Who really were the Ghawazee?

The Ghawazee, famous for their swinging hip shimmies, were a nomadic tribe of performers that greatly influenced the contemporary notion of belly dance.

Their fast work was infused with such energy that the Ghawazee dancers seemed to vibrate, and they played off of each other – unconsciously took cues from each other’s movements as they improvised, and meshed accordingly – such that at times it seemed there was an electrical current between them, a marvellous tension that ensnared the onlooker. -Edwina Nearing

The Ghawazee, famous for their swinging hip shimmies, were a nomadic tribe of performers that greatly influenced the contemporary notion of belly dance. Believed to have traveled to Egypt from the Indian subcontinent, the Ghawazee would entertain both men and women with their upbeat music and signature dance style on the streets of Cairo and along the lower Nile.

As implied by their name, which means “conqueror” in Arabic, the Ghawazee “conquered” the hearts of their audience. Their simultaneously chaotic and orderly movements became famous abroad in the 18th century. European travellers were awe-inspired by the women’s big, swinging 3/4 hip shimmies, ferocious spins, and impressive zil playing.

Unfortunately, their contribution to belly dance is only truly valued today. During the French occupation, some likened the Ghawazee to a pestilence, as they were said to have followed their new income source, the French soldiers, like moths to a light. Bonaparte’s Generals even suggested that loitering be punished by drowning. To get the Ghawazee off the streets and earning taxable income, the French employed them at licensed brothels in the city. Nevertheless, in 1834, the Ghawazee were exiled from Cairo to Upper Egypt by Muhammad Ali, an Ottoman Albanian commander in the Ottoman army, who rose to the rank of Pasha, and managed Egypt and Sudan.

The Ghawazee Today

Today, you are unlikely to find the Ghawazee performing on the streets of Cairo. Sadly, the Benat Maazin family were the last to perform publicly in Egypt. With the increasingly conservative Muslim culture, as well as with the popularity of Western culture, the Ghawazee’s clientele diminished. However, today’s ATS belly dancers bring a taste of the Ghawazee aesthetic to the tribal belly dance scene with their ethnic costumes, hip shimmies, and zil playing.

Characteristics of Ghawazee dance

  • Emphasis on the down beat
  • Hip lifts
  • Big 3/4 hip shimmies, swaying from side to side
  • Shoulder shimmies
  • Spins
  • Foot stomps
  • Clapping
  • Back bends
  • Occasional head slides and floor work

Ghawazee Music

In contrast to the classical music of Raqs Sharqi, Ghawazee music has a distinct folk feel with the use of the kemen’geh, mizmar, and rebab. Other instruments include the tabla, finger cymbals, and the tar, which was usually played by an elderly woman.

The percussion instruments play a 4/4 rhythm, known as the Ghawazee. Many drummers call this a, “Saidi, but played with a Nawari feel”.

Check out this Ghawazee playlist on Spotify.

Ghawazee Costumes

Ghawezee costumes are similar to the clothing worn by middle class women in Egypt in the harem or women’s quarters. It consisted of a long Ottoman coat with slits, known as a yelek or entari/anteree, and Turkish harem pants. They also wore heavy black kohl liner around their eyes; and stained their hands and feet with red henna dye.

Our Favorite Ghawazee-inspired Performance by Belly Dance Superstars


Learn more about the history of belly dance.



The Ghawazee by Belly Dance Museum

Who are the Ghawazee by Lynchburg Tribal

Rhythm: 4/4 The Ghawazee by Three Winds

Medieval Egypt and the Ghawazee by BDancer

5 Steps to Innovative Belly Dance Traveling Steps

Traveling steps are a key element of the dancers repertoire. Here is an easy guide to create innovative traveling steps for belly dancers.

Traveling steps are a key element of the dancers repertoire. The best belly dancers seamlessly use foot patterns to make the best use of the space, no matter how big or small. Their steps perfectly match the mood of the music, rolling from one movement to the next with fluidity and grace.

So when do we use travelling steps? The simple answer is when the music calls for it. Here is an easy guide to create innovative traveling steps, inspired by the beautiful Brazilian dancer, Mahaila El Helwa.

Step 1 – Listen to the Music

What is the mood of the music? Is it a fast, energetic rhythm, such as Malfouf, Ayoub, Ayoubi, or Fox? Then consider steps that are equally dynamic, covering a large part of the stage. Or is it a Baladi or Shaabi section? Then you might want to use less space. Close your eyes, and write down any words that pop into your mind when listening to the music.

Step 2 – Choose the Technique

After you have identified the mood, it is time to choose the best technique to interpret the music. Does the music call for clean, classic traveling steps without any ornate hip movements? Or would the music be better accentuated with layered hip isolations or shimmies?

