Dance Topics

“The experience was heart healing and soul uplifting. Amel is a magical person; it’s a great honor to work with people like her. She has so much fire and laughter in her; I wish I knew more people like that. It was very interesting to immerse into a different culture.”

Galina Tyles. ( Aug.2013)


The Maghreb is the region of North Africa, including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Since the 1989 formation of the Arab Maghreb Union, Mauritania and of the disputed territory of Western Sahara (mostly controlled by Morocco) were included. During the Al-Andalus era in Spain (from the 8th inhabitants, Maghrebis, the Maghreb were known as “Moors.

Today, the Maghreb is also known as al-maghrib al-ʻarabīy “the Arab Maghreb” or al-maghrib al-kabīr ” the great Maghreb” in Arabic. The Berber language alternative term for al-maghrib, Tamazgha, has been popularized by Berber activists since the last quarter of the 20th century.

The region was unified during the rule of the Berber kingdom of Numidia. which gave way to centuries of rule by the Roman Empire, and later of the rule of the Islamic Caliphates and Emirates under Umayyad, Abbasid, and other dynasties during the 8th to 13th centuries, and that of the Ottomans thereafter. For almost three thousand years the Berber peoples of North Africa have clung to their identity and language, sheltering in the mountains and in desert oases from invaders. The Arabic language became widespread only with the invasion of the Banu Hilal, in the 12th century. Most of the

North African population is of Amazigh (Berber) origin but has been largely Arabized. There remain 20 million Amazigh people who are still speaking their ancient dialects as a first language. The Moors ruled Andalucia for several hundred years. Approximately ten percent of the Spanish language has Arabic roots, OLE (just try shouting “Allah”. The term “Flamenco” comes from Arabic. The root is the Arabic word “fellah”: peasant, farmer, and poor person.

After the 19th century, areas of the Maghreb were colonized by France, Spain and later Italy.


In Maghrebi countries music and dance are associated partly with Middle Eastern culture (Arabic and Turkish) as well as Arabo-Andalusian elements of Medieval Spain, and partly with Amazigh and African elements.

The musical content was transmitted from the Baghdad of the Abbasid Dynasty and its Golden Age to the surviving Umayyad Emirate in Cordova with which the musical scholar Ziryab identified.

The aspects of the development of the dance focus on various specific Maghrebi communities: Firstly among Imazighan people of the mountains such as the Djurdjura, the Ahaggar, the Aures and the region of the M’zab in Algeria, the Rif and the Atlas and the Sousse regions in Morocco and some regions in Tunisia such as Djerba, Matmata and others as well as regions in Libya and Mauritania including the Oasis in the South of the Maghreb, and lastly in Northern cities where highly sophisticated music and Andalusian dances are to find. Spiritual dances with a strong self-healing content do exist every Maghreb regions.

The dance is both a public and a personal expression, rich in symbolic dimensions that deal with universal constants in nature, fertility of Mother Earth and the communication between the Earthy and the Divine. In Amazigh regions women’s singing accompanies any kind of work, such as the Harvest. Festivals provide the opportunity to see dances as a Unity. Traditional Amazigh dances are mostly ritual dances. Originally they were a magical act, in order to obtain the fertility of Mother Earth or to ask for the rain in case of the drought. The worshiping of a Divinity or a spirit of Nature was used in order to gain its protection.



1. ANDALUSIAN COURT DANCE WITH SCARVES: (2/3 hours) Andalusian city dances in the Maghreb (North Africa) originate from Arab-Andalusian traditions of well respected families in ancient cities, Such as Fes, Rabat, Meknes, Tetouan, Tlemcen, Constantine, Algiers, Tunis, Sousse…also have a Turkish element especially in Tunisia and Algeria. Women only at various festivities perform them. During the workshop, Amel Tafsout will focus on the various techniques of dancing with scarves and how to keep the rhythm while improvising. (Please bring two scarves for the workshops). Time: 2 hours

2. Dancing to ALGERIAN “RAI” AND “‘ALLAWI”: (2 hours) Raï music is a popular genre of world music from the Northern African country of Algeria. Rai (“rah-AY”) music began in the late 1980s as a combination of popular music and traditional Bedouin desert music. Raï in the 1980s: when country people moved to the city, the artists blended traditional Raï with modern pop sounds and it is associated with American blues. Many Raï singers such as Khaled, Cheb Mami, Rai music and dance are based on improvisation. Not only the Shioukh and traditional female performers performed the roots of traditional Rai music: the Meddahat and the Chikhat, singing and dancing at various festivities. With her own choreography, Amel TAFSOUT has innovated dancing to Raï music is bringing the fluidity and the sensuality of Arabic- Andalusian roots, the strength and energy of the mythical Berber priestess, the earthiness of the African soul, the inspiration of the Sahara-desert and the expression of the great Mediterranean seaport Wahran.


