Thursday, November 3, 2011


Selecting the right music for your belly dance show can sometimes be intimidating. This is especially true for newer dancers, or performers who have a really important show coming up. When I was a baby dancer, I sometimes I knew exactly what I wanted to dance to for a particular show…. other times, I had no idea-and the sheer volume of choices overwhelmed me.

I used to agonize over picking out a song- or pieces for an entire set- but once I identified a few “requirements” which helped in my decision making, I became much more comfortable with the process.

Dancers often debate on whether to start with the music first, or to develop and idea and then select the music. Either way is fine. For a standard set, say, straight-ahead cabaret or tribal, you may want to start with the music. For a fusion or conceptual number, perhaps developing your idea first and then selecting the ideal music later would probably work out well.

After a while, when I became confident about my musical choices, I began to think that I really wasn’t choosing the music, the music was choosing me! If I listened to a piece of music and it immediately made my hair stand up and gave me goose bumps, I knew that I had to dance to it!

Here are a few things to think about as you pick out music for your shows:

Does The Song Speak To You?

Does the song you selected stay stuck in your head for hours after you hear it? Does it always seem fresh to you- in other words, can you imagine hearing it thousands of times and never getting tired of it? Do you imagine exactly what sort of choreography you’ll create the moment you hear this song…. or do you just like the idea of using this particular piece?

Can you see yourself performing to this music on a regular basis? Some songs are like that magic dress you own- you can throw it on and look good no matter what! Other songs are like that bargain you picked up that stays in your closet…for years. You like it, and it’s pretty and all, but you never wear it.

Will The Music Make You Look Good?

Does this song make my ass look fat?

No, seriously…can you really move to this song? Does the music allow you to show off your technique as well as complement your personality?

Is the song you want to use quick-paced or slow- and are the movements in your repertoire appropriate? Make sure you select music that isn’t “over your head” technique-wise. Attempting to do a full length Om Kalthoum piece when you don't have the chops to back it up physically -and emotionally-could be disastrous.

Does the song have a lot of rhythmic changes or is it repetitive? If there is little variation in the tempo, can you keep the piece looking fresh and interesting during your performance?

Will you be playing cymbals or using a prop? These are both major points to consider!

Is this a character piece or a fusion number? In either situation, you will need appropriate music. If you are dancing as a character, will this music move your narrative forward? If you are performing fusion, does the music reflect whatever it is that you are fusing?

Is The Piece Appropriate For The Venue?

Will your audience appreciate your musical choice?
A long, slow, classically orchestrated Arabic piece may not be the right music to use at a hafla or a wedding- it might be better saved for a theatrical performance. Likewise, belly dancing to a quirky 1920’s song may fall totally flat with an ethnic audience. As they say in the theater, “know your house”!

Make sure that the length of the song fits the timing requirements for your gig. If it needs editing, can you find the right spots to edit and rejoin the music without losing it’s flavor?

If the song is recorded with lyrics in a foreign language, do you understand their meaning? If you don’t, someone in the audience might- and there’s a possibility that the song you pick out may be offensive, or inappropriate in some way. You wouldn’t want to use a song with a religious or political theme for a party, right?

There are plenty of places to get lyric translations on line, so do your homework!

Change It Up!

If you have picked out a certain piece of music, and for any reason it doesn’t seem to be working, don’t feel bad about dumping it in favor of trying a different song. This isn’t a “failure”- it’s an executive decision! Some songs seem like a good idea, but in reality, the concept you had in mind never quite pans out, for whatever reason. If this happens to you, don’t worry about it, just move on and try out another piece of music. You can always come back to the original choice at a later time.

Do You Really Want To Dance To The Flavor Of The Month?

Some songs become instantly popular, and with good reason. But they also can become so trendy that everyone dances to them…at the same event! It gets to the point that audiences and performers alike groan each time they hear that particular song played. Do you think that there will be other performers using the song you have chosen?

Do You Love This Song?

…And can you have fun with it onstage? If the answer is yes, then definitely use it! And one last thing: don’t think that because you have used a song a few times that you have to retire it. If you have danced to a song pretty frequently, you may want to switch it out of your regular rotation for a while, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come back to it! The Rolling Stones have probably played “Satisfaction” at every gig they’ve done for the past forty years. Dina has been dancing to “Tahtil Shebak” for at least twenty.

If you love a song, you will perform well to it... and that never, ever becomes boring or goes out of style!


  1. I am learning a lot with this post. I am an amateur belly dancer.


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  3. Great piece as always. Covers all the variables!