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On the Brink of Survival?

Columbia Strawberry Cunha

Americans have been told that Khyria Mazin of the Banat Mazin is the last “true”

Ghawazi dancer of Luxor. This fairytale has been circulated for years now and believed. Khyria Mazin may be the last of the five sisters to dance, but she is not the last practitioner of the dance style. I got a tip from a Mizmar player who is a close friend of mine. I tried to go through a different researcher from Chile to get a hold of Nagam, but she was uncooperative.

Meet the Ghawazi practitioner Nagam Hassany. I believe it was a godsend that I found

Nagam and I thanked my Mizmar player for guiding me to more Ghawazi. Nagam was kind enough to provide answers to some questions I had concerning Ghawazi and the legacy. She is the granddaughter of the famous Ghawazi dancer Fawzia Mohamed Ibrahim of Luxor, Egypt.

Fawzia and Nagam come from the Aleppo people of Syria (known as Halab in Egypt via Sirat Al-Ghawazi). Nagam says that they are not considered Roma by people except a few who get the group confused with Nawar people which are one of the Roma populations in Egypt. They are a caste of entertainers and share commonalities with the Al-Bahlawan.

When you visit Egypt, do not assume all dancers are Nawar or Sinti. They tend to blend in and are hired to dance with many groups of dancers. You will see Aleppo with Nawar and vice versa. They all speak Arabic along with their own languages at times. The dancers observe local and non-local women dance and they will teach the girls if they ask the practitioner. Fawzia could have inspired Aunt Fahima to get into dancing if she observed her at any time.

The Ibrahim family women have been doing it for much longer than the Mazin girls.

They descend from a long maternal line of female dancers and singers that predate the Mazin family regarding dancing and singing. I have just learned about the Banat Mazin. As time goes on, I am seeking more Ghawazi dancers and the truth about the Ghawazi artform itself. I have discovered that the famous Sirat Al-Ghawazi by Edwina Nearing was missing some information according to my source Nagam.

The journey of the Aleppo people’s immigration to Egypt is interesting. In 1514, the

Nawar people had to flee Kurdistan when the Turkish kicked them out after winning the Battle of Chaldiran. The Nawar people were robbers and doing very bad things for a living when the battle happened. They were on the side of Kurdistan fully. The Aleppo people came with the crowd during the banishment of the Nawar out of Kurdistan due to fear of being the next group the Turkish would attack. Therefore, Lane and others would have gotten confused when they interviewed the groups for documentation. They both were of Persian descent, but the Aleppo people did not have Domari ancestry like the Nawar. The Aleppo were most likely the dancers who taught the Nawar how to dance for survival.

The first time Nagam remembers observing dancing was when she was watching her

grandmother dance at a wedding she attended. Nagam fell in love with the movement and

costumes; she wanted to do the same. Fawzia’s dancing was encouraged by her father, and he supported her throughout his lifetime. Being a Ghaziyyah at that time wasn’t a bad thing; in fact, it was a tradition that always had been practiced for survival. Fawzia made good money and people from all over Luxor and other parts asked her to dance at weddings.

I ponder whether Khyria’s mother didn’t see Fawzia and her relatives dance at the time.

She was the first one to teach Amal Shauqi Mazin and Karam Shougi (The Banat Shougi) how to dance the way Khyria and Rajat Mazin do today. Fawzia used to take the girls, Amal and Karam, with her to weddings and other events where she was hired to dance. All three were good colleagues and danced until their retirement. Nagam remembers her grandmother stating she was the one who taught Faiza (Fayza) and Samia Mazin how to dance. These women are cousins of Khyria. They were good due to the teaching of proper technique and etiquette.

The mystery of why the Pharaonic costume stopped being worn was due to many things.

The dancer/dance researcher Pepper Alexandria once said it was because of too many girls

imitating the costume. Khyria has claimed in an interview with Shining Peacekeeper, who is

another dancer/dance researcher, that Rajat got skin ulcers due to the costume. Fawzia could have been the first who wore the costume and none of the Ibrahim girls got skin ulcers. If the Mazin girls did, it could have been due to the materials used or too much friction due to the heavy skirt. According to Nagam, her grandmother was the first dancer to design the Pharaonic costume made popular by the Mazin girls. She possibly was the one who inspired their Aunt Fahima to make the girls’ similar costumes. Nagam is not quite sure if their aunt was inspired by Fawzia since it was a popular dance costume for all the girls in which to perform.

As for the term Ghawazi being a slur, Nagam states it is fine to use to describe the

dancing and there’s no other term to call this dance of which she is aware. Nagam agrees it is not a slur (if people use it correctly) since rural people use it to describe a female folk dancer that does not live in the village. I did have an interesting chat with an Egyptian historian about this.

He told me that the term is used to make dancers feel lower class. It is not the term, but the feeling which brings the female dancers in question at times. Ghawazi is a term that means conquer. They use it in villages because it is believed the dancers invade the hearts of the people they dance for with their arts. I personally feel that I would have to go ask other Ghawazi until I decide to jump on the bandwagon that the term Ghawazi is hateful. I see why now Edwina Nearing had to “fill in the gaps” so to speak. Fawzia was a great artist and taught a ton of girls the art of dancing who were Roma as well as non-Roma. I often wonder if Karam and Amal knew what great hands they were in at the time of their training with Fawzia. I do not think footage exists of the girls dancing anywhere. I do know Edwina and Aisha both most likely encountered the Aleppo dancers while trying to find the Mazin girls. The Ibrahim women were super popular before the rise of the Banat Mazin. The

only one who could have filmed was Aisha Ali or Edwina Nearing when they were researching the Ghawazi.

Nowadays, the Ibrahim family only asks for a reasonable fee to share their history about

the dance and culture. Nagam teaches and performs for foreigners and people of her surrounding villages whenever they request her services. There’s not much work due to Raqs Sharqi and foreigner Orientale Dancers that come from abroad. I asked about the continuation of this art and Nagam states that she will pass the arts to her two daughters and they will fulfill the preservation of this dance just like her grandmother did for her mother. This means that Khyria is not going to be the last Ghawazi of Egypt. The legacy will continue with future women dancing and I look forward to seeing this continue.

This controversy is not meant to say that what the Mazin family has stated is pure fiction

or fact. They have been documented several times by many researchers. Until this day, the Mazin name and legacy is the most known worldwide. What I am gathering is more info for researchers to make their own assertions about what is fact or fiction. As a reporter, it is my duty to pass along what the subject tells me. Khyria may have a different view on this subject matter than Nagam has. We do know that the group of the Aleppo and Nawar have not always seen eye-to- eye. Everyone has a side to share. My recommendation is to keep an open mind about these histories you are reading.

I urge readers to give the Ibrahim girls a chance whenever you can. Nagam is a kind dancer who volunteered her family’s perspective so all of us can obtain new insight as to what really happened to those who want to research the dance. I believe as a researcher it is important to get different objectives of each dance from the actual cultures involved. As this is just one side being presented, I find it fascinating how the impression of the dance is changing. I eagerly look forward to working with the Ibrahim family more in the future.

Columbia is a dance researcher and artist that hails from Modesto, California. She has been dancing world dances since 2006 and continues on her journey. She has taken several workshops from renowned artists such as Khariyya Mazin of The Banat Mazin, Asha Sapera of the Kalbeliya caste in India and also some classes from Tehuana women from Tehuantepec, Oaxaca in Mexico. She is the first Female Impersonator to make a big splash in many areas and was the first Drag Queen in the Geek Fashion Show that Douggary Grant created and hosted. Pronouns are: he, she, they, them.

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