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3 Categories of Belly Dancing Defined

Updated on January 8, 2020
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

A traditional Turkish hip scarf with belt.
A traditional Turkish hip scarf with belt. | Source

Three Styles

The art of belly dancing has been with us for thousands of generations. Women are the designers of this dance since its birth. They base its traditional roots in fertility rituals. Specific traditional moves have not been altered in the folkloric or ethnic forms. The evolution process of this dance changes by women’s creativity and imagination, social changes, culture, and history.

There are 3 categories of classes. The three options are (1) traditional and modern cabaret or night club, (2) traditional tribal, ethnic, folkloric, and (3) American Tribal Style or American Tribal Fusion which are new innovations by American belly dancers who wish something different to show their personal interests.

We cannot study this dance in a short period. True, we can imitate it. The true belly dancer studies her craft for many years. There are no six-week wonders. She is a woman of grace, power, and confidence dancing with skilled techniques and heart-felt emotions illustrating the wonderment of beauty.

The dance requires:

  • Individual discipline and devotion

  • Commitment to train and study

  • 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 1950s. The Americans have invented or strengthened many of the body movements. These movements are more detailed, complex, and measured. Steps and movements may change or be duplicated from different cultures and other dance disciplines.

Nightclub Or Cabaret Dancers

Nightclub or stage performer
Nightclub or stage performer | Source

Cabaret or Night Club Dancing

A cabaret is a building that houses an establishment for drinking, eating, and entertaining its customers.

A belly dancer who dances in one of these establishments gains the name cabaret dancer. It is more appropriate to call her a nightclub performer.

Nightclub performers wear glitzy and glamorous costumes. 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 an ancient art form focusing heavily on hip movements that demonstrate drum rhythms. No one knows the year of its conception. Tourists visiting the Middle Eastern countries do ask for the cabaret locations offering this entertainment. These entertainers sing and dance for their audiences. Tourists are able to see and take belly dancing lessons in these countries.

Egypt heads the list followed by Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Greece. America offers classes featuring different nightclub, ethnic, and folkloric styles from these countries. Instructors from these countries are invited to teach at seminars and workshops. Professional American instructors visit these countries and train with their instructors. There are daily exchanges of dance information, dance styles, and dance steps between American and Middle Eastern instructors.

Fatima Djemille, “Little Egypt” of 1893, was the performer at the Chicago World Fair who created a controversy with her dance style. It was shocking to first time audiences during this period of history. There are videos of her dancing on you The video is called “Little Egypt Chicago world’s fair 1893”.

American performers added a variety of upper body movements to add variety and interest. These movements include chest lifts and tucks, rib slides, undulations, belly rolls, snake-like arm movements, and other alluring movements to entice the audience to continue watching.

Ghawazee Costumed Dancers

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

Tribal 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.

Folkloric or Ethnic

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


Ghawazee Gypsy Dancers:

These were gypsy women of upper Egypt who danced at public functions, weddings, harems, birthdays and other celebrations. The story goes that they banned these gypsies in the 1700s for being women and wearing costumes that exposed their bellies. These dancers were nomadic gypsies entertaining villagers for their living. It is said that men replaced these gypsies. These men dressed as women and imitated their movements. Ghawazee gypsies of today are few and difficult to locate.

A traditional costume is a long tunic jacket with long sleeves split at the elbow framing the arms. Contemporary dress and blouse fashions of America are incorporating this style of a sleeve. They wore the tunic over harem pants or a skirt. Modern American Tribal Fusion (an American concept) has modernized this style of costuming accessorized with an elaborate headdress.



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

American Tribal Fusion

This dance is an American original incorporating movements from cabaret, folkloric, American pop, jazz, break dancing, other folkloric moves, and Hip Hop. They even threw in some Flamenco, modern dance, ballet, and other classical dances.

American Tribal Fusion was originated by Jill Parker and Ultra Gypsy. Source for this information is from Rachel Brice popularized this dance and its costuming. Regardless of who receives credit, it took many years and an assorted number of teachers to bring about this style. These two styles are popular for group dancers. It may or may not be available for public performances.

American Tribal Style or ATS

American Tribal Style or ATS, developed by Carolena Nericcio and Fat Chance Belly Dance, is the first tribal dance invented by American dance artists. American Tribal Fusion by Jill Parker and Ultra Gypsy is the second.

Students have a choice of learning two different tribal original forms developed in America. The ladies enjoy this style of dancing for group fun, exercising, dance interest, and social activity.

The costumes determine which style has the heaviest influence in the dance. Flamenco enthusiasts will wear colorful flamenco skirts, Saris from India, and printed fabrics of Africa are supportative of beads, shells, feathers, tribal jewelry, scarves or whatever serves as the main theme will be the costume.

There are 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.

Teachers, performers, students borrow music and costume inspirations from the Middle East, India, Africa, and many other countries. The creative imaginations of the participants is endless. I have borrowed music from tropical islands.

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

The popularity of these styles is causing Americans to see belly dancing with a variety of attitudes and interpretations. Some people express it as this is not the belly dancing that your mother or grandmother did.

Tribal Belly Dance vs Cabaret Belly Dance


Belly dancing has grown in America because of:

  • People’s changing views

  • A wide range of viewpoints by women

  • Diverse artistic influences and information

  • Social changes

  • Growth of this dance profession and techniques

  • Awareness and study

  • Growth of professional performers

  • Well informed and better teachers

Women design this dance for, by and with women causing it to evolve on a daily basis. There are a few men who participate in this art form.

Do you have a desire to study this dance?

  • Start with the basics of traditional Egyptian or Turkish.
  • Experiment with different styles from various countries.
  • Gain knowledge from reputable sources
  • Gather experiences under many social activities
  • Be a professional student, a business owner, or a professional entertainer.

The Belly Dancer

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