Gilded Serpent presents...

The Muwashahat

with Mohamed Shahin and Karim Nagi


Workshop Review by Thalia
Photos by Yi-Chun of New York

posted January 16, 2009

The classically derived Muwashahat dance form has gained new visibility in the Middle Eastern dance field, and New York City area dancers were presented with a thorough introduction to the style by Egyptian folkloric and Oriental dancer Mohamed Shahin and Egyptian musician Karim Nagi this October. The two-day workshop culminated with a final day of benefit performances featuring both teachers and local dance troupes. This event was sponsored by Nourhan Sharif.

The Muwashahat genre is inspired by tenth century court poetry of Arab-Andalusia, developed when Arab intellectual and artistic culture flourished in Spain. The rhythms are complex.

 Musician Karim Nagi began the weekend series with a breakdown of the specific rhythms that would be featured in Shahin’s choreographies. A lively and articulate teacher, Nagi incorporated both a verbal and physical breakdown of the Samai Thaqil (10/8) and Daarj (3/4) and York Sama’i (6/8). Nagi emphasized that this classical form of music was designed for concert halls and should be approached differently than folkloric or traditional Arabic music.

Nagi and Shahin both suggested that, like Pharonic style dance, the Muwashahat is a reconstructed or invented dance form. Though there are historical references to dancers during the form’s peak, no direct reference or description of the choreographies exists. According to both instructors, even the musical rhythms and lyrics have evolved through studying remnants of the formal, metered poetry. The Egyptian style Muwashahat was first developed for the stage relatively recently, 1979, by renowned choreographer Mahmoud Reda

Shahin’s first dance workshop began with a tribute to his teacher, Mahmoud Reda. The two-hour session covered two separate sequences using the rhythms broken down by Nagi. Shahin’s precise instruction included description for the mood and carriage that characterize the form. Muwashahat choreographies avoid the flourishes typical of cabaret and raqs sharqi styles, such as shimmies and head tosses. Light and flowing movements, graceful weight shifts, and restrained undulations marked Shahin’s combinations.buzuq

As an instructor, Shahin was attentive to students. He analyzed movements thoroughly while managing to push dancers forward through the complex footwork and turns the musical genre demands. Shahin’s calm and focused intensity conveyed well the innate elegance of the dance style.

The second day began with second energetic musical presentation from Karim Nagi regarding the complex nature of classical Arabic maqam. Nagi conveyed a great amount of technical material in an entertaining and engaging manner. As musicians often insist, a strong dancer understands the rhythm but interprets and ornaments and connects to the audience through a song’s melody. While playing the buzuq, Nagi introduced the concept of the musical maqam and led participants line by line through the lyrics of the day’s choreography, "Habib Elrouh," using Shahin’s translation. According to Nagi, the words of Muwashahat poetry reveal an ecstatic passion. From "Habib Elrouh": "…The love of my soul, I give you my all….my all, my all, I surrender…." This mysterious devotion could pertain to either a specific person, a leader, or denote religious/spiritual fervor. 

The choreography to "Habib Elrouh," also featured on Shahin’s CD, is challenging. Like the first evening’s combination, elaborate footwork and turns and arm undulations challenged dancers of all levels. Shahin’s enthusiasm for this unique style kept the students in the full studio engaged throughout the four hour session. Despite the typically humid, airless New York City studio, Shahin had more energy than any of the dancers in the room. 

These emerging instructors’ willingness to support each other was notable. Nagi and Shahin frequently called on each other’s expertise. Nagi assisted Shahin with the recorded music and also provided percussion during the dance session. Their combined abilities (and detailed handouts) made this complex and intellectually challenging form accessible while keeping dancing– high intensity dancing–the focus of this three day event. Dancers left the studio sweaty, worked out, inspired by new movements and a deeper appreciation of the complexity of Arabic music, and infused with the underlying sentiment of Muwashahat poetry — remnants of centuries old bliss. 

The weekend event ended with a show that benefited Doctors Without Borders and featured solos by both instructors and many local troupes. Due to other dance obligations, this writer could not attend. Nourhan Sharif’s enduring dedication to presenting classical and contemporary Egyptian dance and music continues to benefit New York City dancers and many worldwide. 

More information:
Farida Fahmy’s online article on Mahmoud Reda’s exploration of the Muwashahat:

Photos from evening show-

Nagi kicksNagi
Karim Nagi
Mohamed Shahin
Shaheen Shaheen



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