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3 Styles of Belly Dancing Defined

Updated on June 25, 2017
Tricia Deed profile image

Tricia Deed enjoys writing about dance. She has had years instructing belly dancing in cabaret, ethnic and folkloric styles.

The Art of Belly Dancing

The "belly" of the belly dancing is a visible dancing arena of undulations, flutters, pops, and rolls.
The "belly" of the belly dancing is a visible dancing arena of undulations, flutters, pops, and rolls. | Source

Belly Beautiful

The artt of belly dancing has been with us for thousands of years. Women are the designers of this dance since its beginning concept. Its traditional roots are based in fertility rituals. Certain movements have not changed in the folkloric or ethnic forms of this dance. The evolution process as history and social changes came about seems to have appeared in the cabaret style of this ancient dance.

Regardless of which style is chosen belly dancing offers sensuality for the dancer, the participants, and the audience.

This dance cannot be learned in a short period of time. True, it can be copied; but this is not enough to portray the dance. The true belly dancer studies her craft for many years. There are no six-week wonders. She is an elegant and powerfully confident woman who dances with skilled techniques and with her heart.

The dancer needs to be well disciplined in this art, is devoted and readily practices movements, understands and uses attitude appropriately, educates herself of cultural history which contributes to this dance, and becomes familiar with musical instruments and rhythms.

Nightclub Or Cabaret Dancers


Cabaret or Night Club Dancing

A cabaret is a building which houses an establishment for drinking, eating, and providing entertainment for its customers.

A belly dancer who danced in one of these establishments acquired the name cabaret dancer. But, regardless of the country, it would be more appropriate for the dancer to be recognized as a nightclub performer.

As a nightclub performer her costume will be very glitzy and glamorous as is expected of evening wear. The American movie industry had much influence in these costumes becoming laden with beads and sequins. A dancer’s costume can never have enough shiny bangles and beads.

The dancer may dance Raqs Sharqi which is Arabic meaning “Dance of the Orient”. This form of dancing is considered ancient, unfortunately no one knows the year of its conception. When tourists traveled to the Middle East (as early as the 19th century) they always inquired of the cabarets which provided these dancers. Cairo, Egypt became a hot spot for these tourists.

The musical rhythms for this style of dancing reflect in the dancer’s heavy use of hip movements with varying speeds as dictated by the music. There are some arm and upper torso movements to break the monotony of the hip actions.

“Little Egypt” of the Middle East entertained at The World’s Fair shocking onlookers with these unfamiliar movements.

When the Americans took interest in this dance they started to use upper torso movements, such as chest lifts and tucks, snake arms, veils, and other alluring movements to entice the audience to continue watching. These upper body movements also helped to add more variety to the dancer’s performance.

Ghawazee Costumed Dancers

Dancers performing with Ghawazee costumes.
Dancers performing with Ghawazee costumes. | Source

Tribal Style Belly Dance or Ethnic Belly Dancing

It does not really matter which term is used. But if it is important to differentiate then think of tribal as referring to a small special group of people with the same philosophy. Ethnic would refer to a larger non-specific group of people.

Example: When I was first introduced to belly dancing I was interested in the dance performed by the Ghawazee tribe. These dancers wore long tunic jackets. The long sleeves of the jacket were split at the elbow and draped beautifully framing the arms.

The costumes which are used in tribal or ethnic dancing represent the culture of the land.

Who were the Gawazees? They were traveling gypsy-like people who entertained at public functions, weddings, harems, birthdays and other celebrations. The story goes that they were banned in the 1700's and were never given recognition.

About twenty years later I researched Ghawazee and it was now considered a language, with no mention of the people. The Ghawazee tribe no longer exists.

The ethnic part of this discussion would illustrate Ghawazee as a part of the Egyptian culture and not considered as a tribe. In other words, it is all a matter of the current thinking of the people and how they wish to label themselves.

The country of Egypt Is located in Africa. The word "tribe" seemingly is used in this country and certain islands.

Tribal Fusion Costuming

Costumed tribal fusion dancers using swords, daggers, and candles in their "fusion" dance choreography.
Costumed tribal fusion dancers using swords, daggers, and candles in their "fusion" dance choreography. | Source

American Tribal Fusion or ATS

This dance was designed by American belly dancers. Their creative ingenuity wanted something different and over a period of time they incorporated movements from cabaret, folkloric, American pop, and Hip Hop. They even threw in some Flamenco, modern dance, ballet, and other classical dances.

The ideas from the Fat Chance Belly Group and the inspiration of Rachel Brice with her fusion ideas caused this combination to be called Tribal Fusion as named by Rachael. Both of these well known entertainers will also confirm that they took many years and an assorted number of teachers to bring about this style.

Before tribal fusion there was ATS or American Tribal Style, developed by Carolena Nericcio.

Students have a choice of learning two different tribal original forms developed in America.

The costumes will determine which style has the heaviest influence in the dance. For instance if there is Flamenco influence, the dancers will wear colorful flamenco skirts, Other choices may include shells, feathers, tribal jewelry, scarves or whatever serves as the main theme will be the costume. There are also simple to elaborate head pieces or adornments of flowers, ribbons, shells, feathers, and folkloric jewelry. Dancers who love tattoos find their home in this form of dance.

There are many peoples in America with many different ideas of dance and it is these elements which are entering the “fusion movement”. Many different types of music are being incorporated into this movement. There are no limits.

Rachel Brice Tribal Belly dance Fusion


The art of belly dancing has through many centuries evolved with the changing woman. This dance which is primarily designed by women, for women, and with women is constantly changing. The dance reflects women's interests as society and culture change.

There are many varieties of styles which are included in the label "belly dancing". Do you have a desire to learn this dance? Start with the basics of the traditional Egyptian or Turkish belly dancing, then move on to other forms until your niche is discovered.

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    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      2 years ago from Norfolk, England

      I've always enjoyed watching this dance. It's so exotic.


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