1. CHAOUI ‘ABDAOUI FERTILITY DANCE OF THE FAMOUS ‘AZRIYAT: (3 hours) Amel Tafsout will introduce this dance from her home region of the Northern East-Algerian Aures mountains. The ‘Azriyat (literally, “Women without men”) are professional dancers and singers, who performed at various festivities such as the harvest, circumcisions, weddings and especially during the Bendou festival in order to celebrate the fertility of Mother Earth. Amel will be teaching choreography based on the dance tradition but integrating the “partridge” steps in innovating the dance for the stage. Please bring fabric or long veil for the dance.

2. ‘RAQS EL MAHRA’/RAQS EL KEYL: THE HORSE DANCE: (2 hours) This dance originates from a real story: A married couple and a horse in a journey. The husband preferring the horse to his wife, because the horse could dance. In order to win the attention of her husband, the wife decided to imitate the dancing horse. She not only won her husband but also became famous and was invited to perform her dance at various festivities. This dance is full of energy, earthy and very balanced.

3. AMAZIGH-BERBER SHIMMIES: DANCE OF HE KABYL PEOPLE: (2 hours) This fertility dance comes from the North-Eastern Algerian Mountains of the ‘Kabylie’ and is performed with a long scarf while the dancer is doing very small and fast hip movements. The shimmy and the trembling movements are related to pregnancy and fertility because they help the woman to give birth without too much pain. It is a very earthy and proud dance. Traditional Berber dances are mostly ritual in nature. The dance is both a public and personal expression, rich in symbolic dimensions that deal with subjects such as the fertility of Mother Earth, the rites of marriage and birth, and the communication between the earthly and the Divine. The Kabyle Berber dances are drawn from this rich colorful dance tradition that has been sustained by the unveiled, earthy, powerful and proud women of Kabylia.

4. MOROCCAN CHIKHAT DANCE: (2 hours) In Classical Arabic, the word Cheikha is the feminine of Cheikh: a person with knowledge, experience, and wisdom. The Chichi are female professional dancers and singers, who perform together in cities and villages for men and women, singing and dancing at various festivities Professional shisha dancers wear colorful costumes with tight, midriff-baring sequined tops and long loose skirts or pants. One woman may dance in the middle of a circle while other women stand around her clapping to the beat of the music. Sensual hip movements, pelvic undulations, and flowing hand movements characterize the dance. Often a hip scarf is worn to bring attention to the movements of the lower body with quick, sharp body movements and fluid string sections that prompt more graceful, flowing movements. A troupe sometimes includes up to ten women. Once these women become famous and start recording, they start a solo career

5. AHWASH: (2 hours) Performed in the High Atlas Mountains and particularly in the Ouarzazate area, the Ahwash dance takes place around a fire. The male participants sit in a circle playing wooden bendir frame drums, while the women stand motionless in a larger circle. As the rhythm of the drums increase the women start swaying with the beat.

6. TUNISIAN DANCE: (2 hours) Dancing in Tunisia is characterized by a multitude of forms at festive events. Tunisian dance is distinguished mainly by its dynamic, since it is faster with more staccato, and the multitude of forms, with each region having its own “style. The variety of dances performed by the Tunisians probably reflects the migration flows that have traversed the country throughout the centuries. This dance insists on the movements of the pelvis in rhythm, movement highlighted by the elevation of the arms to horizontal, and feet moving in rhythm and transferring weight onto the right leg or left. The dance reflects the asocial phenomenon born in the working classes of Tunisian cities. The dance has long been performed in cafes backed by music, typically the darbuka and mezoued. Since the 1970s, however, the dance has declined in cafes and is more often characterized in modern times as being displayed at festivals and circumcision ceremonies or marriage in the neighborhoods of big cities


1. NAYLI DANCE OF THE OULED NAYL: (2 hours) Algerian dancers of the Ouled Nayl tribe fascinated and inspired the West for more than a century. They became worldwide known through many Western accounts written by writers such as Andre Gide, Maupassant, etc., paintings, such as Clarins, Fromentin, Dinet and a huge number of Colonial postcards. Since 50 years their dance tradition disappeared. The West could not recognize that there was a difference between prostitution as a profession and an Algerian tradition, which gave to the young girls of the Ouled Nayl temporary freedom. The Nayli tradition consisted of learning the dance as a child from the mother, the girl will leave her home village at the onset of puberty, making her way to other oases in order to start a new life while traveling and performing, getting paid with jewelry and living a life of a courtesan. When she earned enough, she would return to her home oasis, look for a husband, marry and end her professional career after which she hands down her dancing skills to her own daughter. Amel TAFSOUT has done a lot of research about these famous dancers and had published an article about their dance, which is grounded, religious and powerful. “The dancer does not walk she slides along.”

