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TUNISIAN Dance, Music and Costuming

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Exiles from Andalucia: Published in Saudi Aramco World in 1991.

"Andalusians, also called Moors or Moriscos, were Arabs who presided over a rich and unparalleled fusion of Islamic, Christian and Jewish civilizations in Spain for more than half a millennium (See Aramco World, September-October 1976, May-June 1982). But by 1492 the spectacular social and political ferment of Andalusian civilization had gone flat. The Christian Spaniards, under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, wrested political control of the Iberian Peninsula from the Arabs.

"In the next two centuries life grew increasingly repressive for the dwindling Arab population of Spain. After forbidding the practice of Islam, the Christians eventually expelled everyone of Arab descent. Waves of Moriscos fled to France, the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, or North Africa. Scholars estimate that by the 17th century, well over 100,000 Andalusian Moors reached the shores of Tunisia."

Flaubert in Tunisia: published in Saudi Aramco World in 1988. Gustave Flaubert's famous historical novel, Salammbo, includes both large artistic liberties and solid research.


The Home by Habiba. Habiba visits a Tunisian home and finds it "the land of tea AND coffee," with the mother as the conduit of hospitality, expected to be devoted to the care of others. The house is built around an atrium, an outdoor courtyard in which a good deal of family life takes place. Originally published in Arabesque in 1980, then reprinted in Zaghareet in 2011.

Religion by Habiba. Habiba finds Tunisians to be devoted moderate Moslems but unobtrusive in their practice. Religion and daily life are well-integrated. Originally published in Arabesque in 1981, then reprinted in Zaghareet in 2011.

Of Henna and Weddings. Habiba describes the henna patterns associated with the various regions of Tunisia and the method in which the henna is applied. She also describes traditional weddings, which are elaborate and can involve entertaining an entire village with food, drink and entertainment. The bride herself is expected to be bedecked in elaborately embroidered garments and gold jewelry. The net result can be financial ruin for the families. Habiba attended a post-wedding party for the women in which music and dance were provided by a female band and the guests themselves. Originally published in Arabesque in 1981, then reprinted in Zaghareet in 2011.

Men of Tunisia: Habiba and her husband attend a groom's night religious trance party. Originally published in Arabesque in 1983.

Couscous, the Measure of the Maghrib. "Former President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia was once asked to define the Maghrib, the culturally distinct but geographically imprecise western part of the Arab world. He allegedly replied that somewhere in Libya there was an imaginary north-south line. To the east of this line the staple food was rice, he said; to the west it was couscous. And it is at that line, according to Bourguiba, that the Maghrib begins." Published in Saudi Aramco World in 1998.


The Musical Pulse of Tunisia: a discussion of the Tunisian maluf, musical offspring of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain). Published in Saudi Aramco World in 2001.

Music of Tunisia, A Contemporary Perspective: A. Jihad Racy discusses the art music of the cities, religious music (including Sufi), folk music and popular music. Published in Arabesque magazine in 1979.


The Tunisian Experience: Raqs Shaabi by Mardi Rollow. Published in Arabesque magazine in 1979 as Traditional Dance in Tunisia.

Troupe El Manar in 1972: dance and music video.

Dance Travelogue: A Performance in Menzal Shaker: Aisha Ali describes the preparation for and execution of a concert of music and dance in which she was a participant. Published in Arabesque magazine in 1979

In Search of Dance: Habiba describes an event that featured both male and female performers. Three female dancers performed three dances with a different costume for each dance. Originally published in Arabesque in 1982, then reprinted in Zaghareet in 2011.

  1. Traditional Tunisian wrap-dress in a bright plaid color, fastened with large silver pins connected with silver flat link chains, over lace blouses with big full sleeves. Chiffon head veils tucked behind ears with wide crowns decorated with silver and pailettes holding veils in place.
  2. Circular scarf dance with hip movements coordinated with scarf waving. Costumes resembled modern Tunisian wedding dress with tight bodice and full skirt, with one dancer revealing a bare midriff. Headdress was a spangled crown over transparent veil, with crown fronts decorated with ornamental pieces similar to Ouled Nail headdresses.
  3. Three dancers return in wrap-dresses with bustle in back to accentuate hip movements. On top of the headdresses [unspecified] were coiled pieces of fabric and on top of those they balanced ceramic jugs or pots. The twisting movements became very fast while the upper torsos, shoulders, heads and pots remained motionless. Each had a solo that included floor work.

The Ballet Nationale: Habiba takes some classes with Tunisia's national folkloric dance troupe. Originally published in Arabesque in 1981.

In Search of Dance: Habiba travels South in search of the pot dance. Originally published in Arabesque in 1982.

Tunisian dance is particularly strenuous and features twisting movement on demi-point as opposed to the dropping of the hip typical in Egyptian dance.

Raks Al-Juzur is the traditional pot dance, performed with a pot partially filled with water balanced on the head.

  • Usually performed to a medley of popular traditional songs, arranged to increase in tempo, with the last song reaching the climax.
  • Typical steps include a counterclockwise twist step, with the right arm raised and the left outstretched.
  • Also included is the basket step, during which the right arm reaches in and out of a basket formed by the left arm as the left foot kicks out.
  • A typical entrance step consists of three forward and one back.
  • Another entrance uses two clockwise twists with feet together followed by two steps, then reverse.

Learning the Dance: Habiba returns to Tunisia to study the pot dance and the scarf dance. First published in Arabesque in 1983.

Of Brides and Glory: Habiba experiences several Tunisian weddings, including one as a paid entertainer. Originally published in Arabesque in 1983.


The Tunisian Experience, Dress and Adornment in Tunisia: Mardi Rollow discusses the melia (basic garment of Tunisian women), veils, blouses, vests, hairstyles, henna and jewelry. Published in Arabesque in 1979.


Aisha Ali and Habiba are famous American dancers, teachers and dance researchers.

Aisha Ali produced two highly-acclaimed instructional videos, Dances of North Africa: Tunisia and Morocco, Volume I and Dancing with Aisha: Tunisian Rhythms and Raqs Shaabi which are available for purchase from her website. Her equally-famous CDs, Tunisian Dances and Tunisian Rhythms, are also available.

Azza Sherif in a marvelous performance to live music; and that costume! Tunisian bling works!

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