Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 August 2011
Issue No. 1059
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Dance fever hits Cork

Egypt's Al-Anfushi Folk Dance Troupe has won a special trophy at an international festival. Nevine El-Aref watched their performance

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Clockwise from top:a crow listening to the tabla beats; the Weekly reporter with spectators clapping; the Al-Anfushi troupe along with El-Aref at the Glanworth castle; Egyptian dancers performing the fisherman dance; Hala and Hadir dancing the saayidi dance; Estonian dancers performing

Dance fever hit the port city of Cork in Ireland last week with the hosting of the Cork International Dance Festival, the Damhsafest. Folk dancers from Estonia, France and Egypt joined the local Irish folk dance troupes for a dance extravaganza.

Before the very modern plain glass façade of County Hall, dozens of dancers in colourful traditional costumes gathered to celebrate the official inauguration of the 11th annual Damhsafest by the Lord Mayor of Cork County, Councillor Tim Lombard.

Here were the dancers of the Estonian Folk Dance Ensemble Sıprus hitting the ground to the loud beat of their music; the French dancers of the Les Compagnons De lA Claire Fontaine in 18th-century dress following slow, romantic tunes; and the dancers from Egypt, the Anfushi Folk Dance Troupe who move fast to right and left with a hobby horse to the rhythm of the mezmar (oriental trumpet), the doff and the tabla (oriental drums) as they danced the saayidi dance, a well-known folk dance from Upper Egypt.

The audience watched expectantly, and once the Egyptian dancers began their electrifying performance they, as well as pedestrians passing County Hall, crowded towards the dancers, enclosing them in a large circle and clapping and swaying their bodies to the rhythm. They also admired the Egyptians' costumes, so very different folk from those in Europe. The male dancers were wearing black and white gowns and holding the customary long pole, while the women wore red gowns embellished with gold beads. Around their haunches they tied a black scarf with gold beads that rang as they moved.

These three troupes were this year Damhsafest's guests of honour, while the national dancers at the feast were the Owenabue Valley Traditional Troupe, the Kelly-Walsh Academy of Irish Dance and the Togo Drummers and Dancers.

Organised by the Owenabue Valley Traditional Troupe, the Damhsafest is an annual Irish folk dance festival aimed at promoting Irish and international culture through inviting folk art dancers from all over the globe to present their traditional dance and music.

Cliona Fitzpatrick, director of the Damhsafest, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the event brought together more than one culture and helped make new friends as well as forging and consolidating international links. It is also a source of entertainment for the people of Cork who are invited to watch the dancing and the accompanying diversity of cultures and traditions, since the invited groups were dancing all through Cork's streets and venues. This, she pointed out, helped promote tourism to Ireland especially to Cork.

The five troupes entertained visitors and the residents of Cork with performances by more than 100 dancers from all over the world, adding a splash of colour to the normally quiet town.

Mairead Driscoll, a school teacher who volunteered to help out at the event and accompanied the Egyptian dancers, told the Weekly that in Damhsafest week the community experienced the cultural diversity of folk dance and musical events from around the world, as well as having a chance to see world class entertainment at an affordable family price.

According to Barry Cogan of the Owenabue Valley Traditional Troupe, this year's festival had proved as popular as ever.

On the fringe of Damhsafest 2011, the world record-breaking Brush Dance was also organised in the park in nearby Fermoy in association with the Blackwater Valley Music School. Brush Dancers from all corners of Ireland were invited to attend. Driscoll said the current record, which was created in Eyre Square Galway, stood at 490.

The Blackwater Valley Music School was established in 2010 by Brendan Howard and Kim Regan Murphy, who met through their children's interest in music.

Both parents decided to set up a school in an attempt to preserve Irish culture and heritage through Irish music. This music, Howard said, was traditionally learnt by ear and passed down from one generation to the next. "Unfortunately, this tradition is dying out in modern Ireland," he said.

The school already has 49 students. Through their touring show, Turning Tide, they are raising funds for an exciting new initiative planned for the Blackwater Valley Music School. The school aims to support those who are struggling with the expense of playing a musical instrument.

The Egyptian troupe, as well as the other dance troupes, performed every day throughout the week.

The opening was followed by a concert in the Carrigaline Court Hotel, where the Kiely Walsh World Champion Dancers and the Carrigaline Pipe Band performed. The concert was a great success, with the dancers performing on a fully lit stage especially built made for the spectacular and colourful evening.

Lotfi Adam, the 64-year-old director of the Egyptian troupe, told the Weekly that he had entered the dance sphere by chance when he followed his hobby of dancing and listening to music. When he decided to be a professional dance teacher he took several training courses with such eminent choreographers as Mahmoud Reda, the founder of Reda folk dance company, as well as professors at the Arts Academy.

Upon completion of his academic studies Adam became the assistant of Mohamed Ibrahim the dance teacher of the Anfushi troupe. He became the troupe's main teacher following Ibrahim's death.

Adam said that the small company was established in 1985 when the local government of Alexandria asked a group of skilled dancers, musicians and singers to set up a folk group to show Egypt's folk dances in cultural palaces in Alexandria. The troupe numbers 25 dancers, six musicians and two singers. However, it was Abdel-Rehim Abdel-Rehim, the musician who plays the mezmar, stole the limelight in Cork, and his picture adorned the front pages all the local newspapers. This was not only for his skillful playing of the mezmar but also for his congenial character and colourful dress and ema (head dress).

In fact every member of the Anfushi group has a story to tell. All of them are amateur, but with their skills they succeeded in establishing their small company which is now representing Egypt on the international event scene.

By the close of the festival Egypt had gained six honorary certificates, a porcelain plate engraved with a map of Ireland and a silver trophy engraved with the name of the most entertaining trope in Damhsafest.

Nassar said that when he took office two years ago he discovered that FCR was following the scheme of state policy and focussing on specific countries. "My strategy was basically to focus on what the FCR had neglected for years and pay more attention to the countries that we did not deal with it as a recipient or supplier of cultures," he said.

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