Belly dance styles

Princess Farhana’s blog has some interesting, useful and well researched posts on different belly dance styles. There’s five in the series so far, including Rom, Golden Age, Cabaret and Fusion.

I particularly like how she distinguishes between Fusion and Fantasy styles – something to ponder.


On teaching dance

Do read this great post on Asharah’s blog on the responsibilities of an instructor.  I was going to write about this myself, but she’s done it so well, there doesn’t seem much point now!

Her post pretty much sums up my attitude to my duties as a teacher, especially this line:  “I teach because I feel I have a duty to give my students the knowledge that I have collected, because if I don’t synthesize my knowledge and offer it, what good is it doing for me alone?”

Just 15 minutes

I all too often seem to end up jamming my dance practice into small spots in my day.  At first I felt bad about this, but then I realised how just those 15 minutes were slowly building my skill and my body strength.  So here’s some tips for jamming your practice into small bits of time:

  • even 5 minutes dance is worth doing 🙂
  • do a warm up – e.g. I often do pulsed squats with arm circles, and then move into some hip circles and 8s before trying anything more demanding.  This keep my conditioning programme going and helps prevent me injuring myself.
  • focus on one or two key things – e.g. I’m trying to build my ATS body wave flexibility and strengthen my arm undulations.  In 15 minutes, I can work on both of these enough to keep me progressing.  At other times, I’ve run through dances a time or three (depending on the length).
  • You can still work up a sweat in a short time, so try to leave time for showering after!

And when you really don’t have any time to practice:

  • Play dance music to accompany housework – shimmy while you wash up or vacuum!  As well as giving you a  chance to move, this can also be a good way to accustom yourself to your music – the more you hear it, the better you’ll know it.
  • Play dance music in your car – another good way to learn your music.  But remember: no undulating while driving!
  • Run through a move, combo or a choreography in your head before going to sleep – amazingly, this can be an excellent learning aid.  Make sure you focus on performing the move/s correctly; you don’t want to reinforce bad habits.


Right, time for some light-heartedness and hopefully a few giggles.

Definotion is a term I’ve created for words made by changing just one letter of a familiar word, with hopefully humourous definitions.

Here’s some belly dance ones I’ve come up with – some from standard English, some from dance terminology.  These do take some liberties with terms from Arabic – hopefully, there’s nothing too offensive.  The changed letter is underlined.

Bafla – an obscure concept dance performance

Bedlem – the effect created by serious costume malfunction

Bidlam – what happens when too many dancers want to win the same online auction

Chili – a costume that isn’t quite warm enough

Curmedgeon – a “grumpy old” dancer

Hababi/habubi – a pregnant belly dancer

Hammus – an excessively melodramatic performance

Hufla – a fast paced group choroegraphy

Shake arms –  a condition caused by performing excessive arm undulations

Turdan – a badly tied head dress

Yummus – post performance supper


Now, add yours in the Comments 🙂



Dancer’s heartbeat

Do watch this fantastic dance

Jeela performing Dancer’s Heartbeat.

Stunning performance – music, costume, movement, dancer all work together sooooo well.  Loads of inspiration…



P.S.  It does start dark – keep watching…

To choreograph or not to choreograph…

One thing I’ve had to start learning since I started teaching is building choreography.

This is not something that has come naturally to me!

Over the years, I have danced other people’s choreographies – but as a young jazz ballet student.  My first belly dance teacher taught moves, not choreography, so my personal experience with dancing belly dance choreography before I started teaching was basically zilch (I do not count watching videoed performances as personal experience!)

By nature, I am an improviser.  Preferably a structured improviser: I know the music and I have a rough plan of what sort of moves to do when and what’s going to happen next.  I like to be able to ‘nail’ accents, but I also like to able to respond to the audience and to where my body is at (e.g. if I have cramps, there’ll be less belly rolls!)  I also really, really don’t like the feeling of being so worried about remembering what comes next that I don’t enjoy the dancing – all too familiar from those childhood jazz lessons.

However, while this approach is fine for soloing, it really does not work with a group – unless you all know ATS [yay, another reason to love ATS!].  I also do not expect my students to have the same level of confidence in their dance as I do.  The majority are newcomers to belly dance, and need help to build their confidence with dancing and performing.

This is where choreography comes in handy.  So I have had to learn to make it.

Thanks to a workshop I did last year [yay, Pip E-lysaah!], I learnt a way to record my choreography.  As someone who has been a musician, my choreographies tend to closely follow the structure of the song, which I have found works well with beginners (“do this in the verse and this in the chorus”).  I do my best to keep moves simple and repetitive both for ease of remembering – my memory is not the greatest, so I don’t expect miracles from others, especially if they’re on stage for the first time – and for ease of watching – there aren’t that many people round here used to watching belly dancing.

