Why do belly dancers need to know about Saidi?
If you have some experience with raqs sharqi (commonly known as "belly dance") you might have noticed that in order to be a well-rounded dancer, it's necessary to know so much more than just belly dance!
The classical music we use, as well as our entrance songs and drum solos feature shifts in rhythm and instrumentation that are important to understand and reflect in our dancing.
These different "sections" within our music take us on a journey through different Middle Eastern musical genres. Some of those genres are specific to certain regions of the Middle East, where people might dance a certain way which reflects their customs and traditions.
It's important for us to know the regional dances that go along with the types of music that come up for us often, so that we can interpret our music appropriately.
Saidi... Sa'idi... Sa3idi
One of the regional/folkloric genres of music that comes up for us the most is Saidi.
The word Saidi (صعيدى, sometimes spelled Sa'idi or even Sa3idi) means from Upper Egypt.
Upper Egypt, or the Said, is a region in the south of Egypt. This region is known as "Upper Egypt" because it has a higher elevation than the north of Egypt, which is known as Lower Egypt.
(Fun fact: since the north of Egypt is lower in elevation than the south of Egypt, the Nile river flows to the north. Notice in the map below, how the Nile river delta flows northward into the Mediterranean sea)
Image source: Cacahuate - Wikimedia
Saidi people speak their own dialect of Egyptian Arabic and have unique customs, music, dances, and traditions. The word Saidi can be used to refer to anything that comes from Upper Egypt.
In the context of belly dance, when we talk about Saidi we are usually either referring to music and/or dances from the Said region, or to Saidi rhythm.
Tahtib: Saidi Martial Art & Dance
An important tradition in the Said is a dance and martial art known as tahtib (or tahteeb, تحطيب), where participants engage in mock fighting with sticks, done to music.
The roots of this practice date back to ancient Egypt, where it was used as a military skill, alongside archery and wrestling.
These days, tahtib is mostly practiced as a social game or as a mock fighting dance for entertainment, traditionally done by men.
Tahtib in its native context
Tahtib as a mock fighting dance performance
Stick Dancing for Women
In more recent decades, women developed their own versions of stick dancing (raqs assaya) for performance, playfully imitating the men's movements in softer, more feminine ways.
In the women's versions of Saidi-style raqs assaya, a smaller and lighter stick or cane (a stick with a hook at the end) is used. When danced as part of a belly dance performance, the stick or cane might be decorated with shiny metallic tape or sequins. Female dancers often wear glamourized versions of baladi dresses when dancing to Saidi music.
Belly dancer Vanessa of Cairo performing Saidi with a cane
Belly dancer Arielle performing Saidi raqs assaya with two sticks
Egyptian belly dancer Sahar Samara performing Saidi raqs assaya
Dancers Kareem GaD and Taly Hanafy performing a Saidi duet
Saidi music typically features the tabl baladi, darbuka, and daff on percussion and the very distinct mizmar and rebaba on melody.
A very common rhythm in Saidi music is Saidi rhythm, a 4/4 rhythm played as "dum tek, dum dum, tek."
Saidi rhythm is also found outside of Saidi music, so the rhythm alone does not necessarily mean that a song or section of a song is Saidi.
Saidi music also features a variety of other rhythms, such as malfuf (2/4), fellahi (2/4), maqsum (4/4), baladi (4/4), and others. So it's important to consider the instruments and the feeling of the music and to do some research before deciding on how to interpret it.
Famous Saidi song, Luxor Baladna, played by Upper Egypt Ensemble
Luxor Baladna translation
Wikipedia - Tahtib
Shira.net - Saidi Dance
Oriental Dancer - Saidi Dance
SharqiDance - Saidi Rhythm for Belly Dancers
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Yamê is a Brazilian-American
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