The hagallah is an example of a social ritual dance as it occurs at specific important community occasions (e.g. weddings, betrothals). The men of the community/family clap and sing together showing their solidarity. However, the central element of the experience, the dancer, is female. She may be fully or partially veiled and moves in front of the line of men, called kefafeen who stand, clapping and chanting in unison. She does a steady, unwavering shimmy walk up and down in a line in front of them, taking very small steps. She may have either a small stick or a handkerchief in her hands. If it is a stick, it is just held, not twirled nor manipulated in any way resembling raks al assaya. Dances have been described where the woman holds a sword or rifle, sometimes striking at any man who gets too close. In an Iraqi version of hagallah, the males attempt to remove the hagallah's veil and she uses the sword to fend them off - occasionally someone gets hurt!
The dancer is often a member of the bride's family, and the women may take turns playing the central role. The dancer may also be a professional performer, in which case she picks the leader of the kefafeen, who is usually the person who hired her, and hands him her cane or stick. After she dances around it, she kneels and mimes taking off her bracelets one at a time (or really does). He mimes giving her an additional bracelet or two (or really does) and she mimes putting all the bracelets back on (o.r.d). Barbara Siegel (see references) has observed that the employment of professional dancers has diminished the importance of ordinary women in these ritual occasions, an unfortunate effect of urbanisation.
The hagallah is not about girls competing for a man. It is about girls/women both representing the power and richness of their world, and showing their own beauty and grace as individuals. There is a playfulness to it, but not really the flirtatious kind. The girl doesn't get the guy - the social processes that go into betrothal/marriage are extremely complex. Any connections established between individuals aren't obvious, nor are they concluded at the time.
In Libya, hagallah was a celebration dance for the coming of age of a young girl, wherein she would dance solo, her head and face fully covered by a scarf. The kefafeen chant about how she is growing up and will soon be a beautiful woman. One chant says "Look, soon she will be able to be married, have children and make somebody very happy." She might stop in front of one young man and hand him the other end of her scarf or stick while she dances around it. He might offer her a bracelet as a sort of "proposal", although neither of these "mights" is a given, as the young man could be her brother.
These more traditional settings for the Hagallah are versus the theatrical versions by the National Folk Troupe of Egypt (Firqua Kawmiyya) or the acrobatic skills of the Reda Troupe. Mahmoud Reda, admits that his troupe's version is nowhere near the authentic dance and is his own inspiration. Dr. Mo Geddawi, the co-founder of the Reda Troupe said, " Mahmoud (Reda) had the two-sided problem of recreating a typically solo-oriented dance style for group performances and to make it different from the more spontaneous and improvisational style of the streets. Mahmoud was able to put together "original" movements for the group that, though not absolutely authentic, were also not foreign to the Egyptian audiences. He succeeded in producing his own thematic choreography that still brought Egyptian feeling to the stage. Even the costumes, though not exact replication, reflected the genuine."
The choreography I teach as part of my hagallah workshop also reflects the modern 'Reda Troupe' theatrical representation of the hagallah, while still incorporating many of the traditional movements.
Middle Eastern dancer and dance scholar 'Morocco', tells of seeing old postcards of a woman in Matruh performing hagallah. The postcards show the dancer in a simple long dress with long sleeves and a wide muffler-like heavy fabric wrapped around her hips. There is no fringe and no bow or ruffles. Sometimes a scarf is simply tied around the hips. The Libyan hagallah costume, which has become the style most used in troupe performances, has a peplum skirt, with a buffer under the top part of the peplum so that the skirt moves more visibly (see the photo of the 'El Mesaya' troupe at the top of this article.) Until the early part of the 19th century, there was a fashion for hagallah dancers to wear a large pillow under the back of their skirts. This was known as 'el azzama' or 'the magnifier'.
The men wear a white robe tied at one shoulder over their "street" clothes. The theory is that this robe, and the women's peplum skirts, mimic the togas of the Greeks and Romans who both occupied this area for long periods in ancient history.
Hagallah music has three parts: 1) the Shettaywa or main theme, which is sung by the whole group 2) the Ghennaywa which is sung by a soloist or poet and is responded to by the group 3) the Magruda which is sung by the soloist and the group together. The dance is performed during the Shettaywa section.
In the Dahiya or samir version of eastern Arabs, the three sections of the music are called samir, daheeya and reeda/beda.
"Dahiya" is the piece of music most
identified with the Reda Troupe's Hagallah performances. In my Hagallah
workshops I use a new version of this music performed by Sydney musicians
Claude Eid and Jimmy Darbegeh.
Birnbaum, Dee ("Zeina") USA ( Through her work Dr. Birnbaum frequently travels in rural Egypt. She has access to villages and people usually isolated from 'outsiders.')
Deagon, Andrea PhD "Dancing at the Edge of the World: Ritual, Community and the Middle Eastern Dance". Published in 'Arabesque' 20.3 Sept-Oct 1994
Deagon, Andrea University of Nth. Carolina USA (Personal correspondence)
Dinicu, Carolina V. ("Morocco") New York, USA (Personal correspondence, e-mails)
Enan, Denise Former dancer in the Reda Troupe
Gaber, Samir Ministry of Culture, Centre of Folk Arts, Cairo
Saleh, Magda "A documentation of the Ethnic Dance Traditions of the Arab Republic of Egypt" (dissertation) New York University 1979
Siegel, Barbara "Dance Archaeology Orientalia: The Hagallah revisited". Published in 'Arabesque' 15.6 March-April 1990
Soheyr Azar Kentucky USA
Walker, Olwen ("Setare") - the 'Hagallah Hunter' of Richmond B.C., Canada (Personal correspondence, e-mails and videos)