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Egyptian belly dance posesses a sweet understated strength that is not seen in other genres. The adage "she can dance on a tile" would apply to Egyptian style dancers.
It helps to remember that in Egypt belly dance is both a social dance AND a professional dance. Professional performance is only one aspect, even though that is the aspect that looms largest in the Western media.
"Raqs Sharqi is a folk dance. What makes it Raqs Sharqi are the nuances of the movement vocabulary: more complex hip articulations, undulations and flowing torso movements done for an extended amount of time. Most of the other more localized folk forms are strictly hip articulations or lots of footwork." — Morocco.
This style of Egyptian belly dance, the one most frequently featured in Occidental media and venues, evolved as entertainment for tourists and cosmopolitan Egyptians during the twentieth century. It is based on Egyptian folk dance and music (especially Baladi and Ghawazee dancing), with many influences from Hollywood, Russian ballet, western orchestra music and western theatre incorporated to improve the marketability of the entertainment. Egyptian composers, in particular, created a new music genre heavily influenced by Western orchestral music. Badia Masabny, Egyptian performer and nightclub owner, was instrumental in establishing this genre. The glamorous two-piece costume typically used in Raks Sharki was probably 'borrowed' from Hollywood portrayals of Eastern dancers (Near, Middle or Far East) . . . again, to increase the marketability of the entertainment to cosmopolitan audiences.
Hadia: "Egyptian oriental is calm, smooth, relaxed, lifted, centered, tubular and focused primarily on undulations and hip shimmies."
Morocco: " I would characterize Egyptian style as relaxed, confident, lots of hipwork while still not beating the music to death."
From Jasmine Jahal: "Egyptian style belly dance primarily uses classical as well as modern music produced in Egypt with Arabic rhythms. . . Egyptian style movements are very precise, with the hips held under the rib cage. Turkish style often leans the upper torso back, pushing the pelvis forward. Also, it is not "in vogue" for an Egyptian dancer to do floor work, while it is very popular in Turkish style.
DaVid: "Classical Egyptian style for stage use. Usually performed to Instrumental pieces and Oum Kolthoum's. Also depends on the dancer's personal style. Some perform the Sharki version of the dance to all types of music by adding only some of the characterstics of other styles (to show awareness of the presence of the style in the music). Mostly performed on the balls of your feet. This style is concidered to be the highest refined version of Egyptian style dance."
Stella of New York:
"The essential Egyptian style of dance is rooted--the dancer works in place, performing controlled isolated hip movements often accompanied by undulations and/or shimmies or vibrations. Control, control, and more control plus precision: those are the hallmarks of Egyptian dance... Hip drops accent the beat. The dancer's movements are clear, clean, and exquisitely defined; she is playing the music with her torso... Footwork and armwork are minimized; hips and torso are all. And of course the music is Egyptian or Arabic: composed, stylized, and structured. Frequent abrupt changes in tempo and tone within each piece require the dancer to know her music, to be able to hit the accents and stops exactly, and to anticipate and react to changes in style and mood...Long, no-tempo instrumental solos or taxims ask for deep emotional expression and subtle, controlled movement. To be able to respond to the challenge of a taxim, a dancer must have full command of the idiom and be intensely engaged with the music. There is nowhere to hide."
Eva Cernick: "The star dancer has a two-hour show, complete with folkloric dancers and many costume changes, her own full orchestra and a theme to the show which changes every season. The dancers use the music and words of a featured singer to express feeling to the audience; shared feeling is much more important than technique, which is sometimes criticized for getting in the way of the mood.
"Dance costumes in Egypt are controlled by law. In the late twentieth century, displaying the belly button became illegal, which is why Egyptian dancers always wear body stockings, strategically placed ornaments, dresses, or skirts that start just above the belly button.
"Zill playing by the dancer used to be common but is now more and more relegated to the musicians, not the dancers.
"Floor work, other than that which is performed as part of a folkloric number (like Shamadan), is banned in public, although occasionally included in private performances. Some very popular dancers are said to be able to flout the ban on occasion. Moves done while KNEELING are not considered to be floor work, it seems."
Baladi truly is the country cousin, the one done by ordinary people for enjoyment and socializing, occasionally glammed up for the stage. The movements are large (big enough to see through the galabeya traditionally worn while performing) and the joyous feeling is valued more than precise technique.
Mohamed Shahin: Baladi is a dance style from Cairo. The word refers to the kind of people that live in the lower income places of Cairo, who, for example, would throw parties on the street. When a woman dances, she dances to whatever she feels inside, she dances baladi dance on the street or at home, at birthday parties or any other occasion. Costuming for women: Long galabiya, covering her whole body. Sometimes she uses a 'baukass' (cane) to show how good she can manipulate it.
DaVid: Balady - the dance of the country side/people - Folk music (balady music), folkloric dance. Really grounded smooth undulating large movements. Mostly flat footed. Typical characteristics is that the music (and the intensity of the movements) start really slow and introvert and slowly build up. As if the music and the dancer is shy at first and then let's go little by little. Usually ends with a creshendo of shimmies and faster music.