Firstly, choose the basic traveling steps:

  • Walk
  • Chassé
  • Arabesque
  • Reverse arabesque (or step, rond de jambe from the front to back)
  • Developé
  • Turns
    • Non-spotted or Sufi turns
    • Calibrated turns (or pivoting around your standing foot)
    • Cross over turns
    • Hook turns (or a cross over turn from the back)
    • Barrel turns
    • Chaîné turn (or a series of rapid turns on relevé)
    • Pirouette (en dedans or en dehors)
    • Piqué (en dedans or en dehors)

Next, decide if the music calls for hip movements layered on top of your basic traveling steps. You can layer with any of the following:

  • Figure eights
  • Circles
  • Undulations
  • Pelvic tilts in/out
  • Hip slides side to side
  • Hip drops
  • Twists
  • Shimmies

Step 3 – Get Creative

We tend to get stuck in the same transitions that we are comfortable with, yet there are many options for traveling steps. Think about how many times you will change your weight to perform the movement. Once, twice, three or four times?

A common two step foot pattern is the Arabic 1 (flat foot on front foot, then relevé on back foot). Or how about a classic Golden Era four step pattern known as the Arabic 2 (flat foot on front foot, relevé on back foot, relevé on front foot, and relevé on back foot)? Or maybe you want to go for a modern look, and prefer to use the Arabic 4 (flat foot or relevé on the front foot, step to the center on relevé, step back on relevé, step back to center on relevé).

Of course the possibilities are endless outside of these frequently used foot patterns. Try the same traveling movement with two weight changes, then three, and four to push your creative boundaries.

Step 4 – Play with Stylisations

What embellishments make sense for the music? You can add a relevé to certain steps, a knee dip, a chest drop, or head movements. And of course don’t forget your arms!

Step 5 – Choose the Direction

Think about where you are stepping. To the front, side or back? Do you want to face your audience to highlight an emotional sequence? Or do you want to show off your lines with a flattering side view?


Lastly, don’t forget to consider how you will finish the traveling step to seamlessly flow into next sequence.


Who inspires your traveling steps? Share with us!



Mahaila El Helwa’s workshop

Sadie’s online classes

Henna’s online classes


Photo provided by Avesun

Top 7 Types of Tribal Belly Dance

Over the last few decades American Tribal Style belly dance has grown into a worldwide movement with many different branches. Here is a list of the most popular types of belly dance stemming from ATS.

You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see. You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences. The German writer Goethe said, ‘We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.’ ― Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

While many belly dancers strive to perfect the traditional dances of their predecessors, the creators of American Tribal Style (ATS) belly dance fearlessly combined their favorite dance traditions of the Middle East, North Africa and Spain and spirited costumes to create a new style of dance that reflect their authentic selves. They created a sisterhood of strong women that don’t try to outperform one another, but instead use discrete cues that create stunning group improvisation.

The dancers that inspired ATS include the acrobatic dancer, Jamila Salimpour, the artist and fashion designer, Masha Archer, and of course the woman who refined the ATS style and made it an international name, Carolena Nericcio. They had no desire to represent any particular dance genre, and instead used belly dance as a medium to express their passion for textiles, jewelry, and music. These fearless women inspired other belly dancers to create original belly fusion styles that reflect their unique personalities and passions.

Over the last few decades American Tribal Style belly dance has grown into a worldwide movement with many different branches. Here is a list of the most popular types of belly dance stemming from ATS:

1- Improvisational Tribal Style (ITS)

Similar to ATS, ITS uses arm and hand cues for effortless group improvisation. It is strongly associated with Amy Sigil, who has been expanding her distinctive improv vocabulary for over a decade.

2- Tribal Fusion

Tribal Fusion is the wild child of ITS. While keeping to it’s roots, Tribal Fusion takes inspiration from around the world, fusing together elements from cabaret belly dance, Indian fusion, flamenco, contemporary, and other dance traditions. While Tribal Fusion is often a solo dance, it can also be performed as a duo or group dance.

3- Urban Tribal

Urban Tribal dance, created by San Diego based Heather Stants, integrates traditional belly dance with contemporary, modern, club, funk, and hip hop dance stylisations. In contrast to ATS, costumes are minimalist without gaudy ornamentation, emphasising body movements.

4- Tribaret

Tribaret is a theatrical mélange of both tribal and the cabaret belly dance style of the 1970s. Dancers wear glitzy costumes, and use minimal improvisation.

5- East Coast Tribal

Inspired by hip hop, modern dance, and martial arts, East Coast Tribal belly dance uses multi-layer hip work and bold full-body movements to reflect the world and tell a story.

6- Combo-Based Tribal

Combo-Based Tribal is an energetic dance style, anchored in long combinations of ATS-inspired movements. Discrete cues are used to indicate the next choreographed combo.

7- Gothic Tribal

Gothic bellydance, also known as Raks Gothique, combines the gothic culture with cabaret and tribal style belly dance. Dancers add drama to their performances with trance-like movements and costumes adorned with lace, fishnet, and gothic jewellery.


