Saturday, April 30, 2011


This is Part Four in a series of articles I am writing on identifying the many styles of belly dance. As with the past three pieces, I will offer the disclaimer that in no way is this intended to be a comprehensive view of oriental dance in it's myriad styles...just a thumbnail sketch. It is my intention merely to provide a frame of reference for beginning students, and also a jumping off point for curious dancers of all styles. At the end of this article, I have mentioned many dancers who are specialists ( and/or authorities) in the various styles discussed, so you can do more research on the subject if you choose to.

FUSION: This is a category that is difficult to describe because there are so many variations under the umbrella of belly dance fusion, running the gamut from styles that can readily identified as some form of oriental dance to those that would leave an uninitiated audience scratching their heads and wondering what, exactly, it was that they were seeing.

Even though it’s probably the oldest dance form on earth, belly dance has a very hazy history. The fact that in Arabic, belly dancing is called Raqs Sharki (“Dance Of The East” or “Dance Of The Orient”) points directly to the idea that nobody is exactly sure where it came from. However, it seems that most scholars and dance historians generally agree that the basic movements of oriental dance were spread by nomads (the Roma or “gypsies”) picking up indigenous folkloric dance steps in different countries, adding them to their practice or repertoire and carrying them along from place to place. This would definitely support the argument that the genre of movements we call belly dance today- with or without Western influences- is just one big piece of fusion.

But in modern times, the term Fusion is usually not applied to classic or traditional belly dance from any particular country. Today, Fusion is a category unto itself. A kind of mash-up of one or more dance styles mixed with traditional belly dance, the popularity of Fusion has grown due to the “globalization” of ethnic music- for example: Flamenco-Arabic fusion combines Spanish style dance with oriental dance, and is performed to music that is similarly blended. But fusion can embody mixing Middle Eastern dance elements with just about anything from Ballet to Bollywood, from hip-hop to contemporary jazz technique, or basically, any other type of dance or athletic practice. One of the earliest proponents of Fusion was Dahlia Carella, who created a style she called Dunyavi ( loosely, "world-wide") Gypsy, which combined mixed elements of Arabic, Spanish and Rom styling into a beautiful, passionate pastiche.Today we see Fusion encompassing combining belly dance with gymnastics, contortion, ballroom dance, Poi-spinning, Asian fan dances, and the like. The possibilities are endless…. and the results can range from a stunning and seamless fusion of styles to, for lack of a better description, a total train wreck.

Tribal Fusion has grown as a genre unto itself, with much mixing and melding of the “classic” Tribal styles known as ATS (American Tribal Style) and ITS, or Improvisational Tribal Style dance with other types of dance forms. Those practicing Tribal Fusion can be soloists or perform in a troupe; they can work improvisationally, or be extremely choreographed.

Costuming for Fusion is not by any means set in stone, but usually takes its cues from the types of dances that are being fused together. Under the umbrella of Fusion, costumes can range from those with wild rock and roll and high fashion influences to dress reflecting the ethnicities the Fusion style is co-mingling with. Some forms of Fusion costuming seems to have absolutely nothing to do with belly dancing at all and looks almost generic, such as bell bottom pants and midriff-baring tops that call to mind Seventies style modern or interpretive dance.

Increasingly popular right now are the recent genres of Fusion which feed freely on melding belly dance with retro-style burlesque, using large feather fans, and wearing costumes that look like they’d be more at home in a Victorian bordello than on a stage, and Raqs Gothique, or Gothic belly dance, a style attributed to “The Goth-Mothah” herself, Tempest. Raqs Gothique blends a dark, rock ‘n’roll and Gothic sensibility with either cabaret or tribal style belly dancing…which leads us directly to the next genre…

FANTASY: Often high-concept, fantasy belly dance is similar to Fusion, in that it utilizes the movements of Arabic dance- but that’s where the similarity ends. Fantasy belly dancing is oriental dance that is strongly flavored with something else that comes purely from the artists’ imagination and fantasies. The dancer can perform ANY style of belly dance combined with some element of visually and/or dramatically portrayed fantasy. Again, this type of dancing it doesn’t necessarily have a distinct technique, standard look or readily identifiable costuming, because it is a dance performance that has been dreamed up by the dancer, a performance not based in any sort of specific discipline or ethnic genre. Two “classic” examples of Fantasy pieces would be a dancer performing as a snake writhing out of a basket or a genie popping out of a bottle, but compared to what’s going on today, that seems very old hat!

Some good examples of current Fantasy belly dance include performances incorporating imaginative and previously un-traditional props such as masks, Isis wings, feather boas, and fan veils; Pharoanic-style performances, as the movements were never actually documented except in two dimensions on the walls of tombs; Pirate Belly Dance (oh, that there ever was such a thing!) Zombie Belly Dance, Fetish Belly dance, even Cowgirl Belly Dance. The wildly popular Steam Punk Belly dancing is practically a genre unto itself and would require an awful lot of explaining to a non-belly dancer, not the least of which could be what do wearing goggles and jewelry made of broken watches have to do with oriental dance? Pure fantasy, that's what! Many fantasy dancers portray ancient myths or legends, tying them in with belly dancing. More fantasy dances have featured belly dancers performing as a troupe of dolls, as Mata Hari, as silent movie stars or as mermaids; a dancer singing Opera while belly dancing, and belly dancers wearing gas masks, Darth Vader outfits or impersonating Michael Jackson! A few years ago, at Tribal Fest, Sashi of Ascend Tribal caused jaws to drop and tongues to wag with her fairy wing piece, by employing aluminum "wings" which were literally pierced into the flesh of her back!