JasminJahal.com: A Beledi dance is performed to earthy music based on the easy-to-dance-to Beledi rhythm. Often the Beledi rhythm and the Saidi rhythm are played interchangeably. A Beledi dance from the region of Cairo includes vocals, and may involve a question-and-answer play between two instruments or between the vocals and the instruments.
From Keti Sharif in Bellydance:
The Layali El Sharq Ensemble: "Baladi is a form which is comparable in social and musical resonances to that of ghetto music, soul, and rhythm and blues. The quarter tone accordion, well assimilated into Egyptian music with its strength and earthy qualities, is often the leading instrument in Baladi, and the tablah punctuates and embellishes its melodic phrases. From the basis of improvisation within a structure, new music emerged and crystallised, and Baladi remains a living tradition which is responsive to social change and contemporary influences. Powerful and dynamic, subtle and sensitive, Baladi demands emotional attunement and skill from the dancer, and musicians who are masters of their art."
"Raqs Baladi refers to the urban, popular form of dance practiced by most Egyptian women... as opposed to a professional Oriental or Sharki dancer who performs in public for an audience... The quality of these movements could best be described as grounded, loose, uncontrolled, fun, earthy, unabashed and very sensual. These qualities are perfectly embodied in the dances of Fifi Abdo, my all time favorite Queen of the Baladi style, even when she is dancing to Sharki music! Although Baladi is often confused with folkloric dance, it differs from traditional folklore, in the fact that it is improvisation, requires no particular costume, has no specific steps or signature movements, costuming, rhythmical or musical accompaniment, nor represents any specific cultural phenomenon. However, many of its movements can be traced to many of Egypt's folkloric traditions such as Hagallah, Saidi, Fellahin of the Nile delta, and even those of the original professional dancers known as the Ghawazee and Awalim."
Houssam Ramzy, the famous Egyptian percussionist, has written a short piece (now posted on Shira.net) about social baladi dancing. In it he highlights the importance of the progression from low-key and modest through call-and-response with the music to high-energy and then back down again.
Houssam Ramzy describes the progression of a performance baladi in an article on Habibi Magazine, online. There is a similar progression in the performance baladi, except Mr. Ramzy includes an optional ending on an energetic note, the drum solo.
American dancer Lauren also discusses the professional Baladi Progression on her web site: "The Baladi Progression is a highly structured musical improvisation that is very popular in Cairo. There are two structures, one typical for men and the other for women, and many forms used. The progression that women usually use starts with a simple soulful taqsim (often an accordian) followed by small bits of 'conversation' between the drum and other instrument(s) that gradually builds into a steady rhythmic song (masmoudi seghir) and then speeds up to a rapid finish or even a drum solo."
SAIDITo KISS it for me, I include Saidi as a type of Baladi dance. It started out as a folk dance which often featured, and still does feature, cane dancing. It is an important part of many a belly dance show.
While baladi generally means of the entire country, Saidi specifically refers to the area called El Saaid in Upper Egypt (southern Egypt). The people of Upper Egypt are called Saidi. There is also a rhythm known as saidi. Like baladi, it is in four counts ( or 4/4). Actually, there is a subtle difference between the baladi and saidi rhythms. A DUM and a TEK are reversed. For those of you who play the tabla, the baladi rhythm basically is: Dum Dum -Tek Dum Tek, while the saidi rhythm is: Dum Tek - Dum Dum Tek. . . Costuming for Baladi and Saidi are dresses, rather than the two-piece cabaret outfit. Usually a scarf or belt is worn over the hips, and the head is covered by a scarf. Coin jewelry is most common in folkloric dance. . . A Baladi dress comes in many styles and shapes. Everything from form-fitting to very loose around the torso, sleeveless to wrist-length, flowing sleeves. It is actually a wonderful first costume for a new dancer, because the outfit can be assembled at a very affordable price.
Karim Nagi, Arab FolkDance DVD liner notes: Saidi refers to dances and music from Sour in Egypt (aka Upper Egypt). This style is famous for the use of a cane or stick, and is often called Raqs Assaya (cane dance), which is an offshoot of the martial art Tahteeb. The movements consist of legs swoops and hops, cane rowing, cane spinning, cane flipping, cane striking, and mock battle.
Nadira at TakTaba.com: A genre of music from Upper Egypt, usually featuring the Saidi rhythm. A Saidi number is very commonly included in an Egyptian show, where it can be done with folkloric styling or fancified for the stage.. . This is a must for Egyptian style. It's often used in Vintage Orientale (aka AmCab), but isn't a requirement. It's rarely used in Turkish style, except as a reference to Arabic styles.. . Saidi is usually danced with a cane (assaya) or stick (tahtib), but may be danced straight-up with zils. It typically includes lots of earthy hipwork, fancy cane-twirls, and framing with the cane. There are a few Saidi-specific steps, including rocking steps, hops, and "horsey" moves with the legs.. . When you're dancing to music in the Saidi genre, an educated audience will expect you to dance in Saidi style, or at least to reference it. . . There are instructional DVDs out there by Virginia, Nourhan Sharif, and Shareen el Safy.