What’s your favorite type of Tribal belly dance? Share with us in the comments! 


Photo by al_la 



Rachel’s Lineage by Rachel Brice

About American Tribal Style by FatChanceBellyDance

ATS – A Brief History by Kalash Tribal

Tribal Style by Nakari

American Tribal: Born in American and Danced Everywhere

Heather Stants bio

East Coast Tribal – Beginner Tribal Fusion Bellydance by Bellydance Bazaar

About Tribal Bellydance by Tribal Bellydance dot org!

Tribaret Certification by Sedona Bellydance

Gothic Style by World Belly Dance


6 Movements that Every Belly Dancer Should Master (And How To Spice Them Up)

Perform complex, mind-boggling layers and advanced variations with ease by mastering these six fundamental belly dance movements.

Most people don’t have the patience to absorb their minds in the fine points and minutiae that are intrinsically part of their work. They are in a hurry to create effects and make a splash; they think in large brush strokes. ― Robert Greene, Mastery

No matter where you are in your belly dance journey, it’s important to regularly drill the basics. By mastering these six fundamental belly dance movements, you will be able to perform complex, mind-boggling layers and advanced variations with ease.

6 Basic Belly Dance Movements

1- Circles

  • Omi, also known as internal hip circles
  • Medium horizontal circles (as often seen in Egypt)
  • Large horizontal hip circles going outside the shoulder line
  • Large hip circles going outside the shoulder line with a bending/straightening of the knees to create a vertical hip movement
  • Exaggerated Egyptian hip circle, with a squat and/or forward chest drop on the back side of the circle

2- Figure Eights

  • Horizontal figure eights
  • Vertical figure eights, also known as Taksim
  • Maya (opposite of vertical figure eights)
  • Half vertical figure eight (or a vertical circle on one side)
  • Jewel (horizontal figure eight with a lock movement from front to back)

3- Shimmy

  • Egyptian (or leg) shimmy
  • Hip shimmy
  • Choo choo shimmy
  • Vibration shimmy
  • 3/4 shimmy (or three alternating hip accents per step, then pausing on the fourth count)
  • Shoulder shimmy

4- Accents

  • Hip isolations (locks, or a movement with a hold at the end, and pops, or fast movements that pop back)
  • Chest isolations (locks and pops)
  • Pelvic isolations (locks and pops)
  • Belly pops
  • Drop kicks
  • Hagallah shimmy

5- Undulations

  • Belly roll, and reverse belly roll
  • Lower body undulations (Egyptian style), and reverse lower body undulations
  • Chest (or upper body) undulations, and reverse chest undulations
  • Full body undulations from the chest to pelvic, and the reverse direction

6- Twists

  • Hip twist
  • Shoulder twist

Stumped on how to spice up your latest choreography? Or do you tend to repeat the same movements during improvisation? Here are some ideas on how to spice up the six basic movements.

How To Spice Them Up

Change the direction

Use the different planes, especially when posing. For example, you can stand with your whole body facing the audience or sideways. You can also mix it up by facing your hips towards the audience and slightly rotating your upper body in a diagonal.

Speed up or slow down

By just variating the speed you can create an entirely different movement. For instance, a hip shimmy can turn into a choo choo shimmy by increasing the speed.

Vary the repetitions

Think of unusual ways to play with repetitions. For example, we commonly do the 3/4 hip shimmy, but we can also use the 3/4 pattern on a pelvic or chest lock.

Add traveling steps

Using the space on the stage creates an engaging, dynamic performance. Try adding walking patterns, chassés, arabesques, reverse arabesques, or turns to any of the basic movements.

Play with level changes

Add a plié or relevé to the movement to give it an unexpected dynamism.

Overemphasise certain body parts

Add drama by drawing attention to one aspect of the movement. For instance, you can do an Omi shimmy with an emphasis on only one hip.

Layer it!

Everyone loves to watch mind-boggling layers, or the execution of two different movements at the same time. For instance, you can simultaneously do an Omi shimmy with a horizontal hip circle, or even a pelvic roll with a horizontal hip slide. The possibilities are limitless.

Mash up two different movements

Have you ever tried performing a common movement as if it were from another movement category? For instance, instead of performing a smooth, ooey gooey vertical figure eight, you could try the same movement with precise locks. In other words, you would isolate the glute on the down, slide hips out, isolate the glute on the up, and slide the hips in.

What is your favorite belly dance movement? And how do you like to spice it up? 

Golden Era: the Inside Story behind the epic period

By studying the Golden Era, you will gain a deeper appreciation of the roots of belly dance, and may begin to see how it is evolving today.

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. – Marcus Garvey

Nothing stays in its organic, original form for long. Just as art and music are constantly changing to reflect our world, belly dance too is evolving. One of the most famous transformational periods that has left a lasting impression is known as the Golden Era.

By studying the past and the dancers that paved the way for modern belly dance, you will gain a deeper appreciation of the roots of the dance, and may begin to see how it is evolving today.