In 2010 at Gothla UK, I saw a Victorian-flavored belly dance piece called “Tea Time At The Asylum which featured sexy, corseted nurses, at another UK show I saw dancer Akasha (Heike Humphreys) perform with gigantic bat-wings to a Marilyn Manson song. In 2010, MECDA’s Cairo Caravan featured an entire stage devoted to belly dance “Sideshow Wonders”, such as Steven Eggars as the “Half Man, Half Woman”, among many other oddities. Also in 2010, at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, I performed a Fantasy piece (and lived out a childhood fantasy of my own!) by getting sawed in half retro-magic style during the middle of my set with the help of Tanya Popvich and Sascha Biondi. Luckily, I was “fused” back together!

More fantasy specialists are dancer Jindra Payne, a bona fide ballerina, who was the first oriental dancer to perform on toe-shoes (this has now been taken up by Sabah, and both performers were trained by Halla Moustapha) and what may be one of the most quintessentially “out there” fantasy dances of all time: Dondi’s comedic parody act where she performed as a raks sharqi- dancing Marilyn Monroe.

Just some of dancers (all extremely different from each other) who excel in the blended realms of Tribal Fusion, Fusion and Fantasy: Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes, Heather Stants, Ariellah, Blanca, Neon, Unmata, Suhaila Salimpour, Zahra Zuhair, Mesmera, Samantha Riggs, Sherri Wheatley, Kristina Nekyia, Michelle Manx, and of course the people mentioned previously in this article.

Top picture: Tempest, Gothic Belly dancer
Second picture: Samantha Riggs , Pirate Belly dancer
Third Picture: Belly Dance Fantasy

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Here's Part Seven in my series "Fun With Keywords". Keywords are the phrases or words people type in to internet search engines when they are looking for information. When I look at my blog stats, I am constantly amazed and amused by the keywords that direct people to my blog- and I've copied them down here exactly as they were typed-it's always good for a giggle!

If you are looking for a more serious dance article, please access my archives or check back in a few days. In the meantime, I certainly hope that the person from Italy searching for an "Episode Vegetable Costume" found their answer somewhere!












Sunday, April 24, 2011


This is Part 3 in a series of articles I am writing on identifying the many styles of belly dance. As with the past two pieces, I will offer the disclaimer that in no way is this intended to be a comprehensive view of oriental dance in it's myriad styles...just a thumbnail sketch. It is my intention merely to provide a frame of reference for beginning students, and also a jumping off point for curious dancers of all styles. At the end of this article, I have mentioned many dancers who are specialists ( and/or authorities) in the various styles discussed, so you can do more research on the subject if you choose to. Please note that in this article (as with previous articles) many of the performers names, as well of the names of the dances themselves can be spelled with many variations, due to phonetic pronunciation and varied translations.

FOLKLORIC DANCE: To put it plainly, folkloric style dancing generally refers to simple and traditional folk dancing performed by and for the people, in their country of origin. A folkloric dance usually stems from a tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation, as opposed to a dance that has been than created artistically by a choreographer or professional performer.

The steps of folkloric dancing are usually pretty basic and repetitious, and done in a straightforward manner, thereby making them easy to perform for people of all ages and skill-levels. Folkloric dances are usually- but not always- done in groups; they are also sometimes performed in pairs or by an individual. Folkloric dance is the type of dance you would see at family functions or social occasions, done for fun by people with little or no formal dance training… but it can also be seen at theaters, pageants and festivals, presented by professional or semi-professional troupes and solo artists.

As for folkloric dances performed alongside belly dance, or done by belly dancers in the context of an oriental dance show, there are so many traditional dances from all the countries of origin, it would be a huge task to list- not to mention describe-them all!

In the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, men and women do many folkloric dances together, like the Turkish Kasic Oyunu (wooden spoon dance), the lively Egyptian Hagallah, or some styles of Levantine Dabke, while others dances are segregated by sex, like Raks Khaligi, the women’s social dance of the Arabian Gulf, or the Gawazee-style dances of Egypt. Occasionally, it is traditional- and socially accepted- for male dancers to dress up and perform as women, like India’s celebrated Goti Pua dancers.

Many traditional folkloric dances are done in lines, like the Greek Kalamatiano, or the fiery Dabke, which loosely means “stomping the feet”. Dabke is a dance with many variations from The Levant- Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Syria. Other types of folk dances are done in circles or semi circles, like the Hora, (the actual word means “circle”) a traditional Romanian dance that is the National Dance of Israel, and is almost always enthusiastically performed by crowds at Jewish weddings the world over.

Some folk dances portray a story relevant to the culture of its country of origin; others act out a display of strength and prowess or even a mock battle, such as the Egyptian Saidi dance Tahtib, where men skillfully manipulate large sticks or canes; the Turkish Kilic Kalkan, which is an Ottoman Empire- era sword and shield dance, and the Saudi Arabian Ardha, where lines of men face each other wielding swords and twirling rifles.

Other dances may depict an every day activity, like harvesting crops; or fetching water from a well, such as the Egyptian fellaheen (country people) jug dance Raks Al Balass, which is typically performed by groups of women. Another water jug dance is the Tunisian Raks Al Jazur. In this dance, men and/or women balance a water jug on top of the head, while dancing quickly with Tunisian-style hip-twists. The Moroccan Raks Al Saniyya is also balancing dance done by men or women, wherein the dancer performs while balancing items-sometimes an entire tea set complete with glasses and a tea pot- on top of tray, which is perched on the head of the dancer, while floor work and other feats of acrobatic skill are executed.

