Origins of different moves


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American Cabaret, as many of you know, is a mix of different styles, and often times we students are taught a move but never really told, "oh this move is a form of a move found in authentic Egyptian dance...." Out of curiosity, I'd like to know where these moves come from.

Snake Arms- Doesn't seem like anything vaguely Egyptian because Egyptian style seems to focus more on intricate layering of lower body moves. I've actually never heard it called anything else but just in case, it is a smooth, fluid movement of the arm (like an undulation starting from the shoulder to the elbow to the wrist) moving down/up with the other arm doing the inverse (same but opposite: up/down)

maya- otherwise known as a reverse vertical figure 8 (hip goes up and in and then out and down then closing the circle, then repeat on other side)? I was told that the move got that name from ATS because a particular dancer with that name used to do this move... my question is this: did this dancer create this move? Or does it come from somewhere else?

Right now, I can't remember any other ones but I'm sure I'll remember more when I am more awake, hehe.
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Aisha Azar

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Dear Michelle,
Snake Arms, as they are called by some instructors, are actually an undulation movement. They are actually used in Eygp[tian, Turksih and Lebanese dance as well. the Egyptians tend to have a more internalized and small version of the dance, though I have seen film of Randa doing a good sized arm undulation. Alot of time, Egyptians use the movement with one arm instead of two, also.
Maya- is a sway variation movement, which might also be called a figure 8
or bicycle and a few other names, I think. The developer of the original movement was a dancer named Maya Medwar. She was either from Lebanon or Egypt; I forget which country. The movement, as developed by Maya was smaller and quicker. It has undergone a lot of change since its original concept.


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Hi Michelle - these are good questions - I'm going to complement Aisha's answers with some further info.

Snake Arms - I have been told on numerous occasions that these are actually an 'import' from Indian dance (which particular kind I don't know). Whether the movement was imported into Turkish or AmCab or any other style originally, I don't know. The Egyptian version that I have been taught is *very* internalised, and originates from the centre of the chest, with the arms undulating as a direct result of that chest movement - very different from the way snake arms usually manifest in ATS or Turkish...but also not very often used as Aisha points out.

Maya - I also learned that the movement was named after Maya Medwar. However, I'm not entirely convinced that she invented it - a UK dancer posting on bhuz was taught what we would recognise as a maya in a Gulf State (think was Bahrain??), and that this was a traditional movement that echoed the movement of the waves of the sea (will go to bhuz archives and see if I can track this post down - for info - here it is: The poster I refer to is 'sunshine').

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New member
Thank you both for your detailed answers...:)
This is something that is definitely missing from the normal curriculm. Inquiring minds want to know!


New member
Hi Michelle,

I sometimes have wondered about those moves as well. Snake Arms and Mayas are both favorite moves of mine and fairly early on someone told me they are not authentic. Since then I have learned more about them and believe they are "authentic" but maybe done in a different way.

Like Deelybopper, I have also heard from someone I believe knowlibable that snake arms may have been originally Indian. And I've also learned the internalized "snake arms" from an Egyptian style dancer but she referred to this move as a "shoulder undulation." Agreed it is somewhat different than the bigger ATS/Am Cab versions of the move as previously mentioned. Interestingly with the "Indian" origins theory, my ex-bollywood dance teacher liked it when I used the bigger snake arms and when I did the internalized one she encouraged me to make them bigger and more extended. My current impression is you can use them sparingly depending on the feel and style you are going for. I tend to do them too much since I love doing the internalized ones and they are one of my slow music fall-backs. I should break out of that rut...

Was it Jamila Salimpour that named the "Maya"? If so the name didn't come from ATS since she was naming movements before ATS was created. Also, since we all know that many moves are given many different names I interpret her naming the move as inventing it. In a workshop with Raqia Hassan, Ms Hassan taught this move within her choreography. She spent surprisingly considerable time commenting something like "Americans call this move "Maya" because they think a woman named Maya invented it." My guess is Jamila saw Maya do this move and named it after her, just like people do now with moves they learn from after dancers. This doesn't necessarily say anything about the origin of the move, but it used in Egyptian style by at least one well known dance choreographer.


New member
You might be interested in an article by the dancer known as "Morocco"
about the origins of our movement vocabulary...

It is on look under the "Ask Aunt Rocky" section. I think I have seen a similar article by her that goes into more detail, but I can't find it at the moment. Maybe someone else knows?


New member
There is lots of interesting stuff on Morocco´s website under "Articles"

Another great article about this subject is written by wonderful German dancer Havva ( with name "Of Rights and Wrongs in Middle Eastern Dance" (or original German version "Vom falschen und vom richtigen orientalischen Tanz") - in this article she clearly addresses which movements have Central Asian or African connection etc but I am afraid that this article cannot be found on Internet :(


New member
I just remembered another one that had me puzzled: something called an arabesque (sort of a side to side travel movement). It looks to be more ballet-related than other travel steps- the times I've seen it used it seems very lifted and airy. However, I know that some Egyptian dancers in the past also incorporated ballet-flavored movements into their dance. Is it originally ballet?


Well-known member
Was it Jamila Salimpour that named the "Maya"?
What we need to remember is that for a very long time there was, in America, no naming conventions for these dance steps. Before Serena and Dahlena and all the videos and laserdiscs (the earliest instructional "video" I could find was from 1969) and before the era of workshops -- dancers didn't bother to name their steps, or if they did they didn't publish those names widely.

Jamila Salimpour is credited with organizing, classifying, and naming movements. Apparently nobody before her had bothered to ask "What are the different shimmy transitions?" and write them out in a logical fashion.

Jamila named her steps in two ways: "Series" steps (like the Egyptian series, the Arabic series, the shimmy transitions) and specific steps named after the dancer she first saw doing the move, or the dancer who sort of made that move popular. We've all done the same thing -- who doesn't know what Sohair Zaki hips are? Or the Dina drunk walk?

Jamila named the vertical figure 8 moving from up to down the "Maya" after Maya Medwar. Was Maya the first dancer to use it? Most probably not. But she made an impression on Jamila, and she named that step after her. Ahmed's shimmy, the Zenouba, Rashid's variation -- all basic steps but named after dancers who did them notably.

Shareen el Safy follows this convention, but then she was also a student of Jamila before she went to Egypt.

I asked Shareen specifically about ballet-related dance moves and if they were or were not "authentic." Modern Raqs Sharqi is a blend of the traditional forms and also the ballroom and ballet influence of the 30s and 40s. Dancers in that era incorporated a lot of ballet-esque movements, but "orientalized" them in their own fashion. So an Egyptian Arabesque is sort of back leg extension (like in ballet) but it's not lifted, and the "ballet line" or spiral is not observed. Shareen teaches the Arabesque as much more involved abdominally than limbically (is that a word?) :)
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