to be outdone, used the Shamadan (candelabra) as well. Shafia, taught Nadia Hamdi's grandmother and aunt. Nezla el Adel, (a contemporary of Shafia) is still alive today and occasionally teaches and performs. She is in her 90s. Nadia Hamdi is Egypt's recent diva of Shamadan and is the only dancer who was taught from the original line of Egyptian Shamadan dancers. Nadia was exposed to the teachings of Zouba as a child and then more formally trained by her grandmother. Nadia Hamdi, however, has left the dance for religious reasons.
  • Shamadan dancing, as part of the Egyptian wedding processional, began in the early 20th century. Prior to that time, the zeffa was led by a dancer and musicians; additional illumination was provided only by special three-foot long decorated wedding candles and by lanterns held by members of the wedding procession. The special wedding candles remain a part of the wedding zeffa to this day.
  • The wedding procession traditionally occurs at night, winding its way through the streets of the neighborhood from the home of the bride's parents to her new home at the groom's house. This is the official moving of the bride and is led by a dancer, musicians and singers, followed by the wedding party and their friends and family.
  • There are special musical pieces with a specific rhythm that is known colloquially as the zeffa beat. This is the appropriate music to use when leading a zeffa.
  • Since the late 1970s, because some wedding parties in Egypt became more urban and modernized, the zeffa moved along with the party into a hotel setting. In a hotel, the zeffa will occur down the central staircase and into the reception room where it will circle the room and deposit the wedding couple at their special flowered thrones at one end of the room. After the zeffa is completed, the dancer will use additional processional music (or some other appropriate music) to get the bride up to dance, then the groom, and then get the couple to dance together. The dancer may then also do a solo candelabra dance which includes floor work. This is a theatrical performance for entertainment, separate from the zeffa procession.
  • Alternately, the bride and groom and the entire wedding party will celebrate the marriage at a hotel nightclub. The wedding couple will be acknowledged in the audience and the dancer will get them up and lead them in a zeffa around the stage. She will get them to dance together, then do her full theatrical candelabra dance, including floor work.
  • Sonia's Shamadan for sale
    "Arts and crafts in the heart of Cairo always lure tourists into the
    Khan el Khalili. The workshops are located in small side-lanes
    at the foot of the famous Mohamed Ali Mosque. Here, the brass
    parts are produced by Egyptian artisans and craftsmen who
    work on them (for later assembly) and prepare them to be sent
    to Germany. The head-piece is produced according to the head
    measurements of the dancer, allowing for an optimum fit. The
    shamadanis (candelabra) may be dis-assembled and allow
    effortless adjustment; they are counter-balanced and upholstered
    with felt, so the dancer can feel secure during the dance. Eight
    sparkling crystals and drops around each candle enhance the
    appearance of the candle holders, and the light glitters colorfully.
    Spectators experience bright spots from the charming
    lights as well as the Oriental dance and music." -Sonia Asmahan
  • The zeffa is an Egyptian wedding ritual but many couples of other Middle Eastern nationalities have adopted it as part of their wedding celebration, incorporating it along with their own rituals. Shamadan is also performed in theatrical and folkloric performance settings, as it is a native folkloric dance form indigenous to Egypt. Sagat (zills/finger cymbals) are used during all Shamadan performances. When leading a zeffa, specific choreography is seldom used, however there are steps and postures traditionally seen as a part of the zeffa. As a processional, the zeffa moves and stops and moves again throughout the “journey”to the wedding thrones or bridal table. The dancer leads but is also required to turn back to the bride and groom (who are behind her in the procession) and dance to them while traveling as well.
  • Nadia Hamdi was the last of the Mohamed Ali Street dancers. (Mohamed Ali Street is the musicians' quarter of Old Cairo; many of the great families of Egyptian music and dance generate from this area).

    The style is very earthy and includes great “tricks” like the splits, stomach work while on the floor, rolling over full length on the floor and posturing -- complete with quivering buttocks, and various other individual talents.

    Nadia Hamdi tucks a tiny foot in the crook of her elbow and taps out the rhythm. Reda-esque theatrical versions are elegant and stylized with no floor work--although dancers do go down to the floor on one knee, sometimes lowering to a sit position, and perhaps, on the odd occasion, a roll over--but very briefly.
  • In using the Shamadan for cabaret, there is a great deal more freedom of style and improvisation upon the traditional. It becomes more sensual than the Mohamed Ali Street style, which is fun loving with a smattering of “look what I can do” attitude, and the traditionally elegant theater presentation. The floor work section becomes more “Oriental”and the tricks are seldom seen--beyond a split, stomach rolls, and raised hip twists.

Music for Shamadan includes traditional musical pieces which mention the Shamadan and music that has been used by name dancers known for their Shamadan performances. The cabaret version usually depends upon the music that the musicians choose to play (or that which you arrange with them to play and are lucky enough to get) and many songs will do.

Sonia Asmahan Camelia does Shamadan, photo by Zeina and Mo


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Sonia Asmahan's Shamadans!