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Belly Dance: Ethnic Expression, Exciting Exercise

Updated on September 21, 2017
Ilonagarden profile image

I took bellydance lessons and performed, then became interested in costume. The historical relationship of dance and culture is fascinating.

Ancient Danceform That Can Keep You Fit

What do you think of when the word "bellydance" is mentioned? Most people have ideas from Hollywood, in movies splashed with a scene or two of belly dancers ( or reasonable facsimile) for a bit of local color or scintillation. Because it is an eye-catching performance with sinuous moves, flashy costuming, and beautiful performers, belly dance is certainly eye-catching. But there is more to the dance than that stereotype, with distinct ethnic styles and cultural significance.

I thought it would be fun to follow the road East to Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, and back,back in time to learn more about this traditional cultural dance form we call bellydance, known as "Beledi", or the "country dancing" of a region.

Ghawazee, Egyptian Gypsy

The Ghawazee is a Gypsy dancer. Not considered respectable, they were nevertheless enjoyed as entertaining musicians and dancers.

"Traditional Ghawazi dress consists of an Ottoman coat with slits, known as a Yelek or entari. The abdomen is covered by these coats. Turkish harem pants are worn under these coats." -[3]

In some ways the Ghawazee is the oldest form of today's belly dancing performance. It was the Gypsy of the Muslim world that traveled and brought entertainment to the countries that the Ottoman's conquered, and then spread from there into some of the folk dances of different regions. For this reason you may see some common elements in Flamenco dance of Spain, belly dance of Greece and belly dance of Egypt. But Gypsy dance, too, has regional styles and Ghawazee is the dance of Egyptian gypsy performers. Remember, in Muslim countries dancing was frowned upon, but people everywhere have always liked to be entertained, and dancing is great entertainment- just look at the popularity of 'Dancing with The Stars" or " So You Think You Can Dance" TV shows today.


Gypsy dancers in Egypt developed this style. It is a favorite for many performers because it has more footwork and emotional expression.

Classic Cabaret Style

Traditional Middle Eastern Entertainment

Egyptian Cabaret is a very popular style, and considered by many to be the classic type, seen often in movies, and performed in many clubs.

Egyptian Cabaret is a contemporary Egyptian nightclub style, very controlled, elegant, refined and often includes some ballet.

The costume is usually the "bedlah" or dancers set of decorated belt, bra, skirt, headband, and pantaloons.

Cabaret Style

Smooth and sinuous, with a sophisticated costuming and focused movements.


when you move parts of your upper body without moving your lower body or vice versa. This way of moving the body distinguishes every type of belly dance.


America goes tribal

A new-old type of belly dance is the tribal forms that are very popular today. Although rooted in a style that belly dancers of earlier decades researched and added to their repertoire, this genre has taken on its own characteristics and is now known as "American Tribal". It is still evolving, other forms are branching from it to grow into a very different, yet related, part of the belly dance style of dance.

Interesting Costuming:

Ethnic Bellydance Interpretations

Cultural Flavor

Perhaps because belly dance is such an ancient form of dance, there are many ethnic interpretations of it throughout not only the Middle East, but parts of Northern Africa and the Balkans in Europe. Greece, Turkey, even Bulgaria have their forms of the dance, or elements of the belly dance in their folk styles. Gypsy dances sometimes have bellydance moves included and there is a whole genre of belly dance that is Gypsy, the Ghawazee.

Velvet Peacock Gypsy costume can give a richly embellished Gypsy look.

Check out early versions of belly dance interpretations in Belly Dance in Old Movies

Tribal, or American Tribal, is a fusion combining elements of Arabic, African, Flamenco, Indian, and Turkish dances. From this style, goth and modern interpretations of belly dance have branched off.

American Tribal often fuses the classic belly dance moves with yoga. Also, "tribal" is just that... it is meant to be danced within a group context, the costume is eclectic, and the music is a steady beat with strong drum accompaniment.


