Welcome to Oriental Limelight

Here you find interviews, articles and videos about Oriental Dance.

Amani, the Lebanese Diva

Amani International Festival

Interview with Nelly

Belly Dance Multiple Styles

Vanessa Lynn Freedman

Changing roles of Belly Dancer in the Egyptian society

Anusch Alawerdian

Oriental Dancers and Producers, a professional relation

Fairy Tale Fan Veils - Interview with Nephele

 “Any fable or fairytale has some sort of reality in it. That's why I think I love the form of fantasy or fairytale, is that you're able to kind of put things in there and let people sort of, discover their own emotion, discover their own sort of feelings about things. Or make their own lessons from it.' 
Tim Burton

Iraqi dance - dances of Arab States of Persian Gulf - part II

 by Isis Zahara 2013

special thanks to Dalia AlChamary

Maleeyen - the best Iraqi dancer

Is called Iraq an unique style of dance based in special footwork, shimmies and hair tossing. I admit myself as a big lover of this style because it gives  a true freedom's feeling.
The Republic of Iraq was called Mesopotamia by the Greeks, and appears constantly in the Ancient history as the Babilonians Empire.  The country borders Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia,Jordan and Syria consequently the culture of these countries had influenced the  own culture of Iraq specially in the dance.
The Iraq Music
(Main article: Music of Iraq Wikipedia)
Iraq is known primarily for its rich maqam heritage which has been passed down orally by the masters of the maqam in an unbroken chain of transmission leading up to the present.
The maqam al-Iraqi is considered to be the most noble and perfect form of maqam. Al-maqam al-Iraqi is the collection of sung poems written either in one of the sixteen meters of classical Arabic or in Iraqi dialect (Zuhayri).This form of art is recognized by UNESCO as “an intangible heritage of humanity”.

Early in the 20th century, many of the most prominent musicians in Iraq were Jewish.

In 1936, Iraq Radio was established with an ensemble made up entirely of Jews, with the exception of the percussion player.


At the nightclubs of Baghdad, ensembles consisted of oud, qanun and two percussionists, while the same format with a ney and cello were used on the radio.

The most famous singer of the 1930s–1940s was perhaps the Jew Salima Pasha (later Salima Murad). The respect and adoration for Pasha were unusual at the time, since public performance by women was considered shameful and most female singers were recruited from borthels.
Salima Pasha Murad
The most famous early composer from Iraq was Ezra Aharon, an oud player, while the most prominent instrumentalist was Daoud Al-Kuwaiti. Daoud and his brother Saleh formed the official ensemble for the Iraqi radio station and were responsible for introducing the cello and ney into the traditional ensemble.

 Iraqi dance
 The Iraqi dance style is called Kawleeya and had being influenced by the gulf khaliji dances, including the hair tossing which is done much faster and has exuberant swing between the moves. The dance is based on the Romany culture, as the word Kawleeya means "Roman" in Arabic.
 The Hip movements focus more on backward motions often emphasizing to the posterior, including a lot of shimmies and small hops. Drops and floor work  are very common during the dance.
In this style the dancer can use one or two little knives as a prop:
"This is meant to be playful as in "If you don't want me, I'll kill myself" and may play into the sense of martyrdom, pain, and suffering common in Shi'ite Islam where pain
and loss is expressed through matam(beating oneself, often with a sword or knife).
 This is a fast fast paced high energy dance that has a lot of bouncing.
 Another prominent feature is the arms which they rhythmically point and toss from side to side sometimes almost pumping them up and down or back and forth."
The following video is from Malayeen, she is considered one of the best Iraq dancers:


The Iraqi Rhythm

The Iraq  Musical Instruments



The following video is an old style Iraq dance, it's possible do listen besides the khishba also the chumpara a kind of finger cymbals and daff.


The Costume
Normally is a long colourfull dress with details around the hips. The Russian dancers adopted a beautiful lycra dress that can show enough hip movements and its a trend now between belly dancers.
The  Dark side of the Dance

This dance style is closely associated with prostitution in the Middle East.
It's very important to study this connection before start to dance as a professional. If you dance in parties with your friends or in a competition of belly dance events it can be understanying as an art. Be careful to do it professionally in restaurants or night clubs without knowing about the history behind.


