Dance is My Religion

Exploring the Sufi Tanoura in Cairo

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This evening I watched a show in Cairo performed by the El-Tanoura Troupe which moved my soul and heart to the point where tears arose. This troupe is made of Sufi dancers, which are similar to the Whirling Dervish in Turkey. I have seen performances of the Dervish in Istanbul, but this was on another level.

Initially members of the Sufi band came out and played music, many taking solos to highlight their skills and talents. For those who are unaware, Sufis traditionally were a sect of Islamic mysticism who experience their love and yearning for Allah through their relationship with him. Poets such as Rumi and Hafiz are well known Sufis. Now on a recent Oprah podcast, Sufism was recently described As being about love , “having direct connection to God through love,” regardless of one’s specific religion. It was also verbalised that “everything In the world as God.”

When we are children, spinning in circles come naturally. We twirl and giggle at the chaotic state we enter into. It’s natural for us during youth to practice this. And then we stop. Earlier in the day, the tour group I am traveling with engaged in belly dance workshops. We rehearsed doing six twirls in a row repeatedly. Dizziness was inevitable for me, who rarely spins. Therefore I could not help but be in awe as I watched this one particular dancer twirl for 30 minutes continuously. No breaks were taken.

I was so inspired that I was taking notes during the performance in my journal of the numerous thoughts going through my head. It seemed as if all of life was expressed in the span of this one dance. The dance is a devotion to God, a celebration of all that enters our life. We welcome the triumphs, the times people are supporting us, or when we are alone, when we are wealthy, poor, the calm moments, and the chaos. All are welcome and rejoiced in this dance. At various points fellow dancers would join in during the twirls, or they would kneel down and pay homage to the solo dancer. The Spanish word “ole” repeated in my head, as I was reminded of how this phrase stemmed from people in Southern Spain shouting “Allah” when they watched particular dancers become transported during performances. They saw God in the beauty of the dancer’s movements. Tonight was ole worthy.

Memories arose of the most exuberant moments of joy in my life that involved losing myself in dance with either family, friends, or even strangers. It reminded me how we feel sparks of the Divine in all expressions of art to include paintings, sculptures, film, music, dance, and song. The tribal percussion that reverberated in the background paired with watching a dancer twirl for 30 minutes can assist the audience to enter into this hypnotic trance like state. His devotion brought us to these other dimensions, as individuals and momentarily a community.

As I watched this musical prayer performance, with a flood of thoughts running through my head, I tried to keep myself in the present moment. I was so grateful to be here right now and be a witness to this. The most beautiful, precious, and dream like moments in life are when we are totally immersed into all that is happening in real time. God and spiritual experiences are in the observation of now. Our busy monkey mind pulls us in other directions, but the twirling assisted the audience to also return to now. Our gazes were mesmerized, as we didn’t know when the dance would end. We didn’t want to miss a thing.



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When the main dancer stopped twirling after thirty minutes had passed, he found his center sharply. A smile graced his face, and he surprisingly he appeared centered and full of love. As the show ended, the audience applauded, the dancers left the stage. Children from the audience were quick to jump onto the stage and begin spinning. They hoped to instantly replicate what they just had witnessed.

I know my words are not giving justice to this performance. There is nothing like it, and one must simply experience it. I wish I could package and offer this overwhelming experience as a healing opportunity to everyone. If we had momentary bliss like this, could we contain and return to it when times are low? Could moments of divine flow be harvested for the inevitable periods that loneliness and depression prevail? I hope so.

And therefore I had to write this for you, I hope you have the opportunity to catch this troupe in action. If not, take the opportunity to immerse yourself in witnessing an artistic spiritual devotion that is outside your comfort zone. When you do this hopefully this will be outside your religious scope. Connect to the moment. Breathe it in. Observe what arises in you. Harvest it like a squirrel. And then share it with others who need a spiritual boost. Perhaps even your future self will thank you.

For more information, check out this link below:

Recent Oprah podcast exploring Sufism

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