Egyptian ... that's NOT.

Aziyade

Well-known member
For the past couple of years I've been really trying hard to incorporate modern Egyptian Raks Sharki technique (as taught by Sahra, Dina, Shareen, etc.) into how I dance.

This technique, as I understand it, is significantly based on a specific posture and skeletal alignment, as well as use of internal and specific pelvic and lower abdominal muscles.

After coming back from a refresher workshop with Shareen el Safy, I realized that although I THOUGHT I was dancing in that style, I really wasn't. I could actually see in my video recordings that something just wasn't quite "right" in my dancing -- I wasn't getting that Lucy Look. :) I just wasn't sure what it was.

So that led me to wonder if we denote a difference between those who practice Egyptian TECHNIQUE and those who dance in a way that resembles Egyptian STYLE. Like, do you LOOK Egyptian or do you just CALL IT Egyptian?

Shareen and Sahra look Egyptian. Hadia looks Egyptian. Jillina doesn't. LOL.

How would we classify Jillina? It's not really Am Cab, because you can see she has Egyptian influences. And how about Cassandra? I've never actually had a "Sharki" workshop with her, or seen her dance live anything other than folkloric. How about Zahra Zuhair, Dahlena, Angelika Nemeth, or Fahtiem?

I'm compiling my list of "must-study-with" Egyptian technique instructors, so outside of studying live with Lucy, who are my options, for TECHNIQUE and not just approximate style?
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Egyptian, etc.

Dear Aziyade,
There are many people who claim to be doing Egyptian dance who are not. You are right about that. I think one of the BIG differences is that many people get hung up in a sort of westernized perfection in technique and in basing their dance on choreographic patterns that are definately western. They even cover stage space western patterns.They also do not inherently feel the music, but rely instead on dramatization instead of visceral response. For an American Oriental dancer this is great, but for Egyptian dance it becomes overdramatization. WEstern dancers are often more about intellectual than vicseral.
The American dancer often makes her/his dances larger than life: dramatic, large, etc., seeking a sort of technical perfection within the dance as its main quality. The Eyg[tian dancer makes the dance as large and as real as life, and the perfection of the dance lies in its visceral response to the music and how good it feels to respond, with technique as a part of that concept, but not the entirety of it.
I have an artileon mywebsite (www.raqsazar.com) called "A Comparison and contrast of American and Egpyptian belly dance" or something like that. It explains some of these differences.
About Cassandra: I have to say honestly that she is the only dancer that I have ever seen who does justice to both the Egyptian style and American Oriental. I think her most recent stuff is more American, ( Not including her folkloric here) but I have not actually seen her perform for some years. This is just what I have heard. I have immense resepct for her as a dancer and as a person.
I would say that Jillina is an American Oriental dancer.
Shareen el Safy is my favorite American to study with. I think Zahra Sohair is excellent as a dancer and also Sahra, if you are looking for really good Egyptian dancers.
Regards,
A'isha
 
Hi Aziyade and Aisha, I'm so glad that you brought up this topic Aziyade. From my observances, I pretty much reached the same conclusion. The Egyptian style sometimes is so hard to describe in words, and it seems the more words we use the more intellectual the dance becomes. I personally prefer the dance styles of Taheya Carioca, Naima Akef, Nagwa Fouad and Lucy and Aida Nour. I, too hope to study with Lucy in the flesh too.:eek:
I agree with Aisha about Cassandra's style, I have had the opportunity to study with her(in several workshop settings) and my body, mind and spirit have expanded by leaps and bounds.
Aziyade you mentioned videos by Shareen El Shafy, do you recommend them for someone wanting to understand Egyptian style(but not necessarily dance it)? Thanks Yasmine
 

sedoniaraqs

New member
I would call Jillina westernized Egyptian, and alot of other dancers as well, especially from CA and some I know of from UT as well. Or maybe jazzed up Egyptian. You are right, Aziyade, she isn't Am Cab as it has developed since the 50's. She draws alot more on modern Egyptian technique, quite a bit on Egyptian style, and often uses Egyptian music and often interprets particular sections of the music the way an Egyptian dancer would. But she has a small but overall important amount of "stuff" that is western in essence, and in particular I think it is from modern Jazz dance. Its not so much particular steps, as the way the steps are used, the aesthetics, the way choreographies are structured etc. Its the hand poses, the amount and execution of spins, the spins layered with head spins that end in dramatic poses, the amount of locks and pops (more and bigger than most Egyptians use), the lack of repetition in the choreography, and also as in most western dancers, a lack of spontaneity and relaxedness that is seen in the Egyptian dancers.