Celebrating an individual’s masculinity or feminine allure is also a popular theme in many folkloric dances, such as the Persian Raks Al Bezak, which features female dancers miming the act of a woman putting on make-up. A traditional Turkish Roman (Romany or “gypsy” style) dance is performed by a single male, who primps and preens and concludes the piece by actually putting his shoe in his belt-line and doing a series of pelvic shimmies, accentuating his macho attitude…among other things! The Persian dance Baba Karam is also a playful display of masculinity. In the West, women in male drag often perform this cheeky character dance. A co-ed flirtatious dance is the Egyptian/Libyan Hagallah, where a young woman dances while a line of kneeling or standing men clap and sing, celebrating the coming of age.

After all this posturing and flirtation takes place, you can bet there’ll be a wedding in the near future, and of course it goes without saying that many folkloric dances are traditionally done at weddings. There are quite a few North African folk dances celebrating nuptials. Raks Al Shamadan, a traditional Egyptian dance where the shamadan (a large candelabra balanced on the head) crowns the heads of dancers illuminating the happy couple during the zeffah ( bridal procession) for their first appearance as husband and wife. The Moroccan Schikhatt is done by women-usually hired performers- at weddings. Lead by a Sheikha, the Schikhatt dancers sing and dance, artfully re-creating the sort of movements the bride will expected to perform in her matrimonial bed later in the evening. Even today, many Arabic weddings the world feature a belly dancer. There are many beliefs surrounding this custom: that it’s good luck, that it functions as a fertility ritual, or just the mere fact that it’s an entertainment tradition that nobody really thinks twice about. In the Middle East, well-off families often hire the most famous belly dancer they can afford to perform at weddings, as a type of status symbol. Household names like Dina, Nawa Fouad, Lucy, and Fifi Abdou ( among many others) have all performed at many private weddings.

Folkloric costuming for dancing is as varied as the countries it comes from. Obviously, people doing a celebratory folk dance at a party would not be wearing a costume, per se, though if you happened to drop in on a house party in an Upper Egyptian village, and the revelers were dressed in their every day gallibiyyas, it might seem as though they were costumed.

In general, folkloric costuming is usually traditional dress, from the dance’s country of origin. For one example, female Tunisian folkloric dancers wear a draped, toga-like garment called a malia, which is fastened with embellished silver pins called fibulas, and tied at the hips by a rope or woven belt, decorated with mozuna discs, which look like big metal sequins. For another example, Egypt’s Melaya Leff, dance depicts a modern day coquette from the Mediterranean port of Alexandria, looking for a husband among the sailors and fishermen. As the dance progresses, the dancer lets her melaya (wrap) artfully slip on and off, revealing herself to the men, “by accident” because although she wants to flirt, she wants to be seen as a good girl and wife material. Under her melaya, the dancer wears a short, colorful, ruffled, nearly Western style dress and slip-on heeled shoes colloquially called “ship-ship”. Compared to this tarty get-up, Saudi Arabian folkloric costumes are preternaturally elegant: traditional thobes are diaphanous, heavily embellished, usually made of silk or feather-light chiffon, and so long that they actually drag on the floor. Meanwhile, an Uzbek dancer in the Ferghana style wears a costume composed of an A-line calf-length tunic worn over a simple long dress, pantaloons, a small embroidered cap with an attached flowing veil or scarf sitting pertly on top of her long, braided hair, and a very heavy necklace, almost like a breast-plate. Comparing any of these historic costumes to each other is impossible because they are all so different. The only similarity is that they have is that they are all considered to be folkloric dress!

Folkloric dance for the stage is usually replicated as faithfully and authentically as possible, but sometimes, when performed inaccurately, or when elements of pure fantasy are thrown in, I have heard people refer to it as “fake-lore”! When folkloric dancing is reproduced but altered for modern stage presentation, whether by adding a set choreography and interesting staging, or by using modernized or flashy costumes, it becomes known as “theatrical” folk dance.

A terrific example of theatrical folkloric dance is The Reda Troupe. In 1959, the legendary Mahmoud Reda debuted his troupe. He had combed his native Egypt, looking for folk dances to preserve and replicate for the stage. In order to make the simple dances hold the attention of audiences, he added in many elements of Western style dance and, especially noticeable in the carriage of the dancers, in the performer’s arm work (much more stylized than the original folk versions) including an elevated as opposed to flat-footed stance, and by using arabesques. Some of the Reda Troupe dances were traditional, but others, like the Malaya Leff, were dances Reda choreographed himself, to represent the flavor of a certain region of Egypt, in this case, Alexandria. Though now considered by many to be traditional, the Malaya Leff was originally choreographed by Mahmoud Reda for the Reda troupe’s star dancer, Farida Fahmy, who was also his sister-in-law.

The Reda Troupe was endorsed by the Egyptian Ministry Of Culture in 1961, and for years traveled the globe extensively. With his innovative, groundbreaking choreographic work and direction, Mahmoud Reda influenced not just folkloric styles, but also oriental dance in general. As of this writing, he is still actively teaching all over the world.

Folkloric dance is also often incorporated into cabaret-type belly dance show, in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in Western countries. Because of the nature of nightclub shows, many troupes use modernized, abbreviated or sparkly versions of the original costumes. An oriental soloist may also perform a traditional dance such as Raks Assaya or Raks Shamadan, but due to logistical reasons (such as limited time for costume changes) might perform the dance to the traditional music but wearing a two-piece cabaret-style costume, as opposed to folkloric dress.

Many amazing artists working today specialize in folk dances of the orient. For Egyptian folkloric dancing, you cannot go wrong with watching vintage clips of The Reda Troupe; they set the standard for everyone who has followed in their pioneering footsteps.

American Egyptian-American performer Karim Nagy, in addition to being an unparalled drummer, also performs many types of Egyptian folk dances. Egyptian dancer Mohamed Shahin is terrific, proficient in many of the folk dances of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and Tito of Egypt is also incredible- especially in his lively Saidi Raks Assaya and Tahtib styling. More noted Egyptian folkloric stylists include Dr. Mo Gedawwy, Atef Farag and Magda Ibrahim; Hassan Khalil, Nabil Mabrouk, Medhat Fahmy, Ibrahim El Suesy, Ahmad Shalaby, and Hoda Ibrahim…to name just a few!