Shaabi is a late 20th century development in the urban areas, as opposed to Baladi's centuries-old roots in the farm communities. However, some folks consider it to be a form of Baladi, since many of the working class people who comprise its audience are the children of immigrants from the countryside.
"Shaabi is also the name of the modern, popular amalgam of country (beledi) and modern sounds and instruments, not pure, yet close to and from it... It is a sort of mixture of beledi / saidi and pop and is done for fun, a dance of joy.— Morocco, You Asked Aunt Rocky.
"What is Shaabi? As a word, Shaabi has multiple meanings in Arabic: 'folk,' 'popular (of the people).' As a musical form, Shaabi is the voice of the street, an urban expression full of feeling, double entendres, and social commentary. As a dance, Shaabi reflects a true and authentic expression of the Egyptian people and their humor and playfulness. . . This modern urban musical style with its rural roots combines a very eclectic range of instruments from the most classic and traditional such as the riq, cymbals, large and small (tura and sagat), the nai and the kanoun to the western violins, accordion, saxophone, trumpet, electric keyboard and now the digital sounds of the computer." — Amina Goodyear DaVid: Shaabi- of the people - folk music or pop music (Shaabi music) and Shaabi dance movements. Characteristics are the heel bounce and upbeat tempo. Flatfooted or on the balls of your feet depending on what style of Shaabi you are performing. Common for all styles of Shaabi is that they all have strong influences of folkloric dance in them. Be it Countryside Shaabi (more Balady influence), Urban Shaabi (a meet between Countryside Shaabi and the dance style of Mohammed Ali Street) or Raqs Shaabi (the more theatrical/stage adapted version). Shaabi can also be layered on top of other styles such as Melaya Leff, Sharki, Saiidi, etc.
Balady VS Shaabi: Balady is more fluid, controlled and earthier as well as having no heel bouncing characteristics, further it has no flirtatious strikes whatsoever. Shaabi is bouncy, often fast paced, has a characteristic continous chest pop (up) going on as well as having a flirty extrovert attitude.
Badia Masabny biography.
Goodyear, Amina. Shaabi Music: Underground Music that Isn't. Web.
Jahal, Jasmine. Belly Dance Egyptian Style. Web.
Belly Dance Museum maintains a nice list of classic Egyptian dance videos with links to their location on YouTube.
Eva Cernick writing for Habibi magazine in 1993: A COMPARISON OF TURKISH AND EGYPTIAN ORIENTAL DANCE.
Egyptian folkloric dancing at JasminJahal.com.
Egyptian folkloric dances at MohamedShahin.net.
Ghawazee history and dancing.
Hadia is an internationally-known performer of Egyptian dance.
Karim Nagi, an American-Egyptian folk dancer and musican, teaches dancers to interpret Arabic music and rhythm.Mahsati-Janan.com.
Morocco may be the most famous American exponent of Egyptian-style Middle Eastern Dance. (She does NOT use the word belly dance!) She is certainly the most vocal, having posted hundreds, probably thousands of answers and opinions on Internet dance boards over the years. In 2011 she published her long-awaited book, You Asked Aunt Rocky: Answers & advice about Raqs Sharki and Raqs Shaabi (Oriental & Folk Dance). 400+ pages reflecting 50+ years of research, experience and travel. Buy it. She also sells DVDs of her dance research and her dance company performances. Buy them too.
Morocco, You Asked Aunt Rocky: Answers and Advice about Raqs Sharqi and Raqs Shaabi. RDI Publications, 2011. Print.
Samasem's Magic Carpet Ride; Cairo's Ups and Downs. Interview by Betsy Flood (Helwa) in Habibi Vol 14 issue 4 with Swedish dancer Samasem on her dance career in Cairo, including the ups and downs of hiring and working with an Egyptian orchestra and her observations on the dwindling market for dance entertainment in Egypt.
Samia Gamal music and dance clips featuring Samia and her partner on stage and in life, Farid Al Atrache. Her million-watt smile and her relationship with Farid are the stuff of legend. From Serpentine.org: "When King Farouk broke the couple up in 1951, Farid seduced the king's wife. This was shortly before the Egyptian Revolution in 1952. Farouk was not pleased but soon found himself exiled from the country. When Farouk's wife divorced him and returned to Egypt, a stormy love affair broke out between her and Farid. The singer and the tabloids were delighted. As for Samia, she married a rich Texan in 1952 and moved to the US. This marriage did not last and Samia moved back to Egypt after about 5 years. She married one last time, to Rushdy Abaza, which also ended in divorce after 10 years, in 1977."
Samia Gamal and Tahia Carioca, two of Egypt's most iconic dancers, on YouTube.
Sarah Kent, or Sahra Saeeda, is also a prominent American performer, teacher and researcher of Egyptian style dance who has been active for many years.
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