In contrast, Am Cab dancers (or what I think of as Am Cab) often use very multicultural music routines that include Arabic, Armenia, Turkish, Persian, etc. songs, particular use of veil and zills, 5 or 7 part routines, use of sword, etc.

That is one reason I am unsatisfied with the term "American style belly dance" (though I can't think of anything better). It becomes a wastebasket term that encompases no only what I think of as American Caberet, but also encompasses those that fall short of some other style. So "american style" should mean more than someone who is striving or intending to look Egyptian but isn't quite there. The latter would probably describe me but I don't think of myself as American Caberet style.

Sedonia
 
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Shanazel

Super Moderator
How would we classify Jillina? It's not really Am Cab, because you can see she has Egyptian influences. ?

I am what most people would call AmCab, but it is AmCab with Egyptian influences because of my earliest teachers' preferences. I appreciate your dilemma re: the proper label, Sedonia. I like the term American Oriental- it is far more melodic than Am Cab, and I understand from reading old threads that the word cabaret has different connotations in Europe than in America, some of them rather risque. You may be right about the AmCab label encompassing dance that "falls short" of any particular style, but I think this happens all over the world and not just here. What is the Australian or English or French version of American Cab? I don't know if they have a name or not.

A'Isha, your contention that western dancers are often more intellectual than vicseral is a very interesting one. Intellectualizing about dance is not my thing, possibly because I was exposed to egyptian styles early on. I react to music, interpret the music, without spending time deciding how many hip cirlces here, how many maias there. Many of the wide and emphasized movements now common in American Cab look uncomfortably stagey to me; I learned to make small movements held close in to my body. Another Egyptian influence? I don't know, but it is something to think about, and I'd like to know if you notice differences in AmCab dancers along these lines- can you say, hmm, she has some Egyptian background, or she has some Turkish or Lebanese?

I also wonder if some dancers dance larger than life because that is how they react to life- on a grand and exagerrated fashion. God knows there are enough drama queens (and kings) in the world at large. No surprise that dance has its share!
 
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MirahAmmal

New member
Egyptian dance--instructors

I have had the fortune to live where Cassandra is based, and I've studied with her for years. A'isha's assessment is pretty accurrate...I'd say Cassandra is a.) always an excellent choice to study with regardless of style and b.) very good for Egyptian technique (she understands the music, understands the dance, and is very good at breaking down the techniques that the Egyptians just do but can't always break down.) Her style...I'd describe it as Egyptian with American raks sharki influence. (You can see a certain amount of Sohair Zaki in her--Sohair was one of her influences, and she's learned from many of the Egyptian greats. But, she also came from a modern dance background as a college student and trained with Jamila Salimpour in the 1970s and performed in American nightclubs in California and Minnesota in the late 70s, 80s and 90s, so she has some American influence in her personal dancing.) She also is very good for Egyptian folkloric.

Other Egyptian-style/technique instructors in the U.S. and North America...well, aside from Shareen El Safy, Cassandra and Hadia (actually Canadian) there is also Denise Enan (Canada). Aisha Ali dances more the folkloric Saidi dances, Ghawazee, etc. but she also teaches Orientale and even in her folkloric workshops you can learn things that help with the feel and style.

Also...Little Egypt (DeeDee Assad) brings several instructors from Egypt to the States each year. Dina, Raqia Hassan, Dr. Mo Gedawi, Aida Nour and Magdy El Lesy are among the ones she brings regularly and they are all very good. (I heard some knocks on Dina's teaching from her workshop the first time she came--2003--but her English has improved dramatically and is now very good, and she teaches very well.) Through these workshops I've also had the chance to study with Farida Fahmy, Randa Kamel, Lucy and others--it's a great way to experience these Egyptian artists without the $2000 plane ticket (and a good way to figure out who you want to spend the big bucks to study with when you *do* travel to Egypt!)
 

Maria_Aya

New member
Have I told you that i love this site? lol

Well, I dont know if its the fact that I'm greek, but I've seen all the dancers that are mentioning above, and from the first sec I understand that they are not arabs. For me this is the critiria to feel if the dance is arabic (egyptian etc or not). Even if arab dancers dance in Reda style which is too much westernized as idea, you can feel that they dance in arabic way. Dont know how else to explain it :eek:

Hugs and kisses

Maria Aya:)
 

Babylonia

New member
This is a great thread. I have wondered about this subject as well. It seems that in America "the bigger the better" is the motto (except for women but that's another thread entirely). Where true Egyptian dancers have a subtlety, they dance from within . In America the moves are big and dramatic as if that makes it better or something but the Egyptian/Arabic etc. dancers I watch on YouTube etc definitely have the techniques but they don't feel the need to show every move in their repetoire all at once. Hope I made sense, I'm still working on my first cup of coffee.:)
 

