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Egypt's tanoura gives colorful spin on dervish tradition

A troupe of whirling dervishes performs the traditional "tanoura" dance at the medieval Sultan al-Ghuri Complex in April 2022.   -  
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Endless spinning. In a five hundred-year-old stone theatre in Cairo, young dervishes perform.

However, it is not a mere performance, for these Sufi Muslim men the active and lively dance is a part of their worship.

Their dance is an Egyptian interpretation of a ritual known colloquially as "tanoura", or skirt in Arabic.

The men untie the cords that hold their different skirts together, raising one high above their head. The topmost tanoura represents the sky, the one below the earth.

As they spin, they recount the story of genesis. "Tanoura is a spiritual experience fused with love and Sufi music, the melody of the flute and Sufi chants, Ali Morsi a whirling dervish explains. I only think of God and nothing else. I am no longer on earth. It's like I'm flying, I can no longer feel my body, it's like I'm flying in the sky."

The centuries-old form of prayer is rooted in the Egyptian Sufi tradition. The country is home to more than 15 million Sufi Muslims with nearly 80 different orders. They borrowed the ritual to their renowned Turkish counterpart to make it their own. When Turkish dervishes can be distinguished by their white robes, dervishes in Egypt dress more colorfully and dance to different rhythms. 20-year-old Mohamed Adel takes great pride in the uniquely Egyptian tanoura: "It has its own style and meaning. It's not just about spinning. When I spin I go deeper and deeper into the al-Ghuriya music that I'm spinning to, the traditional Sufi music. I loved the idea. At the beginning, of course I would get dizzy and even fall sometimes. But I train every single day and it it really has to be every day! I spin to it, even if I don't have a stage at home, I spin to it anyways."

This rendition is indeed no small feat ! With each skirt weighing nearly 10 kilograms, any beginner can deviate from his axis or lose the rhythm of his feet. Both spectacle and ritual Tanoura have become a staple of Egyptian tourism.

And for good reason foreigners come to experience the magic of the performance. Every time it is the same: the dancer’s skirts bloom, he raises his right arm to the sky, to receive divine blessing, and reaches his left arm to the ground, delivering the blessing to the public.

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