So my advice to wannabe choreographers:

  • Don’t be afraid to make a choreography – if I can do it, anyone can!
  • Keep it simple to start with, especially if you’re dancing with a group (you have my permission to go wilder in solos).  It’s amazing what you can do with just a few simple moves and some arm gestures.
  • Listen to your chosen music a lot  – until you know it so well, you can hum it in your sleep!  Listen to its structure, listen for accents (‘nail’ points), listen for emotion and feel, listen for its repetitions.  Be prepared to teach this to the rest of your group.
  • Choreograph for the lowest level of your group – that way everyone looks good.
  • Watch lots of videos [yay, YouTube!] and think about what you do and don’t like in what you see  – both moves and costuming.  Costuming has the power to enhance or destroy your beautiful dance, so be careful!
  • Use word tables (or similar) to record your choroegraphy – I use 3 or 4 columns:
    • one for overall part of music (for songs, verse/chorus/bridge – if you don’t know what those mean , please talk to some musos – for instrumentals, sections A/B/etc or dominant instrument violin/drum/etc)
    • one for beat/count (this is the column that sometimes gets left out)
    • one for body movement
    • one for arm movement
  • Keep at it!

Oh, and

  • Think twice about performing veil dances outdoors…


It’s been awhile since I posted here for a variety of reasons, the most basic one being finding something meaningful and dance related that I felt up to writing about.

But as I just announced on my other blog, I have realised that meaningful is not necessarily the same as lengthy.

In many ways I’ve been using a narrow definition of “worthy blogging activity” to justify my absence from blogging.  And with this realisation, I no longer have my excuse!

And in a further realisation, I have been doing exactly the same thing with my dance: that is, using narrow definitions of “worthy dance activity” to justify my lack of dancing.  I have to wonder why I feel the need for this justification – what am I hiding from?

The answer is quite personal and also quite painful:

I am scared of not being the dancer I want to be.

I could write screeds about how that works out day-to-day, but screeds won’t change that basic, fundamental truth, so I’m not going to write them today.

The crazy thing is that, by blocking my desire to dance, my fear becomes reality.  I can’t be the dancer I want to be, the dancer I already am, if I don’t dance.

So, I am going to go and dance now – even a few moments is worthy of my doing.

Body image, emotion and dance

Recently I strained a tendon in my foot and need to see a physiotherapist.

I was lucky enough to find someone who practises holistic physiotherapy – muscle activation, treating fascial tissue and so on.  In other words, a physio who wants to get to the root cause of the injury, beyond the surface symptoms.

As a result of her work, my body is working better than it has in years, better than I ever thought it could.  I now have calf and hamstring flexibility, I can stretch further, my spine is better aligned, my shoulders looser and more.  As a result, my shimmies are sharper, my shoulder rotations more serpentine and my undulations stronger.

As well as the physical effects I am enjoying, there have also been psychological effects which I hadn’t anticipated.  The main one of these has been the need to completely re-write my own definitions of my body.  For years, I have talked down my dancing as ‘my body wasn’t flexible enough’, ‘I was physically incapable of dancing any better than average’, ‘tight hamstrings ran in the family’ and there was little I could do to improve the situation despite my best efforts.  Now I’ve found that’s not true.

I’ve found instead that what’s true is that my body stretches just fine when my calf and hamstring muscles are working properly.  My shimmies work well when my gluts are awake.  My rib circles are sharper and faster when my shoulders and chest are open.  My stamina is greater when my muscles all work together.  My body is, in fact, capable of dancing well, and of improving its skills to dance even better.

One particular area of dance performance I had always had  issues with was expressing emotion through dance.  However, with the freeing of my body and the re-writing of my mind, I am finding it so much easier to draw on the deep recesses of my soul and let them into my dance*.  I feel so much less limited in the range and strength of emotions I can dance.  I am very much looking forward to seeing how this translates into my performance.

*My thanks here, also, to Asharah, the Bellydance Paladin, for her thought-provoking posts about emotion and dance, which have helped me dig even deeper.

The first post…

… in which I explain why I am writing this blog.

I am a dancer.

I am a belly dancer.

I dance for self expression, for exercise, to heal my soul, for all sorts of reasons, but most of all because I love it.

This blog is a journey of exploration about what dance is, what it means to me and the roles it plays in my life.  I am also curious about how this plays out on the wider social stage: why do we dance? what roles does dance play in our society? in other societies? and on…

My focus will be mainly on belly dance/Middle Eastern Dance/raqs sharqi, as this is my dance style, experience and vocabulary.  However, I will do my best to be inclusive.  There will be tangents and side journeys.

Please join with me as I explore – your comments are welcome.



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