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3 Styles of Belly Dancing Defined

Updated on June 5, 2019
Tricia Deed profile image

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

The Belly

The belly of a performing dancer.
The belly of a performing dancer. | Source

The Art of Belly Dancing

The art 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 is defined by women, social changes, and cultural history.

Today there are many different styles and these changes would not reflect its ancient origins. .

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 dance requires:

  • Individual discipline and devotion
  • Commitment to practice and study
  • Appropriate attitude of dignity and pride
  • Continuation to advance skills
  • Cultural Education
  • Knowledge and familiarity with different rhythms
  • Knowledge of Middle Eastern musical instruments

There are many facets to this dance since its introduction to the United States during the 1950's.

Nightclub Or Cabaret Dancers

Nightclub or stage performer
Nightclub or stage performer | Source

1. 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 dances in one of these establishments acquires 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 has 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 travel to the Middle East (as early as the 19th century) they always inquire of the cabarets which provide 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 head, 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, rib slides, undulations, belly rolls, and snake-like arm movements, and other alluring movements to entice the audience to continue watching. These upper body movements also help to add more variety to the dancer’s performance.

Ghawazee Costumed Dancers

Dancers performing an ethnic dance with Ghawazee costumes.
Dancers performing an ethnic dance with Ghawazee costumes. | Source

2. Tribal Style Belly Dance vs Ethnic Belly Dancing

Tribal refers to a specific group of people with the same philosophy. Ethnic or folkloric refers to the entire culture of a country. .

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.This dress style is representative of these gypsy-like people.

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 is now considered a language, with no mention of its people. The Ghawazee tribe no longer exists.

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

The Beledi is the folkloric or ethnic dance of the country of Egypt. Everyone dances this style at private parties and public celebrations. The musical rhythm is easy to follow. Everyone enjoys themselves.

American 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

3. 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 determine which style have 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 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.

Beautifu Combination of Tribal-Cabaret and Orientale


The art of belly dancing has evolved dramatically in America because of:

  • Changing attitudes
  • An assortment of perspectives by women
  • Different cultural interests and input
  • Social changes
  • Advancement of dance art and skills
  • Knowledge and education

This dance which is primarily designed by women, for women, and with women is constantly changing.

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 experiment with other forms until you discover your niche.

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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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