Sara Kamel forms the first all-women whirling dervishes troupe in Egypt

September 28, 2023

Photos by Menna M. Zeidan

Imagine a dance that’s more than just entertainment; it’s a way of connecting with something higher. That’s the Whirling Dervish dance. With its mesmerizing and graceful spins, it is not merely a performance; but an expression of devotion and a path to enlightenment.

Whirling is Sufi Order, founded by the followers of Jalal El Din Al Rumi in the 13th century. The Whirling Dervish is traditionally a male dance deeply tied to Sufi Islamic tradition. It’s performed by male practitioners called “dervishes” as part of their spiritual journey. This dance represents a seeker’s path to union with the divine and channels divine energy. Due to historical and religious context of Sufism, women have not been part of this tradition. But as women are on the quest to break stereotypes, more of them are learning to become whirling dervishes as well.

Sara Kamel in 2019

In 2028, Sara Kamel attended a workshop on the secrets of whirling. She enjoyed it a lot and decided to continue learning and practicing it. Within a year, she started performing in some shows, becoming the first female whirling dervish in Egypt.

“I saw whirling not just beautiful but also deeply philosophical, as it represents the entire universe, from the tiniest particles like atoms to galaxies, stars, and planets,” Sara told WoEgypt.

As she began her journey, she offered workshops to teach whirling to young girls and boys in collaboration with contemporary dance instructor and choreographer Ahmed Borae, who learned the secrets of whirling from a Turkish instructor.

About the benefits of whirling Sara explains, “Whirling has many benefits. It is like sports. It helps reduces stress and practicing it makes you happy and calm.

By mid 2021, Sara was conducting her own whirling workshops, to provide an opportunity to women who were interested in trying it out. Sara and her trainees presented closed performances to a limited number of audiences.

About her workshops, Sara says, “When you whirl, the world in front on you disappears, and you become one with the universe. Training is the only way to improve, but first, you must learn it correctly.”

Sara’s dream was to form an all-women whirling troupe. After the success of the workshops and the performances, Sara created the “Doury” (Spin)troupe, consisting of 7 members, including her friends Afnan Shaher and Amira Awad, along with some of the workshop graduates. Afnan Shaher was member of “Rouh Project,” and whirling is about love, while Amira Awad combines spinning with circus performances.

The troupe officially debuted at the Samaa International Festival with a performance at Beit El Sennari, receiving a great response. “God willing, we aspire to achieve international recognition because our perspective and approach are unique, and each’s style of spinning is genuinely one-of-a-kind,” she concluded.

Sara has a BA in geography from the University of Cairo. She works in a company that funds small projects. She also volunteers with a team of cyclists to teach girls and boys to ride bicycles. She wishes to see more people riding bicycles to help reduce the air pollution.

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