Khaliji the dances of Arab States of Persian Gulf - part I

 by Isis Zahara 2013

special thanks to Dalia AlChamary
Khaliji is an umbrella term for describing the  music and dance native to the Arab States of Persian Gulf ( Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE).
There are different styles of dance and music that could be called just as Khaliji, but in the Belly Dance comunity this term refers to one special dance from Saudi Arabia: the Al Nasha'at.
Although Al Nasha'at is called as Khaliji style between belly dancers there is a lot of other styles that come out of Gulf region.
Folkloric dance performed by the bedouin tribes of Arabia, specially the Shammr tribe. In the past was a war performance, but now is normally performed as part of the popular manifestations in celebrations and folk festivals.
The Ardha which is performed by men carring swords or canes is accompanied by drums and spokken verses. Sometimes there similarities between the Ardha and the Egyptian folklore Tahtib.


Is a men dance from the UAE which is danced carring a stick or a rifle. Also similar to Egyptian tahtib.

Al Nasha'at ( Khaliji)
Is a female dance style done with a decorative long dress called thobe Nashaal (this costume is actually considered oud fashion in the Gulf area but we still use it during khaliji presentations).
The name of the dance Nasha'at may refers to the hair movements as the arabic word nashaat means hair, but in another context can be translate to blossoming flower. Sometimes appear the term Nashaal as the name of the dance which means pickpocket and also can refers to the traditional movement done with the thobe.
"During the wedding party hired musicians play popular songs and younger women usually perform the traditional dances of their area, oftentimes wearing traditional dresses called thawb nashal. Most of the movements are from the shoulders and the head. There is a little shimmying in the shoulders, small drops with the hips, and gliding of the feet. One distinct movement is called na'ish, or tossing the hair, in which women loosen their waist-long hair and swing it in circles, which is considered a higher and more enthusiastic level of performance. Na'ish is said to have originated from the Bedouin tribes and is performed along the Gulf coast.
I don't know if that clarifies anything. Arabic can be misleading in transliteration--could be variations on the same root, could be two words that coincidentally both have nuun and sheen in them. I'm wondering if the "hair" etymology isn't simply a misunderstanding. Why would a dress be named after hair? The dress is simply a fancy improvement over what is worn normally, so the idea that it's a way to express that (as opposed to linking it to a dance that may or may not be done while wearing it) does seem plausible."
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab States Today: A-J by Sebastian Maisel and John A. Shoup
The Rhythm
The Al Nasha'at dance
The dance is based in the hair movement, special footwork, pickpocket of the thobe and unique gestures with hands and wrist - "The most basic movement of the dance is a limpy step with one foot flat and the other on the ball. This step might glide the dancer along sideways or alternate RLR pause, LRL pause. The body is very relaxed, hips are allowed to push back when lifting onto the ball of the foot." -  Lauren Haas for www.bellydancestuff.com

The Saudi women are proud about their long hairs and is one of the most special moments in the dance to tossing the hair side-to-side to the point that the dancer's hair creates figure eights. These movements can be a representation of the sea waves as believes an antroplogist Melinda Smith married into a Kuwait family.The water and hair are connect as a symbol of fertility from Ancient times in the Persian Gulf.

In the following video is an example of the traditional al nasha'at interpreted by a famous singer, Leila Abdulaziz from Kuwait.


The costume
The traditional costume is a long dress called thobe nashaal which is possible to play with the fabric to cover the face, pickpocking the borders, cover the head ect...

Understanding the Egyptian Music Classical Style part 03

Are complex compositions for large orchestra, long structure, produced between the decades of 40 and 50, most of them present in Egyptian movies of the same period. Some recordings were made ​​live on stage and you can hear a wide audience in the background.

Currently there are modern versions of these compositions, especially played for belly dancing, though not always provided with full orchestra and often the original name does not appear. This happens because different musical pieces can be edited in a single composition that is called, Mezdeke. The adapted version for dance normally has lower quality of harmony.

To identify the Classical pieces,  the best way is to try to recognize the dominant musical instruments are in, for example, in classical music would be the Oud and Kanoun.

