The Origins: Ghawazi, Ouled Nail and Gypsies

The Ghawazi were nomadic dancers, considered professionals in Egypt and whose origins are uncertain.


Some claim that they are part of the Indo-Persian gypsies who migrated from northern India to come to Spain and Eastern Europe. It´s generally accepted that the Gypsies come from northern India. Known as Gypsies, these unique nomad people, are called by different namesdepending on the region where they are: in Egypt “Halab”, “Nawar” (Nuri), “Ghagar”; in Persia, “Luri”; in Turkey, “Cingana”, or “Cengi”; in the region of Punjab, in India, are called “Jats” or “Zutt”. In Europe, they are known as Zigenner, Gypsy, Czigány, synth, Romani or Roman Gitana/Gitano...

The Ghawazi, such as Gypsies, are not of Egyptian origin. They remain apart from society, carefully preserving their own traditions and customs, and have their own language, strange derivation, they talk to each other.

Sha´abi Raqs is the dance of the Ghawazi, which still exists. It´s characterized by continuous hip shimmies from side to side, which can also be seen in the classic movements of belly dancing. They dance in a quick 4/4 time. Their music derives from folklore instruments as mizmar, rebabi and baladi tabla. The Ouled Nail of Algeria, are another group of mysterious origins. They have remained out and thus have preserved their ancient traditions. Their customs provide us another clue about the origins of belly dancing.


These dancers from Sahara, devoid of veil to cover themselves, were famous for their jeweled headdresses and crowns (zeriref). Made with plates, silver and gold coins and decorated with turquoise, coral and colored enamels. These headdresses are fastened to the head by rows of chains and earrings. Many symbols on their jewels have been identified as coming from ancient Carthage or Babylon.

According to their customs, these women were public dancers who showed their talent for dance, but that never affected their reputation at home. They could return to the village to get married and live according to the customs of the Muslim society around.