The Classic Period: 1850 – 1959

At the turn of the century, Cairo became a colorful mélange of foreign artists, authors, adventurers, and soliders, all mesmerized by the exotic Egyptian dance and music found in Cairo’s posh nightclubs.

One of the most famous nightclubs was “Casino Badia”, a vibrant venue for music shows, dance performances, stand-up comedy acts, and afternoon events for women. The club’s owner from present-day Syria, Badia Al Masabni, was not only a stunning dancer, but also a solid business woman. She had a remarkable ability to know exactly what her foreign and upper-class Egyptian clients craved, and gave them just that.

Inspired by Hollywood movie magazines, her international travels and western choreographers, she taught her club’s dancers to integrate western stylisations into Egypt’s traditional Sha’abi dance of the Ghawazee. This included traveling steps from ballet and ballroom dance that covered more space on the stage, exotic snake arms and arms placed gracefully above the head.

She also tweaked the fashion to better suit European tastes by creating a more revealing two-piece costume with beads and sequins — the costume we associate with belly dance, even today.

She also introduced mysterious props, such as the veil and the candelabra head piece, and adapted the music by adding classical sounds to the traditional lineup.

All of these stylistic changes led to the creation of a new belly dance genre known as raqs sharqi.


After a little financial hiccup, Badia left Cairo to tour Upper Egypt with her dance troupe. Upon her return in 1940, she borrowed money to start her biggest business venture yet: a nightclub with a movie theatre, restaurant, café and an American-style bar known as “Casino Opera”. Her project was extremely successful with the flood of English and French soldiers that came to Cairo during World War II.

However, what really put raqs sharqi belly dance on the map was the Egyptian film industry. From the 1930s, countless films were produced with playful and filrty musical numbers by many of Casino Opera’s star dancers. For the first time in history, dancers were given celebrity status, putting belly dance for the first time on the international stage. The most famous of these dancers were Tahia Carioca, Samia Gamal, and Naima Akef.

Tahia Carioka

Tahia Carioka, renamed for her proficiency in the Brazilian dance called the “carioka”, was a great talent, known for her half hip circle with her chest slightly leaned back, sultry lower body undulations with graceful arms extended up in the air, and ironic flirting during performances. Not only could she dance, but she could also act and sing. During her career, she starred in over 200 films, theatre plays and soap operas!

Samia Gamal

Samia is remembered for bringing glamour and energy to the dance with her contagious charm, flashy costumes and high heals. Trained in numerous dance traditions, including ballet, samba, rumba, waltz, tango, and rock & roll, she incorporated many western stylisations into her performances. There is never a dull moment when watching Samia. She would constantly move around the stage like an energiser bunny. Her graceful spins, fluid hip work, and elegant arms captivate even audiences today.

Naima Akef

Naima is famous for the grace and beauty she presented in her one-of-a-kind, theatrical performances. Inspired by her childhood in the circus, she brought a rich variety of ballet and theatrical elements, coupled with her lovely voice, to the stage. In addition to her career in the film industry, she was a part of one of the first professional Egyptian folkloric groups, Leil Ya Ain Group.


These are just a few of my personal favorite dancers from the early 1900s. However, there are many more that have paved the way for modern dancers, including Katie, Hagar Hamdi, and Beba Ezzedin, among others.

In the 1950s and 60s, another historic boom caused a small wave in the belly dance world. After the Egyptian revolution in 1952 that finally ended colonial rule of Egypt, the theatre and arts were elevated even more. Open coffee houses were booming, with live music and dance performances. Baladi music and singers became extremely popular. And feminism was making a comeback with many female film directors and unsegregated weddings.

Belly dance evolved once again to reflect the changing ideals with Nagwa Fouad, Souhair Zaki, and Fifi Abdo leading the way.

Who is your favorite Golden Era dancer? Share in the comments!



Belly Dancers of Egypt’s Golden Era by Ahlam Academy 

10 Famous Belly Dancers by World Belly Dance 

Egypt’s Belly Dance Superstars by Serpentine

Egypt’s Golden Age by Gilded Serpent 

What is Egyptian raqs sharqi and cabaret style by World Belly Dance

Badia Masabny by Gilded Serpent

Samia Gamal by World Belly Dance

Musicality for Belly Dancers

Learn about the song structure of Middle Eastern music to improve your musicality.

Musical dancers never get so caught up in steps that they ignore the music.
— Deborah Wingert, Ballet teacher

Musicality is one of the most important aspects of dancing. The best dancers have more than impeccable technique and passion. They have an ability to read the pitch, rhythm, melody, and mood of the music, and translate it into movement. They don’t just step on the beat. They match their movements to the spirit of the music, while simultaneously showcasing their personality and signature style.

A strong understanding of Middle Eastern music is the starting point for creating a unique visual expression of the music. Like any skill, improving your musicality takes practice. Listen to the same song over and over again until you have identified the different elements of the music.

