It is said for a dancer that dance should always be a very spiritual thing, a way that connects him or her to the supreme power, the power that has blessed the dancer with the gift of dance. Each move, each step, each expression slowly and steadily brings the dancer closer to the divine power. Then there are some truly gifted artistes who, when they step on the dance floor, turn it into a holy place and the dancer’s moves become a tool that starts praying to the divine power. It does not take much time for the artiste to start glowing because the power above starts communicating with the dancer through his or her dance.
You must be wondering what am I trying to hint at. Well, on my recent trip to exotic Egypt, I was fortunate to have met an artiste who connects with the divine power as soon as he starts to whirl and spin. In a small town called Ismailia in northeastern Egypt lives this dancer who is the master of masters in the dance called Tanoura. Ismailia is situated on the west bank of Suez Canal and is popularly known as the city of beauty and enchantment. Let me bring to your notice that this enchantment is all because of this magnificently celestial Tanoura dancer Hassan Moora.
From Ismailia, Hassan has taken Tanoura, a folklore dance form of Egypt, to the world. The Ministry of Culture, Egypt has sent him to popularise Tanoura at various international festivals in countries like Hungary, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Greece, Nigeria, Thailand, China, Japan… the list is endless.
During my trip to Egypt, I saw Moora perform or should I say connect with the divine on two occasions and I was totally in awe of him and his love for Tanoura. Moora actually glows, shines and glitters when he starts to spin and whirl at a shockingly high speed, spreading his hands and simply calling out to the power above. He and all his friends laugh it all off by saying the glow is because of the shower he takes before the show or like he says, “before my prayers”.
After his performance, I took the help of one of his English speaking friends, Khaled Loda, to talk to this spiritual and saintly dancer:
Tell me more about Tanoura?
The word Tanoura simply means ‘a skirt’ in English and Tanoura dance or El Tanoura is an Egyptian folkloric dance which is very common in Islamic countries. Tanoura is associated with Sufism and is performed by Sufi men at Sufi festivals. But nowadays, it is also performed by non-Sufis as a concert dance or at events, weddings and parties. In this dance form, the dancer keeps on going in rounds like the dervish dance. The whirler wears a colourful skirt with each of the colours represent a Sufi order. Although in today’s times, the multi-layered skirt, with effects and lights, is mainly used for visual effects and show value.
How old were you when you started doing Tanoura and why did you choose this particular form?
I started dancing when I was 20. As Egypt is a tourist-friendly country, the initial idea to dance was to show the rich Egyptian culture to the guests who visited my country. In Egypt, we believe a dancer does not choose Tanoura, Tanoura chooses a dancer. So I cannot answer as to why I chose Tanoura.
People say you go into a sacred trance when you perform Tanoura. Are you a spiritual person?
I am not at all a spiritual person, In fact, I am a very practical person in real life (laughs). But when I dance Tanoura, I don’t know what happens to me. I go into an another world completely, my mind just automatically empties from all the worries of life. In a way, it clears my soul and a divine power begins connecting with me and starts talking to me. This conversation just goes on and on and on and suddenly, the music stops and I hear an applause. Each time I have danced Tanoura, I have only felt the start and the end. What happens in the middle, I can never remember.
People from all over the world come to learn from you. How do you feel about this?
I never advertise my dance school. You will never see my ads in newspapers, on television or social media. I believe the spiritual power that talks to me when I pray through Tanoura brings people to me. I am honest towards my art and grateful to God that he gave me the opportunity to teach Tanoura to people sworld over.
How is your dance different from other Tanoura dancers?
Let me correct you Sandip… To me, Tanoura is not a dance. It is a prayer that I offer to the Supreme. And each time, the method I use is different. Sometimes, I use 2,4,6 to even 8 round-shaped dishes to showcase how many problems are there in life but it is our inner power and strength that reduces all the troubles. Then sometimes, through scarves, I talk about emotions of a person and how we can overcome them. And many a times with my hands wide open, I offer my prayers to Him, asking Him for forgiveness and requesting Him for love and compassion. And at the end of my talk with the divine, I simply remove all the worries, anxiety and concerns and throw it out of my body which the audience call the finish to my dance.
You are known as the master of Tanoura. What advice you have for people who dance Tanoura or seek to learn it?
Never learn Tanoura to get name, fame or money. Learn it to attain power; power that will connect your soul to the divine. Don’t spin to get applause but spin to spread the message of Tanoura, a rare message that the divinity will give you while you spin.
I consider myself lucky to watch Hassan Moora glow while he danced, oops! Prayed. I cannot even imagine how he must be feeling when he is spinning and praying like he says. This saintly man will soon be making a whirling trip to India, the UK and the US. So wherever you are, I suggest don’t miss a chance to learn from the guru of the gurus and make sure you see the divine man glow when he prays through Tanoura.