Lose the Label

When did we start dividing oriental dancers into categories? Why is it so important to pin down her (or his) bellydance style, and put it in a box and put a label on it?

With so many genres under the vast umbrella of bellydance, we have to identify what it is the person is doing these days, I guess. I don’t mean regional folk styles of Middle Eastern dance, or fusion dancing, I mean the style of bellydance. What ever happened to being just a good old bellydancer?

I am, and will always be an Oriental Dancer. I worked for decades in Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Armenian, and Persian restaurants and nightclubs  AS A BELLYDANCER. I didn’t suddenly become a Greek bellydancer because I was dancing in a Greek restaurant with Greek musicians, and so on. A good dancer has to be versatile and understand the audience she is performing for, and the style of music she is dancing to. The music determines how a dancer feels. The music guides your movements, your emotions. The music is what is driving the style in which the dancer is dancing.

For instance, if we compare famous Egyptian dancer’s styles, such as Samia Gamal, Naima Akef, Fifi Abdo, Aza Sharif, Dina, Camelia, Dandash and many others through time, they all have very different dance styles, but they are all Egyptian dancers. It’s their feeling for the music, and their background in dance, for instance some have, ballet, and folkloric training, etc. Their style is their own personal style.

Trends come and go also. The popularity of a dancer can influence up and coming dancers to imitate them, causing more dancers to follow the trend, in not only movements, but costuming, mannerisms, and so on. Dina and Rhanda Kamal’s styles are both a prime examples of this type of copy cat trend by foreign dancers. Westerners are especially compelled to copy famous dancers, even down to their postural quirks, thinking they are being ‘Egyptian’ (or Turkish, or whatever). It’s embarrassing, people!

Regional folk dance styles as well as traditional folk music also influence the bellydance styles in different countries, for instance Lebanon’s folk dance is Debke. Debke is very rhythm driven, with stomping, and jumping type steps, and many Lebanese dancers have a very fast, rhythm driven, jumpy style. However, not all Lebanese bellydance styles fit that M.O. Here again, we have the box with the label on it. Check out the famous Lebanese dancer, Dina Jamal on youtube, her style is what I would call Classic Oriental. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDl4isGxQEE

By the same token, Turkish dancers are known for having a ‘wild, fast and crazy’ bellydance style, but check out the lovely Turkish Oriental Dancer, Nesrin Topkapi, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vFGh83m4r0

Again, regional folk styles can affect a dancer’s personal style, depending on their background, for instance, many Turkish bellydancers also have Romany background.

One last thing’what the heck is American Cabaret? I understand it refers to an older style of oriental bellydance show that was more popular in the 1970’s, but, the word ‘cabaret’ in the Middle East refers to a low class place. You would never call yourself a ‘cabaret dancer’. You would be telling people you are a very low class dancer and work in low class places. They might think you are a prostitute.

I understand we are in America, and we use different terms, but I am a dancer from the 1970’s and I never heard that term till recent years. ‘American Cabaret’ is just an older style of bellydance show, it’s not an American innovation.

Educating oneself is very important in personal growth. Continue to train, developing good oriental technique, and personal style. Let’s stop the copy cat syndrome, and lose the labels.

2 Response Comments

  • Delilah RoseJuly 28, 2016 at 3:39 am

    Thank you for posting this. I have thought for a while that part of what makes each dancers dance special is her personality. However, I’ve been afraid to fully embrace the notion for fear of doing something “wrong”. It is liberating to hear this from a long-time belly dancer.

  • Athena LemieuxAugust 2, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    This is wonderful. For a few years now, people have been asking me and my troupe what style or type of belly dancing do you do. I’ve always struggled with the answer. Mostly because we don’t have a style or type. We dance with many styles and types or dance, we don’t want to limit our dancing to a particular style or type. We want the freedom to dance with whatever music strikes us. This article has given me more confidence in my answer as to what type or style we dance to. I usually say that we dance to all kinds of styles so we can explore all the wonderful aspects of the art of belly dance and that can include Egyptian, North American, turkish and many others.
    Thank you for the wonderful article.


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