Gilded Serpent presents...
and Middle Eastern Dance
has come to my attention that we are all guilty, myself included,
of trying to sanitize the terminology and definition of Belly
Dance by giving it other, more socially acceptable names.
The one that I will attempt to re-define or clarify is “Middle
Eastern Dance.” This title sounds very nice on the surface,
but it is inaccurate to the people of Lebanon,
Palestine, Jordan, Syria,
Iraq, the Khaliji, who
make up the “Middle East.”
is that “Middle Eastern Dance” is not an acceptable definition
for Belly Dance and let me explain why.
is performed throughout the Arab world and beyond. It is
its own entity with its own movement, steps, music, costuming,
Dance, on the other hand, is strictly regional, with its own movement,
steps, music, costuming and venues and only indicative to Asian
Arabs. Even those dances that are a common part of the Middle
Eastern society have to be qualified; examples are: Lebanese,
Palestinian, Jordanian or Syrian Debkes; Shikani from Iraq,
The Khaliji Dances from the Gulf, and even Lebanese Cabaret Belly
Dance. Then these dances are further defined as Debke Jebali,
Palestinian Debke Shmaliya, etc.
further clarify this, please let me use another example:
be your definition and how would you present it? Is it Rock
and Roll or Country Western? Is it Disco, Jazz, Tap or what?
What would be an acceptable definition for “American Dance?”
How about “American Tribal Style”? This is a great example
of a well defined dance style that was created in America.
there is no set example as to what American Dance means just
as there is no explanation or standard definition for “Middle
Eastern Dance.” My point is it has to be qualified
further in order not to be misleading.
Now I will
explain why it is important to some of us in this business. I
have spent much of my life performing, documenting, and preserving
these dances from my little corner of the world. As a matter
of fact, my Belly Dance Routines have always included some Debke
because that was the dance of my childhood.
I am facing is that the definition “Middle Eastern Dance” is being
used by Belly dancers everywhere who could not get funding for
Belly Dance or could not even get into a school or other institutions
because it falls under a category that is not acceptable to those
“powers that be” who sit on boards and make the decisions.
is no one seems to think that there is a difference between
a Middle Eastern Folk Dance and a Belly Dance.
creates a very frustrating situation for all concerned and is
an unfair evaluation of Middle Eastern Folk Dance and Belly Dance
because they are both fundable entities which need to be preserved,
archived, and shared so that they are not lost or distorted into
something that does not resemble either.
are beautiful venues created and preserved by my Arab ancestors
and needless to say, we can use all the positive display of our
culture that is available today. So, please understand that
I am not attacking any other individuals or groups of people who
are funded so do not misunderstand me. I am not sulking
because I have to wait in some funding line either. Anytime
money is spent on art, especially from my part of the world, I
am thrilled for those who can pull it off successfully.
The down side
is that “Middle Eastern Dances” may be forgotten or mislabeled
like so many other cultural contributions by Arabs in general
and that is unacceptable. I realize these things are probably
trivial to most, but hopefully, you are a proponent of Arabic
Art, irregardless of your religion, philosophy, ethnic origin
I am being personal and picky or just afraid that another contribution
by my people will be erased because of some political situation.
Maybe I am upset that nothing cultural is ever defined as Arabic
but I do not want to lose my cultural identity.
in the interest of cultural accuracy, there seems to be several
obstacles to overcome.
- We need
to try to find some other way to define Belly Dance or better
yet, stop being ashamed of the word “Belly Dance”. Call
it what it is and let’s begin to qualify what we do correctly.
- 2. We
should begin to make sure the world recognizes that Egyptian
Belly Dance, Lebanese Belly Dance, Turkish Belly Dance, American
Tribal, and even Hula, are all accurate definitions for styles
of belly dance.
- We need
to admit that Egyptian Dance, Lebanese Dance, Turkish Dance
and Middle Eastern Dance are NOT accurate substitute phrases
by themselves because they do not qualify the type of dance
It is my hope
that if you read my article to this point, you will at least consider
the possibility of changing your way of presenting Middle Eastern
Dance and to start to use the term Belly Dance, perhaps with further
definition, if that is the dance your are presenting and performing.
I have learned
over the years to accept that fact that the political, regional,
geographical, and historical definitions of the Middle East are
am going to state that the Middle East is ONLY Asian Arab when
it comes to Dance and not African Arab with the exception of
and only when it includes the word “Cabaret”. Egyptian
folk dance is not Asian Arab in style or content.
it important for teachers to recognize that Debke is regional
and only part of the Asian Arab, not African Arab, culture. The
Arab term for Middle East was “B’lad E’Shaam which is now Lebanon,
Palestine, Jordan, Syria,
Iraq, and Israel.
This is the
acceptable definition of the Middle East and Middle Eastern Dance
is more commonly defined as Debke rather than Belly Dance, even
though everyone in Asian Arab counties (including Israel), African
Arab countries and beyond knows how to belly dance or at least
knows what belly dance looks like.
are most welcome.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
The Untaught Teacher by
then, do we do about a teacher who has been misled, apparently,
concerning the history of our dance?
Calling all professional dancers!
How much do you charge? by Nanna Candelaria
the years, we dancers have unwittingly kept the general rate ridiculously
low in restaurants and nightclubs.
Interview with Mahmoud Reda
Part 1: The Beginning by Morocco
Ministry of Culture should be of help, not a source of problems.
But anyway, they had control of all the theaters, so to find a
theater we must go to them, but they gave us problems. I don’t
know why; maybe they were jealous!
Rhythm and Reason Series,
Article 3, Community Warfare by Mary Ellen Donald
and again I hear dancers deplore the fact that in many parts of
the country there are warring camps among dancers; that is, groups
that openly oppose each other and that try to keep all useful
information and all jobs to themselves.
Sirat Al-Ghawazi, Part
6 by Edwina Nearing
in the mid-1970's , the early sections of "Sirat Al-Ghawazi"
were first published under the title "The Mystery of the
Ghawazi." We are happy to be able to respond to the continued
demand for these articles by making them available to our readers