Everything you need to know about the Egyptian whirling dervish dancers

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This dizzying dance of continuous spinning is a mesmerizing and captivating sight to behold. On our Egypt tours, we will make sure that you get to experience a traditional Al Guri Sufi show, where this dance takes place.

This unique art form is inspired by the energetic movements of the Sufi Muslim mystics.

Who is involved in the Al Guri Sufi show? 

The Egyptian whirling dervish dancers involved in the show are members of ascetic orders within the Sufi religious tradition, as well as non-Sufi’s. During this spectacle of colour and music, the dancers will show off their skills.

Sufism or Tasawwuf, as it is known in the Muslim world, is a mystical branch of Islam. Sufi’s believe that Islamic knowledge should be learned from teachers and not completely from books. Even though there have been few Sufi’s over the years, they have influenced Islamic ideas throughout history. They also played a large role in spreading Islam across the world.

This ancient dance dates to the 13th century and is one of the oldest rituals of the Sufi tradition of Islam. Under the Ottoman Empire, this movement spread across Egypt to the Balkans and Syria. This whirling dance is more than just a show for tourists, as the dancers believe that it is a way of praising God and his prophets.

The spinning of the dancers and the circling of the musicians around him represent the circling of the sun and the planets. This spiritual ritual allows the dancer to get closer to God and to achieve spiritual purity and inner peace. This dance also has significance for Muslim pilgrims.  

What happens during the Al Guri Sufi show?

Your guide on our Egypt tours will explain the history of the show beforehand, so that when you arrive you understand everything that is happening. The show features live music and centres mainly around the dancers. Each dancer wears a multi-coloured shirt that looks very impressive during the dance. Some of the dancers might wear a skirt that glows in the dark.

Historically, only men have been permitted to take part in the dance, but today some communities now allow women. In Egypt, the dance has been adapted as tanoura. The word ‘tanoura’ refers to the colourful skirt, with each colour symbolising each Sufi order.

The skirt is mainly used for visual effects, but dancers also enhance their balance with it. Accompanying the dancers is vibrant percussion, Sufi vocals and vivid lighting. Even as a spectator, you can feel the power of the performance and an overall feeling of enlightenment after the show.

Where does the Al Guri Sufi show take place?

The best place to witness this traditional display is in a place with an equally impressive history. On your Egypt tour in Cairo, we will watch the show at the Wikalat al Ghuri. This 16th-century marketplace was built by the Sultan Qunsuwah Al Ghouri in 504–1505 CE and is positioned opposite the mosque and mausoleum of the same name.

With striking Islamic architecture, a grand domed roof and expansive floors, you can find this marketplace in the centre of Islamic Cairo.

Your local guide will tell you how Wikalat al Ghuri is one of the most impressive and best-preserved examples of this type of building in Cairo. The word ‘wikalat’ is a term for an urban caravanserai – a building, which housed travellers, merchants and their goods.

In 2004, this marketplace was restored and when you visit it today, you will see that it houses local offices, studios and workshops for artists. It also functions as a venue for a variety of cultural shows, including the Al Guri Sufi show.

Five stories make up the structure and the building is designed around a central courtyard. Animals and merchandise would have been kept on the first floor and the second floor would have been where the merchants slept. A main feature of the courtyard is a fountain adorned with marble mosaics.

When does the Al Guri Sufi show take place?

You will get to enjoy a traditional Al Guri Sufi show with Egyptian whirling dervish dancers at the end of your Egypt tour. Witnessing this special demonstration and learning about the local culture is a memorable way to conclude your wonderful holiday in Egypt.

The show takes place twice a week, every Wednesday and Saturday evening.

The show usually starts at 7.30pm and lasts for about two hours, but on our Egypt tour we will make sure that we get there a bit earlier to grab a good spot. For every show, you can expect crowds to fill up the seats and the standing area around the hall.

You will also see many tourists, as well local Egyptians appreciating the show. At peak times in Egypt, when the queues are very long, we might arrange an event at a hotel instead of attending the show.

If you go on an evening cruise down the Nile River on our Egypt tour, you might also get to see the dancers perform. The entertainment is usually always Egyptian whirling dervish dancers. Watching the Al Guri Sufi show in the cooler seasons is also more enjoyable, as it can get very hot in the hall.  

Why does the Al Guri Sufi take place?

As much as the show serves as entertainment, it also allows the dancers to get into a trance-like state and be able to concentrate only on God. The idea of whirling so intensely means that the dancer does not see anything but God, who is inside of him.

The dancer feels as if he is the beginning, the centre and the sun. By taking part in the whirling, the dancers rid themselves of worldly desires and clear their minds.  

Egyptian whirling dervish dancers see the dance as an energetic form of meditation. Spinning is believed to be at the root of life as everything goes in a circle: the planets around the sun, the Earth in its orbit and the blood through our veins.

During the 1925 Turkish revolution, Sufi gatherings and the traditional dance was banned. Sufi’s continued to practice the dance in secret until it was legalised again in 1952.

Want to experience the Al Guri Sufi show?

Most of our Egypt tours include the Al Guri Sufi show, if exploring Egypt’s towering pyramids and rich history is on your bucket list – have a look at our selection of Egypt tours here.

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