Belly dance; more correctly referred to as Oriental Dance (Arabic: رقص شرقي, lit. ‘Raqş sharqī’, literally: “oriental dancing”) is an Arabic expressive dance that has its origins in Egypt since ancient times. It features movements of the hips and torso. It has evolved to take many different forms depending on the country and region, both in costume and dance style; with Egyptian style the most recognized worldwide due to the Egyptian cinema.
Movements found in belly dance
In common with most folk dances, there is no universal naming scheme for belly dance movements. Many dancers and dance schools have developed their own naming schemes, but none of these is universally recognized. The following attempt at categorization reflects the most common naming conventions:
- Percussive: Staccato movements, most commonly of the hips, used to punctuate the music or accent a beat. Lifts or drops of the hips, chest or rib cage, shoulder accents, hip rocks, hits, and twists.
- Fluid: Flowing, sinuous movements in which the body is in continuous motion, used to interpret melodic lines and lyrical sections in the music, or modulated to express complex instrumental improvisations. These movements require a great deal of abdominal muscle control. Typical movements include horizontal and vertical figures of 8 or infinity loops with the hips, horizontal or tilting hip circles, and undulations of the hips and abdomen. These basic shapes may be varied, combined, and embellished to create an infinite variety of complex, textured movements.
- Shimmies, shivers and vibrations: Small, fast, continuous movements of the hips or ribcage, which create an impression of texture and depth of movement. Shimmies are commonly layered over other movements, and are often used to interpret rolls on the tablah or riq or fast strumming of the oud or qanun (instrument). There are many types of shimmy, varying in size and method of generation. Some common shimmies include relaxed, up and down hip shimmies, straight-legged knee-driven shimmies, fast, tiny hip vibrations, twisting hip shimmies, bouncing ‘earthquake’ shimmies, and relaxed shoulder or rib cage shimmies.
In addition to these torso movements, dancers in many styles will use level changes, traveling steps, turns, and spins. The arms are used to frame and accentuate movements of the hips, for dramatic gestures, and to create beautiful lines and shapes with the body. Other movements may be used as occasional accents, such as low kicks and arabesques, backbends, and head tosses.