Vaudeville Vignettes: Raqs al-Assaya

Photo by Nate Parent
Photo by Nate Parent

Whether you stumble across our First Friday Art Walk show in Monument Square during the warmer months or grab a theater ticket for a cozy evening of Dark Follies entertainment, you may encounter a lively (and sometimes startling!) cane dance. Performing a cabaret-style belly dance that borrows heavily from Raqs al-Assaya, a folkloric dance from the Upper Nile with strong ties to the ancient Egyptian men’s martial art of Tahtib, the dancer may swing the cane in a figure eight pattern perilously close to the body, startle the audience with a loud “thwack!” when the cane connects with the floor, or sometimes balance the cane on her head or hip while executing impossible shimmies or traditional baladi movements.

The Raqs al-Assaya dance is a balance of strength, control, grace, and dignity. This unique combination is what made The Lovely Janice fall head-over-heels in love with the Raqs al-Assaya while studying belly dance. Though not a “true” Raqs al-Assaya, Janice’s cane dance remains respectful of the dance’s origins whenever she lifts her gold cane and dons her Saidi-style dress.


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