Michelle

New member
I also wonder if some dancers dance larger than life because that is how they react to life- on a grand and exagerrated fashion. God knows there are enough drama queens (and kings) in the world at large. No surprise that dance has its share!
Oh so true!:D

This is a great thread, by the way. You all have mentioned an internalized feeling, and a more free approach to choreography. Maria, in response to your comment, I believe this may have something to do with the Arabic culture's general approach to music. In Western culture, our music is based upon the German school of thought, where the language used to create music is very precise and mathematical. Although I cannot say I have ever seen Arabic music notated in their format, as a musician, I can certainly sense the fact that it is not as structured as our own music (except modern pop, whose structure closely resembles Western pop but with different instruments!). The way Arabic music sounds to me is kind of like a jazz format, where the music is a guide or an outline and you just follow it loosely. Obviously with certain songs they are following their memory because it is a song everyone knows. However, the feeling remains the same. It's as if they are playing their version of this well-known song, even if it doesn't deviate much to the general listener.
I think this whole approach translates to the good dancers. They hear it the way the musicians hear it. And while we are dissecting the music as Western music theory teachers taught us to do (and that feeling remains among the general public, even if they have no idea what they're listening to), they are listening and allowing themselves to move how they are called upon to do so. Even those of us who know all of this have a little trouble reconciling this with our own dance. It is difficult for us as dancers to let the music be the real spotlight and kind of be at its mercy because our culture just isn't like that. *I'm generalizing here- don't mean to imply that everyone has this problem!*:)
 
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Aisha Azar

New member
A'Isha, your contention that western dancers are often more intellectual than vicseral is a very interesting one. Intellectualizing about dance is not my thing, possibly because I was exposed to egyptian styles early on. I react to music, interpret the music, without spending time deciding how many hip cirlces here, how many maias there. Many of the wide and emphasized movements now common in American Cab look uncomfortably stagey to me; I learned to make small movements held close in to my body. Another Egyptian influence? I don't know, but it is something to think about, and I'd like to know if you notice differences in AmCab dancers along these lines- can you say, hmm, she has some Egyptian background, or she has some Turkish or Lebanese?

I also wonder if some dancers dance larger than life because that is how they react to life- on a grand and exagerrated fashion. God knows there are enough drama queens (and kings) in the world at large. No surprise that dance has its share!



Dear Shanazel,
I think the American style does vary from dancer to dancer. Sometimes it is possible to see certain influences in it, such as seeing that Jillina has had training in the Egyptian stuff... but in the end, her essence is strictly American, regardless of that training. Dance, for me, tends to be about the feeling and spirit as much as it is about the technique. As an Egyptian dancer, I do not see anything that is Egyptian about Jillina's dancing, perhaps because of the way that she does the movements and her overall feeling. She is very talented in her style. Her whole approach to the dance is simply not Egyptian, so her movements do not look Egyptian to me at all.

Re the "larger than life" thing: It was kind of a generalization. I think the concept comes in different cultural shades as well. I suppose a lot of people in any culture would consder Fifi Abdou to be laeger than life, but compared to say, Pink or Cher, or Anna Nicole Smith, she is actually a demur lady!

Regards,
A'isha
 

MirahAmmal

New member
Re the "larger than life" thing: It was kind of a generalization. I think the concept comes in different cultural shades as well. I suppose a lot of people in any culture would consder Fifi Abdou to be laeger than life, but compared to say, Pink or Cher, or Anna Nicole Smith, she is actually a demur lady!
Heehee--oh, A'isha, you're killing me. :D you know, I've never thought of Fifi (or Nagwa Fouad, for that matter) as "demure," but you're right. I guess it just goes to show, everything's relative. ;-)
 

Aziyade

Well-known member
So I'm making a list (and checking it twice) of the posture/weight placement for Egyptian. Is this consistent with what you've learned:

Shareen/Dina/Lucy Modern Egyptian or Raks Sharki:
A. Glutes tucked
B. "Kegels" or pelvic floor muscles engaged
C. Legs straight
D. Abs pulled in through bottom part of low abs
E. Ribcage lifted from back and sides
F. Ribcage slightly forward of hips
G. Weight primarily carried in torso

Beledi style (or folkloric or maybe even Mohammed Ali Street style)
A. Glutes tucked
B. Kegels relaxed ??????? (some source disagreement here)
C. Legs basically bent
D. Abs pulled in through low abs (just under navel)
E. Ribcage lifted from diaphragm
F. Ribcage in line with hips or slightly back of hips
G. Weight carried in hips

Is there a substantial postural difference between Golden Age dancers and modern dancers? I'm not seeing it, and Shareen seems to indicate that the postural change began with the Golden Age dancers.