Tribal Eclectic Ethnic Costumes and Moves

There is an emphasis on hip movement, and most of the costuming for these dances includes some form of clothing that accentuates this. Hip belts with coins, or scarves with fringe and many variations... but all include something that helps show the shimmies and hip movements.

Gorgeous Golden Hip Scarf - Fine Quality and Workmanship

Gold Beaded Shawl/Hip Scarf with Fringe
Gold Beaded Shawl/Hip Scarf with Fringe
There is a lot of range in the quality of hip scarves available. This one has sequins and beads and tiny mirrors together with long, luxuriant fringe. It measures approximately 41" from tip to tip; it is approximately 10 1/2 inches deep; and the fringe adds an additional 6" to the depth. That is a lot of hip attention!


"Turkish dancers strut, Egyptian dancers glide."

Turkish Style of Belly Dance - Performed by famous Turkish dancer Nesrin Topkapi

Second video is Mia Shauri, award winning (2010 Belly dancer of the year) dancer performing a Turkish style tambourine dance.

Turkish Bellydance

"The dance that could melt a stone"

In Turkey the dance "göbek dansı" is considered as originating further east and is called "Oriental dance" there."Turkish dancers are known for their energetic, athletic (even gymnastic) style, and particularly their adept use of finger cymbals"

"The Turkish Belly dance costume consists of bra, belt and skirt. Common to Turkish Belly dance costumes are: 6 to 18 inch beaded fringe attached halfway up the bra cup, with a center piece draping between the cups. Alternatively, the fringe may be attached at the base of the bra and extend around the back or only across the front. In either scenario the fringe on the belt attaches at the base.

The surface of the belt and bra are stitched in one color of sequin with a contrasting color used to create a design on each cup and in the center (front and back) of the belt. This is often a flowing abstract design, though sometimes recognizable patterns such as clam shells, diamonds, flowers etc. are used."

-Often including sheer harem pants.

Two particular moves are associated with the Turkish style:

1) Turkish backbend

2) Turkish drop

Karshilama is a line dance to an interesting 9/8 rhythm that can be counted 1 2 3, 123 (three slow, three fast movements); the Karsilama rhythm in a 9/8 time signature in Turkish music.

portions of this information quoted from "Turkish Style Bellydance"

Mia Shauri

Folkstyles of Belly Dance

Cane dances, sword dances, candelabra and pitcher dances... there are all sorts of props that were common to everyday life.

An Algerian Belly Dancer - Holding Aloft Her Scarf, in an Alluring Pose

Modern Interpretations - It's not your mother's dance or costume

Here is one direction the dance is going. Maybe it is thanks to Shakira and other pop singers who incorporate belly dance moves in their dance routines. However it is happening, bellydancing is becoming more modern in interpretation. Not always with traditional costuming and veils, but very recognizable in specific steps, use of body isolations, and dance combinations.

But the one thing it always has is that emphasis on the hips.

Maya Szekely, "Miss Bellydance Hungary", is probably my favorite performer. She has a very natural and lively style, and the best stage presence. There is a flow to her movements that is very admirable in any dance form and the best dancers and choreographers are set apart from the crowd by this quality. Maya has that quality.

Modern Interpretations

Shakira Dances - and popularizes bellydance throughout the world

Let me know you were here.

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    • Phillyfreeze profile image

      Ronald Tucker 

      8 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      Excellent lens on the history of the Belly Dance and the various styles and regional interpretations of such an ancient dance.

      The Egyptian Cabaret is the dance style that I am most familiar with because of the many Hollywood movies that I seen this traditional style in script. Thanks for adding the videos!...very entertaining.

    • flycatcherrr profile image


      8 years ago

      Ballroom dance may be all the fashion now but it has nothing on belly dance for fitness!

    • simona55 profile image


      8 years ago

      I took a class in belly dancing and every once in a while I still dance. That Maya Said video...very cool, but never saw of belly dancing show done in jeans. Looks better than I expected.


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