Samia Gamal in the 1954 movie called "Lady Pick Pocket"
Egyptian Dance Code:
Technique to the Perfect Dance
We all know that Belly dance, described as such, will conjure
up exotic images and promote visual mystique of a bygone era
that heretofore might have existed only in the pages of the “One
Thousand and One Nights” story collection had it not been for
the Egyptian film industry and Taheyia Karioka who popularized
this very old—yet very perfect—dance. And thanks to Samia
Gamal, Na'eema Akef, and the others who followed, we were able to latch
onto the different styles of the dance as each individual performed
it, relative to her own experience.
Belly dance, done correctly and in the Egyptian manner, is the
most perfect dance in the universe. It is perfect in its timing
and execution. It is perfect in its expression. It is perfect
in its articulation, its gesture, its eloquence, and its portrayal.
In fact, it is so perfect that nothing else really comes close
to it (that is, when done correctly) the Egyptian way.
What is the
Egyptian way? I remember asking myself that very same question
over and over again while I watched
Nagwa Fouad, Nellie, Hala El Safy, and Mona
El Said on video
for many hours, trying to catch a glimpse of the secret of the
dance that made it look so easy on them; yet, I struggled to
emulate “the style” but always came out looking Western. Some
call it "essence", some call it the "it" factor.
Whatever we call it, it is missing in many Western Belly dancers—even
those who call themselves "Egyptian Style".
a technique I had learned during many workshops I had attended
after my initial stint with Jodette in Sacramento,
stood forever forefront on my visual mind as I sat glued to my
television watching and studying these Egyptian dancers dancing
on video for hours, weeks, months and even years. But where were
the isolations on these women? I couldn't see isolations. In
some other workshops I attended, I was told to "never shake
my breasts" because it would send a wrong signal and appear
lewd and unladylike to the customers. Yet, there they were—Suhair,
Nagwa, Hala and all the rest—shaking their breasts on that video
like there was no tomorrow and enjoying every minute of it. And
there were other things they were doing, like rotating their
wrists into a kind of wrist flip. How was that done? Suhair seemed
to have that one perfected, with Nagwa a close second. On the
other hand (no pun intended), I had been told to keep my hands
at my side at "Second Position"… whatever that meant.
The arm movements of these Egyptian dancers never seemed to be
in "Second Position" longer than a nanosecond.
Twenty-eight years after my first class in Belly dance, I looked
at all the dancers once again and realized what they were doing
to look Egyptian. I had discovered the Egyptian Dance Code. That
was back in 2000.
to achieving "Egyptian-ness" in
one's dance is in knowing how the Egyptians hear and keep the
beat of the
music. We in the West hear and keep the beat of the music in
our lower bodies—evidenced by the way we clap when we listen
to music. We clap toward the floor or the ground. We snap our
fingers in the same direction. We dance with our bodies falling
on the major beats and lifting on the minor beats; i.e., beats
one and three in a four-beat measure are the major beats.
the Egyptians do the exact opposite. In fact, most of the Arab
world keeps the beat opposite from
my first time in an Arabic nightclub, and I thought to myself,
“How odd it is that these Arabs clap their hands in the air
while I have always clapped my hands toward the ground!” It
my study of the dance that I discovered that the Egyptians,
as do many Arabic cultures, hear and keep the beat of the music
toward the ceiling or sky on the major beats, lifting their
bodies on the major beats and dropping them on the minor beats.
Taking a step further, I studied Fifi Abdo and found this to
be infinitely true as the epitome of the "essence" of
Egyptian dance or as having the "it factor" -- what
I have coined and documented as the Egyptian Dance Code.
What is most remarkable is that, since this way of hearing and
keeping the beat of the music is not in our Western experience,
it is virtually impossible to see it as Westerners, although
we recognize that the Egyptians dance differently than the West.
