DC at Night

DC at Night

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Celebrating Muslim Civilization

Nomad Dancers perform an Egyptian dance
For what seems like forever, conflict and violence have been raging in the Middle Eastern Muslim world. Iraq. Iran. Afghanistan. Syria. But a peaceful vibe permeated the National Geographic Museum today, where thousands of DC families of all ethnicities and beliefs gathered to celebrate the enduring legacy of Muslim civilization.

The free family festival was scheduled in conjunction with the National Geographic's latest exhibition 1001 Inventions: Discover the Golden Age of Muslim Civilization, which was named Best Touring Exhibition of the Year at the recent Museums and Heritage Excellence Awards.

While many families checked out the exhibition, others opted to head to a large indoor area featuring special creative activities for youngsters including frankincense burner painting, textile making, Arabic calligraphy, mosaic making, spire constructing competition, perfume making, and henna art. A special Sultan's Tent was set up where members of the DC public library read famous Arabian tales and children's stories. Still other families strolled the grounds, perusing Mideastern crafts for sale or creating impromptu picnics from Mideastern food items purchased at a series of food trucks parked nearby.
Reading in the Sultan's Tent

Building, Arab style

An impromptu family picnic
One of the most packed locations was the auditorium where a program featured alternating performances by the Saltanah Middle Eastern Music group and the Nomad Dancers. Perhaps the most popular of the dances was the Raqs al Assaya, a traditional Egyptian cane dance developed as an imitation of tahtiyb, a male martial arts dance. The Nomad Dancers closed its performance with The Hunt, based on a 14th Century poem and using a song popular today in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. In the Persian court-style dance, a singer proposes visiting places of natural beauty, like gardens, meadows, and mountains, but reminds her friends not to hunt creatures there because each one of them reminds her in some way of her lover.

After a short break, the Nomad Dancers, still in costume, returned to the stage and instructed about 30 youngsters and their parents in the basic hip-gyrating, slowly spinning movements of Mideastern dancing.

Tales, Tips, and Tidbits
Although the Family Fest was a one-day event, the 1001 Inventions exhibition will be on display until Feb. 3. To learn more about the exhibition, click here.

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