Belly Dance Styles

Belly Dance Styles
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Belly Dance Styles (Middle Eastern Dance)

“Belly dance” is a common term used to represent past and present styles of folkloric, cabaret, and contemporary dance, originating in the Middle East. The term is used so broadly that a more specific title is warranted in order to properly represent the dance. Of course there is subjectivity in placing belly dance into categories, as there are often commonalities rather than hard rules, but I believe that in attempting to organize the information we can better understand it. Below I have categorized the dance into three main belly dance styles.

I. Folkloric Styles: Folkloric dances are the various regional dances of the people, performed by the general public in social settings, at celebrations or by professional entertainers. Folkloric dances differ from country to country, as well as within a country. On the stages of past and present times, folkloric dances of the Middle East were, and are, performed in their original authentic forms as well as in a theatrical form for the stage. Many of the theatrical forms of “Egyptian” folkloric dances we see today were influenced by and introduced to the Egyptian theatre by Mahmoud Reda, who studied the authentic regional dances of the people throughout Egypt in the 1950s and then modified the dances and costuming for the theatre. Some examples of folkloric dances you may see performed performed by belly dancers include Raqs Assaya, Malaya Leff, Raqs Baladi, Ghawazee, Nubian, and Hagala.

II. Cabaret Belly Dance: What we think of as “cabaret” belly dance performed on a stage with fancy bedlahs, sequins and beads, evolved over time and was originally developed through combining the style of the awalem (female professional entertainers in Egypt), “raqs baladi” (the home style dance of the people), as well as influences from Western dance styles like ballet, the influences of Mohmoud Reda’s theatrical productions, and even Hollywood. This iconic belly dance style began as a fusion style called “Raqs Sharki.” Since the 1930s-40s, Raqs Sharki has spread like wild fire all over the world and with advances in technology the style of Raqs Sharki has branched off and evolved even further, making it even more difficult to define.

III. Contemporary Belly Dance: As belly dance has reached almost every corner of the world, belly dancers have experimented with the art form by incorporating western influences to a greater degree and adding their own unique artistic “twist,” while keeping some aspects of folkloric and the Egyptian Raqs Sharki style. “Belly Dance Theatre” is a great label for this type of creative expression. Belly dancers may borrow from just about anything, mime, theatre, Flamenco, Bollywood, etc… or create their own unique spin. Belly dancers may use non-traditional props, too. An example of a contemporary style is Tribal Belly Dance, which became popular in the US and can now be seen performed in other nations, too. Improvisational, Tribal Fusion, and American Tribal are well known sub-categories of the tribal belly dance style. Lately, I’ve even heard the term “Fantasy Belly Dance” used to label the creative pursuits of belly dancers that don’t fit into other categories.

I. Folkloric Styles performed by Belly Dancers in Greater Detail (Video Examples Included): I won’t define the various dances here as there are so many. However, below are a few examples.
Fifi Abdo Folkloric Style – Beledi
Yasmina of Cairo – Folkloric Style – Raqs Assaya “Cairo Style”
Khatiya Maazin – Folkloric Style – Ghawazee


II. Cabaret Belly Dance Styles in Greater Detail (Video Examples Included):

Egyptian Oriental (also labeled as Raqs Sharki, Egyptian Cabaret, Egyptian Style Belly Dance) is the belly dance style that is most true to the past and present dancers of Egypt, mainly Cairo. The style tends to be fluid without much isolation and is rich in emotion and music interpretation. The style can be further subdivided into three categories, Classical (1930- 40s), Modern (late 1940s-90s) and Post Modern (1990s- present). As present Egyptian dancers begin teaching abroad and foreigners have begun performing in Cairo, you begin to see native Egyptian dancers using current Western stylizations. Therefore, the present day trends of Cairo are more difficult to pinpoint.
Samia Gamal Raqs Sharki – Classical
Mona al Said Raqs Sharki – Modern Eygptian
Sahra Saeeda Raqs Sharki – Modern Egyptian
Randa Kamel Raqs Sharki – Post Modern Egyptian
Leila Raqs Sharki – Post Modern Egyptian
Sohaila Includes dialogue about the style.

This is the most common form of belly dance seen in the US. Although the cabaret style began as fusion and dancers continue to fuse, in the US and other non-Arabic countries, dancers will more commonly and freely add jazz and dance elements from other dance styles. Additionally, drum solos seem to have more importance in the American style than in the Egyptian style, with the added theatrics of pops, locks, lots of layering and even kicks. Chest rotations, isolated chest lifts and drops, and more isolation of body parts is typical of American Cabaret. Dancers in America, as well as abroad, often label it as Egyptian Cabaret or Egyptian Style, but there is a significant, yet subtle difference that is difficult to recognize and quite subjective. No one can better notice these subtleties than a native Middle Easterner who is familiar with the dance and music.
Bellydance Superstars American Cabaret – Video Example
Petite Jamilla American Cabaret – Video Example

The term “Russian Cabaret” isn’t really used as a style per say, however, in Russia, dancers tend to be classically trained in ballet. Most of the dancers tend to have a uniquely Russian style, which is elegant, graceful and more closely resembles ballet.
Evgenia Kopteva Russian Cabaret Style – Video Example

Lebanese Cabaret isn’t really used as a label either but for the purposes of studying styles of belly dance, here’s a clip of Amani, famous Lebanese dancer. I do know that Lebanese dancers are known for wearing heels.
Amani Lebenese Cabaret – Video Example

There are other Cabaret styles and trends that are not noted above.


III. Contemporary Styles in Greater Detail:

U.S. TRIBAL Belly Dance
This style can also be broken into three sub-categories, Improvisational, Tribal Fusion, and American Tribal
Unmata Contemporary – Improvisational Tribal Style
Unmata Contemporary – Improvisational Tribal Style
Fat Chance Contemporary – American Tribal
Rachel Brice Contemporary – Tribal Fusion

BELLY DANCE THEATRE or Fantasy Belly Dance
Blanca and Ondine Dance Belly Dance Theatre
Yael Becker Belly Dance Theatre
Yael Becker Belly Dance Theatre

Of course you will find many more styles of belly dance, which I have not referenced here.

Further Reading:
Belly Dance Styles 2 – A fabulous web graph of belly dance styles

Belly Dance Videos– An historical video reference, which shows a progression of Egyptian dancers through time and breaks the videos into styles of dance, too.

Hossam Ramzy Historical information on the stars of belly dance

How to Analyze Dance Styles by Meissoun A great article!


For more info about the author, visit

Egyptian style belly dance

Egyptian style belly dance

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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