Some American authorities on North African folkloric dances are Morocco, Aisha Ali and Sahra Saeeda- all of whom have done extensive fieldwork and made visual and/or acoustic recordings of indigenous dances.

Meera and the identical twin sisters Veena and Neena Bidasha are well-known Indian- American dancers who specialize in performing many types of Indian folk and classical dances, in addition to belly dancing. For a real treat, check out Queen Harish, “The Whirling Desert Drag Queen”. Born in Rajasthan, he starred in the award-winning film ”Gypsy Caravan” and performs all over the world.

Tayyar Akdeniz is a much-respected Turkish folk dancer and instructor, and Artemis Mourat is an American dancer incredibly well versed in Turkish Romany style.

Laurel Victoria Gray and Caroline Krueger are both American authorities on Silk Road (Uzbek, Tajik, Persian, etc.) dances and widely respected. Iranian- born Mohammed Khordadian worked extensively in the USA performing and teaching Persian folk dancing and Dr. Robyn Friend is also an authority on the genre.

Top: Sahra Saeeda and male dancers posed for Hagallah from Mersa Matruh, Egypt
Bottom: The legendary Mahmoud Reda

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


This is the second article in my series on identifying the many styles of oriental dance.

Once again, let me state that in no way do I consider any of these descriptions to be a “definitive view” of belly dance in it’s myriad forms…but I do hope this series of articles can provide a thumbnail-sketch frame of reference for belly dance fans, students, and also function as a jumping off point for dance fans and curious dancers of all styles.

Under the headings of each belly dance genre, I have described the movements, attitudes and costuming connected to these style, and also listed the names of well-known dancers (and in many cases, legends) so that you, dear reader, can do more research yourself, or just spend a few hours getting lost on Youtube, seeing these amazing performers who practice all aspects of belly dance, in action.

LEBANESE: Lebanese oriental dance is a unique and stunning style. Lebanese dancing incorporates many types of technique: subtle and internal, and quick layered shimmies, but also utilizes movements that are more splashy and athletic. Technique such as kicks, deep back-bends, splits and even Turkish Drops are frequently used. Because of the range of movements, to the untrained eye, Lebanese dancing might almost appear as though it was a love-child of Egyptian and Turkish Oryantal- but it’s very much it’s own breed.

Much of the music often used is upbeat and quick-paced, even the typically slower portions such as taxims and chiftetellis are played a bit more up-tempo, and the dancers actions reflects this. Lebanese belly dancers tend to use a lot of floor space in their performances, and many shows-even those performed in a large theater or outdoor arena- include a section where the performer prances through the audience, selecting people to get up and dance with her. Sometimes when the dancer is encouraging audience participation, she will encourage audience members to form a dabke line, other times, she dances with a cane.

Dancers using canes in a show routines don’t necessarily use folkloric music or costumes while doing so; and I have also seen a number of dancers include a khaligi segment in their shows –either entering in a traditional Saudi thobe after a costume change or simply throwing on a thobe over a cabaret costume and dancing Gulf-style for just one song. I have also seen Lebanese dancers perform sword pieces with floor work.

Finger cymbals are used at the discretion of the dancer, and taxims are livelier and less introspective than Egyptian style, frequently performed with a veil, and often with extended segments of floor work. Drum solos often include the spine-snapping torso locks popularized by Lebanese superstars Samara and Amani. Both of these women also are well known for making their shows into theatrical spectacles, using many back-up dancers, frequently changing costumes, and exploring fusing belly dancing with other dance forms. Amani has done everything from a 1940’s/ Egyptian Golden Age vintage tribute to an Andalusian piece, while Samara once did Tahitian tableaux, which included a set with flaming torches and men in sarongs bearing gigantic spears, staging a mock battle!

Interestingly enough, in my opinion, it seems as though Lebanese dancers use a wider range of music than their Egyptian or Turkish counterparts, incorporating classical or popular music from Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, France, and many other countries as well as from their own.

Typically, older Lebanese costuming was dripping with fringe, making it appear extremely thick and lush, and often using huge, chunky beads as opposed to smaller glass seed beads and bugle beads. Skirts were both straight and/or slitted, or circle-skirts made of voluminous sheer chiffon…and most of the time, Lebanese dancers are never without their high-heels.

Current trends in Lebanese costuming run the gamut from heavily fringe-laden to very sleek, but can also veer off into downright crazy, verging on glamorized versions of ultra-skimpy club wear. These more risqué costumes are obviously inspired by popular rock and hip-hop videos and high fashion. In my opinion, another reason the envelope gets pushed so often in Lebanese costuming is because Lebanon is a very European-influenced country, and also predominantly Christian-as opposed to Muslim- and therefore more liberal and less conservative. Some examples of outré modern Lebanese belly dance costuming that I’ve seen include a one-shouldered, shredded leopard-print cave-girl look complete with furry leggings, micro- mini-skirts worn with a regular bedlah, one-legged jumpsuits with huge cut-outs, and even hot pants and stiletto-heeled platform boots!

Like their Egyptian counterparts (and quite unlike most Western dancers) many well-known Lebanese dancers have been known to grab a microphone in the course of a show and say a few words to the audience, thanking everyone for coming, pointing out VIPs in the crowd, joking around, and introducing their orchestra or a guest singer.

