Histories & Culture
Moroccan Dance

Moroccan folkdance is an integral part of Moroccan folklore and is extremely diverse. It varies not only by area but each tribe, nomadic or sedentary, has its own repertory. Besides being colorful, picturesque or romantic, each folk dance forms an ensemble of symbols and traditions.

The annual Marrakech Folklore festival, organized in the ruins of al Badi Palace, the various dance troupes perform their dances:

The Ahwas
This dance comes from the High Atlas valley in the Ouarzazate area. A circle of women in multicolored robes stand motionless. In the center, men sit around a fire, each of them with a “bendir”, a circular wooden frame with a hide stretched across it. A piercing cry breaks the silence. All the drums beat. The song of the men begins and the women reply.
They sway slowly and rhythmically shoulder to shoulder. The rhythm gets faster and faster toward the finale.

The Ouais
Set to ancient music, this dance is like a ballet. The orchestra comprises a one-string fiddle, called rbab soussi, and a number of guembris, which are small mandolins with three strings. The rhythm is provided by a beater who strikes a piece of cast iron lying on the ground. The dancers add to the music with small copper cymbals attached to their fingers. All the dancers wear city dress: a colored kaftan, a muslin dfina, an embroidered silk belt, a cord decorated with spangles woven around the head. The dance is graceful and comprises several steps. Couples alternate with the step to make a delicate spectacle.

The Tissint
South of Agadir, men and women entirely garbed in indigo-blue perform a dance which resembles a religious rite. The dagger dance is symbolic and is part of marriage ceremonies. Men and women dance to a rhythm that becomes more rapid. A young boy and girl leave the circle to do a duet. The boy holds the dagger at arm’s length, swings around, making circles around the girl., withdraws and comes nearer until they are face to face. The boy falls to his knees in front of the girl, and the song continues.

The Taskiouine
A warrior’s dance in which only men take part. Wearing white tunics and turbans with powder horns on their shoulders, the dancers keep time to the accompaniment of earthenware tambourines covered with skins. The men shake their bodies rhythmically and stop suddenly with perfectly-timed stamping of the feet. It is a virile and powerful dance, athletic and aesthetic at the same time.

The Gnaouas
This dance is African in origin. The instruments are primitive, large drums and wrought iron castanets form the orchestra. Cowrie shells and glass beads are worn as ornaments that recall the dance’s origin and its magical or religious aspect. The men perform high leaps in the air, without missing a beat of the rhythm.

The Ait Atta
This dance resembles the Ahwash. A row of women in festive dress face a row of men. All the gestures of the dancers express gaiety and enthusiasm. The dance marks the end of the work day on the fields when the harvest is in and the cold of the mountain regions gives way to a time of rest.

The Aiit Bodar
Another warrior dance performed only by men. The dancers wear white “gandorass” , link arms as if welded together and chant a song during their continuous backwards and forwards movement . The dance appears to symbolize the indivisible unity that should link the warriors of tribe in the face of an enemy. The men form an impenetrable barrier; they are as one man, animated by a single rhythm.

Ain Bouguemaz
The central figure wears a different costume from that the rest of the troupe. He has a pointed bonnet covered with a strip of white muslin and plays a double flute. He is the only professional in the troupe and produces a nasal buzzing with his instrument which has a striking effect while the men and women of the village turn in a circle. The dance is at times light, composed of slides and little steps, or more dynamic when the performers stamp hard on the ground. It is an abstract dance by mountain folk but has the virility of warrior dances. Poems are recited during the dance.

Oulmes and Khenifra
The Ahidous of the Middle Atlas is a visual enchantment performed in its traditional purity by men and women dancers of the Oulmes and Khenifra areas. Most of the girls are very young and very pretty. The costumes, strongly influenced by urban dress, are pale in color.
The men and women form a large circle and rock to the rhythm of Bendir drums. They do simple steps, advance and withdraw. The gestures are discreet, full of dignity and modesty. Poems are recited.

The Aiit Haddidou
The Aiit haddidou live on a plateau of the High Atlas Mountains at an altitude of 8,5000feet, and seem to have been subjected to no influences to upset the harmony of their patriarchal existence. The women wear handiras, blue cloaks with white stripes. Married women and widows may wear akidoud, a kind of henna in their hair. Large necklaces of amber beads and heavy silver jewelry convey an image of wild beauty. The men wear long burnouses and wrap their heads in turbans. The Ahidous is a static dance: the dancers make gestures which have survived the passage of time, but are quite indecipherable to the audience.

The Houara
These dancers come form Inezgane near Agadir. The troupe is composed of a group of men and one woman. The men begin the dance to a sprightly step.
One or two leave the circle and perform solo dances. When the rhythm reaches its peak the woman rushes to the center of the circle. This is followed by a powerful, whirling dance, requiring physical strength to keep up the rhythm and do the elaborate steps. This dance is considered one of the most spectacular in Moroccan folklore, and arouses enthusiasm in the audience.

The Ahidous
In the Middle Atlas Haiidous dance singers and dancers form a large circle with the men and women standing alternately shoulder to shoulder.
Sacred and secular influences are deeply linked in this ceremony. To the rhythm of tambourines the men and women undulate and sing a joyful hymn.

The Ghiaytas
Warriors carrying rifles dance to the tune of pipes and drums. The dancers shout rumbling cries in cadence. Their rifles are balanced on the head, spun at arms length, and they pretend to shoot at an invisible enemy. Forming a circle and turning to the rhythm of a noisy orchestra, they aim their weapons at the ground, and at a signal from their leader, fire a blank into the ground.

A vigorous dance of men to the music of a solo seven-hole flute made out of reed. The rhythm is supplied by hand-clapping ad stamping of the feet to give a powerful and enchanting effect.

The Guedra
A south Moroccarn dance in which the movements have their origin in ancient symbolism.
The women dancers kneel and are completely covered with a black veil. To a steady beat like a heartbeat, the women bring out their hands from under the veil and describe vivid and expressive motions. They then reveal their heads; eyes closed, and sway their heads like a pendulum. The rhythm is supplied by a guedra, an earthenware drum covered with skin. The rhythm begins to pulsate as the dancers' fingers continue their mysterious language.

Singing commences, changing to guttural cries, at which time the dancers cast off their veils and collapse in a heap.

The Oulad Sidi Ahmed Ou Moussa
An acrobatic performance by the wandering brotherhood of Sidi Ahmed ou Moussa, the saint of Tazerouait, a place in the Anti Atlas Mountains. Originally the young people performed these exercises in preparation for their role as marksmen or archers. With the disappearance of warriors, the acrobatics became an end in themselves, and a way to earn a living.

Some people form the Oulad Ahmed ou Moussa work in circuses in Europe and the Americas.
The colorful costumes are often embroidered and have not changed much in centuries.

The Dekka
The people who perform this rhythmic entertainment are not professionals. The orchestra, composed of craftsmen and merchants of Marrakesh, is made up entirely of earthenware drums of various dimensions.

The ceremony begins with simple and solemn rhythms, then the cadence of hand-clapping accelerates. High and low-pitched beats of the drums alternate and the men start singing in chorus. The rhythm changes from time to time, and the general impression is an explosion of joy that seems wild but is in fact very disciplined.