So, What is a Whirling Dervish, Anyway?

For Immediate Release

July 17, 2000

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. - Dance, music, art and fare the likes of which most of us have never seen - that's the experience of the Near East Family Bazaar, which begins this Sunday, July 23, at 11:00 a.m.

Some of the finest Near and Middle East artists will perform on the beautiful grounds of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. The Bazaar is part of the exhibition Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America, 1870-1930 in the galleries at the Clark this summer. Admission to both the bazaar and the exhibition are free that day.

The performers are impressive. Take, for example, Whirling Dervish Dancer Sayed Reda, a native of Egypt and one of the top Dervish Dancers in the U.S. Inspiring performance notwithstanding, his craft traces its origin to the 13th century Ottoman Empire. The Dervishes, also known as the Mevlevi Order, are Sufis, a spiritual offshoot of Islam. In 1972, Jelaluddin Loras, Sheikh of the Mevlevi Order of America, brought the religion from Turkey to the United States.

Reda is a native of Egypt and a well-established artist in the Middle Eastern Dance community. He is one of the best - and one of the only- Dervish Dancers in the U.S., and today performs regularly in New York's Club Ibis.

Also performing that day are Nagwa Sai'd and her dance troupe, El Raks Sai'd, dancers and drummers who weave intricate carpets of sight and sound. Nagwa has been called "Philadelphia's first lady of Middle Eastern dance." She has performed and taught in the city for more than 23 years and studied in New York with such Middle Eastern luminaries as Yousry Sharif, Agiba and Ibraham Farrar.

El Raks Sai'd, under the artistic direction of Nagwa, has been together for more than 20 years and is known nationally for a variety of Middle Eastern dances: the sassy Cane Dance, the flirty Pot Dance and the sensual Sword Dance. The troupe members accompany their performances with doumbeks, djimbes, reques and zills, the rhythm and percussive instruments of the Middle Eastern culture.

"We have been able to assemble world-class Near and Middle East performers - the very artists who can give our visitors a powerful, 'Orientalism' experience," says Michael Conforti, director of the Clark. "The Near East Family Bazaar is extraordinary entertainment. In concert with the Clark's exhibition, it is a perfect educational introduction to both the art produced in response to Orientalism, and the art borne of the Near East itself."

The musicians performing that day include Lebanese born Maurice Chedid, lead singer and oud player, who performs traditional Arabic songs and original compositions. He is renowned for his lush voice and has been engaged as an artist in Lebanon and throughout the U.S.

Abdulghany El Mahady was born in Egypt and brings the typical Egyptian rhythmical and melodic tradition to his keyboard performances. He is known for composing a mix of traditional and contemporary Middle Eastern sounds.

Egyptian-born Ageba is both a dancer and tabla player. He has been engaged as a dancer by the premier national folkloric companies of Egypt and is considered one of the best tabla - or drum_ players in the U.S.

Amar, a Middle Eastern dance artist, performs regularly to live Arabic orchestras as a featured cabaret soloist for Arabic celebrations, in concerts and nightclubs in New York and New Jersey. She has also been engaged as a guest artist throughout the U.S. and internationally in France and Israel. Amar has received the Magana Baptiste Achievement Award for literary contributions in Middle Eastern Dance and for artistry in Oriental dance.

These and many other fine artists will be performing at the Clark Art Institute's Near East Family Bazaar. For more information or a schedule of events, contact the education department at 413-458-2303, extension 363.

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  The galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free through May.  For more information call 413-458-2303 or visit

Return to the previous page