Lebanon has contributed many world-class artists to the world of Oriental dance. Some who are no longer with us are the iconic star of stage and screen Nadia Gamal and Lebanese-American choreographer Ibrahim “Bobby” Farrah. Badia Masabni, known as an early innovator of Oriental dance, was a Lebanese dancer (some sources say Syrian) who relocated from Beirut to Cairo in the early part of the last century (1920’s) and opened The Casino Opera, a prestigious nightclub where celebrated Egyptian Golden Age dancers like and Samia Gamal and Tahiyya Carioca got their start. Some of the Lebanese superstars of the nineties include Samara, the late Danni Boustros, Amani, Narriman Aboud, and Hawayda Hashem; and more recently, Dina Jamal. Many Western dancers specialize in Lebanese belly dance, including Switzerland’s Meissoun, and from the USA, Mark Balahadia and Lotus Niraja.

EGYPTIAN GOLDEN AGE: (Also referred to as “Egyptian Golden Era”, “Golden Age Of Egyptian Cinema”).
The Golden Age style of Egyptian oriental dance was popularized in movies made in Cairo, which was the Hollywood of the Middle East, spanning roughly from the late 1930’s through the early 1960’s. It was during the Golden Age that Egyptian dance began transitioning from its traditional balady style to the form of raqs sharqi we know today.

During this time, Cairo was rife with talent and home to scores of dancers, actors, musicians and singers. Many became internationally known, and their influence is felt to this day, including the work of these composer/singer/actors Farid El Atrache, Abdel Halim Hafez, and Mohammad Abdel Wahab; legendary vocalists Om Kalthoum and Asmahan, who also happened to be Farid Al Atrache’s sister! In that period, Cairo was a city full of intellectuals and ex-patriots, with a considerable Western population. The films being produced during The Golden Age reflected popular American musical cinema, with a decidedly oriental twist. The plots of these movies were usually some sort of spin on “boy meets girl”, almost always had a happy ending, and were filled with lavishly produced singing and dancing numbers that rivaled Busby Berkeley’s cinematic work.

Two of the top stars of these films, Tahiyya Karioca and Samia Gamal- and the entire style of dancing that exemplified The Golden Age-actually all had their roots in Cairo’s famous nightclub, The Casino Opera. Opened in 1926 by Lebanese-born dancer and impresario Badia Masabni, the Casino Opera was an oriental re-interpretation of upscale European cabarets. The Casino Opera catered to Cairo’s international “glitterati”- the afore-mentioned ex-patriots and intellectuals, and also visiting royalty, diplomats, military officers, and well-heeled tourists. With a show tailored for their global clientele, the club featured large orchestras, famous singers and comics, and also a spectacular floorshow with a chorus of dancing girls lead by Badia Masabni herself.

Many credit Masabni with re-imagining oriental dance, taking it out of its original form - earthy, folksy balady- and adding in Western elements to make her sophisticated audience happy. Some of her innovations include the use of veils, the formation of a dance chorus (as opposed to a single soloist), and changing traditional arm positions from simple and folkloric to elegant and ballet-like and/or very serpentine and stylized. She also changed the dancer’s center of balance, and made it higher by including movements of the upper torso. Because of the large performance area in the club, Masabni’s solo or duet dancers tended to cover a lot more space than their straight balady predecessors, who usually stood pretty much rooted to the spot, not traveling much.

Masabni not only choreographed the dancers in her club, but she also hired others to choreograph her shows, like Isaac Dickson, whose Western stylizations had a lasting impact on the entire evolution of dance itself. She also worked a lot with master Egyptian choreographer Ibrahim Akef, whose oeuvre was definitely oriental, but flavored with a contemporary essence at times. Akef routinely made dances for the films of his famous cousin, Naima Akef, who was a huge celebrity during The Golden Age, and the star of “Tamra Henna”, one of the best-known films of that time period. Ibrahim Akef lived such a long and productive life that he worked with many of Egypt’s contemporary stars, as well. As a side note, I took a series of classes and privates with him in 1999, when he was, I think, 98 or 99 years old and he out-danced me easily!

The Golden Age style of dancing, sometimes called raqs al hawanim (“dance of the ladies”) by Egyptians, can be identified by it’s sensuous and almost heavy balady-type movements- think big, luxuriant hip circles- and a languid sort of dancing that the performer relaxed into, almost behind the beat. The posture of these dancers was less erect than their contemporary sisters, with many of the movements performed leaning back considerably more than dancers do today. Presentation was deliberately flirtatious and seductive, with coquettish gestures, such as a dancer caressing herself subtly or playing with her hair. The movements of balady were refined and elaborated on, and performed on he balls of the foot as opposed to on flat feet.

Naima Akef, Samia Gamal and Tahiyya Carioka all had distinct styles: Akef’s was precision perfect with crispy hips, and a pert, sassy stage presence and crackerjack use of finger cymbals; Gamal was like an Arabic Ann Miller, with a winning smile, ballet-like carriage, sharp turns and large, sweeping movements including strong arabesques; Carioka was subtle, simmering and laid back, with an almost bashful presence that belied her sensual, superlative fluidity. In spite of the differences in these three dancers individual approaches, the feel of the movements the three share in undeniably connected.

Another of Masabni’s modernizations was costuming her dancers in two-piece outfits in order to appeal to her European audience, as opposed to the simple, traditional floor-length dresses and hip sashes that had previously been conventional for Egyptian dance. Of course, this innovation translated fantastically onto the silver screen.

Typical Golden Age costuming is spectacular and feminine, with flowing, frothy, multi-layered chiffon skirts, two-piece bedlah with draped (as opposed to hanging) fringe, and a decorated connector-piece running horizontally between the bra and the belt, designed to hide the navel. Many of the costumes had long sequined gauntlets worn on the forearms; some were festooned with hanging fringe. In the fashion of the day, the costumes had brassieres with pointed “torpedo” cups, and many of the tops featured shoulder epaulettes or small cap sleeves. Samia Gamal, taking cues from Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, even wore strapless tops.

