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Swinging and twirling: Egyptian stick arts

Inside an old cinema house in Malawi, Minya, the light beams are swinging and twirling while following the rhythm of the sticks.

Amira Noshokaty , Tuesday 27 Oct 2020
Medhat fawzi for stick arts
Photos by amira noshokaty
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Views: 3913

Inside an old cinema house in Malawi, Minya, the light beams are swinging and twirling while following the rhythm of the sticks.

This is the routine at the Medhat Fawzi Centre for Stick Art. Founded by El-Warsha theatre troupe, the centre was the brain child of the founder of El-Warsha, Hassan El-Geretly who named the centre after one of the greatest stick artists of Upper Egypt.

Stick art is an authentic folk art that is known as Tahteeb. Dating all the way back to ancient Egypt, the art that is carefully painted on Egyptian Temples was listed in 2017 among the intangible world heritage sites of UNESCO. The art is a form of dance between two male opponents holding sticks and trying to touch each other. It resembles the concept of fencing, yet is accompanied with authentic folk music and drum beats.

Medhat fawzi for stick arts
Photos by amira noshokaty

"Our first encounter with tahteeb was in the early nineties, when Medhat Fawzi trained Mohamed Abdel-Azim, an actor of El-Warsha troupe, in stick arts for a role in a play," remembered Gamal Mossad, manager of the centre.

" In 1996, the idea of creating a centre for stick arts in Malawi came to mind, and we brought the masters of the trade, who were quite reluctant to teach anyone other than their sons at first. "However, 'am Dakhly, who won the 'Golden stick Award' from the ministry of culture annual festivals, and his brother Hassan eventually agreed to teach," added Mossad.

Medhat fawzi for stick arts
Photos by amira noshokaty

"Since 1996, we have managed to graduate three generations of stick dancers, which is around 200 people," explained Ibrahim Abdel-Aziz, the head of training at the centre. "We start off with teaching the authentic stick arts techniques and then we teach them how to improvise," noted Abdel-Aziz as he introduced 12 year old Amr Mansour, one of the youngest trainees at the centre. Throughout the years, the centre has performed in Cairo and abroad, especially France.

"Currently we are working on opening our doors to teach girls too," added Abdel-Aziz. Indeed, the centre has collaborated with Tanwira cultural centre in Qena last year in a workshop targeting young boys and girls to learn stick art.

Medhat fawzi for stick arts
Photos by amira noshokaty

"We also worked with choreographer Dalia El-Abd, on a dance where she took the core of tahteeb moves and transformed it into modern art within the same authentic realm," added founder of the stick art centre, Hassan El-Geretly. Reflecting on their journey to safeguard and revive this art, El-Geretly remembered that they started training and holding public performances despite a wave of fundamentalism sweeping Minya back then. How their performance was once attacked and security forces intervened and allowed them to continue.

"We started our training in 1996 amid a curfew, and it was not easy for people to come and join; now parents line up to teach their children, which means that, unlike popular belief, change is quite rapid in Egypt, "argued El-Geretly.

Currently the Medhat Fawzi Centre for Stick Art performs as part of El-Warsha’s repertoire every Thursday at the premises of El-Warsha Troupe, in down town Cairo.

Medhat fawzi for stick arts
Photos by amira noshokaty

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