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The Guedra, American Style

An Ecstatic Dance Ritual

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Where is this dance from?

The American Guedra is not a strict replica or re-enactment of the North African folk dance but an experiential group dance ritual that has evolved for several years as a grassroots tribal dance. This version is not concerned with 'performance' but rather experience. It doesn't represent a historically-accurate tribal dance but is a group blessing ritual using rhythmic chants borrowed from overseas, and is not recommended for performance in front of an audience as that would change the focus and intention.

I learned this particular dance ritual and also about the North African trance dance called the Guedra from videos and taking Guedra classes at Pennsic. My sources for the non-traditional version are the late Lady Amira of Orluk, and Kharajin of Turku (who learned from Mistress Beaumarishka of the Outlands).

Who does the traditional Guedra?

The Tuareg (blue people, Berbers) of the Sahara in North Africa practice this dance ritual. The cooking pot used as drum, the rhythm, the dance, and the dancer (when she's on the ground) - each is called guedra. When the dancer is standing it's called t'bal. Their traditional movements have been documented and interpreted as having specific meanings (see Links below). Women are usually the guedras (center dancers), but both men and women drum or chant in support.

BEFORE YOU START

As Kharajin recommends, take off rings and long necklaces to avoid injury because the clapping and the guedra movements can be vigorous.

All sit in a circle (touching if possible). Guedras (center dancers) start standing, sitting or kneeling on ground, covered with dark veil. Depending on size of group there can be 1 - 4 Guedra dancers in center (if more than 1, they are back-to-back).

WARM-UP MOVEMENTS

When dancing using these movements, think of good energy pulsing up through the body and out through the fingers.

Chanting and Clapping

Unlike the zar, the guedra is not cathartic but benevolent; done to send good energy out to the world. Take time to focus mentally before starting. The group is not an "audience" but actively supports the center dancer by chanting, clapping, zaghareet, and mentally "being there" for her.

The group sits or kneels in a circle on the ground, arranged as "A's" and "B's" around the circle  (A  B  A  B  A  B  etc.). The clapping is done in a 2-beat rhythm,  A's on count 1, B's on ct. 2. The chanting is done sequentially also. The clapping and chanting should be vigorous and loud! Clap hands forcefully and 'throw' energy to center dancers; rocking or swaying the body helps build energy.

       CHANTS (each part sung [A and B] overlaps next part continuously, starting a little early if necessary, so the sound is continuous)

       Beginning - slower (takes 4 counts: 2 measures of 2/4)
       (A)  ULL-ah al WHILEH-deen   "God; our parents" 
       (B)  ULL-ah WHY-Yay   "Ah, God"

The guedra (center dancer) begins by letting the group energy fill her and make her move as in the warm-up movements. In our American or experiential version there is no choreography or required movement repertoire, the intent is not 'performing' but 'doing'. (See 'Ecstatic Dance' link)  When her energy builds sufficiently or her veil is discarded signaling a change in intensity or feeling, the leader changes the chant to:

       Middle - faster (takes 2 cts: 1 measure of 2/4) 
       (A)  Ha-WEE (part A)  "Spirit"
       (B)  Ja-WEE (part B)  "Essence"

       Alternate or additional chant for second part:
       (A)  Wa HO Wa Jeh   "He is coming"
       (B)  Ah HEY Wa Jet   "She is coming"

       Alternate or additional chant for second part:
       (A's then B's)  Ah HEY (not 'words' per se, but loud expiration; try rocking forward with 
       breath)

Afterwards

When the guedra (center dancer) finishes the group can stop chanting and clapping to rest (if there's more than one guedra at a time keep going till they're all finished). Before leaving the center, the guedras should ground themselves by resting head and hands on ground; one or two others from the circle can help ground her with left hand on her and right hand on ground.

Guedra Links

Most of the current information on the Guedra dance is actually descriptions of or interpretations of a performance rather than experiential accounts, though there are a few. Here are some links to background info and resources for your own Guedra research:

Berber People - Short overview of Berber history
Amazigh Voice reprint - link between Amazigh Kahenas and Hawaiian Kahunas?
Casbah Dance -  info on both performance and "real" Guedra
"Festival in the Desert" - music festival for the Tuareg
Karol Harding's Guedra FAQ - plus resources for further research
Moroccan Gateway - includes aural sample of Guedra in progress

Do the Guedra - it's good for your vigor!

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