Terms and terminology of belly dancing

By Vintagemode - April 29, 2020


To define belly dancing as a dance with belly movements might sound a little vague. This artistic dance form is much more than just that. And a long history that explains its existence. The term belly dance is itself a translation of the French term Dance du ventre. A French artist's orientalist painting of a middle-eastern woman dancing with her uncovered belly amidst a group of soldiers inspired this nickname for the dance form.


This term “danse du ventre” was later used as a term for torso-articulated dances that had presumably originated in the Middle East. When Egyptian dancers performed at Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, the English term belly dance was first known to have been used. It is further divided into two types – the Raqs Baladi and the Raqs Sharqi. The Raqs Baladi is more informal and social dance and is considered “the dance of the country” or “the dance of folks” in Egyptian Arabic language. Basically, it comprises movements that are recognized as belly dance moves. Meanwhile, the Raqs Sharqi is a more broad category that incorporates the Raqs Baladi and other professional forms like Sa'idi, Ghawazee and Awalim. The Raqs Sharqi is highly inflenced by ballet and Latin dance and is performed mainly in cabarets and clubs.

The movements in the dance come without any names, like ant other folk dance, but some modern-day schools have introduced some names for these moves. The most common names given to these moves are  Basic Egyptian, Maya, and Turkish drop. These terms are devised by Suhaila and Jamila Salimpour – the first ones to coin names for the belly dance movements.

Maya is the name for hip movements on a vertical plane. While one hip moves up, away from the body, then down and back to centre, the other hip moves down, into the centre and then away from the body. Ghawazee is performed on all fours. The hands are perpendicular to the floor at waist height. While the dancers pushes his hands forward onto the floor, the hips are pushed backwards imitating the movement of a horse. A similar step to this is the Sa'idi. In Sa’idi, the position remains the same as Ghawazee. The only difference is that one foot steps backward and forward and the arms move to the rhythm of the moving leg. Another of the moves is termed as Zar. The dancers rotates the head in circles throwing the hair in the air. The Zar head is an imitation of the ritual in Egypt and some middle East countries that symbolise possession of a women by a spirit.

Although the dance movements do not have any names at the time of their birth, naming them to suit the conveniences of those who wish to learn can be effective indeed. The terminology of belly dancing is vast and can be only understood in the context of the cultures of the middle-eastern countries. As such, the names are also attributed to the rituals and indigenous customs.

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