Musical Intruments

 The Oud : Its a name derives from the Arabic for 'wood', and this refers to the strips of wood used to make its rounded body

The Qanun: "The qanun is a descendent of the old Egyptian harp. It has played an integral part in Arabic music since the 10th century. The word qanun means 'law' in Arabic, and the word exists in English in the form of "canon." The qanun was introduced to Europe by the 12th Century, becoming known during the 14th to the 16th Century as a psaltery or zither. the qanun also resembles a dulcimer." - http://maqamworld.com/instruments.html

Violin / Kamanjah: Instrument introduced in Western classical Arabic music in the XIXcentury.

Ney Flute: Bamboo flute similar as the Egyptian Kawala.

Chant: In the classical music is essential the presence of a soloist who sings poetic verses: the Dawr, followed by a chorus that repeats the refrain.

Riqq: Is a small tambourine originally used in the Classical pieces.

Darbuka: does not appear much, only if the piece is adapted to belly dance.


Wahda Kebir



Importante names of Egyptian classical Music 

Oum Kulthum

 Is the most important  name when reffers to classical Egyptian music. Oum Kulthum had a wonderful voice and the best musicians and composers wanted to have the privilege to work with her. Oum Kulthum was nationalist, she sang in the traditional Arabic maqam refusing to adapt her songs to the influences of Western music. She refused to wear European clothes and her songs followed the  subjects of Love and nationalism.

Her songs were not specifically made for Oriental dance, but there are versions that have been adapted for performance. These versions are shorter and generally instrumental. The first dancer to interpret a piece of Oum Kulthum was Suhair Zaki.

Generaly the versions adapted for dance can lose in quality because it is usually used a keyboard Rolland TR 707 to replace the orchestral instruments and melodies. It earns an aspect of "Lounge Music" as this version of "Alf Leila Wa Leila".

 Although the interpretation of Suhair Zaki is awesome, the music has lower quality if you compare with the original version:

Leylat el Hob is another composition that has been adapted for Belly Dance and performed by Suhair Zaki:

Bellow the original version:

What may confuse a Belly Dancer
The art has no borders and when a classical singer as Oum Kulthum  becomes a national symbol and her music is so wonderful that crosses the boundaries between social classes, all styles absorb her. You can listen  popular versions of Oum Khultum and so if we are not aware of the history and the culture of the Egyptian people will be hardly to understand it. For example here, "Alf Leila Wa Leila" is interpreted in a night club in Cairo as a shaabi:

Farid al Atrache

Lebanese composer, singer and accomplished musician. Farid al Atrache became well known for the films of the Egyptian golden age, by composing and singing for big stars and  also for his affair with Samia Gamal.
Farid's compositions are gorgeous and produced specifically for the dance. Unfortunately there are a fell modern versions of his music and because of it his wonderful pieces might be lost in time.

One of my favorites pieces of Faride el Atrache is Zanouba, prettily danced by Samia Gamal in 1956:

Another lovely piece of Farid el Atrache "El Rabia" fits perfectly in the Classical Style:

It is one of the best examples of classical music which has many versions adapted for belly dancing and also the original are perfectly matched to what we call classic style.
Ismaooni and Batwanis Beek are the most well known songs interpreted by the dancers.
Here Randa Kamel dances a version of Al Eih Besoulouny as a Magency (Egyptian Entrance)

Abdel Halim Hafez
A great singer and musician. His songs are  as  long as Oum Kulthun pieces, for that exist several edited versions special for oriental dance and we fall back on the same problems wich are: the original title  does not appear  because is a Mezdek (compilation of songs), the harmony is really different of the original version.

I believe one of the best well known songs of Abdel Halim Hafez is Gana El Hawa. Although is a classical composition in the structure has  folkloric flavour. Some adapted versions to Belly Dancing are played with folk instruments and the dance also includes folk steps.

Understanding the Egyptian music Baladi Awadi - part 02

It is a musical structure that originated in Cairo, specifically in Mohamed Ali Street  around the year 1940. This musical style is special since it combines elements of classical Arabic, Turkish and Western orchestral instruments as violin, accordion, saxophone and trumpet with some popular Egyptian instruments as the darabuka.

According with Suraya Hilal's article*, the Baladi roots are from the female entertainers who worked in Egypt to the royal courts during the 1800s untill the 1900s. They were learned women, well known as "Awalin"
The Almeh (singular of Awalim) were singers, dancers and musicians. They were responsible for the tradition of the "Tarab", the emotional structure in the Classical Arabic music.

