Medieval rhythms used in dances in medieval Baghdad: from the oration about medieval Middle Eastern Dances in al-Mas’udi Meadows of Gold.

In a previous post, I discussed the nadim being a precursor of the Almeh. In this post, I will discuss the eight rhythms used in dancing. As I mentioned in the previous post, the oration is the earliest and clearest description of Middle Eastern medieval dance. It was delivered not by a dancer or a choreographer, but by a boon-companion (drinking companion) and singer of the Caliph al-Mu’tamid (d. 279/892) and was reported in the Meadows of Gold of al-Mas’udi (d. 345/956).

The medieval passage is short, extremely rich and quite difficult to comprehend for the modern Arab reader (For the complete passage, follow this link: It requires knowledge of Arabic medieval musicology; of ancient Greek rhythmic theory and aesthetics which influenced Arabic writings immensely; socio-cultural history of the broader Middle East, and that includes knowledge of both Arabic and Persian; and medieval Arabic narratives. In this post I will concentrate on the crucial importance of Arabic medieval music theory as well as the ancient Greek rhythmic theory to decode the rhythms: these include the works of al-Farabi (d. 950), especially his Book for the Basic Comprehension of Rhythms recently discovered in 1951; The postulates of Euclidean geometry; Aristoxenus’ Elementa Rhythmica; Aristotle’s De Anima, Metaphysics, Physics, Posterior Analytics and Rhetoric.

“Asked by the Caliph to describe the dance, the boon-companion / singer said:

‘O Commander of the Faithful, the people of various regions and various countries differ in their dances, such as the people of Khurasan and others. And the rhythmic modes used in dancing are eight: the light, hazaj, ramal, light ramal, second light heavy and second heavy, the first light heavy and the first heavy).’”

Dancers please note that these rhythms were the same as the ones used in singing. This is the same situation today where the masmudi and the saidi for example are used in both singing and dancing!

 (The light and the hazaj are rhythms in 6/8 or 3/4 and have survived to modern times in the rhythms know as Iskandarani (dumm takk takk takk takk takk) and darij (dumm rest takk takk takk rest) or (dumm takk takk dumm takk rest), and even the Western waltz (dumm rest takk rest takk rest); Links:

The light ramal is a rhythm in 3/4 and survives in the opening of the Dakhlet el-Awalem dance (dumm rest dumm rest takk rest), a type of waltz slower than the one above); Links:

The ramal is a rhythm in 3/2 (medium, short, long = dumm + 3 rests, dumm + rest, dumm + 5 rests);

The first light heavy is a rhythm in 4/4 (dumm rest dumm rest dumm +3 rests);

The first heavy is a rhythm in 4/2, it is a slower version of the first light heavy;

The second light heavy is a rhythm in 5/4 (short long long = dumm rest dumm +3 rests dumm +3 rests) and a variation of it in faster tempo (dumm + rest takk + rest + takk) is known today as a’raj turki and used in the last section of the Awalim Dance of Sayyed Mohammad); Links:

The second heavy is a rhythm in 5/2, it is a slower version of the second light heavy).

The Arabic text can be found in al-Mas’udi, Muruj al-Dhahab, ed. C. Pellat, vol. 5, pp. 131-132 (Beirut 1965).

DEAR DANCERS: this is for your information and education, please share it, but do not plagiarize it. Thank you and see you soon in post number three.