Belly Dance Styles 2

Belly Dance Styles 2
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Belly Dance Styles

How do you label the many dance styles danced and performed by belly dancers?

vintage bellydancer

Defining the styles of belly dance can be a touchy subject, as some dancers mistakenly think that there are standardized terms for all belly dance styles. Yes, there are many universal names that are unchangeable, especially when defining Middle Eastern folkloric styles. However, there are other names and categoraizations that are used regionally or individually, depending on each dancer’s preferences, influences and opinion.

The first problem with labeling belly dance is that the term “belly dance” is far too generic. In my opinion, “belly dance” is overused. It’s fine to call ourselves belly dancers and say that we “belly dance,” but when discussing history or style or when educating others, it’s far too broad. Used in this way, it can lead to confusion and can perpetuate the many mistruths that already exist. Many will use the term “belly dance” in historical context, which can misrepresent the many cultures and various people of the Middle East and other regions of the world. You’ll find that most, if not all, “true” historians will stay away from the word “belly dance” for this very reason.

I’ll assume that most dancers would agree that belly dance (the dances belly dancers do) can be broken into 3 categories. Whether you use my labels or your own, doesn’t really matter, as long as we are describing the same thing. I like to use Folkoric, Cabaret, and Contemporary. Below is a web graph that I created, in which I’ve listed most of the styles that belly dancers tend to learn and perform. I’ve organized it in this way, to illustrate the connections between the styles. If I’ve left something important off, or if you’d like to add your two-cents, please leave a comment below.

Click on the picture to enlarge.

bellydance styles

In the web graph above, “Vintage” refers to the style seen in Cairo in the late 1800’s- 1940’s. By “Modern,” I refer to the late 1940’s – 90’s, and by “Post Modern,” I refer to the 1990’s to present times. It should also be noted that Saidi and/or Raqs Assaya is most often performed in a “Cairo-Cabaret” style rather than in its traditional form, which is also true for some other folkloric dances. So, perhaps there should be some overlap between Cabaret & Folkloric to note this. More importantly, I hope it’s a good learning tool, if not disected too much and used generally.

Here’s a pseudo venn diagram by Nadira Jamal that is very informative as it shows the overlap of styles. Click to enlarge.
styles of belly dance venn diagram

For more info about the author, Mellilah, please visit

Further Reading:
Belly Dance Styles – My original article that defines the styles in more detail.
The Different Dances of Egypt The Different Dances of Egypt by Sahra Saeeda

About Mellilah Jamal

Mellilah teaches belly dance classes in Redmond and Bothell and performs for private parties and restaurants throughout Seattle.

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