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A Professional - Style/Terminology

By Salome

"A Professional - Primer" outlines the basic traits of a professional. The series is intended to act as a reference to develop said traits. To read previous installments visit the Article Index page and look for the titles "A Professional - ...".

Understands the difference in style

Greater exposure to Oriental dance often leads to the awareness of style diversity within our genre and to folk dances of the Near and Middle East. Understandably, inconsistent labels, visual messages and conflicting information can leave a person confused. However, by representing yourself as a professional, the public will look to you as an authority. You will be called on to field style questions by your peers, audience, students, in conversation with the general public and the press.

To begin, gain familiarity with the terminology attached to dances, inspired by, and from the Near/Middle East. Links have been provided where possible for further dissection.

A Folk dance is a style of dance that originated among ordinary people and is traditional to their culture, community, or country. Examples include Raks Baladi, Raks al Assaya, Raks al Shemadan, Schikhatt, Guedra, Debke and Raks Al Nasha’ar.

Performance art is a form of theatrical art, usually on a “stage” that features the activity/works of an artist. Examples include Raks Sharki, Oryantal Tansi, Belly Dance, Fusion and American Tribal Style.

Raks or Raqs (pronounced "rocks") translates to “dance” and is used in conjunction with a dance style label, for example, Raks Baladi or Raks Sharki.

American Tribal Style (ATS) is a modern fantasy fusion dance that was incepted by Jamila Salimpour in 1968, San Francisco, CA. Present day elements include; costuming that mixes Middle Eastern, Central Asian and East Indian clothing and accessories, music that ranges from traditional and contemporary Middle Eastern to techno and club trance, dance movements that dominate are stylized arms, hip work and torso undulations. ATS is usually performed as a group dance in a highly structured improvisation.

Cabaret Belly Dance - a cabaret is a late night spot, a nightclub that has a series of acts such as dancers or singers. The term “cabaret belly dance” arose in the 1960’s to label the dance style performed by American dancers in the Middle Eastern nightclubs of San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

Debke (pronounced "DEB kee") is the national folk dance of Lebanon. The dance is executed in a semi-circle with participants holding hands. The torso is held upright and the legs/feet are active. Participants may make forward stomps, simple progressive steps, repeated knee bends, a combined leap and kick and the marking of a rhythmic pattern with one foot. Leadership of the dance goes to the most talented and experienced dancer of the group. The leader begins by getting the line of dancers moving in a simple form with the rhythm. Then he will add flourish to the simple form perhaps with leaps, and quick turns. He may disengage from the head of the line to move up and down the debke executing solo steps or to challenge individuals in a ‘dance off’. It is done by both genders, in women only, men only, or mixed lines, depending on local tradition.

Fantasy is attached to an artist’s presentation when he or she takes liberties with an ethnic dance form. Perhaps balletic movement and expression strongly dominate, or, a “Gypsy” dance is performed based on the artist’s imagination.

Fusion indicates when one or more dance styles have been blended. This could be Flamenco/Oriental, Latin/Oriental or African/Oriental... Unique labels often accompany fusion styles. For example, “Afro-Belly” to indicate African dance and Belly dance.

Ghawazee (pronounced "guh WAH zee") refers to the descendents of Rroma or “Gypsies” that migrated to Egypt 350 years ago. The Ghawazee are known as professional dancers, entertaining the outdoor festivities of the lower classes. Commonalities in movement are huge hip swings, hip shimmies layered over other hip movements, shoulder shimmies, spins and foot stomps to emphasize accents in the music, occasional head slides, back bends and some floor work. Ghawazee music is organic in sound, utilizing instruments like the mizmar and rebab with tabla, tar, and finger cymbals for percussion.

Guedra (pronounced "GEE druh") belongs to the Tuareg Berbers from the Sahara Desert. The guedra act is a blessing ritual done to give positive energy, peace and spiritual love to all present. The word itself has several meanings: cauldron/cooking pot, the drum on which the rhythm is played, the female performer of the ritual and the ritual itself.

Hagallah (pronounced “HA - gal - la”) refers to the music, dance and dancer. Originally from Libya, it is performed by the Bedouin of Western Egypt, often at wedding festivities. The heavily veiled dancer produces a steady shimmy while walking back and forth in front of a line of men who clap and chant in unison called “Keffafeen”. The Keffafeen do not dance except for the one man whom the Hagalla singles out. The dancer may hold a small stick or handkerchief in hand whose other end is grasped by the man she singles out while she dances around it. This might be a man who gives her a bracelet as a sort of proposal but it could just as easily be her brother. The chanting by the Kaffafeen refers to the coming-of-age of the girl doing the Hagalla.

