Dancers in long layered multi-colored skirts with coordinating pants underneath spin faster and faster to the beat of the music. Their circular skirts become a blend of color as they whirl continuously-sometimes up to 30 minutes! The Al Tannoura dancers of Cairo are a sight to see and worthwhile for everyone who has a chance!
Tanoura dancers, or whirling dervishes, comes from Sufi whirling. Egyptian Tanoura is different due to the multi-colored skirts. However, the dance style is very similar. Sufi whirling is a form of active meditation and is designed to bring oneself closer to God by abandoning personal desires. It involves many rituals and both men and women can be Sufi whirling dancers. It is particularly popular and common in Turkey.
In Cairo, you can find Al Tannoura dancers at tourist events. But for the most authentic show, go to the thrice weekly show in Islamic Cairo, just across from Khan el Khalili. I went recently with visiting family and it was awesome. The group that performs is the El Tanoura Troupe for Cultural Heritage and performs worldwide.
We shopped at the Khan, had a late lunch/early dinner at Naguib Mahfouz and then cross the road to explore Tentmaker’s Alley. It was late afternoon on a holiday and the souq area was packed! Luckily I knew where we were going and could wind down through the shops to the row of shops we wanted. My in-laws got some great wall hangings. They two they wanted ended up being 500le (about $30) more than we had in cash. I took them to a shop I’d been to once before with a friend (who goes to that shop regularly) and he told us to take the hangings and just pay what we had and come back another day with the rest of the money. No receipts or bills or anything. Just a “You came here before, just bring it next time you’re in the area.” Gotta love the trust! (And as a side note, they actually were in the area the next day at the Islamic Museum and paid him the rest).
After shopping, we headed to where we *thought* the whirling dervishes were. I was operating off a googlemap location and some rough info from an acquaintance. We ended up a building labeled Wekalet El Ghoury with signs about the Al Tannoura show. No one there and eventually a guy came by, saw us, and told us to follow him. He led us down the road to another building where there was a line and ticket booth! It wasn’t in its usual venue, and I don’t know if the change is permanent or not. But we found it!
We got there 1.25 hours ahead of time as warned so we could get good seats. You really want to be in the front row. We ended up in row 2 due to a tour group and our wrong information. But it was still some awesome views. Super hot and humid that day and we were happy for the cold water sold outside. Ended up talking with a Brazilian lady who was there with a tour group. She was delightful. Fun Small World thing–two days later my in-laws ran into her at a rest stop on the road to Alexandria!
Show started on time (not necessarily typical) and was amazing! Started off with music with different musicians taking center stage and the lead. There was an older gentleman with hand cymbals that was hilarious. Then a dancer came out and twirled for 30 minutes! Nonstop! While he was twirling, the musicians played and a singer sang a gorgeous song. Dancers move their layered skirts up and down and take them off and add them on all while spinning.
Next we had 3 dancers spin and do coordinated moves. It was so cool. Very glad I got to go!
Location? Islamic Cairo, directly across the street from Khan el Khalili. Finding it is a little tricky. Online its location is pinpointed as the “Wekalet el Ghouri Arts Center” but when we went there, we were directed just down the road to a building labeled as “Madrasa and Sabil of Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri” on Googlemaps. In the past it has been at the Wekalet el Ghouri building, so I’m not sure if this is a permanent change.
Cost? le75 for foreigners
Camera Fee? No, though video is not allowed
Toilets? Yes, clean toilets that had tp (though I always suggest to have your own just in case)
Food/Drinks Allowed? Sold? Not sold, though cold water is sold just outside. Definitely bring plenty of water in the summer months!
Stroller Friendly? It’s down a flight of stairs, but otherwise would be. Islamic Cairo as a whole is not though
Notes: Show starts at 7:30 on Mon, Weds, and Sat. However, you need to arrive between 6 and 6:30 to get in line for tickets. We arrived at 6:15 and got the 2nd row. 1st row is really ideal. It is loud, though I only found the first song unbearably loud. Great music and amazing spinning by dancers wearing colorful skirts. Show lasts about 1.5 hours. Ours started on time, but I have heard it is very common to start late. There were many Egyptian kids there, but I’d only suggest bringing kids who can handle a long wait for the show to start and the loud volume.
[…] The show was awesome! We had seen whirling dervishes in Egypt and these were very different. In Egypt, they are very colorful, with many instruments, and it is more playful. The dervishes clearly are having fun and will smile and interact a bit with each other and the crowd. In Turkey, and especially in Konya, it is very much a religious event. They start in black and then pull off their cloaks to reveal all white. They are very serious and the dance is much more structured and formal. The show lasts amount 75 minutes. The spinning is still amazing and I am glad we went, but I do prefer the Egyptian style! If you want to read about the Egyptian style, go here. […]