2. Guedra: (2 hours) Guedra is a traditional circle dance that belongs to the Blue People of the Tuareg Amazigh, from Mauritania into Morocco and Algeria. The dance’s name comes from the name of a traditional cooking pot called the Guedra that is used to provide the percussive beat of the dance. Only women take part in the dance, and they usually wear loose blue robes and festive headdresses decorated with cowrie shells. To perform Guedra, the women start singing and clapping, and one woman moves into the middle to perform a solo. The soloist starts her dance covered in a veil that is gradually removed as she moves her hands and shoulders in sharp, quick movements. The dance ends when the solo dancer throws off the veil and collapses on her back. For the Blue People, Guedra is a ritual which aim is to envelop all present with “good energy”, peace and spiritual love transmitted from the depths of the Guedra’s soul via her fingers and hands. With hand-to-head gestures, she salutes the four corners: North, South, East, and West, associated with the four elements: Fire (the sun), Earth, Wind, and Water.

3. HOUARA: (2 hours) South of Agadir, lie Inezgane and Taroundant, homes of the Houara tribe. Although in the heart of the Berber Souss, the Ait Houara speak and sing in Arabic. The women are in belted kaftans and d’finas. The group is almost entirely composed of men, with one or two women: the best dancers. They start by singing in loud voices, short bursts of song followed by crescendos of rapid footwork as a group. Two or three rounds in this manner, then the next bursts of song end with one or two of the men running forward, beating feet like crazy for a few seconds, then rushing back to the line, and ending their “solos” with high leaps or sharp flamenco-like barrel turns. After several rounds, when the rhythm and excitement reach their peak, one of the women rushes forward. Her footwork is even more skilled and complex than the men’s, her solo longer. Flinging the front halves of her d’fina, she makes several vueltas quebradas and jumps into the air, bending her knees, tucking her calves to her thighs. Sometimes, her hips move with the footwork, sometimes she uses them to manipulate a dagger under her d’fina, moving as if she’s on horseback, her feet the horse’s hooves. After a while, one of the men, unable to resist, rushes forward and, facing each other, they begin to dance together. He blends his footwork with hers, they spin and leap in unison, his arms, elbows bent, in front and behind him as he spins, she, flinging her d’fina furiously as she spins. They resemble the courtship fight of a rooster and hen. This dance represents the struggle between the Human being (represented by the man) and Nature (symbolized by the woman).


1. KHALEEJY DANCE FROM THE GULF: (2 hours) Khaleeji is the Arabic term for “ Gulf”, in context it relates to the Persian Gulf, also called the Arabian Gulf. The term refers also to the people, music, and customs of the Arab Gulf States and a small part of Iraq. There are several distinctive dance styles in the region. Many Oriental dancers focused on a particular women’s dance done with a large decorative dress, called a Thobe An Nashaal. Thobe means “garment’ or a long dress. The dances have influences from other regions, brought in from trade and slavery. Amel studied this dance with various dance teachers including Kay Campbell.

2. EGYPTIAN NUBIAN DANCE: Nubian Dance or Raks at Balad el-Aman (Dance of Nubia) comes from Nubia in Upper Egypt and is performed at social festivities. The dance is improvisational in nature, and the dancer draws from a variety of characteristic movements with which to interpret the music and show mastery of the rhythm. The second part of the choreography is a dance featuring a rhythm typically played for a person only once in a lifetime, at the occasion of a first wedding. The bright and ornamented clothing that the performer wears would only be worn in the company of her family, as in public she would never appear without her fustian or black cover dress, which is a sign of modesty. While using the flat ball footwork and standing erect in good dance posture, the arms swing in unison forward and back, the Nubian dance has various hand gestures and movements and frequently uses a flat “rice cleaning” basket. The basic step can also be done while leaning forward a little and letting the arms cross in front while swinging them forward and back. The arms are relaxed, as is the rest of the body. this is a fun, fast-paced dance.

V. SACRED SUFI HEALING: (4/5 hours) Raised in Algeria, Amel grew up with traditional healing practices of her native country. With research in dance anthropology and coming from a Sufi spiritual tradition, Amel combines traditional healing with sacred dance. With a long training in various healing practices, her knowledge in music and dance and coming from a lineage of a spiritual Sufi tradition, Tafsout developed her own workshop in sacred dance. She combines her traditional healing background with her learning experience in Sound healing and Zikr, breath work, whirling and trance. The workshop includes body and breath work, sound healing and chanting (Zikr), leading to whirling and ending with Zar-Hadra, an ancient healing ceremony in the Middle East and Africa. Her research in dance anthropology focuses on a culture’s art and ritual expressed in dance as well as a healing form. Please wear comfortable clothing, preferably white and bring a small blanket and a long shawl for the workshop.

VI. NUBA: A DANCE JOURNEY THROUGH THE MAGHREB (TUNISIA, ALGERIA, AND MOROCCO) (3 / 4 hours)In this workshop Amel Tafsout will introduce the various dance movements that are specific to each country, such as the Tunisian hip twists, the Moroccan hips and belly drops the Algerian hip figures of eights and various steps. She will teach the similarities and differences in each dance, talk about costuming, give some background of each dance and teach some sequences for each style.


1. ROOTS OF TRIBAL: (2 hours) This workshop will introduce basic movements and steps, appropriate posture, arm – hand positions, hip combination and hip accentuation useful for North African Maghreb dance. Amel Tafsout will focus on drills to increase the feeling of the North African rhythms, enabling working in duets in a journey through the Maghreb

2. DANCING WITH THE TAMBOURINE: Tambourine dance is as ancient as the existence of the world. It was already known as “Myriam’s Dance of Freedom”. The purpose of the dance was the letting go of and forgetting a troubled past. The use of the tambourine helps the dancer to be more aware of dancing to the rhythm in absorbing the vibration of sounds in her whole body. Amel Tafsout will teach the students to use various sounds and techniques while dancing. Please bring a tambourine.

3. SONG IMMERSION, STORYTELLING, AND INTERPRETATION IN DANCE: (3 hours) Amel will introduce storytelling in the Maghreb and how to express a story, a song, how to use hand gestures and facial expression and communicate emotions. Amel will select a special North African popular song, such as “Ya RayaH”, “Sidi Mansour” or another chosen piece by Amel, which will be explored in depth. We will learn the lyrics, cultural and social significance, and underlying rhythm so that all students will have a good understanding of the song before we dance to it. This intensive workshop will culminate not only in learning the song, the rhythms and the dance to a song but also how to narrate stories, convey emotions and bring rituals on stage.

4. COSTUMING IN THE MAGHREB: (3 hours) Amel will introduce the various costumes used in the Maghreb, such as the Berber Amazigh dresses and headdresses, the Andalusian styles as well as the Sahraoui Desert wrapping. She will also explain the history of the costuming and how they evolved during the centuries. Please bring fabric.

VI. FRAME DRUMMING, SINGING, AND DANCE: (3 hours) Frame drums are one of the most ancient types of musical instruments. They have a simple structure with strong spiritual and entertaining qualities. The Bendir is a frame drum used by as a traditional instrument throughout North Africa by men and women. After introducing the Bendir and other frame drums, Amel Tafsout will show how to develop your frame drum technique and understand the richness and the diversity of the Bendir sound. She will also not only teach how to practice the traditional North African rhythms but also how to sing them while playing. The students will then learn a song with its pronunciation and phrasing as well as its rhythm and dance. Amel developed this traditional experience in her teaching, which combines Drumming, Singing, and Movement. This creativity has enhanced the spontaneous fusion of Dance and Music, Sound and Vision.

VII. DANCING THE ARCHETYPES – DANCING THE TAROT: Amel, a Sufi dance master & intuitive, will lead you on a spiritual healing journey through sound and dance. “In this workshop, we will activate our super-sensual awareness and open to the wisdom of the archetype. We will let imagery move us so that we may embody universal wisdom. This experience will give us the opportunity to connect with intuition and dance the archetypes into BE-ing, accessing deep and personal wisdom.”


1. Professional Female Performers in the Maghreb

2. Andalusian music and dance

3. The ritual in dance

4. Sufism in North Africa

5. North African Sufi brotherhoods

6. Beauty care in the Maghreb

7. Arabic symbols, such as the ‘KHAMSA’ or the Hand of Fatima

8. Wedding ceremonies

9. Arab women in History

10. Legendary North African women

11. Al Kahina: Berber Queen and Warrior Priestess: History and Legend.

12. Algerian Costumes and their connection to Mediterranean costumes.