3 Elements of Middle Eastern Music

As the stunning Brazilian belly dancer, Mahaila El Helwa, explained in her workshop on reading music, there are three parts of Middle Eastern music: Melody, Percussion, and Voice. A song may use all three components, or only one or two. It’s important to consider each element, and how it is presented in the song.

1- Melody

A melody is a beautiful combination of intervals and rhythms that express the emotion of the song. It can stir powerful emotions, even if the listener can’t understand the lyrics. These emotions can magically transport you to a memory, just like smell or taste.

Most of the Middle Eastern melody instruments fall into two categories: chordophones (or string instruments) and aerophones, which produce sound through the vibration of air. Some of these instruments include: lutes, violins, ouds, qanuns, flutes, ney, clarinet, mizmar, and horns.

When listening to the melody, consider the following questions:

  • What instruments are used?
  • How does the melody change in the song?
  • Are there any patterns?
  • When do you hear pauses?
  • Does the volume change at any point?
  • Is it a soloist or an orchestra?

2- Percussion

Percussion is commonly referred to as “the backbone” or “the heartbeat” of a musical ensemble. Percussion, meaning “struck”, is believed to be the oldest musical tradition. Percussion instruments include: drums, frame drums (the riq for example), and finger cymbals. All of these instruments create sounds of indefinite pitch. In other words, the pitch is unpredictable or uncontrollable.

When listening to the percussion section, consider the following questions:

  • How is the rhythm structured? Where are the Dums, Teks, and silent moments? Is it a medium paced 4 count rhythm, or a fast paced 2 count rhythm?
  • When do you hear pauses?

For more on rhythms, check out the blog post, Middle Eastern Rhythms for Belly Dancers.

3- Voice

Voice can be a tough one if you don’t understand the lyrics. Dancing playfully to a song about tragedy can be a bit embarrassing. It is best to find translations, or to ask a native speaker to translate for you.

When listening to the voice, consider the following questions:

  • What do the lyrics mean?
  • What is the cultural context? In general, it is not advisable to dance to political or religious music, especially the Call to Prayer.
  • Are you listening to a soloist or a choir (many singers)?

Musicality 1

How the three elements are presented

Unlike Western music, Middle Eastern music does not use multiple notes at the same time to sound harmonious. Instead, it uses different techniques to contrast and highlight the melody.

Melody, percussion, and voice may be presented in one of three ways:

You may hear only one element, for instance the percussion. Therefore, you can only dance to this isolated element. There are no other options.

You may hear two or all three elements at the same time. Which of the elements do you want to highlight in your dance? Do you prefer to dance on only the melody? Or you can choose to use hip movements for the percussion and arm gestures for the melody. There is no right answer. It is up to you to choose how to highlight the music.

Call & Response
You may hear the melody, then the percussion after, as if responding to the melody. This is a common technique in Middle Eastern music to create a musical conversation between a lead instrument and another instrument.


In addition to the song structure, don’t forget to consider the mood. Is it a flirty, playful shaabi song or a spiritual taksim? Does the mood change during the song? With practice your can start anticipating the rhythms and repetition, and become an expert at improvisation.



Mahaila’s workshop in Switzerland, February 2018

“Getting a Grip with Musicality – The Most Vague and Insightful part of dancing” by Zouk the World 

“How to improve your musicality?” by Zouk the World 

“Middle Eastern Percussion Instruments” by The Mizraq 

“Melody Instruments” by The Mizraq

“About Middle Eastern Music, Instruments, and Rhythm” by Jawaahir 

“Percussion” by Lumen 

Photography by Jgaunion

Shaabi — Behind the Music

Learn about the roots of shaabi belly dance, and how to stylise raqs sharqi moves for a shaabi song.

Shaabi, which means “of the common people” in Arabic, is a popular genre of Egyptian party music. Dancers have brought this music to the stage, creating a relaxed and playful dance style that reflects the humour in shaabi music. On stage, shaabi is usually improvised, using a wide range of classic belly dance movements with a distinct shaabi stylisation.


In the 1970s, Egypt went through a societal change as a result of the death of Egypt’s president at the time, the opening of the country to the west, and a little economic growth. It was time to move on from conservative rules, marking an end to the era of unattainable love and repressed sexuality.

During this period, many country folk made their way to the city, bringing with them their baladi music. These traditional sounds then became fused with modern western instruments, forming a new genre of music—Shaabi.

Characteristics of Shaabi Music

The singer’s voice is usually low, raspy, and emotional. The mawwal, or a traditional genre of vocal music, may be presented in Egyptian Arabic before the actual song begins to set the mood.

Lyrics are generally simple, revolving around everyday life. Often slang and humor is used to voice their disdain for the government, corruption and other social issues, such as drug and alcohol-use, poverty, work, and relationships.

