The "What is Belly Dance?" Handout

This is one of my handouts I give to beginner students - but I think it can be useful to dancers in general. What do you think?

What is "Belly Dance"?

Belly Dance is a term that is quite slippery. Even among people who have been studying it for many years it can have different meanings. And the same person can also use it to mean different things at different times!

However, most would agree that belly dance must contain most (or all) of the following:

So when you see Hula - even though it uses hips, the lack of Middle Eastern music and its links to narrative mean it isn't belly dance. Ditto dances from India (Bollywood is a fusion style which sometimes contains similar movement vocabulary)

In addition, belly dance is:

Maybe "Belly Dance"?

Many people limit the term to mean dances which have evolved from the professional entertainment dances from the Middle East and North Africa. However, it is also used, by some, to include and MENA dance style that is solo, improvised and used torso articulations (SITA). This brings in a range folkloric styles including sa`iidi, khaleegi, ghawazee, schikhatt. But most draw the line at group line and circle dances.

In addition, many belly dancers study Reda technique which was developed in Egypt in the 1960s as part of the creation of an Egyptian national identity. Initially their dances were purely folkloric but over time they included danse orientale (belly dance). Reda is clear he does not consider his folkloric tableaux "belly dance" - but you will often see them in belly dance shows.

ATS (and some of its offshoots) are considered belly dance by many. Dances labelled just "Tribal" or "Tribal Fusion" are usually not.

Not "Belly Dance"?

Anything that is primarily a religious observance is not usually called "belly dance" - even though belly dancers may study and perform them. (Belly dancers may also be seen doing Ceroc, Ballroom and Ballet - this does not change these into "belly dance"!)

Belly Dance's history actually does not include it being:

Other names for "Belly Dance"

Many dancers prefer not to use the term "belly dance" as it is considered a misnomer (we don't dance with our bellies" and it is associated with sleaze (especially in the US). Here are some other terms you will hear:

short for danse orientale (a translation of raqs sharqi - dance of the east) used by professional dancers in Egypt to distinguish it from folk dances.
It is also used to distinguish a very elegant (sub)style to fully orchestrated music
Oriental used by many in place of Orientale (see some issues this raises)
Raqs sharqi
(rocks shor-key)
"dance of the east" - post WWI professional nightclub belly dance
Belly Raqsmy own blend of traditional and western elements
Belediusually used to refer to either social dance style or deliberately unpolished professional style ("beledi" means belonging to my community)
Arabic Danceused like MED - ironically also often includes Turkish belly dance
AmCabAmerican Cabaret (this term is also controversial!)
MEDsee Middle Eastern Dance
MENADMiddle Eastern and North African Dance (as below)
Middle Eastern Danceaka MED used in the 1990s to mean what we now call "belly dance"
SITAAndrea Deagon's solo-improvised dance based on torso articulation.

Also see and

Belly Dance and MED/MENAD

Some interactions of names and styles. (In addition each region - Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, USA have their own distinct styles). The solid blue line is the wider definition of "belly dance" - many prefer to limit it to the the smaller dashed area. (And some add some bits of the larger definition but not all)

Diagram of dance interactions.

There are short descriptions of some of the dances above in the Middle Eastern Background section.

Kashmir's Opinions
Beledi Blues
Belly Belle
Belly Raqs
3 minute Lounge Challenge
Naming the Dance
"Raqs" vs "Belly Dance"
Terms for "belly dance"
Souher Zaki on the BBC
What is Belly Dance?

Book Reviews
A Trade like Any Other
Bury Me Standing
Choreographic Politics
Grandmother's Secrets
Looking for Little Egypt
The Belly Dance Book
The Stark Reality of Stretching

Video Reviews
The Zar Dance

Workshop Reviews
Winter Warmup 2010

Index of Blogs
Some Other Information
Contact Kashmir

About classes
Beginner Signup
Full Timetable
Student feedback

Selected Moves

Reality or Fantasy
Characteristics of "belly dance"?

Middle Eastern Background
Arabic Language
Dances Styles
Traditional Clothing

Egypt 2009

Return to
for those with a general interest in the dance
Return to "Opinion" page Return to
includes articles for the dedicated convert

© Copyright 2014-15
Updated by JEWEL