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DANCE. There is no specific theory of the aesthetic of dance in Islamic civilization; for example, the formalized Indic treatise on dance presented by Bharatanatyasastera has no counterpart in Islamic culture. There has never been any tradition of “Islamic dance” or “Muslim dance” per se. The dance cultures of Islamic peoples are, however, recognizable artistic manifestations, through stylized and disguised in abstractions, of the Islamic tenet of tawhid, unity of God, humanity, and all existence. Dance as an artform in Islamic culture worldwide adheres to notions of the oneness, peerlessness, and utter transcendence of God. The Islamic ideal of beauty rejects the representation of living forms-either animal or human-and is instead stylized and depersonalized to negate any impression of naturalism. Nonindividuation of content and the repetition of form generate the essence of transcendence in Islamic art.

Tawhid is revealed through the geometry and rhythm manifested in arabesque motifs. Thus dance in Islamic culture has tended to comprise a series of design units that are individually pleasing and satisfying. These selfcontained parts are harmoniously arranged to form a larger design that is equally satisfying and exuberant in form. The structural characteristic of stylized dance gestures and the symmetrical repetition of dance motifs within a prescribed spatial plan invoke the elaboration of a never-ending arabesque pattern.Arabesque in Islamic visual art is of two types: the conjunct (muttasil, “to connect”) and the disjunct (munfasil, “to divide in sections”). A conjunct arabesque resembles a continuum of abstract motifs that are combined in an infinitely circular series. The disjunct or munfasil comprises a combination of motives in a series of self-contained units, each complete in itself. The absence of iconic forms, the overall arabesque-like floor pattern, the symmetrical repetition of movements in indeterminate succession, and the foliation of dance patterns within self-contained units of dance motifs are among the many elements of the artistic expression of tawhid.Dances of Muslim peoples include traditional styles evolved from solo improvisational repertoires, such as the rags al-baladi or “dance of the people” (the traditional form of women’s solo dance) and the rags al-sharqi or “dance of the east”; dances of specific gender groups performed in circular or linear chain formations, such as the rags al-hawdnim or “dance of the women”; martial or combative dance genres, like the combat dance of Egypt or the silat dance of the Malay Archipelago; and the mystical dances of Sufi brotherhoods, such as the dhikr sessions of the dervishes of the Mawlawi (Tk., Mevlevi) order.

The solo dances (and to some extent the group dances) feature improvisational creativity: dance steps or even spatial plans are invented by combining and truncating dance motifs and sequences for the pleasure of individual or communal self-expression. Female solo dances are performed only in the home among women as a social pastime. In such intimate social occasions, the audience become spontaneous performers when the zagharit, an ululation or cry of encouragement, is echoed by the spectators; this may also urge participants to prolong the dance. Male solo performance can be performed for a mixed audience who are segregated by gender. Males solo dancers perform energetic movements marked by high skips and stamping that sometimes lead to exhaustion.

Gender-specific group dances are performed by Muslims in the form of chain dances, cluster dances, and linear seated dances. In some of these dances performers hold one another’s hands or waists, while some are performed separately in unison. Rhythmical stamping of feet and clapping of hands by rows of dancers who sing repetitive refrains, often repeated to the same melody, characterize gender-specific group dances. Physical contact between male and female dancers is almost nonexistent. In the chain dances, performers advance and retreat from one section of the dance floor in unison to a specific tune or rhythm. Participants are allowed to join or leave the ensemble when a new tune or refrain is introduced. Improvisation in group dances is allowed within the context of the genre being performed; individual performers may deviate a little from the repetitive dance motifs to execute an outburst of improvised solo dance movements before returning to the conventional movements of the group dance. Voluntary and spontaneous substitution of performers may alter or lengthen group dances.

The seated linear dances of the Muslims of Southeast Asia emphasize nonindividuation of content but generate the essence of symmetrical repetition by creating arabesque formations through interlocking hands, bowing heads, and turning torsos. Each performer mirrors another in alternate movements. Only movements of the upper torso and extension of the arms are allowed while the dancers sit crosslegged in a single line. These movements emphasize the harmonious arrangement of selfcontained dance motifs, which is equally satisfying when combined as a series of interlocking patterns.

The combat dances ofEgypt,Indonesia, andMalaysiaemphasize improvisational qualities based on a loose configuration of dance motifs. Movements in each dance motif are meant to attract the attention of the “opponent” by displaying a series of skillful maneuvers, either bare-handed or with weapons such as swords, daggers, spears, or sticks. Acrobatic skills play a significant role in heightening the tension between the “attacker” and the “defender.” The combat dances may be performed as solo dances, paired dances, or group dances.

The mystical dances of the Mawlaw-1 order grew out of the tariqah (Sufi order) of Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi. The dance of the “whirling dervishes” arose out of the Sufi practices of sama` and dhikr, as an expression of joy in achieving of the state of perceiving the mysteries of God. The Mawlawis are initiated-through a covenant of allegiance to the shaykh or leader of the society. The shaykh leads the initiates in the dance, regulating the tempo and the length of the performance, which consists of dhikr sessions involving vocal and instrumental performers, reciters, and dancers.

[See also Aesthetic Theory; Mawlawiyah; Tawhid.]


Buonaventura, Wendy. Serpent of theNile: Women and Dance in the Arab World.London, 1989.

Faruqi, Lois Ibsen al-. “Dances of the Muslim Peoples.” Dance Scope 11.1 (1976): 43-51.

Faruqi, Lois Ibsen al-. “Dance as an Expression of Islamic Culture.” Dance Research journal 10.2 (1978): 6-13.

Faruqi, Lois Ibsen al-. Islam and Art.Islamabad, 1985. Friedlander, Ira. The Whirling Dervishes.New York, 1975. Mohd Anis Md Nor. Randai Dance of Minangkabau Sumatra.Kuala Lumpur, 1986.

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Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. Islamic Art and Spirituality. Ipswich,Suffolk, 1987.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/dance/

  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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