Traditional instruments such as the nai, violin, kanun, oud, riq, cymbals and tabla, are blended with western instruments such as violins, accordion, saxophone, trumpet, electric keyboard, and the digital computer sounds.

Shaabi Singers

Ahmed Adaweya
Ahmed is the first well known shaabi singer. He started his career by performing folk songs and vocal improvisations at the café where he worked. Soon after he was singing at religious festivals, weddings, and the clubs on Shariaa al Haram. His raspy voice and memorable lyrics were extremely popular and paved the way for future shaabi singers.

Mohamed Abdel Wahab
Best known for his romantic patriotic songs, Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s music was influenced by many European and Russian composers.

Hassan al Asmar and Shabaan Abdel Rehim were particularly well-known for their mawaweel.

Other shaabi singers include Hakim, Saad al Soghayer, Mahmoud el Husseini, Abdel Basit Hamouda, and Mahmoud el Leithy.

Shaabi Music Today

Shaabi music is constantly changing with the times. Particularly since the January 25 revolution, new shaabi music uses more rap, hip hop and electronic sounds, and is not closely connected to it’s rural balady roots. Although the singing and instrumentation are radically different than the shaabi music of the 1970s, there is a commonality—both strive to deliver a socially relevant message.

Some new Shaabi musicians include DJ Mulid, DJ Sufi and DJ Karkar.

Shaabi Moves

The relaxed, playful feel, and humour of shaabi music translates directly into shaabi dance. Many of these steps are variations of classic belly dance moves styled to look casual, natural, and sassy.

Examples of how to stylise raqs sharqi moves for a shaabi song:

Hip accents- The feet are a little wider than normal, with the hips outside of the shoulder line.
Hip Drops- Make your hip drops big and exaggerated by moving through both hips, and bending/straightening your knees.
Hip Bounce- Push your hip up and casually, relax back down.
Chest drops- Create a more exaggerated, juicy chest drop by bending your knees on the chest down and straightening on the up.
Circles- Move your hips move down and outside the shoulder line in a exaggerated hip circle by bending and straightening the knees.

In general, when dancing shaabi, tune into the emotional message of the song, and use your dance to interact with the melody and lyrics. It is also common to walk around and interact with the audience.




Alla Vatc


Haleh Adhami



Shaabi Dance Technique and Combinations with Shahrzad
Mohammed Abdel Wahab
Shaabi Music History by Amina Goodyear

Middle Eastern Rhythms for Belly Dancers

There are hundreds of Middle Eastern rhythms, and every rhythm has variations. Learn about the most common rhythms for belly dancers.

Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances. -Maya Angelou

The western idea of a rhythm is based on the beat. In fact, many confuse rhythm and beat. However, dancing on the rhythm is not the same as dancing on the beat. In Middle Eastern music, a rhythm is a repeated pattern of strong beats (Dums), weak beats (Teks), and “space” (no beats at all). These consistent groupings of beats give the music a feeling of flow.

The rhythm often stands out and is recognizable to the audience. This makes it a nice element of the music to highlight in your dance. When dancing on a rhythm, you can choose to accent every beat, or some of the beats. It’s your choice! You may showcase the Dums with strong, heavy movements at your full range of motion, and Teks with smaller, more controlled movements. Of course you can use the same moves for both Dums and Teks, however they should look very different. For instance, a hip drop on a Dum should be more grounded, releasing the pelvis into the earth, while a hip drop on a Tek should be lighter and a little bouncy.


There are hundreds of Middle Eastern rhythms, and every rhythm has variations. However, there are some rhythms that are very common in belly dance. Below we have summarized the key information about the most common Middle Eastern rhythms, including their “time signatures”. Written as a fraction, the top number of a time signature reflects the number of beats per measure (or bar), while the bottom number indicates the duration of each beat.

To hear the rhythms, check out our Middle Eastern Rhythms playlist on Spotify

Top 5 Most Common Rhythms

1- Malfouf

2/4 Rhythm

MalfufMalfuf, meaning “rolling” in Arabic, is a fast paced rhythm common in entrances, exits, and drum solos. It’s high energy makes it perfect for traveling steps, including chassés, arabesques, turns, moving hip steps, and moving camels.

2- Maqsoum

4/4 Rhythm

MaqsoumThe Maqsoum rhythm, which means “divided” in Arabic, is a very common medium paced rhythm, found in Arab pop, folkloric, drum solos, and classical songs. There are a lot of variations and speeds, including Maqsoum Sareea, which is Maqsoum played in half the amount of time. Common movements for this rhythm are hip drops, souhair zaki hips (or downs), the jewel, and hip circles.

3- Masmoudi Saghir (Baladi)

4/4 Rhythm

BaladiBaladi, meaning “from town” in Arabic, is an upbeat, grounded rhythm. Although in the west we call it “Baladi”, in Egypt the word “Baladi” actually refers to an Egyptian folk dance, and not a rhythm at all. Known as Masmoudi Saghir in Egypt, this rhythm calls for earthier movements, and grounded hip work to accent the Dums.

4- Masmoudi Kabir (Big Masmoudi)

8/4 Rhythm

Masmoudi KabirMasmoudi Kabir is the slow version of Masmoudi Saghir. It’s longer time signature gives it a moodier feeling, which contrasts to the upbeat Masmoudi Saghir. When the rhythm starts, often after a dynamic entrance, the dancer uses deep hip movements, really sinking into the Dums.

5- Saidi

4/4 Rhythm

SaidiSaidi is a popular rhythm from the South of Egypt or Upper Egypt. As this earthy rhythm is synonymous with the Saidi folk dance, it calls for folkloric Saidi moves, in addition to hip drops, hops, the jewel, and shimmy walks.


More Rhythms to Know


2/4 Rhythm

AyoubThis heavy rhythm is popular in modern Lebanese music. The faster version is great for traveling steps to open or close a show, as it really takes the audience to a climactic point. The slower version, known as the Zaar, has a trance-like quality, and is used in spiritual dances.


2/4 Rhythm

KarachiKarachi, sometimes called an “inverted Ayoub”, is commonly used in Egypt and North Africa. Like most rhythms, there are variations. In Morocco, for instance, it is sometimes played with a longer time signature.


2/4 Rhythm

FellahiFellahi, meaning “from the countryside”, is a faster version of Maqsoum, originating from Egyptian farming rituals. As it is very filled in, this rhythm has an energy and bounce that is great for shimmy walks and hip lifts.

Khaleeji (Saudi)

2/4 Rhythm

KhaleegiOriginating from the Arabian gulf countries, the Khaleeji rhythm has heavy rolling beats that make it popular for drum solos. It is often confused with the Ayoub rhythm, as they both follow the two Dums and a Tek pattern. However, in Khaleegi, the Dums are closer together, which give it a driving feeling. The movements associated with this rhythm include the Khaleegi step, hair toss, head slides, and other hand gestures.

Wahda Kebira

4/4 Rhythm

WahdaWahda Kebira, which means “the Big One” in Arabic, is the Malfouf rhythm played in 4 counts, not 2. Played during the slow, melody part of songs, it is commonly used for taqsims, and calls for circular movements and sensual undulations.


4/4 Rhythm

BoleroSimilar to the Rumba, the Bolero rhythm is a dramatic and unusual rhythm popular in Spain and Cuba. It is believed to be of Middle Eastern origin, having made its way to Spain under the Arab rule. It is a beautiful rhythm to play as a background for slow melodies and taksims. Dancers often complement this rhythm with veil work.


4/4 Rhythm

zeffaAlso known as Zeffa or El-Zaffa, Zaffa is an Egyptian rhythm used during wedding celebrations. Historically, dancers would carry candelabras to light the way to the bride and groom’s new home. Today, dancers balance these candelabras, or Shamadans, on their heads.


8/4 Rhythm

ChiftitelliOriginating from Turkey, the Çiftetelli rhythm calls for slow, sensuous movements, as it is accompanied by a beautiful melody of stringed instruments. In Turkish, the name actually refers to a solo folk dance.


9/8 Rhythm

KarsilamaAlthough karşılama refers to the rhythm in the west, in Turkey karşılama actually refers to a folk dance performed to 9/8 rhythms. Popular movements to this rhythm include box steps and 3/4 shimmies.

Samai Thaqil

10/8 Rhythm

SamaiiThis Egyptian rhythm, which means “listen”, is one of the more common 10 beat rhythms in Arabic and Turkish music. It is often used in spoken/sung Arabic poetry, called Muwashahat.



Basic Rhythms of Oriental Dance by Yael Zarca
Rhythm Breakdown by Henna
An Introduction to Middle Eastern Music Rhythms by Arabella
Learn four types of time signatures by Human Kinetics
Basic Music Theory by Belly Dance Topeka
Drum Solo Expressions tutorials by Sedona Soulfire
Magency by Shahrzad
Maqam World
Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Music Rhythms by Baba Yaga Music 

Photography by Primipil and Jgaunion

Your Guide to Dabke

Learn about the history, music, and characteristics of the Dabke folk dance.

Dabke is a lively and energetic line dance found throughout the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Iraq. The word dabke means “to stomp” in Arabic, and is one of the defining characteristics of the folkloric dance. At weddings, parties, and even at social protests, men and women form a line to perform this celebratory dance, which consists of jumps, kicks, and feet shuffling. Today, dabke is also performed at shows with elaborate choreography, comprised of basic dabke steps and Raqs Sharqi moves.

Dabke Characteristics

Dabke is performed with a strong, poised upper body, and relaxed knees. The footwork is always the highlight, even when doing upper body movements. There are dozens of styles depending on the region and occasion. Like a dialect or accent, you can often tell where a person is from by their dabke style.

The person leading the dabke at the front of the line is called the raas (“head”) or lawweeh (“waver”). The leader often spins a hankerchief or string of beads known as a masbha, and performs fancy steps. At times, the second person in line also shows off a bit. However, the rest of the line keeps the rhythm with the basic steps.


According to one folk tale, dabke originated in the Levant where houses were built from stone with a flat roof made from mud. To compact the mud, the villagers would hold hands, forming a line on the roof, and stomp their feet. As the villagers joyously stomped in unison, they would sing songs that have since been passed down from generation to generation.


Traditional dabke music is performed live with a vocalist using the mijwiz (similar to a reed clarinet), tablah (a small hand-drum), and riq (a type of tambourine). The oud (a pear-shaped stringed instrument) can also be used. Newer dabke music often blends traditional instruments with electronic beats.

Dabke music is often confused with saidi, as it also uses a 4/4 rhythm. However, unlike saidi, dabke is counted in 6 or 8 steps for each 8 counts of music.

Check out our Dabke playlist on Spotify here

Our Dabke Favorites

1) Lebanese Simon is our favorite Dabke dancer. His energy and charisma is simply contagious.


2) These guys are having tons of fun celebrating with a little Dabke.


3) Paris-based, Zomzom and Yaël Zarca, performing Dabke for the stage.


Arab Folk Dance with Karim Nagi
Dabketna blog articles
The Dabke- An Arabic Folk Dance by Dance History Development 
Dabke by Arabic Language blog
Dabke – Folklore Dance of the Levant by Travelujah

Belly Dance during Pregnancy

Learn how to safely keep up your belly dance practice during pregnancy.

Congratulations! Your expecting a little one!

Aside from the emotional highs and lows, your body is changing rapidly to prepare for childbirth. So what does all this change mean for your belly dance practice?

First of all, belly dance is encouraged by many doctors and communities since the dawn of civilisation during pregnancy. It’s emphasis on gentle, repetitive movements and pelvic work simultaneously strengthen and relax the muscles specifically used for childbirth. Of course, if you have a pregnancy complication, check with your doctor or midwife before dancing.

Before performing a challenging drum solo during pregnancy, there are a few physical changes that you should be aware of.


You may feel out of breath easier than normal. That two minute choreography is suddenly more taxing than you remember. During pregnancy, your blood volume increases 40-50%, resulting in an increased heart rate. Therefore you may need to take lots of little breaks during your workout.

You may also feel light headed or dizzy all of a sudden. This is a result of a decrease in blood pressure. Be mindful when turning and changing positions. You may need to slow down a notch.


Are you performing during your pregnancy? Keep in mind that you may need to go up a bra size. Not only are your breasts getting bigger, but your rib cage is expanding due to the increase in lung volume.


Now is not the time to push your limits. During pregnancy, you have an increase in pain tolerance to prepare for childbirth. So just because you “feel” fine, doesn’t mean the pain isn’t there. Stay within your limits from before pregnancy.

Endocrine system

You may feel extra loose and mobile. This is because your ovaries and placenta are producing the hormone, Relaxin, to prepare the lining of the uterus for the baby. Now is not the time to maximise your flexibility or perform large hip movements. Although your ligaments are more mobile at this time, its important to stay within your range of motion from before pregnancy.

Nervous system

You may be feeling a bit more yang these days. Try to stay calm by avoiding stressful competitions and practicing meditation. This will also help when it comes to labor.


With your baby bump, you may feel compelled to sag into a less than beautiful belly dance posture. During your pregnancy, you will need to be more conscious of your posture not just during dance practice, but throughout the day. Make sure your feet are grounded and hip distance apart, your pelvis is naturally tilted down, and shoulders are relaxed while drawing the shoulder blades together.

Most Suitable Belly Dance Moves

  • Hip circles: to help put the baby in the right position for birth
  • Snake arms: to support your back and spine
  • Soft pelvic twists: to relieve muscle tension
  • Pelvic figure eights
  • Waggle shimmy, or a light hip/knee shimmy
  • Egyptian basic step: helps to relieve knee pain from weight gain
  • Undulations
  • Isolations

Be Extra Mindful during these Belly Dance Moves or Styles

  • Fast changes of direction, such as twists and turns
  • Vigorous drum solos with aggressive hip locks
  • Level changes may be difficult
  • Back bends
  • Standing or shimmying on one leg
  • Hops and jumps may be damaging to your joints and put pressure on your pelvic floor.

Overall, listen to your body and avoid movements that cause any pain or discomfort.

Share with us your experience belly dancing while pregnant in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!



Belly Dance During and After Pregnancy by World Belly Dance

Belly Dance While Pregnant by Shira

6 Benefits & Precautions To Follow While Belly Dancing During Pregnancy by Nandini Aravind

Dancing in Pregnancy by Baby Centre Medical Advisory Board

Prenatal Yoga by MacKenzie Miller

Prenatal Belly dance class by Yaël Zarca