Modern takes on balady dresses and pantaloons were also popular but made film-worthy and glamorous by being constructed of shiny, sheer fabric embellished with paillette sequins. Many dancers wore high heels, and it’s said that Samia Gamal was the one who began this trend- she apparently appeared wearing them onstage in live shows as a status symbol, to prove she could afford them!

The hairstyles of the dancers in the Golden Age films run the gamut from traditional (braids, or hair covered with a scarf or long sheer veil) to Naima Akef’s cute poodle-cut, Samia Gamal’s 1940’s-style waved pageboy bob, and a young Nagwa Fouad’s teased and sprayed Jackie Kennedy-style helmet ‘do.

Aside from “The Big Three” (Gamal, Karioca, Akef) there were many other popular dancers featured in Golden Age films, such as Nabaweya Moustapha, Katy, Hoda Shemsaddin, Na’Amat Mohktar, Nagwa Fouad, Camellia, Zainab Alouwi and Nelly Masloum. Please note that most of the spelling of these names may very wildly due to phonetic translations.

Stay tuned for Part 3!

Top: Naima Akef
Bottom: Badia Masabni

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


PART 1: American Cabaret, Egyptian, and Turkish Style

If there’s one thing that all belly dancers have in common, it’s that we are an international collective of intelligent and adventurous women. Whether it’s a student just taking classes for fun, or a serious professional, belly dancers are uniformly curious about all aspects of the beautiful art form we practice. Though there are many theories on the subject of exactly where Oriental Dance came from, its origins remain very unclear, and though many have researched this subject intensely much belly dance history is subject not only to speculation, but to assumption, and can lead to hours of heated discussions.

To many a casual observer, the unique movements of each indigenous type of belly dance seem very similar; however, the differentiation in styles of belly dance is a little less esoteric. I’ve frequently been asked to explain the differences and/or similarities in the many styles of movement (not to mention costuming and props) that fall under the Big Belly Dance Umbrella. To an audience member, or to a student just entering the belly dance world, seeing and actually understanding the hallmarks of what makes a style “Lebanese” or “Tribal” might be difficult at first…and that’s BEFORE explaining how certain things we belly dancers take for granted -like Isis Wings, fan veils and darling microscopic top hats- all fit into the picture!

In no way do I consider the following to be a “definitive view” of belly dance in it’s myriad forms…but I do hope this series of articles can provide a thumbnail-sketch frame of reference for belly dance fans, students, and also function as a jumping off point for dance fans and curious dancers of all styles.

Under the descriptions of each genre, I have also listed the names of well-known dancers (and in many cases, legends) so that you, dear reader, can do more research yourself, or just spend a few hours getting lost on Youtube, seeing these amazing performers who practice all aspects of belly dance, in action.

AMERICAN CABARET: Until the late Eighties and Early Nineties, American Cabaret was probably the most common style of belly dancing in the USA- hence the name. Typically seen in restaurants, nightclubs and at parties, American Cabaret is basically a pastiche of movements from various North African and Middle Eastern nations like Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria ( to name a few) as well technique and/ or gestures appropriated from Indian Armenian, Eastern European and Balkan folk dances, all incorporated into a style made palatable to the Western “idea” of belly dancing.

Ethnic clubs proliferated on New York’s Eighth Avenue in the Fifties and early Sixties and dancers working there or in other ethnically populated areas learned from immigrants, but there was also a good degree of supposition, fantasy and creative artistic license involved. Many of our pioneering Western dance sisters didn’t have access to study the authentic or indigenous dance forms, and therefore occasionally invented the dance as they went along, taking cues from everything from Ruth St. Denis to Hollywood’s early motion pictures to Orientalist paintings.

Due to these influences, a good dash of showmanship, and the required long sets performed by night club dancers “back in the day”, who were usually accompanied by a multi-ethnic live band and singers, the eclectic mix ‘n’ match aspect was then honed into a professional five-part routine. The basic premise for the standard routine was becoming “the industry standard” and usually went something like this: a dynamic entrance song with finger cymbals, a slow taqsim, (often incorporating veil work and floor work) another upbeat or folkloric- type song, a beledy progression, drum solo and exit. Sometimes there was also audience participation or a specialty act ( debke, raks assaya, khaleegi, a scimitar dance, etc.) thrown into the mix as well.

American Cabaret is the type of belly dancing you might see in a nightclub scene in sixties or seventies movie, or portrayed in a James Bond flick. Belly dancing was hugely popular during the late sixties and early seventies, and filmmakers directing movies and television show picked up on the nation-wide trend, which was also popularized as a commercial fad. There were many instructional books and records on belly dancing made during this time, including the LPs “How To Belly Dance For Your Husband” and “Turn Your Husband Into A Sultan”. There were also many records produced featuring Middle Eastern music, such as those by Mohammad Bakkar, The Sultans, and Eddie “The Sheik” Kochack.

Additionally, many earlier American Cabaret dancers used to hand sew their own coined costumes and chiffon veils; and often wore harem pants, Turkish vests, gauntlets on their arms and sometimes tiny Turkish-style pill-box hats decorated with beads. Again, the hand-crafted costumes came about because decades ago, there was there was no access to the genuine article.

This style of performance never really disappeared, though it began waning in popularity with the rise of Egyptian style belly dance in the late eighties and early nineties. Still, many performers adhered to the five-part routine and audiences gobbled up shows featuring extensive veil work and use of finger cymbals. When Egyptian style became popular, the art of floor work was almost lost, as it’s absent in most forms of Egyptian dance.

