Schikhatt"Dance as Community Identity in Selected Berber Nations of Morocco"
By Morocco (Carolina Varga Dinicu)
Schikhatt: from Sex Education to Social Recreation
In Classical Arabic, the word sheikha is the feminine of sheikh: a person with knowledge, experience, wisdom. In Maghrebi (Moroccan
Arabic), "sheikha" limits its meaning to specify a woman with carnal knowledge extensive enough to teach others.
Under prevailing interpretations of Islam and Sharia, both the bride and groom, but certainly and especially the bride, are expected to be virgins
before their wedding. In many areas, to avoid any possibility of dishonoring a family via an illegitimate pregnancy, girls are married off even before
Before the marriage ceremony, at which, as custom demands, the young bride is conspicuous by her absence (she is represented by a male
relative), there are many sex - segregated festivities and ceremonies. For at least three days, sometimes a week or more with wealthy city
families, preceding the signing of the marriage contract and ritual carrying of the bride to the house of the groom's family, day - long women's
parties are hosted in the home of the bride's family to display her dowry, clothing and beauty.
She sits motionless on a "throne" set apart, eating nothing all day, leaving only to change her elaborate clothes at least three times a day, while
the massed female relatives loudly discuss her flaws and attributes in front of her. Several times a day, she will be lifted in her chair by two or
three women and carried around the room, to better show off the details of her finery.
Fortunately, the family has hired a sheikha and her all - female group of schikhatt musicians and dancers to liven things up. The sheikha, who
usually knows all the local gossip and, therefore, everything about everybody at the party, begins by singing impromptu raucous verses poking
fun at the foibles and defects of family and guests alike. Between the verses, her troupe vigorously dances the Schikhatt, exaggeratedly moving
hips, stomach and breasts, for this is very definitely an erotic dance and the movements have to be visible in spite of the large, loose kaftans and
d'finas they wear.
The Schikhatt has nothing to do with Raks Sharki, despite the fact both consist mainly of control and articulation of torso muscles - versus limbs,
as in Western dance. Lately, however, due to recent exposure to Lebanese and Egyptian movies and videotapes, Raks Sharki movement is showing
up in the Schikhatts of sophisiticated city - dwellers, in an effort to elevate it, make it more artistic.
Musical accompaniment can be as simple as bendirs, clapping and voices singing the refrain to the sheikha's ribald improvised verses, or with a
guimbry (stringed instrument, held horizontally, plucked and played like a banjo) or kemanjeh (violin, held vertically on the knee and bowed) added.
More skilled Schikhatt dancers play sagat (finger cymbals), but only three - not four: two on the right hand, one on the left; some hold a small
taarija (drum) in one hand, hitting the other hand with it as they dance; some play bendirs while executing the movements.
When she feels the time is proper and her "stage" has been set, the sheikha, herself, dances in front of the bride to be, singing verses about the
pleasures of marital relations that await the bride after the ordeal of the wedding night and the loss of her virginity. With the Schikhatt movements,
she demonstrates how the bride will be expected to move in the marriage bed. (It's interesting to note that, in a culture where a woman's public
role is so circumscribed and her behavior so restricted vis -a- vis men, references to and discussion of matters sexual and physical are so much
more frank, open and specific by women with and among other women and within the circle of the family.)
Both before and moreso after the sheikha's dance for the bride, all the women get up at one time or another to dance with the troupe and each
other, until they are tired and ready to go home for the day. Depending on her finances and personal scruples, the sheikha will either go home or
to the men's party, to entertain them with much bawdier songs and behavior.
It's not socially acceptable for a "good" woman to be a professional Schikhatt dancer, but everyone dances the Schikhatt - at home and at parties.
It's OK for a man to take a Schikhatt dancer as his second, or better yet, third wife, but she is forbidden to perform in public as long as the
marriage lasts. Men do Schikhatt too, but if they are professionals - and there are many - they dress in drag or, at the very least, wear a
woman's kaftan and d'fina, to acknowledge that it's a woman's dance.
Family men come home from work for their main meal at midday, nap, then return to work until evening. The household women's whole morning is
taken in its preparation. Leftovers, bread and cheese suffice for dinner, so after the men go back to work, the afternoon is for a bit of diversion
with one's fellow females. Typical, respectable Moroccan city women have no access to exercise centers, spas, dance classes, movie matinees.
They must make their own amusements at home, within the family enclosure or visiting the other women in their homes. They don't "lunch". What
they do do is dance the Schikhatt with and for each other, making up verses or repeating those they've heard and liked. They egg each other on
and do their own steps and variations solo or duo. They add movements seen on television and at other women's parties. City Schikhatts are far
more "laid back" and varied than the schleuh (village) variety, which tend to be more direct and energetic.
Comments in Conclusion:
There are about two hundred different Berber tribes in Morocco, each with its distinctive dress - especially the women's, language, dance and
social customs. For each and every one of them, dance is an integral and constant affirmation of who and what they are: a form of self and group
expression and pleasure: they dance throughout their entire lives.
Some tribes pray and send blessings by dance; others celebrate plantings, harvests, holidays, seasonal changes and births with dance; so many
meet and court during dance; challenge one another, show off and communicate in dance; several seal marriages with a dance; most city and
many country women get their sex education via dance; most tribes have their macho, warrior dances for the men.
All these dances are assimilated - as versus studied - in the normal course of family and tribal life and not in special schools or courses. It's not for
a theater show or to play a part. It is their pride, a statement of their specific ethnicity: for each village, tribe, age, sex, class has its own special
dance with which it identifies and declares itself.
Footnotes: Over 37 years of frequent in person observation & conversation - and -
1. National Geographic:
- Ref.- household keys: Aug., 1973 - Pp. 222-3
- Blue Men's veils: ibid - Pp. 220, 228; Apr., 1974 - Pp. 552-4 & May, 1958 - Pp. 689 & 691
- Matriarchy: May, 1958 - pg. 689
2. Natural History Magazine, Volume 101 Number 11, November, 1992
"Where All the Women Are Strong" Pp. 54-63
3. "Faces In the Smoke" by Douchan Gersi:
- Why Blue men blue: pg. 69
- Sexual freedom: pg. 76
- Men's veiling: pg. 36
4. Bendir: circular, wooden frame tambour with sheep or goatskin head - two strings along the inside add a vibratory sound
5. Babouches: backless Moroccan slippers
6. Sharia: Islamic law & social codes, drawn from the Koran & Hadith