Melaya Leff (pronounced “me LAY uh lef”) is a playful and somewhat sassy dance. There are two slightly varying versions, one from Cairo and the other from Alexandria, Egypt. A melaya is a large black woolen wrap worn by bint il-beled (daughters of the country). The melaya can be pulled tight, wrapped and unwrapped to display a female’s figure. Stage versions can be synthetic with sequins. The dancer often wears a tight, short dress and high heels. The melaya is wrapped around her body and she makes a great show of wrapping and unwrapping the melaya, while chewing and popping bubble gum.

Raks al Assaya (pronounced "rocks all uh SI yuh") is the term for the female cane dance done in a charming and playful imitation of the male dance Tahtiyb (pronounced "tah TEEB"). Tahtiyb is a martial arts dance in which men enact fighting with long sticks. Both dances originated from the southern region of Egypt also known as Upper Egypt or the Said.

Raks Baladi, Beledi, Beledy or Balady (pronounced "rocks BELL uh dee") is the solo dance of Egyptian women. Variants of which are indigenous to parts of North Africa and the Middle East. Raks baladi is not seen as performance but as a social/celebratory activity that women enjoy in the home and at celebrations, weddings in particular. It is done with abandon in women only settings and, depending on the party goers, in mixed gender celebrations as well. The dance is a more basic form of Egyptian raks sharki, more stationary, with hip movements being predominate. As an aside, the word baladi translates to “country”, as in ‘my country’ or ‘my hometown’. In the U.S. baladi is commonly used to label a rhythm whose Egyptian name is maqsoum. In Egypt a ‘sophisticated’ city dweller may derogatorily call someone (or something) baladi, as in redneck or hick.

Raks Al Nasha'ar (pronounced "rocks all nuh SHAH ar") is a social dance, done strictly by and for women, in the Persian Gulf. Sometimes referred to as Khaleegy, Khaleeji or Khaliji (pronounced "kuh LEE jee".) Khaleegy means Gulf in Arabic and refers to the countries of the Persian Gulf region. The trademarks of this dance are gliding steps, lovely hair tossing, and hand movements that utilize the dress worn for this dance called thobe nasha’ar.

Raks Sharki or Raqs Sharqi (pronounced "rocks SHARK-ee") translates to “dance of the orient” or “oriental dance”. It refers to the performance art version of raks baladi and its variants, what the West often associates as Belly dance. Raks sharki developed primarily in Egypt but also in Lebanon and Turkey. Other labels for Raks Sharki include Oryantal tansi (the Turkish label), Middle Eastern, Mid Eastern, Mid Eastern Oriental, Near East, Oriental and Belly dance.

Schikhatt, Shikhatt, Shakhatt or Chikhat (pronounced "SHE kaht") is from Morocco. It is an erotic dance done for a bride in her sex segregated pre-wedding festivities. It is acted out by a sheikha (meaning one with carnal knowledge extensive enough to teach others) and her all female group of schikhatt musicians and dancers. The sheikha’s purpose is to educate the bride on how she will be expected to move in the marriage bed. Moroccan city women have more recently used schikhatt as a diversion by and for each other.

Shemadan or Shamadan (pronounced "SHAH muh dahn") translates to “candelabrum” in Arabic. Raks al Shemadan refers to the Egyptian dance traditionally performed during the wedding procession and reception called a Zeffa.

Whirling Dervish - the mystical poet Mevlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi, commonly known as Rumi, founded the Order of the Whirling Dervishes in the 13th century Ottoman Empire. The order is a branch of the Sufi tradition of Islam. The ritual whirling is done to empty the dervish dancer of his conscious mind, and place him in a trance wherein the dervish recognizes his relationship to God and the universe.


Morocco and the Casbah dance company repertoire
Hagallah FAQ authored by Morocco
Naiilah Glossary
Shira Glossary
Jalilah Raks Sharki website
"Lebanon Land of the Cedars" by Marie Karam Khayat and Margaret Clark Keatinge
Encarta Encylapedia - Whirling Dervish