During the 1920s Cairo became a turistic city, with a lot of Coffe houses and closed Theaters. Because this kind of new venues were much popular in that time, the Awalin troupes started to work there. The Awalim also were living in the Mohamed Ali street, in the area called "Haret al Awalim". Altough they were famous in the begining of the XX century by the late 1940  their tradition were completely vanished.

Bamba Kashar - famous entertainer from the past
The Baladi Awadi has a similar structure of the old Awalin style with the difference that the woman may not sing more only dance.
The musical progression of the Baladi Awadi is specially of Cairo and Alexandria, was made to be played in cafes, restaurants, Nile cruises and Wedding. The Tet Baladi was made to the men dance and could be danced outside in the Streets.
Musical Instruments:

Accordion:became the major instrument for taksim (melodic piece based in the improvisation). In the folklore the taksim is played by the  Kawala.

riqq: small tambourine from the classical music.

Derback: the most popular drum in the Arabic Music.

Ney: Turkish Bamboo flute originally from the Turkish music.

Arranger Keyboard

Oud: stringed instrument of classical Arabic music.


Musical Structure

The musical progression of the Baladi has a subtle difference between the male with the female version - currently the dancers interpret both, but in the past one of these versions were danced only by men on the streets of Cairo.

The female version is called Awadi.

The Baladi Awadi starts with Takim (melodic improvisation) where the accordion is the main instrument then there is a moment called sekat, where derback, riqq and accordion  play together in a combination of call and response. Than melody and percussion are played together and presceds the percussion solo or folkloric song.

Introdutional piece.
Improvisation by the Accorodion
Interlude between melody and percussion also known as call and response.
The percussion takes more place in the composition and the musicians start to play well known songs, usually the underlying the rhythm maqsoum.
Tet Sari
Percussion and melody play with time and often the accordion returns with a taksim piece. Maqsoum  starts to be played faster.
Transiction from Masqoum to Fallahi rhythm
percussion solo

Final composition usually based on Fallahi and Malfuf

Fundamental Rhythms

Baladi Awadi


Baladi Tet Sari Basic Rhythms

Wahda Kabira 4/4


In the male version there is a diffrent moment than "question and answer" is continuous play between beat and down beat made by the accordion and derback. The rhythm are Wahda Kabir, Masmoudi Sagir and Fallahi.

Fifi Abdou was the first woman to dance the male version of the Baladi she dressed a white kaftan, smoking shishaand playing with the big Tahtib stick. The famous performance of Fifi Abdou is Mal'ema song. Male'ma is the boss woman who takes male atitudes inlcuding smokes in public (not very well regarded in Arab society).


Another example of Baladi progression by Randa Kamel:


By Joana Saahirah:


Traditional costume

Normally uses the galabiya, a dress with straight cuts on the sides and scarf tied in the hip area, there are no needs to be decorated with coinscan be just a piece of fabric around the hips.
The Original galabiya were made by a Assuit fabric also called Tulle-bi-Telli, a black cotton piece meshed with silver stripes.
How to dance
The Baladi is an espontaneus piece, can not be prepared as a choreography. Musicians and dancers need to share the emotions during the moment of the performance, this is the magic of the Baladi.
Combinations are made to study, to learn what kind of steps is better for each moment, but all the creative process needs to finish into a improvisation.
The improvisation piece is difficult because of the modern situations of the performance, may almost everybody listen and study a Baladi piece by a CD, recorded before in the studio and it's easier to prepare a choreography with beautiful combinations.



Understanding the Egyptian music and dance styles- part 01

Maqam - Egyptian Center for Culture and Art
The Arabic music, especially the Egyptian has subtle nuances that becomes difficult to identify the differences between the styles. But like all musical culture of any country the Egyptian music has historical and regional differences and can be classified in different styles such as progression baladi, classical, folklore, al jeel, shaabi etc... and is really important to learn how to identify the type of music to understand the style of dance.
The most important type to start is, in my opinion: the Folklore. Because there (in the folklore) you find the basis. In the folklore you find the hopes, fears, dreams and life details about a culture. The lyrics songs tell us the history, how a group of people live, the values of theirs society, who they are. If you want to dance how they dance you need first to understand how they live.

