Marlena

Middle Eastern Dancer, Instructor & Choreographer
 

 

 

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“Egyptian Dance”
Ancient History thru Modern Times

 
         


The style of dancing we now called belly dance (Raqs Sharki)
can trace its history over 6000 years ago,with the Egyptians, Turks, and Phoenicians. These dances originated as fertility dances, temple dances, birthing and celebratory dances; most festive occasions were not complete without dancing.

The dances spread to North Africa, Rome, Spain, and India.  As the dance spread, each region had an influence, captivating and adopting different movements. 

In Egypt, women did not dance for a man’s entertainment but strictly for other women during family and social gatherings.  Young girls were brought up with the music and style of dance as part of their culture.  The women would gather in a circle (Hafla), taking turns dancing solo or with others showing off their skill, grace and beauty interpreting the mood of the music.   The ladies would Zaghareet (ululation) to show their approval and encouragement.

When a girl danced for the first time, it was a rite of passage into the world of womanhood.  Therefore, belly dancing is NOT stripping or exotic dancing, but rather an ethnic dance form that has history and meaning.

America first encountered belly dance at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, in the performance of an Egyptian dancer nicknamed “Little Egypt.” Americans were enthralled by the dance. Some were even shocked by the way Little Egypt moved her body, even though her body was completely covered.  This was the birth of belly dance in America. 

Over the years, Raqs Sharki has been through many changes.  Since dance flourishes in a liberal environment, there have been times where certain movements have been forbidden in Egypt.  Even here in America, when belly dance was new, many people saw it as a “hootchy cootchy” dance, or a type of lower class dance.   However, in America, because of our freedom of expression through the arts, etc. we have been able to stylize belly dance and have taken it to a sophisticated and classy style of dance since it was first introduced here.   A lady who can dance Raqs Sharki is now admired and looked up to for the skill she expresses in her dance, whether she is performing choreography or improvising (interpreting the music with her movement).

The most common costume style seen today in restaurants and Arabic clubs are “cabaret” where the costumes are made of glass beads and sequins and are usually hand-made in Egypt or Turkey.  They are usually bright and will show the dancer’s isolations, shimmies, and joy as she dances.  Her moves are internal, strong, and expressive and she uses her abdominal muscles and hips to the beat of the tabla (drum).  She may have soft arm movements and joyful facial expressions, while undulating her torso to the sound of the violin or nay (flute).

Some Egyptian dancers also incorporate other specialties in their dance that have meaning.  For example, Raqs Asaya, the cane dance, which is most commonly performed with the Saaidi  rhythm, which was taken from upper Egypt and has an earthy, powerful element.  This was influenced by the Tahteeb (men’s martial arts dance).  Of course, the female dancers have stylized and softened Raqs Asaya but yet the strength and skill is still apparent.

The candelabra or “Shamadan” dancing is used during the wedding procession or the “Zeffa” in Egypt.  The dancer balances this on her head while leading the bride and groom, winding their way through the streets of the neighborhood, and in today’s times, to the hotel, into the reception room, circling the room and ending with the bride and groom seated in special thrones.

As you watch an Egyptian belly dance performance, you will be mesmerized and captivated by her skill as well as the joy she brings to the occasion.  Remember as she dances, your smile, clapping and encouragement will cause her to dance more joyfully bringing life and celebration to her audience.

 

  Most belly dance costumes and accessories are made in the Middle East, Egypt, Turkey  and India.
Here in California we are blessed to have a vast amount of resources to learn about the Middle Eastern culture
and vendors to obtain the paraphernalia needed for our hobby, passion or profession.
Below are links that are helpful in educating one self or to purchase
music and/or costumes for Middle Eastern dance:


Information / links for
Belly Dance Costumes, Music, supplies:

 


Information / links for
Belly Dance networks, organizations, etc: