FAQ and Information on Bellydance
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
What do I wear to dance class?
Be comfortable. Wear shorts or pants and a T-shirt. A hip scarf or a strip of fabric tied around the hip will highlight movement.
How do I know when to go to the next level?
The decision is up to you. Often dependent on previous dance and bellydance training, it takes most students a minimum of three months to be comfortable with the movements of each level. Ideally, you should be very comfortable with all or most of the movements before you move to the next level as the movements are often layered at higher levels. For example, in Beginner 1 you would learn shimmy and walking hip circles, while in Beginner 2 you learn to add the shimmy to the walking hip circle. If you are not sure whether your skills are honed enough to progress, please ask the instructor for guidance.
I have been dancing for some time. Can I take your intermediate or advanced class?
Every student with previous bellydancing experience is required to either take a private or semi private session for a skill evaluation or attend a 10 week session of technique class. As each instructor teaches different technique and movements, this ensures a foundation and proper technique required for Intermediate I and II.
Where and when do you perform?
Performance schedules are always changing. Please see the performance page for updates.
Is it hard?
Bellydance is one of the most gentle, safe, and ancient forms of dance. Anyone at any age can take bellydance to gain strength, flexibility, coordination, confidence, and grace. That being said, it's not as simple as it can appear to be, so have patience when you first start taking lessons.
What music do you recommend?
One of the most difficult but important questions, the answer depends largely on your own musical tastes and what you will be using the music for. For practicing basic steps arabic pop is excellent. Artists such as Tarkan, Amr Diab and Hakim are a good start. When focussing on musicality and the intricacy of bellydancing, traditional or contemporary bellydance music is suggested. Examples include Jalilah or Samir Seroor. To understand the passion and beauty of Arabic music, it is essential to listen to some of the classic musicians such as Oum Kalthoum, Abdel Halim Hafez, Fairuz, and Farid El Atrache to name a few.
For great music selection visit Cleopatra's Bazaar.
What does Egyptian style bellydance mean?
As bellydancing is such an old art form, different styles of dance have developed from different regions, such as Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon. There are also different styles of folklore, which are designed to represent different regions of the Middle East. Different styles can be differentiated by the music, dance movements and costumes. Egyptian costumes are often worn lower on the hip to accent the movments of the hips and belly, and the most typical rhythmic beats follow a 4/4 count. In terms of dancing, Egyptian movments are often more subtle and controlled compared to the more lively and acrobatic movements of other styles.
History of Belly Dance
The origin of belly dance is sketchy in that no one agrees on its origins. There are a few things that are known:
The Arabs take their music very seriously. There was a time in their history when you would dress a specific way and eat specific foods when listening to a particular style of music. There is a word in Arabic, 'tarab', that means ecstasy/to melt/to cry/ to ache and is applied to those artists and musicians that can evoke that response. The closest Western equivalent to the Arabic artists such as Abdel Halim Hafez or Oum Kalthoum would perhaps be Elvis. The vocalist Oum Kalthoum had so much power in her day that she literally had control over what governments would do/decide through her singing…the whole of the middle east flew at half mast the day she died.
The music sounds so foreign to western ears because they have quarter tones. As far as my understanding goes…they have maqam (which are similar to out major scales) and iqa (which are similar to out minor keys). A good musician can start with a melody in one maqam and change from iqa to iqa to a different maqam and find his way back to the original. In a way it is similar to jazz, in that the music melody is only the root of the music, the true talent comes in the flourishes of the musician.
It takes years of study for a Westerner to understand the depth and complexity of this music. For more info, you can check out http://www.maqamworld.com.
Styles of Belly Dance
This is the most well known and typical presentation of Belly Dance. Depending on the origin of the art form, there are subtle changes/differences in the way that the dance is performed. The most classical difference is between Egyptian and Turkish dancers
Regardless, the roots of a belly dance performance largely lay in the Middle Eastern nightclubs. Here, a belly dancer would perform a 30 minute show with a live band. Typically, a dancer will show up, discuss a few minutes with the band (music type etc.) and then perform. There is no rehearsal. This is where the dance/live musician interaction becomes interesting, because the dancer can request a song, and they will play it, but every time it will be different….different flourishes, different accents etc. Part of being a good dancer means knowing the original pieces enough that you can still portray the right feeling/knowledge of the music. That being said, the really big stars/good dancers have their own band and often know exactly how the piece will be played because you get a feel for the musicians style.
The typical show follows this format:
2) Folk Lore
Has become the theatre representation of the styles danced in different parts of Egypt (and the Middle East). There are actually some dance troupes that perform this type exclusively. There are many but the most common performed are:
3) Spiritual - although there are more, the most common ones are
Developed on the West Coast of the United States, American Tribal Style is a primarily improvisational dance. Although the movements have their roots in Middle Eastern and North African dances, this style does not try to replicate any particular tribe. Movements and costuming from other cultures have been incorporated into this dance as well. It is a unique and earthy belly dance variation.
It's main distinction from traditional oriental style dance is that it uses “synchronized group improvisation” which means that dancers can perform cohesively in a group without the use of a choreography. This is achieved by all dancers in the 'tribe' using a common dance language known as a movement vocabulary. Using lead and follow techniques, changes in movement are initiated by the leader using cues and transitions.
The costuming for tribal style also differs from oriental style dance. The basic tribal costume is usually composed of a full skirt which may be tiered, pantaloons, choli, coin bra, and tassel belt. Some groups also wear turbans. Jewelry is often from places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. Other common embellishment items include cowry shells, mirrors, embroidery, etc.
As an aside www.shira.net is a great site for info as well.