We simply do not hear the music like the Egyptians do to begin
with; it is not part of our culture or our way of life. On the
other hand, it is so ingrained in the Egyptian, albeit the Arabic
culture and way of life, that the Egyptians cannot really teach
it. It is the foundational core and complete part of their dance
and the root to looking Egyptian. Ultimately, in our view and
study of the dance, we can only conclude that the dance must
be using isolations since that is the only way we can justifiably
explain the movement the Egyptians are doing. While they are
keeping the beat of the music in their own way (the Egyptian
way), we see it the only way our cultural experience has taught
us to see it. When the Egyptian's chest rises first and then
drops, we in the West see the drop of the chest as being the
first beat and the raising of it after it has dropped, and it
appears to look like an isolation.
There are no isolations in Egyptian Belly dance. There is containment
of movement, but isolations are not a part of the dance.
are no ballet-like movements in the dance either. Ballet terms
may be referenced in workshops, but only because our Western
experience can relate to this terminology. After all, ballet
is more Western than it is Middle Eastern. It is no wonder
why we have taken those terms to define a dance that is not
in our experience or in our culture. The importance of ballet
in any dance form is for the instruction of posture and grace.
Every Egyptian dancer has her own style; it is a style born
out of and cultivated from personal experience. However, every
Egyptian dancer looks Egyptian in her style of dance. It is the
Egyptian Dance Code. It is inherently part of her culture out
of which she perfects her style, and we in the West must learn
to identify it and perfect it in order to look and dance like
an Egyptian and then go on to achieve the Egyptian style of Belly
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
An inteview with "The Lady with the Eyes" by Sausan
worked hardest for the dancers in San Francisco to wipe out the
discrimination factor and to make sure that all cultures were
included in the performance of this dance.
First Egyptian Dance Seminar by Melinda
would you think if you heard somebody say, “There are no
isolations in Egyptian Belly dance"?
BDSS Experience and Miles Copeland; Doing What He Does
Best by Sausan
though Miles Copeland’s vision is similar to that of mine
and the majority of belly dancers I have canvassed in my lifetime,
he and I differ in our mission approach to elevating the dance,
and this is where the discussion became a heated debate.
in North Beach by Sausan
the occasions when the door was still locked, I was often invited
to drink coffee next door, where young girls made their money
Th’Builder: a Little Something Extra to Shake Co-written
by Najia Marlyz and Salima
year's "Grand Dancer" tells of her transformation from
body builder to Bellydancer
Gala Peformance Part 1 of the International Bellydance
Conference of Canada video and photo report by
include: Lopa Sarkar, Sacred Dance Company of Victoria, Nath
Keo, Roshana Nofret & Maria Zapetis of Bozenka's BD Academy,
Ensemble El Saharat of Germany-
Mayyadah & Amir of Germany, Ferda Bayazit of Turkey, Arabesque Dance Company & Orchestra
Cairo: You live a whole lifetime in one week! by
builds bridges, and in today’s world, bridges –between
individuals and between cultures, are becoming more and more
of an imperative.
Ancient Art of Keeping Your Mouth Shut by Neon
one’s casual presence in the forums infested with negative-spirited
discussions can instantly strip a successful artist of her magical
to the Gothla! Dancing Along the Sulk Road Review of 3
DVDs by Rebecca Firestone
The costumes are fabulous. It's almost like—who
needs all that dance technique if you're wearing an enormous leather
headdress that makes you look like an alien refugee from Star Wars?
Tempest's approach in particular is a painterly one, not surprising
from a student of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Trade Like Any Other: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt, Book
Review by Kathleen Wittick Fraser
Van Nieuwkerk had as her main objective an examination
of the professions of musician and belly dancer in contemporary
Egypt and an identification of the influence of these professions
on the status of their practitioners, the underlying question
being "Are dancers and singers considered disreputable,
and if so, for what reasons?"
of Desire: A Foreign Dancer in Cairo, 2006, Review by
I believe that any dancer who has the desire to go to
Cairo to work will benefit from the experiences of Yasmina and
the other working dancers whom she asked to contribute. One will
come away having a better understanding of the Arabic culture and
how the dance is viewed within that culture.