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Meissoun dancing Lebanese style
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How to Analyze Dance Styles
by Meissoun

For a long time, the term “style” was something that I didn’t really understand. I watched performances or videos of Oriental dancers and was able to tell if I liked them or not – but if they danced Egyptian, Turkish, Lebanese, American, old, new, Sharqi or Baladi style was something I couldn’t really discern.

It took me some years before I was able to identify stylistic details and typical movements.  I have discovered that one needs some experience, good education and a trained eye to do so. At a certain point I began to recognize “style” and identify it systematically.  I was surprised to notice that suddenly I could also appreciate dancers that I had thrown into the “don’t like” basket before. So I started to really work on figuring out the styles of certain dancers. As a result I have also broadened my personal repertoire; nowadays I also teach workshops about the styles of famous dancers like Nagwa, Suheir, Amani or Dina.

I would like to explain now how I conduct my style analysis, and give some typical elements for various regions and dancers.

Ways of analyzing
The best way to find out about the style of a dancer is through video. It allows you to watch a dance several times and look at various details that are hard to see all at once. For a deeper understanding of a certain dancer it is also recommended to watch as many different performances as possible. It’s hard to judge a dancer by just one show – and everyone can have a bad night.

If you are analyzing a dancer from the Middle East, you will often have to put up with nerve wrecking camera angles – and many times there is a close-up of the face when you want to see the hips or there’s a view of the audience during the most interesting accents… On the other hand, one suddenly learns to appreciate that some dancers have very open skirts because it’s much easier to see what they are doing with their legs!

While analyzing dancers this closely, one also discovers their weaknesses. Many of them are one-sided: They always turn to the right, do a hip circle only to the left, use only one hip for drops etc. It’s important not to copy a famous dancer’s little ticks and mannerisms. For example if a dancer often throws her hair out of her face, the same head movement can look stupid on you if you have short hair. 

What to watch
Arms and Hands
I personally find that one of the most defining things when it comes to style and personal expression of a dancer are her arms and hands. I watch posture and tempo:

  • are the elbows rather bent or straight?
  • are the arms rather close to the body or out?
  • do the hands touch the body? if so, where?
  • do the arms accompany the body movements or do the move independently?
  • what is the position of the fingers?

Meissoun as Suheir Zaki
The hips are the body part that attracts our eye the most.
  • are one-sided hip movements done up or down? with emphasis to the front or back?
  • how isolated are the hips?
  • what way and in which direction are hip circles and figure eights done?
  • where do the movements originate: from the torso or the legs?
  • what kinds of shimmies are used?

Upper body

  • is the upper body rather calm or does it follow the hips?
  • is the shimmy done with the shoulders or the chest?
  • are there any other movement like chest drops etc.?

Use of space

For this you have to take into account where the dancer is performing. Is it a nightclub with an audience on 3 sides or a TV or stage show with audience or cameras on one side only?

  • does the dancer mostly dance on the same spot or is she changing places often?
  • is she standing mostly in profile or frontal?
  • is she moving on lines (side to side or back and forth) or in curves and circles?
  • how and how often does she spin?
  • does she do level changes? how?


  • how does the dancer hold her head?
  • where is she looking? straight ahead, to the floor, following the movements?
  • what is her facial expression? plastered on smile or changing emotions?
  • what does she do with her hair? does she touch it or throw it?

Music interpretation

  • what kind of music does the dancer choose?
  • how often and how fast does she change movements?
  • does she follow the rhythm or the melody?

Other things

  • does the dancer use accessories like zills, veil etc.? How does she handle them?
  • what is her general attitude and personality?
  • what is the style of her costumes, how do they influence her dancing?
  • does she dance barefoot or in shoes?

Meissoun incorporating Dina
Examples for styles
The more I have studied Egyptian dancers, the more difficult I find it to define “the” Egyptian style; some of them dance very differently. For example Nagwa Fuad, Suheir Zaki and Dina are three totally different personalities and it reflects in their dance styles. But there are things that they have in common, like dancing in the same place over a longer period of time. Even Nagwa has sequences in her fully choreographed, stage filling shows where she hardly moves around. In general, Egyptian dancer are much less into hitting every accent in the music as Western dancers are.

The first thing one notices when watching Lebanese dancers are the high heels they all wear. Of course they also influence the dance style. Hip movements are more upwards and drops look more like twists. Most of the videos that are available show the dancers in TV studios and on large stages where they have to fill the space, leading them to move around a lot and make their movements bigger. They also spin often and for long periods of time.

Turkish dancers also dance in heels, and often very fast. Unfortunately there aren’t very many good videos so I can’t say much more. One Turkish dancer who is exceptional is Asena. She has her own elegant style and a slightly cool, distanced attitude.

Copying style
After analyzing one or several dancers, you will have a list of movements that you like. You could either copy them as closely as possible or change them according to your needs and abilities to make them part of your personal dance repertoire. You will also notice that there are movements that look great on another dancer but not on yourself.

Watching and analyzing various dancers can be a very good way of learning, especially for advanced level dancers.

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