About Whirling Dervish (Tanoura)

Whirling dervish, or “raqis tanoura” in Arabic, literally translated as “skirt dance,” is the traditional dance of the Sufis, and has its origins in the Turkish Ottoman Empire. It started as an alternative form of worship within Islam, and is performed as a way of inducing an intense personal communion with the divine—of inducing ecstasy. Sufi practitioners of the dance wear long white kaftans, fez-like hats, and a heavy white skirt traditionally made of wool, in which they spin for hours around a fixed imaginary point. With his circular motion and accompanying hand gestures, the Sufi dancer engages in a sort of “physical prayer,” whereby he emits a huge bout of energy to the heavens. Tanoura dancing is usually done in groups, with one man in the middle whirling, while the other practitioners dance around him in a circle. It is as if the dervish were the sun, and the dancers revolving around him, the stars.

Mohamed Shahin, a native of Cairo and professional folkloric dancer and choreographer, performs the Egyptian version of the tanoura dance. The Egyptian tanoura dance is similar to the one practiced in Turkey in all but dress. Primarily performed for theatrical rather than spiritual reasons, Egyptian dervishes wear ornate and colorful skirts and incorporate the use of accessories to demonstrate the difficulty of the dance and the dancer’s skill.