What is a Mejance and Why?

I've often wondered what the name "Mejance" means, so I was interested when Keti Sharif for posting an explanation on Facebook recently.

I had always assumed it must be an Egyptian word, because you'll find it in Egyptian belly dance, but not in Turkish or Lebanese styles.  But apparently it's not.  Mejance is, according to Farida Fahmy, a corruption of the ballet term "manèges".  When I hear the word manèges, the first thing I think of is a dancer like Mikhail Baryshnikov hurtling around the stage in a series of leaps.  However, the term can refer to any step or sequence of steps done in a circle round the stage.   I have trouble working out how manèges managed to morph into mejance, but it often amazes me how foreign words get mangled, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.

On the other hand, I've heard another explanation from Outi of Cairo, who says it's from the French mergence.   In fact I haven't heard of that word in French, but I have heard of émergence, which means "coming out" or "first appearance" - exactly what the mejance is all about.

Whatever its origin, I quite like the name because it makes me think of "majesty", (especially when it's spelt magency, of course), which for me conveys the essence of what it's about.  It's majestic all right - designed to let the dancer make an impact with her entrance at the start of the show.

A majenci (yes, another spelling!) is always instrumental, not sung.  It typically starts with an overture, where the dancer is off stage.  The idea is to build anticipation.   For a big show in Egypt it can be one or two minutes long, especially if it's at a venue where guests need time to find their seats.  Then the dancer makes her grand entrance (usually with veil), to Malfuf rhythm.  This is where the manèges connection comes from, because this section usually travels around the stage with flowing movements, acknowledging the audience.

From that point on, the music will change several times - but how it changes will depend on the dancer.  The original majenci was one piece of music, with some changes of rhythm.  The modern style is to have several clear-cut sections, each showcasing a different style (folkloric, taqsim, drum etc, depending on the dancer's preference).   Professional dancers have a majenci made specially for them, because it's designed to show off the dancer's best points. Kashmir once described it as a "sampler plate" of what the dancer can do.  The ending will usually be a reprise of the opening melody (which is sometimes used to end the whole show, as well). Originally, a majenci could easily be ten minutes long, but even in Egypt nowadays they are more likely to be five to seven minutes.  In the West, few of us have the luxury of staging a long show, so a true Egyptian majenci would eat up too much time.

Here's an example of a Mejance created specially for Aida Bogomolova:


P.S.   I had fun finding all the varied spellings of the word: I've found majency, magenci, mergence, meyancé, meganse, meghansee, madsjensi and mejance so far!


Photo courtesy Ricardo Liberato

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