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AKA American Orientale, the Toast of the 1970s

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Vintage Orientale AKA American Orientale AKA Classic American AKA American Cabaret. The American belly dance of the 1960s and 70s was heavily influenced by Turkish dancing and music, before migrating towards influences from Egyptian dancing. American Oriental is from the Turkish-influenced end of the spectrum. The style incorporated lush music, lush costumes and lush movements.

Lee Ali, writing in the 1970s Belly Dance facebook group in 2016, wrote: "America cabaret bellydance was conceived around, and performed to Ottoman-based music... AmCab as a mid-20th century invention, is a *melting pot* of traditional ethic influences learned from native Greek, Armenian, Turkish, Arab, and even Israeli (think Feenjon) artists and performers. Egyptian style bellydance, on the other hand, uses purely Arabic compositions from the great classic Arab composers.

"Egyptian dancers do NOT perform to Greek pop tunes, Ottoman-derived, Armenian, folk tunes, or Roman 9/8 rhythms. Conversely, American cabaret style bellydancers MAY perform to Arabic music. But never the other way around.

"For a typical Amcab set, or 7-part show, one or 2 songs MAY be Arabic. The rest will be Turkish, Armenian and/or Greek. There may be NO Arabic music at all. The entire show may be comprised of Greek music. The essence of AmCab is that it was created around Ottoman based music, while Egyptian raqs sharqi style dance uses 100% Arab music. This is fundamental. All other points of analysis are superficial."

More insight from Jenza (Suzanne McNeil), writing in 2013 about Ghawazee dance: "This particular style is a foundation style of the 70's Cabaret dancer... in the 70's we were crazy about studying folk styles and adapting some of those moves into our belly dance routines. Thus, parts of this dance, some Turkish moves and some other various folk dances got fused into our dance. "


American belly dancers from the 60s and 70s frequently discuss how a dance routine with live musicians should or used to go. The Cabaret routine was also termed the 5-Part routine because it has, ahem, five parts. Even if you have no interest or occasion to be dancing to a live band for Middle-Eastern or Greek audience, it is of interest to know what sequence of music and dance was used to keep a 20-minute set interesting.

Piper Reid Hunt included a description of a generic 5-part routine in her article in the Gilded Serpent about going Pro,

  1. Start with a fast, exciting entrance piece;
  2. Then a slower piece for veil work, such as a slow chiftitelli;
  3. An up tempo number to get people clapping (Karshilama, cane dance, audience interaction);
  4. A slow piece for floor work, snake dancing, sword or candle balancing, etc;
  5. Drum solo plus finale.

Lauren Zehara listed the following elements of the style:

  1. Wrapped (in one or more veils) entrance with finger cymbals; followed by:
  2. Veilwork;
  3. Zills are essential and often expertly musical;
  4. Floorwork;
  5. Dramatic moves, including Turkish drops and belly rolls;
  6. Props;
  7. Music from anywhere in the Middle-East;
  8. Passion, fluidity and control while appearing free and unrestrained.


Lauren Zehara Bellydance U online.

Marguerite Kusuhara does a Turkish-style Vintage Orientale belly dance.

Floor work was an important part of many Vintage Orientale shows and performers prided themselves on it. This Video of Farideh in 1978 is a beautiful example of the genre.

Artemis Mourat on the differences between Vintage Orientale and Egyptian Style belly dance.

An article on Classic American Style from Habibi online.

An article on American Cabaret from Gilded Serpent online.

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Last updated March 2016.
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