Today, American Cabaret style is once again experiencing a huge resurgence in popularity. Dancers still wear coined or beaded costumes, ( and often search out vintage “fringe monster” costumes as well!) and use veils or even double veils, finger cymbals, and/or other props in their routines, as well as incorporating floor work, and working withmany rhythms, including 4/4, 9/8, and 6/8. Just a few famous American Cabaret performers include Helena Vlahos, Suhaila Salimpour, Aziza, Fahtiem, Delilah, Sadie, and Dahlena.

: Within Egyptian-style raks sharqi (in Arabic: “dance of the east” or “Dance of the Orient”- hence the English term “Oriental Dance”) there are many sub-genres. Whether raqs sharqi is performed to classic orchestrated music, or more modern Egyptian pop, this style has many distinct hallmarks, including stepping on the downbeat, and the fact that the dancer is almost always elevated onto the balls of her feet, with the weight slightly forward and the knees soft and never locked. Some other trademarks of the Egyptian style: intricate hip articulations, both traveling and stationary shimmies, intricate abdominal work, and full-body poses. Internal as well as external muscle movements are incorporated, and some of the resulting technique is so subtle that the casual observer or layperson may not even realize it is going on. Technique also includes isolations, distinct hand gestures and surprising speed changes.

A dance performed to classical Egyptian music, like an Om Kalthoum or Mohammed Abdel Wahab song may seem to be a bit more emotive or visually “demure” than Modern Cairo style, which has become extremely athletic in recent times, due to innovations from newer performers like Dina and Randa Kamel. Still, most performances include a flirtatious, ultra-feminine attitude.

A “Modern Cairo” style dancer performing to Egyptian music might incorporate bits and pieces of ballet, jazz and even hip-hop, while still maintaining the dance’s Oriental style.

Egyptian folk dance is another sub-genre, with too many variations to even mention here. Though much Egyptian folkloric styles were traditionally performed flat-footed, brilliant, legendary choreographer Mahmoud Reda changed that by incorporating ballet when he adapted regional folkloric styles for The Reda Troupe’s staged performances.

The Egyptian-style Oriental dancer used to wear lavishly beaded couture costumes- and for years, in Egypt it was mandated that the midriff be covered, usually with a net body suit. The trend today in Egyptian costuming is more towards minimalism and clingy Lycra.

Egyptian style dancers rarely play finger cymbals, though this is usually because in Egypt, the dancer performs with a band or large orchestra, and it is not necessary…it does NOT mean that the performer doesn’t know how to play them OR that playing them is incorrect!

Egyptian style Oriental dancers do not perform floor work (it is actually against the law in Egypt) and typically the dancer only uses a veil only during her entrance, or “magency” (spelled phonetically in various ways). Some legendary Egyptian dancers: Samia Gamal, Tahiyya Carioca and Naima Akef, all from the 1930’s-1950’s; Nagwa Foud, Soheir Zaki, Fifi Abdou, (1960’s-1980’s) Mona El Said, Aida Nour, Lucy, Dina, Randa Kamel. Internationally acclaimed Egyptian oriental choreographer Raqia Hassan was Reda-trained, and though she never performed raqs sharqi herself, is known for coaching the greats both in Egypt and around the world in that style. Some American performers known for Egyptian Style are Sahra Saeeda, Ranya Renee, Cassandra Shore and Roxxanne Shelaby. Many cite Jillina as an Egyptian performer, while others argue that her style is too jazz and ballet-influenced.

TURKISH: More lively and athletic than Egyptian style, much of Turkish “Oryantal” dance is based upon Rom or Romany (colloquially and incorrectly called Gypsy) dancing, still practiced in the Sulukele Quarter of Istanbul.

Turkish cabaret-style dancers usually wear costumes that sit higher on the hip than Egyptian costumes, with full chiffon skirts that show a lot of leg and fly during the quick turns, whirls, spins and hops that are the hallmarks of this style, as are deep backbends and floor work. Turkish costumes have remained exquisitely embellished with fringe and stones even today, whereas their Egyptian-made counterparts have been more sleek and minimalist. With the rise of the Internet and global awareness, many dancers prefer the intricately made Turkish costumes, such as those made by the ateliers of Bella and Legend.

Some of the Turkish-style gestures may seem almost aggressive, such as fists pounding onto the dancer’s hips, or the straighter, almost sharp arm positions used. Larger full-body moves are also showcased: earthy, pelvic-drop shimmies; quick torso-snaps and isolations, and spirited hair tossing. Floor work is also performed, and quite athletically. Finger cymbals are usually played in quick 3/4 or 9/8 time signature, veils are used extensively, and the dancer may or may not wear heels in performance. This style of dancing really influenced American Cabaret in the Sixties and Seventies.

And after a heavy swing in the USA towards Egyptian style dancing, Turkish belly dance is now experiencing a resurgence of interest and practice among a younger generation of dancers, such as Portland, Oregon’s Ruby Beh. Some famous Turkish dancers: Tulay Karaca, Ozel Turkbas, Nesrin Topkapi, Princess Benu, Bergul Berai… and Didem Kenali is currently very well-known for her performances on Turkish television. Dilek, a beautiful dancer with many awards to her name, is Turkish but currently lives in California. Male dancer and choreographer Ozgen (formerly of Istanbul, now of UK) performs globally, both in the Oryantal and Rom styles. Venerated American dancers who specialize in Turkish style are Eva Cernik and Artemis Mourat; and there are many other American dancers who perform either straight Turkish or Turkish-influenced dancing such as Michelle Joyce, Sarah Skinner and Sandra.

Stay tuned to this site for Part Two!

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Did you ever notice how, after Starbucks became a hugely popular worldwide corporation, other businesses selling coffee began using the same font on their signage?
It was almost as though that particular font was synonymous with a strong cup of freshly brewed coffee. This is an example of branding.

