Terms for Describing "Our Dance"

As can be seen by the numerous articles on this website - which reflect considerable debate in the community, definitions can be fraught. Here is some more muddying of the waters.

belly dance   belly raqs   danse du ventre   MED   ME folkloric dance   oriental   raqs beledi   raqs sharqi   SITA  

belly dance, bellydance

English translation of the French "danse du ventre" - dance of the abdomen. The popular use of this label is usually attributed to Sol Bloom (1893). Many dancers reject this term (eg Morocco) as it is a misnomer which objectifies the dancer and is associated with titillation.

1 - Broad definition:

Dance developed from Middle Eastern and North African solo, improvised dance characterised by torso articulations which still maintains elements and character of its roots. This definition would include not only raqs sharqi but also hagalla, schikhatt, most AmCab, ATS and some other Tribal work. Group folk dances such as debke and ahouache are excluded as are ritual dances such as guerda and zar.

2 - Narrow definition:

Reduce the broad definition (above) to only include dances developed from raqs beledi/raqs sharqi.

3 - Narrower definition:

Reduce the narrow definition (above) to only include dances performed as public entertainment by paid dancers.

4 - Appropriation definition:

Dances developed from raqs beledi/raqs sharqi performed by non-Middle Eastern dancers.

5 - Catch All definition:

Any dance which includes any of the following elements: torso articulations, isolations, hip circles, Middle Eastern rhythms or instruments, bare bellies, veils or zills. This definition would pull in not only jazz but hula, dances from India and Indonesia., and a range of interpretative dance. This is not a useful definition.

6 - Feminization definition:

Any of the above, but limited to only cover the dance when performed by women and/or expressing a feminine essence.

danse du ventre

French for "dance of the abdomen". Initially applied to Algerian dance such that of the Ouled Nail (in which they do move the abdomen). By the 20th century it was commonly used for any torso articulated dance from the Middle East.

danse orientale

see oriental

Middle Eastern Dance, MED

Any dance directly from the Middle East or North Africa or derived from the Middle East or North Africa and retaining significant features pertaining to movement vocabulary, music, attitude and costuming. MED is an umbrella term for Belly dance and Middle Eastern folkloric dance.

Middle Eastern folkloric dance

"Middle Eastern folkloric" is recreation within abilities, money and opportunity of specific folkloric styles - ie should be a match of movement vocab, music, and (stage adapted) costume. This includes (after 50 years) Reda styling.

oriental, orientale

This shorthand for "danse orientale", a French translation of the Arabic raqs sharqi which only appeared in the 1920s. Initially it was used to describe the style of the Golden Age dancers such as Tahiya Karioka, Samia Gamal and Naima Akef.

1 - Narrow definition:

"oriental" can be used to describe dance with a certain posture and quality of movement - arms lifted, well isolated, good use of floor space. Music for oriental dance is usually long (starting at 8 minutes for a really short piece), complex (with many sections and changes of rhythm) and uses a full orchestra.

2 - Broad definition:

It is also used in a looser sense to mean not folkloric - as in "If you do the ghawazee, I'll do the oriental". Basically traditional "belly dance" - bra & belt, maybe veil, usually solo. It can also be used to cover troupes and choreographed pieces.

raqs sharqi, raks sharki, raks shargi

Transliteration of the Arabic raqs sharqi ("raqs sharqi" distinguishes between the qaf and kaf, "raks sharki " does not and uses the more common English letter k, "raks shargi" transliterates the Egyptian pronunciation rather than the written Arabic - more on raqs vs raks). It literally means eastern dance (ie oriental dance).

The term raqs sharqi appeared in Egypt in the1920s and was used to distinguish the new nightclub style dance from the older style dance (raqs beledi) as performed socially and by the Mohamed Ali Street dancers. The name was said to invoke the mysterious east for their mainly western audience.

1 - General definition:

Some dancers use this as the term of choice for what many call "belly dance". That is any style from either the Middle East or the West (but excluding Tribal).

2 - Narrow definition:

It can also be used to imply Egyptian styling - not necessarily modern Egyptian - but less AmCam - or Turkish. Usually solo

3 - Hilal definition:

Suraya Hilal also has her own version of raqs sharqi.

raqs beledi

Transliteration of the Arabic raqs beledi. Literally "community dance" from "beledi" meaning "my country".

1 - Broad definition:

Strictly speaking all dance as performed in the Middle East by natives is "raqs beledi" - from social belly dancing, to ghawazee, to raqs assaya, to khaleegy. Historically it also described the dance performed by professional dancers - such as those from Mohamed Ali Street.

2 - Narrow definition:

It is also used to describe a looser style of Egyptian dance with some urban sophistication but more relaxed than raqs sharqi; nearly always solo and improvised. Think Fifi Abdou. The milaya lef and mi'allima tableaux also fit within this definition.

3 - Hilal definition:

Suraya Hilal also has her own version of raqs beledi based on the beledi progression and a use of archetypes.

belly raqs®

My compromise term to embrace aspects of belly dance and Middle Eastern folkloric. Here's why.


Andrea Deagon came up with SITA as a neutral term to describe the dance. It stands for solo-improvised dance based on torso articulation. This was also adapted and used by Shay and Young in "Belly Dance".

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