Egyptian Folk Music

Usually are compositions of Upper Egypt, eastern area of Sinai or near Lybia,  played by musicians who learn to play and compose into their families from one generation to the next. It's a knowledge based in the family heritage.

This kind of music has a festive nature and is usually played outside and for that the rhythms are heavier than  the other styles. 

Basic Egyptian Folk Rhythms
Maksoum 4/4

Saiid 4/4
Fellahi 2/4


Musical Instruments

Tabla or Darabuka - is the most important drum in the Egyptian dance. It was used during the wedding celebrations to produces the rhtyhm Zeffa.

Tabla Baladi - It is a double-skinned bass beaten with a thick stick on one side and with a thin stick on another side. 

Daff - it is a large frame drum

Mizmar is a kind of Oboe, with a particular sound. You can find this kind of instrument in other Middle Eastern Musical traditions.

Rababa is an early form of violin with no more than 2 strings:

Kawala is a long bamboo flute used in the Egyptian music since the Ancient time. In Turkey you have a similar one called Ney.

Argul is a bamboo twin piped clarinete. Normally one cane is longer than the other one and produces a very rich sound.

Magrouna is also a twin piped reed. The two tubes are of equal lenght tied in parallel. The Magrouna produces an uninterrupte sound.

The musical structure
The structure of folk music is simple, short and repetitive. If you understand a bit of Arabic realize that most of the folk songs are in dialect, a mixture of Arabic words with Copt, Nubian that belongs to the Egyptian ethnical groups.
Egyptian folk music is based in the improvisation started by the kawala flute, or by the Mizmar, is a kind of earlier taksim.  A song can start also with the Mawal, a vocal improvisation with the common verses :  "Ya Leil Ya einin" - "Oh Night, Oh eyes!"


Examples of Egyptian Folk Music

 There are different folk traditions alive in Egypt. In the dance we know a little part of the popular manifestations of this amazing and rich culture,  such as the rural Egyptians (fellahin), the Nubians,  the Arab and Berber Bedouins, and the Ghawazee. Sawahli (coastal) music is a type of popular music from the northern coast, and is based around the simsimaya, an indigenous stringed instrument. Well-known singers include Abdo'l Iskandrani and Aid el-Gannirni.
Bedouin Music and Hagallah dance
Bedouin music is found in the deserts of the west, near Libya, and the eastern Sinai area. The Mizmar, a twin-pipe clarinet, is the most popular folk instrument, and popular singers include Awad e'Medic.The choreographer Mahmoud Reda, together with Farida Fahmy and Dr. Mo Geddawi adapted some steps of the typical Bedouin dances and created a espetacle dance style called Hagallah.

Said Music and Dance

Is called Said the music and the dance of Upper Egypt, may is the most well known folk style of Egypt.  Les Musiciens du Nil are the most popular said group but there are other performers include Shoukoukou, Ahmad Ismail, Omar Gharzawi, Sohar Magdy and Ahmed Mougahid.

Here is a Reda Troupe version of the Saidi dances

The Ghawazee are also from the Upper Egypt. I this old movie is possible to watch the most famous Ghawazee group: the Banat Mazin ( Mazin girls) . The Ghawazee play sagat (finger cymbals) simultaneuousily theirs dances.

Nubian Music

This imformation came by the professor  Khairy El-Malt of Helwan University in Cairo:

"Nubians are native to the south of Egypt and northern Sudan, though many live in Cairo and other cities. Nubian folk music can still be heard, but migration and intercultural contact with Egyptian and other musical genres have produced new innovations. Ali Hassan Kuban's jazz fusions had made him a regular on the world music scene, while Mohamed Mounir's social criticism and sophisticated pop have made him a star among Nubians, Egyptians, and other people worldwide. Ahmed Mounib, Mohamed Mounir's mentor, was by far the most notable Nubian singer to hit the Egyptian music scene, singing in both Egyptian Arabic and his native Nobiin. Hamza El Din is another popular Nubian artist, well-known on the world music scene and has collaborated with the Kronos Quartet."

Here there are an example, by Mercedes Nieto of Nubian dance adapted to the Theater concept:


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