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Egyptian Belly dance / Raks Sharki

Belly Dancer Dahlia

Dahlia

Many of the core belly dance moves have been used for centuries in the informal dancing and folk dancing of the peoples of the Middle East. In the first half of the twentieth century, nightclubs in Egypt formalized these core moves into a nightclub, or entertainment dance called Raks Sharki (translated as 'dance of the East', 'dance of the Orient', or 'Oriental dance'). It was the Arabic movie industry, based mostly in Cairo, and the Middle Eastern bellydance stars performing in Arabic and Turkish nightclubs, that helped introduce Oriental dance around the world.

The Moves: Egyptian style bellydance uses the belly dance moves and core belly dance techniques in a generally refined and subtle manner, especially in older versions of the dance. The Egyptian bellydancer strives for artistic, emotional interpretations of the music and friendly interaction with her audience. Modern versions of Egyptian bellydance have become more westernized with the addition of some techniques from forms such as ballet, pop, and Hollywood musicals. Most Egyptian bellydancers seldom use finger cymbals, extensive veil dancing, or floor work (which is illegal in Egypt). Props are rare with the exception of Raks Assaya (cane dance) and Raks Shamadan (candelabra dance).

Music: In nightclub Raks Sharki, the dancers perform to large orchestras that play Arabic music. There are a variety of instruments including dumbeks (Arabic hand drums), kanoon (stringed instrument), violins, ouds (similar to a guitar), mizmars (a horn instrument). In more modern styles of music, Western instruments are sometimes added such as keyboards and electronic instruments. A typical performance can last 30 minutes or more, and there is a great variety of tempos, rhythms, and melodies for the bellydancer to interpret. More modern styles of Raks Sharki music can include elements of American or World-beat music.

Costume: Since the 1950s, it has been illegal in Egypt, for bellydancers to perform publicly with their abdomens uncovered. Costumes for Raks Sharki are usually a long, one-piece gown or a two-piece outfit (a decorated bra top and skirt) with a sheer body stocking covering the midsection. In either case, the costumes are usually elaborate and elegant, with rich fabrics lavished with beadwork, jewels, and beaded fringe. Beaded belts are usually sewn directly onto the skirt and there are matching accessories such as necklaces, arm and ankle bracelets, earrings, and headpieces. The look for Raks Sharki is glamorous and feminine.

Watch a short video clip of Dahlia dancing in an Egyptian style belly dance costume. Bellydancers performing outside Egypt often forgo wearing the sheer body stocking that must cover the abdomen in Egypt.

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