Andalusia is in southern Spain. Spain (along with Portugal and southern France) was Al-Andalus- part of the Arabic Empire from the 8th to 15th centuries. This was ruled by the Moors - North African Berbers - and Arabs. There is no evidence of "belly dance" as we know it but Arabic music and poetry was adopted. And from time to time you will see "Andalusian" belly dance offered in workshops.

The first time I was introduced to "Andalusian" as a belly dance genre was by Yousry Sharif in 1997. He presented us with a fiery fusion of belly dance and flamenco. When I was later to perform it I really needed a couple of months with a flamenco teacher to give justice to some of the turns and footwork!

Imagine my surprise when the next time I came across it, with Aida Nour, it was all wafting hankies and arabesques. The next two workshops were similar; lots of graceful turns, good carriage, pointed feet, hip work - and hankies. Fortunately over the years Aida's English has improved so we could ask more about this dance style she was teaching us (the last one was choreographed to the theme tune of an Arabic soap!)

As expected, Andalusian dance had not been preserved for centuries. Rather, what she was teaching was a theatrical construction from Mahmoud Reda. As part of Egypt re-creating itself after the 1952 revolution, it looked back to the greatness of the past. The Arabic (not Ottoman) Empire was one aspect they were proud to be associated with. Part of the classical Arabic culture was a style of poetry call muwashshah - which originated in 10th century Spain. The so-called "Andalusian" style of dance was an interpretation of this poetry - which is sophisticated with complex scansion, repeating choruses and themes.

More detail can be found in Farida Fahmy's 1987 thesis. For instance, she comments that the original complex rhythms were replaced with shorter ones while maintaining the feel of a chorus and repeating themes; the images being woven like a lace sash.

These days, I use the term Muwashshah - even though it is "foreign" - because it is foreign and people don't get the mistaken belief that they are about to see belly dance from Spain - or for the more sophisticated - a belly dance reconstruction from Al-Andalus.

Fahmy, Farida (1987). The Creative Development of Mahmoud Reda, a Contemporary Egyptian Choreographer (University of California Thesis)
Nour, Aida (workshops 2002, 2004, 2007, 2010)
Sharif, Yousry (workshop 1997)

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