The Shamadan is a large candelabrum balanced on top of a dancer’s head, in a tradition unique to Egyptian dance. This beautiful dance prop is historically used in the Egyptian wedding procession, or zeffah. The wedding procession traditionally occurs at night, winding its way through the streets of the neighborhood from the home of the bride's parents to her new home at the groom's house. This is the official moving of the bride and is led by a dancer, musicians and singers, followed by the wedding party and their friends and family.
In the years before electricity was used, dancers would balance large, lit-up lanterns- and later specially made candelabrum- on top of their heads, to illuminate the bride and groom’s faces during their first appearance as man and wife.(Image on the right is property of Belly Motions)
Raks Al Shamadan as part of the zeffah procession began in the early 20th century. It is believed that the dancer Zouba El Klobatiyya was the first to dance with a Shamadan and this skill was then passed down to other generations of dancers.
Since the late 1970s, because some wedding parties in Egypt became more urban and modernized, the zeffa moved along with the party into a hotel setting. In a hotel, the zeffa will occur down the central staircase and into the reception room where it will circle the room and deposit the wedding couple at their special flowered thrones at one end of the room. After the zeffa is completed, the dancer will use additional processional music (or some other appropriate music) to get the bride up to dance, then the groom, and then get the couple to dance together. The dancer may then also do a solo candelabra dance which includes floor work. This is a theatrical performance for entertainment, separate from the zeffa procession.
As far as costuming goes, especially if you aren't used to wearing a shamadan, don't select a costume to wear which will allow the inevitable wax drips to show up and potentially ruin it.
Many balady or hagallah dresses made in Egypt are made of netting, which is easy to pick the dried melted wax from. Of course, these are best if you don’t want to stain your costume.
When leading a zeffa, specific choreography is seldom used, however there are steps and postures traditionally seen as a part of the zeffa. As a processional, the zeffa moves and stops and moves again throughout the “journey” to the wedding thrones or bridal table. The dancer leads but is also required to turn back to the bride and groom (who are behind her in the procession) and dance to them while travelling as well.
There are special musical pieces with a specific rhythm that is known colloquially as the zeffa beat. This is the appropriate music to use when leading a zeffa.
Shamadan dancing can also be found in folkloric and theatrical shows, and sometimes even incorporated into a night club belly dance routine. Sagat (zills/finger cymbals) are used during all Shamadan performances.
When dancing at a wedding or on a stage, avoid ceiling air-conditioning vents, as it will blow the hot wax onto you, all over your hair and costume. Be careful of ceiling and doorway clearance, and of course, be very wary of draperies. Also - makes sure to thoroughly check with your venue concerning fire/open flame/insurance laws.
Older versions of Egyptian-made shamadans (even as late as the early 1990's) were fitted on the bottom with a slightly inverted cup, which balanced by sitting on the on the crown of the dancer’s head, a skill which took precision, grace and (usually) years of practice. Today, most modern shamadans are constructed with an attached head band which fits around the dancer’s temples.