As dancers, our promotional photos are usually what gets us hired, or at least considered for an audition. Our bodies and our personas are our “brand”. Your promotional photo needs to be stunning, and it also must tell your story completely, in a non-verbal way. A strong image is a fantastic advertising tool, and your publicity shots can be used on any sort of promotional material, such as websites, business cards, print ads, postcards, dance class flyers, posters, even t-shirts.

When you are in the process of selecting your promo shots, keep in mind what exactly you want to portray about yourself. Your photo should not only be eye-catching and memorable, but easily identifiable. Publicity firms and advertising agencies call this branding, and in effect, by marketing yourself as a belly dancer, or a burlesque artist, acrobat or clogger, your brand needs immediate public recognition.

Many dancers use a close-up head shot for their business cards or websites. While this isn’t a mistake, it doesn’t really “say” much about the dancer to the general public the way a full-body or three-quarter length image does. A beautiful costume and a physical pose illustrating what type of dance you do will leave no question about your specialty. Even if you are planning on using your promotional pictures on cards that state your profession, ultimately, your goal is to create an image that needs no explanation.

Most people think in generalizations, and the individuals looking to hire a dancer are no different. Type-casting is a reality. And this is doubly true when a potential client is picking a performer from the internet, and not holding live auditions.

The following descriptions are stereotypes, or archetypes: a belly dancer must have a two piece costume, finger cymbals and sheer veils, and the typical burlesque dancer must be pin-up perfect with retro-style undies, stockings and garters. A ballerina needs to be in fluffy tutu and toe-shoes; a hip-hop dancer must be wearing slouchy pants and a sideways baseball cap, a Flamenco dancer surely will have on a ruffled polka-dotted dress and be carrying a small lace fan.

These all seem like a tired clichés, right?

Well, to the general public, they’re not! So, do whatever experimenting and envelope pushing you want within your genre of dance and in the dance community itself, but for promotional photos that will get you hired for gigs, you must consider how the general public will see you.

Your picture doesn’t have to be “generic”, it can be artistic or dramatic, but it should accurately portray the style of dance you do. Essentially, you can’t go wrong with using a “standard” type image, because your photo is advertising your product- you – and the cliché accouterments of your specific dance style are, to “civilians”, comparable to a corporate logo.

If you were a horse trainer, your promotional photos would probably show you in the ring with a horse, standing in or near a barn, or at least wearing some sort of equestrian outfit. A race car driver might be in a suit and helmet, posed in front of a sprint-car in the pit or holding a trophy near a track. It would be silly- and confusing to the general public- for either a horse trainer or a race-car driver to have promotional shots taken in an evening clothes holding a glass of champagne! Does that say anything at all about either person’s profession or exactly what it is they specialize in ? No, it doesn’t.

It doesn’t matter what style of dance you perform, whether your specialty is fan dancing, North African folkloric dance, Samba, Bollywood or Gothic fusion belly dance- just be sure that your photo makes it crystal clear what, exactly, it is that you do.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Happy Springtime!
And for those of you who fell for my April Fools prank yesterday...I just couldn't resist!
There's no way you can **only** tell a dancer her shoe is untied, ya know?!?

I have been home for the past month in Los Angeles, caring for my boyfriend, who just had a major operation. Though it's been really nice to be in one place for a while, I have some up-coming dates for Spring/Summer 2011.

Because of the situation in Egypt, the Eternal Egypt Tour I lead with Zahra Zuhair has been cancelled for this year, though I am still planning on going to Cairo myself to teach and perform at Ahlan Wa Sahlan....maybe I will see you there!

As for my States shows and workshops,perhaps I will be in a place near you- If so, come on up to me and say hi!

Performances by Leela & Salome Jihad, Kristina Canizares,
Princess & more
Belly Dance & Burlesque Fantasy Theater
Skinny’s Lounge
4923 Lankershim Blvd, NoHo 91601
Tix $15.00 Door 6pm, Show 7pm

May 18-22, 2011 SEBASTOPOL, CA
Princess Farhana workshops & performance


Performances by Jenna, Zahra Zuhair, Princess, The Saffron Parade Arabesque Band & more
A fantastic night of live oriental dance & music
Skinny’s Lounge
4923 Lankershim Blvd, NoHo 91601

Princess Farhana workshops & performance
Info: Onca :

Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival
Princess Farhana workshops & performance

JULY 30 & 31, 2011 PADUCAH, KY
Princess Farhana workshops & performance
Info: Ligaya:

Friday, April 1, 2011



Many of Egyptian belly dance legend Dina’s costumes are up for sale on eBay, available as a lot or sold singly. The entire collection is astounding, and looks like a couture retrospective of Dina’s twenty-plus year career, featuring many iconic pieces. The prices are beyond reasonable, especially for custom-made stage garments worn by a superstar of Oriental dance.

Included in the items are a sheer, form-fitting bronze Saidi galibiyya which she wore for live performances of “Tahtil Shebak” with famous baladi singer Fatma Serhan; also a dove-grey minimalist mini dress and a pearl- encrusted baroque bedlah and skirt, both of which were featured on the DVD
“ Dina Live At Monte Carlo”. There are also fabulously slit and embellished dresses with open cut-work.

Also included are some fabulously over-done “old school” costumes, with epaulettes, full skirts and belts dripping with beads and fringe, dating from Dina’s early days as an up-and-coming performer in the late 1980’s, as well as many later costumes, which are exclusive one-of-a-kind contemporary designs by Sahar Okasha, including the infamous G-string costume!

If you have read this far, your mouth is probably watering, as is mine!

How can this belly dance wet dream be true, you ask?

Well, I wish this was real, but it’s not… Happy April Fools Day!