What Is a Majence in Belly Dance?
Mejance (or majency, magenci, mergence, meyancé, meganse, meghansee or madsjensi) is a modern word, coined in Egypt, to refer to the opening number in a belly dancer's show.
- The music is often created especially for the dancer to showcase her best moves;
- The defining feature of majency music is that it has a variety of rhythms and styles within it;
- The choreography changes throughout the number, reflecting the changes in the music.
A majenci (yes, another spelling!) is always instrumental, not sung. It typically starts with an overture and a short taqsim, while the dancer is off stage. The idea is to build anticipation. For a big show in Egypt, the overture could 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 a veil), circling the stage with flowing movements, acknowledging the audience.
The video above is in the style of the great dancer Fifi Abdou. It takes confidence to arrive on stage and just walk—most dancers would choose a driving rhythm like malfuf or ayyoub for the opening bars and enter with dramatic, fast or expansive movements to grab the audience's attention.
I've included the next video because the choreography illustrates the classic components of the majency, although I find the dancer's performance a bit low-key for an opening number. Notice the veil, the circular patterns, and the changes in tempo and style.
A defining feature of the magence is that the music changes several times. 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 would be long—anything from ten to thirty minutes—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:
Where Does the Name "Mejance" Come From?
The term "Mégeance" began appearing sometime in the 1990s in Egypt. The concept of a big opening number existed long before that, but it was just called an "opening number"!
I've often wondered what the name "Mejance" meant, so I was interested when Keti Sharif for posting an explanation on Facebook.
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 manège, the first thing I think of is a dancer like Mikhail Baryshnikov hurtling around the stage in a series of leaps.
The word can refer to any step done in a wide circle around the stage, but that 'whirlwind" feeling is a common thread—there will usually be fast turns or leaps involved. So I have trouble working out how manège would ever have been used to describe a belly dancer gliding around the stage. It's even harder to imagine how it could be so mispronounced that it would come out as mejance. After all, it's not a difficult word to say in the first place, in any language.
So, I believe Farida Fahmy's explanation that it came from the French, but I think she got the wrong source word.
One suggestion is that it comes from the French word émergence is, which means "coming out" or "first appearance"—exactly what the mejance is all about. Notably, it's a word that non-French speakers would find difficult to pronounce, with its throaty "r" and its nasalised last syllable. It's easy to see how it would morph into mejance. However, this is just a theory. Some have dismissed it on the grounds that there's no "r" in most spellings of majensi—but in émergence, the "r" is softly rolled at the back of the throat and is easy for a foreigner to miss, so I don't see that as a legitimate objection. The bigger problem is the lack of supporting testimony from anyone in Egypt.
A third theory is that it's from the French mise en scène, (literally, "setting the stage"). There is some evidence for this one because some Egyptian musicians pronounce the term as "mizansé", not mejancy.
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!
© 2020 Marisa Wright