Also, for Banat Mazin style Ghawazee, I've got the upper body posture (similar to flamenco) but never quite figured out the rest. Is the weight still in the torso, 'cause on Khayriyyah and Su'ad it doesn't seem to be in the hips. ?

???

The confusing part of most of this is trying to find which posture creates the right visual for me -- and which muscles are needed to achieve that. I flip back and forth between the folkloric, the modern Egyptian, and Suhaila's method, and part of my brain is screaming, "Am I using Kegels here?!? Where's my chest? Why don't I feel upper body weightlessness??!"

And since I've really only recently STARTED using Kegels and extreme low abs, it's all the more confusing. (I can remember Hadia saying, "No, use your little girl muscles" and me thinking, "huh? I dance with THOSE???")

We never got into Kegels in ballet class. I feel cheated.
 

Moon

New member
Aziyade said:
C. Legs straight
Really??? My teacher told us the legs are alsways slightly bend with bellydance. Or maybe with straight you mean "a little more straighter, but not locked"?
 
I went to Oasis Dance Camp one year when Denise Enan was a guest instructor, and I asked a question about basic posture. She pretty much echoed your first desription, except the Kegels part. The second description sounds pretty much like the typical stance we all are taught. But I can see how each posture creates a different foundation for the dancer.
Yasmine
 

Aziyade

Well-known member
I double checked and triple checked with Shareen and Sahra, and they both say Legs Straight -- but of course that doesn't mean locked or hyperextended backwards. You tell some people to straighten their legs and they immediately pop the knee back. ??? I'm thinking, How is this straight? :p

The straightness is in opposition to the beledi style ( I think ) and definately in opposition to old Am Cab and Suhaila's style. Straight legs always look better in pants or in a miniskirt (thank heavens that trend died out quickly).

Really??? My teacher told us the legs are alsways slightly bend with bellydance. Or maybe with straight you mean "a little more straighter, but not locked"?
 

Suhad

New member
You have described Dahlena's posture to a 'T' and about 95% of my instructor's posture, although I wouldn't have realized it had you not actually written it out and I had to do the mental comparison.

That helps a lot!

And I have to quit sitting into my hips!!! That's why I keep getting the 'stand up straight' lecture, I just figured out...tribal training to start with is NOT helping now.
 
Obviously, there are different schools of thought of which style of posture to assume. I was taught the flexible/bent knee position etc. However, it's important to remember the Egyptian style also emphasizes being relaxed(not Sloppy) so none of the body parts are held with force or excessive tension. When I dance I move primarily from my core muscles and put a" little glide in my stride and a little pep in my step" so my transitions from one movement to the other can be made effortlessly. When I'm doing basic hip-up shimmy, my pelvic floor muscles are relaxed and my abdomen is softened so my glutes and hamstrings can carry the power of the move. When I want to do sharp accents, I pull in those corresponding muscles. As dancers we also need to pay attention to our bodies and not stress so much over every little thing or the eomtional connection is lost.
Yasmine
 

Kharmine

New member
If someone has mentioned this already, I apologize. I'm new to the forum and trying to catch up.

I have the entire Stars of Egypt video series and have often compared the dance styles in it to more current performances.

The first clip of Samia Gamel dancing, she's wearing high heels and a snug, sheath dress. She's in a nightclub with a lot of crowded tables around her. Even with her arms out, she never takes up a lot of space. The other stars are very "compact" dancers, too. Even when they're moving around a room, there are no "big" movements. These old stars were doing very "intimate" performances with no need to exaggerate their movements.

Contrast that with many dancers today -- on a fairly empty stage and having to make every movement visible out and up to the cheap seats. They tend to fill the space available.
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Egyptians, etc.

Dear Kharmine,
One thing to remember is that the dancers in those old clips were working in front of a camera with limited stage space and under the whim of a director. I do agree, however that one of the trademarks of the Egyptian style is a holding back and not letting movement get too big, for the most part. When you see Egyptian dancers in person however, they do utilizie a certain amount of horizontal space, too. But the contrast is that they effectively use vertical space as well, through layering, height changes, etc.
Don't make the assumption that in all of those old movies, the dancers are doing whatever they like. They do what the director tells them to do, wear what he wants them to wear etc, and often the dancer is window dressing rather than the focal point of the movie, making what she does in the movie less than a dance performance much of the time ( though not always!!).
Regards,
A'isha
 

starrbursts

New member
Aisha,
since you are an egyption dancer and have a dvd on egyption posture, etc. do you recommend any dvds that teach egyption dance to a beginner like me? I have been told a few like El Sharif (cant remember her name all the way) but I don't know what dvds to get...anyway, I was just wondering if you have any suggestons since my teacher does more caberet.
 
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