Back to Articles |   Bookmark and Share  | 

The Structure of Oriental Belly Dance

Like the Repeating, Ever-changing Patterns in a Kaleidoscope

"For Beginners"
(reprinted from ZAGHAREET! July/Aug. 2002)
by Anthea (Kawakib) 

              patternFor the last several issues we've explored CONCEPTS to have in mind while composing (or just dancing). I know some dancers feel this is too "intellectual" an approach - they believe in dancing from the heart, that dancing is all about feeling emotions and communicating them to the audience. 

I do too! The former approach doesn't preclude the latter; anyone who's seen me dance has seen a lot of emotion and communication going on - yet underneath the surface there are layers and layers of these concepts happening.

Lois al-Faruqi, in her research on Islamic dance arts*, summarized the basic characteristics as:

"its abstract quality; its improvisatory nature; its emphasis on small, intricate movements; its serial structure; and its unfolding of a series of mini-climaxes." 

She says these characteristics apply not only to the various types of dance in Islamic culture (combat dances, solo improvisational dances, chain dances, religious dances), but to other artistic disciplines as well. As a matter of fact, she states that "(the Islamic peoples) have given little attention to narrative quality or mood depiction in their art." According to her, the overall pattern of dance is a series of intricately detailed and aesthetically complete "moments" loosely connected to each other.

Of course, we are by nature emotional creatures - we're constantly experiencing feelings or moods whether we're sitting in the audience or performing on stage. However, the importance of pattern and design over moods and feelings can't be denied, especially when viewing the visual arts of Islam - an Oriental rug is a perfect example and my favorite image of our dance.

To express a coherent and "authentic" response to Oriental Dance music, somehow we have to channel our emotions into an abstract vision. After understanding these concepts and making them your own in your response to the music - by actually using them in time and space - they free you to express your heart. (Of course, what's in your heart is another story!)

Some people "hoard" things - including knowledge. To have "more" than someone else makes them feel better; to be able to stamp something as "theirs" is most important. I believe this dance belongs to us all, and these concepts are KEYS that will unlock its hidden treasures for you.

Think of it this way - perhaps your dance is reflecting a feeling of chaos of your life. What would happen if you organized your dance, and saw your movements following patterns and making beautiful designs - would this awareness spill over into your daily routine, helping you feel more "in charge" of what happens in your life? I think so!

Each dancer brings a new view to the dance. Like the image in a kaleidoscope, when we look at the dance through someone elses' eyes, the fragments fall into place differently each time. That's really what we love about our dance - we'll never be "finished" with it, there's always something new to learn, experience, or explore.

* Lois Ibsen al Faruqi: "Dance as an Expression of Islamic Culture" Dance Research Journal, Spring/Summer 1978.

Back to Articles