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Middle Eastern Dance Styles

19th C. Egyptian dancers. Handcolored stone engraving, David Roberts Middle Eastern dance: Is it art or is it fun?

Thinking of trying Middle Eastern dance? You're welcome to come observe a class anytime! Or "Drop In and Belly Dance" -- or sign up for an introductory course. Some students take this dance just for the exercise, or just for fun. But some later discover that they very much want to share this ancient form of expression.

We've thought about what you'll need in order to share the dance, and have a flexible plan. You'll have fun, and we can guide you from beginning to performance. The first six months, you'll take a series of seven-week sessions designed to give you a wide knowledge of classical Middle Eastern dance. You'll learn a romantic veil dance, a fun dance with hip shimmies, drops and locks, and you'll learn to play finger cymbals! These will give you a jump start on good dance training. Soon, you'll be in intermediate class, learning the styles of dance listed below.

Before the end of the first year, you'll know many Middle Eastern steps and rhythms. You'll be able to put together steps on your own, and you'll know several choreographed dances. We'll have a spring and fall party at which you can show off for your family and friends, as well as a January concert at a theater. Everyone is welcome to dance in our annual theater recital. Even beginners!

In your second year, you'll learn more complex choreography designed for stage performance. We'll sharpen your choreographic skills for solo work, which is great at restaurants, or just for yourself, your family and friends. You'll begin to perfect Egyptian-style Danse Orientale, which is the most subtle, most beautiful and most difficult of the styles. And when you're ready, you could be part of a performing repertory company.

20th C. film poster, Belgium. Danse Orientale

Most of us recall this style when thinking of Middle Eastern or ďbellyĒ dance. Danse Orientale was made famous in Egyptian movies of the 1940s and 1950s, and in the nightclubs in Cairo, Beirut and many other Middle Eastern cities. Itís most often performed in a two-piece costume, or in a beledi dress that evolved from both the folkloric tunic and the evening gown.

This form of dance is the most graceful, and also the most rich in detail. In the latter half of this century, the soloists of Danse Orientale perfected its technique. Now, a dancer spends a lifetime learning the steps and variations they have created while she, in turn, invents her own. Danse Orientale, with its richness and beauty, is a solid foundation for all the other classes.

Postcard, 20th C. fellahin, Egypt. Folkloric Dance

In turn, Danse Orientale, the city dance, draws much raw energy from the dances of the country. Since the 1960s and 1970s, the fellahin, or country people of Egypt, migrated to cities like Cairo, bringing with them vigorous styles of dance and music which are earthy and happy.

The cane dance, performed to a saidi rhythm, is the most widely known form of folkloric dance. It evolved from a menís quarterstaff dance. The women of the country, using lighter, more delicate sticks, began to parody the warlike movements of the men. Today the cane dance is also an important part of a soloistís city performance.

Where Danse Orientale is elegant and refined, folkloric dance gets down and boogies. Audiences often clap to the rhythms and dance in the streets.

Soheir Zaki, 20th C. Egyptian video poster. Danse Orientale Choreography

In a choreography class, youíll put the steps youíve learned into a dance. Youíll learn how to move smoothly from one step to another. Youíll begin learning how to communicate with the audience and how to work with each other as part of the dance.

Ethnic Dance Choreography

Dance movement in the Middle East varies greatly according to region. Nubian dance creates joyful, playlike movement. Saudi Arabian khaleegy, or Gulf, dance is graceful and flowing. Tunisian dance uses strong swiveling motions of the hips. When learning an ethnic, or folk, dance, we start with a warm-up and study of Orientale.

Two bayaderes, 19th C. Handcolored steel engraving. Improvisation

Itís fun to be free to interpret the music on your own. Dancers do this in solo performances, in restaurants, and at public festivals like the Wichita River Festival. It involves putting what youíve learned to work. When you improvise in class, youíll assemble your own short dance combinations using all the steps you've learned.

Emphasis on Rhythm

Dozens of different rhythms are used in Middle Eastern dance, and a well-trained dancer knows many of these and uses them to her advantage. This instruction emphases the study of basic rhythms, including beledi, ayub, karsilamas and chiftetelli. Youíll also learn which kinds of steps suit each rhythm. Youíll have the chance to work to the music of the doumbek, a Middle Eastern drum. Youíll also learn finger cymbals.

Antique images courtesy of The Museum of Middle Eastern Dance