One Dancer's View of the Dance

Dancer image by Corinne Paquette-Parker (c) Belly Dancing (Middle Eastern Dance, danse du ventre) originates in the Middle East and North Africa. Its distinctive movement relates directly to the musical instruments and musical forms of the area. For instance, the twenty-two or so dance rhythms are complex and intriguing (though not to the same extent as the "listening" rhythms), and necessitate a close foot-position for the dancer. There are no leaps through the air, for the music might change at any moment. (If you're looking for music, check out My Favourites!)

(This bit is an extreme generalization, and does not apply to all people.) The culture of the Middle East encourages and applauds subtleties, innuendos. Women are seen as lustful creatures, and so must be constrained; hence the purdah inside the home and out of it (the various aspects of the veil). Proper women dance in the privacy of their homes, with their women relatives and friends. Naughty women dance in front of men. The suggestions inherent in the dance are sufficient to drive men crazy... well, maybe that's overstating it... But both men and women do not need graphic physical movement to understand the sensual possibilities in the human body. And both genders appreciate sensuality apart from sexuality.

In North America, belly dance (a hideous term, but most others are cumbersome) has been cleaned up a little; it is an artform with a shady past, but an artform nonetheless. The sexuality of the dance is close enough to the surface that belly dance can be and is used for, shall we say, advertising. The better dancers understand that the dance is an artform that expresses all emotions, including sensuality, and that it is the dance that is being offered to the audience, not the dancer. The attitude of the dancer makes that clear.

The training of a dancer may be structured or informal, but all good dancers, in addition to doing strength and flexibility exercises, learn about the dance structures, movements and patterns, about costuming, about stage presentations, and about Middle Eastern music.

The most common early instruments include doumbeks, ouds, nays, and kanoons. (Spellings can vary drastically, as they are approximate transliterations of the Arabic script.)

The first is an hourglass-shaped drum; a doumbek generally has a sharper sound when struck on the edge, than the lower reverberating tone of the center of the skin-head. The oud resembles a lute or bouzouki; it is played in approximately the same manner as a guitar, and has a softer tone than a kanoon. The nay is a drone instrument, almost a bagpipe without the bag.... The last is roughly the shape of a hammered dulcimer or autoharp, and is laid acros a lap or bench, played with finger-picks. A kanoon can give the effect of rippling water.

These are not the only instruments used, but are most common, and most likely to have been around for a thousand years.

Linda in red w. scarf, Baladi Dancing style relates directly to the music, its measures, tempo's, and ranges. Modern audiences often flinch at the melodies when they stray from our eight-note octaves (meaning eight notes) to the Arabic mode, with its greater variety of notes within its range. And yet it can be compelling, drawing emotions from dancer and audience alike.

The way the music is played influences the dance style. Moroccan music tends to have a looser form; Moroccan-style dance is also looser, with arms held loosely out from the sides and rarely higher than the shoulders. Body movements are larger and more sweeping than in other areas. Egyptian music is full of subtleties, and so is the dance. The dancer is more likely to be on the balls of her feet, arms held high and elegantly curved. Body movements are full of intricacies rarely appreciated by the North American audience. Turkish music is highly rhythmic and flambouyant; so, too, is the dance, full of hops and flashy hip shimmies.

All that said, all dancers should have some familiarity with the following dance rhythms:

Ayoub or 2/4 Baladi 4/4 or Massmoodi Kadir bolero 4/4 Chiftetelli 8/4 el-zaffa 8/4
Falahi Guwazi or Ghawazee 4/4 Kashlimah or karsilama 9/8 Malfuf 2/4 Maqsum 4/4
Masmoudi 8/4 moroccan 6/8 nubar 5/8 saidi 4/4 samai 10/4
saudi 2/4 Serto 6/8 Soufi or Morroccan 6/8 wahida 4/4 Zar

There are more, of course, but learn especially the capitalized rhythms. There are several sites with drum patterns written out; if you don't have a drum or drummer, beat out the rhythms on the kitchen table! Remember that the dance came out of ordinary life, created by ordinary people, in primitive (to us) conditions... So Dance!

Dancer image shown at top is created by Corinne Parker for Linda J. Doerksen, and is copyrighted; any unauthorized use is subject to said laws.
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