It's always a pleasure to watch this style performed on stage, no matter if solo or group dance. Of course there is also the dance with a beautifully decorated tablet with candles and petals a.s.o. - but vitnessing a dancer with a Shamadan decorated with glamorous strings and pearls or glass ornaments and the tapered burning candles - that's always an awe-inspiring experience for the audience.
Because of the Shamadan's size (available with 5, 9 or 13 candles) the body's balance point is altered and it requires high skills, long exercises and an absolute isolation of certain body parts in order to perform the various dance figures in a "floating" style. Raqs Shamadan usually contains a floor element with which to show off the skills. On western stages the splits are also done dancing with the Shamadan, but in Egypt it's frowned upon because the splits are considered immodest.
Originally this dance was performed during weddings, but written documentation only started in the mid 19th century, nevertheless this dance has been known for a long time in various areas of the Mediterrenean.
Nowadays Raqs Shamadan still is part of the nuptial festivities. According to the place of celebration the dancer leads the bridal couple e.g. through the foyer or staircases into a hotel or a festival room. Once the couple arrived at its destination, the dancer leads the couple in a circle, then she leads them to their place of honor, usually a "throne" decorated with flowers. Only then does the dancer start her performance of Raqs Shamadan (also known as dance with the candelabra), including the required floor elements. Sometimes she'll use additional props like zils. To do the splits is frowned upon in Egypt, but on western stages is a well-liked element, as here the dance is not linked to the original tradition but entertainment.
In the east of Anatolia (Asia-Minor) exists a similar nuptial ritual, in which bride and groom both hold a candle and dance. Many cultures attribute fire to having a home and settling-down, showing that the wandering years have come to an end.
In Persia miniture drawings were found of women balancing small candles on their heads. Open fire - even in the small form of a lit candle - lent great importance to many religious ceremonies
The history of Shamadan/candelabra/klob
The original candelabra (klob) used to be balanced on the head without the crown piece, so it took tremendous dancing skills and great isolation to keep it on the head. In present times this original version rarely is displayed any more. In 1995 Mahassen performed this original style during the "Festival of the Nile".
Its roumored that the Lebanese night club owner and teach ofer Samia Gamal, Badia Masabni, introduced Raqs Sahamadan in Egypt in her casino Badia. At the late 1920s even the American press reported on this event.
Other dancers are listed as co-devisers of the modern Raqs Shamadan, resp. they were helping to disengage it from the nuptials, the Zeffa tradition, and to bring it on stage:
Shoufiqa al Koptiyyah and her pupil Zouba al Klobatiyyah should be stated here (the latter being the first to be reported to do the splits dancing the Raqs Shamadan).
Then there was Nadia Hamdi, whose grandmother was instructed by said teachers and then in turn instructed her granddaughter. Nadia herself was a 5th generation Mohammed Ali street dancer. An American dancer took lessons with Nadia Hamdi at the beginning of the 1980s and ever since this style of dance is spreading throughout the United States.
Mahmoud Reda the famous dancer and choreograph states, that to his opinion Raqs Shamadan was introduced to Egypt by dancers of the Ottoman royal suite.
Music choice / Information on candelabras
Raqs Shamadan is not danced to pop music, but classic oriental.
In the beginning the candelabra was very heavy (incl. decoration the weight could result in 15 kgs), but modern Shamadan have a headband and consist of 2 or 3 levels. Modern candelabras are well-balanced and have an adjustable headband. But it remains a prop for master class, as neck and chest have to remain well isolated during all parts of the performance.
Who does not want to spend too much money on a ready-made Shamadan will do the decoration herself with strings of glass beads, garlands of flowers a.s.o. Of course there is also the elegant version that already has all that froufrou and in addition to the glass wax catchers also nice glass ornaments - at a price (somehow that design makes us remember the western chandeliers).
Please note that there remains a certain risk dancing Raqs Shamadan:
Lit candles are an open flame and thus you have to make sure before accepting to do a Raqs Shamadan performance that
a) it's allowed and
b) it's possible because of room hight
in the festival room booked for the occasion. You have to take into consideration not only the hight of the ceiling, but also the doorways, garlands and alike.
In addition you have to avoid air vents, as these may simply blow awaay hot ways which then is spread on your dress/your head or the cancles may be extinguished by the air blasts. One will be as convenient as the other. You should use non-drip candles. After 5-10 minutes dancing these will also have assembled a certain amount of liquid wax, but the amount is less than that of regular candles.
If candles are too narrow, you may wrap them with aluminium foil at the bottom and glue them into the candle stands by means of hot wax. Please keep the wax catching bowls clean so that they reflect the lights and do their job while you dance: avoid hot wax drops to spill on you.
Should the adjustable Shamadan-head band not be furbished to fit your head, then you can remedy that with foam insulation strips. That's easily available at DIY-stores and at various sizes. One side should be self-adhesive - and that little trick really helps to adjust the missing millimeters. But of course you may also go for a leather pad inside the headband or s.th. alike. Anyway, it's most important that the candelabra remains firmly seated on your head and does not start to slide or wobble.
And since only the experienced dancers will undertake the risk of a Shamadan dance they will always carry subsitute candles and new lighters :-)
in western transcriptions some variation of the word Shamadan may be found: in English-speaking countries you may detect Shemadan, sometimes the very German Schamadan, or also Shamdan.