Arabic Song Translations
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Attitudes Toward Dance
In East and West


There are many different attitudes toward Middle Eastern Dance and Dancers. There are dancers who feel that this dance simply is an expression of joy in life, and that to call Middle East dance a "Dance of Seduction" is a vast misrepresentation. On the other side, there are people (not dancers themselves) who assume that belly dancers are no different than *those* dancers who work in the so-called "Gentlemen's Clubs". These attitudes vary from country to country but also vary a lot within each culture. This page delves into the topic of how Middle Eastern dance is perceived by different cultures in the Middle East and elsewhere.

++Thanks to the Middle East Dance List++
as it was there I made the contacts
whose opinions and knowledge
appear on this page

Articles on this page:

1. A Summary of Karin van Nieuwkerk's
book "A Trade Like Any Other"

2. Attitudes of Indian Culture Toward Dancers

3. More Egyptian Women Buying Dance Costumes

4. Joyfulness and Sensuality in Middle Eastern Dance

5. How Dance is Learned in Egypt

6. Morocco Sets the Record Straight;
Some Common Western Misconceptions
About Dancers in Egypt

7. Non Middle Eastern Performers of
Middle Eastern Dance
(an article which is still a work in progress)
(Gradually other items will be added to the page.)

All material is used with the permission of the contributors.
1. A Summary of a Book
About Female Entertainers
in Cairo


" 'A Trade Like Any Other' Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt"
-- A Fascinating Book

This summary is by Grace "Lennie" Clark, the editor of this website.

During interviews with female entertainers of the Muhammad Ali Street neighborhood of Cairo, author Karin van Nieuwkerk often heard them refer to their way of life with the above phrase. Yet the performers felt that the middle and upper classes of Egyptian society look down on them and do not understand "the people of the trade". I found the book a fascinating journey into the lives of these female performers.
The book is published by the University of Texas press; I ordered mine through Amazon.

A Contradiction
Ms. Nieuwkerk found a contradiction between the way Egyptian society celebrates its most importaint and joyful occasions by hiring these performers, yet judges them harshly.
She decided to investigate whether this attitude springs from the fact that these women are entertainers, or because they are women in entertainment? Besides interviews with the performers themselves, she also interviewed people from other parts of Egyptian society, asking them how they viewed the profession of female entertainer.

She also was interested to know how these women see themselves.She found that the Muhammad Ali St entertainers tended to say that they view their main job as that of a mother and a housewife, and that are in "the trade" in order to raise their children. Though friendly with eachother at work, many did not frequent eachother's homes nor have other entertainers visit them at home, fearing that the censure of neighbors could reflect on their children. Yet they do not, themselves, view their trade as dishonorable, and are proud of holding to those standards of behavior which are a tradition in the Muhammad Ali Street neighborhoods.

Different Types of Female Performers
The three types of female entertainers that Ms. van Nieuwkerk studied were 1) those who performed at the circuit of weddings and saint's day celebrations (the Muhammad Ali Street performers), 2) dancers who performed in nightclubs, and 3) the performing arts circuit (concert halls, theaters, radio and telivision). The attitudes of the different groups, and the attitudes of society toward those groups, turned out to be quite different.

However, the artistic material performed by the three groups was very similar, with the exception that belly dance has been removed from the concert hall, radio, and TV. Unlike the West, where there is a clear-cut division between the "high class" arts (classical music or ballet, for example) and "pop" culture, Ms. van Nieuwkerk found that the songs of Oum Kolthum or Mohammed Abdel Wahab might be heard in a five-star hotel or a street wedding.

Historical Background
Karin van Nieuwkerk makes the case that, as far back as the Middle Ages, (and in Europe as well as Muslim cities), certain trades were looked down upon. There were three main categories of "dishonorable" professions. The first category included anyone who came in contact with human waste, illness, human remains, etc. Another category included anyone who publicly exhibited their bodies for profit, such as dancers (or prostitutes). A third category (which could overlap into the first two categories) included anyone who was itinerant: including beggars, peddlers, and shepherds.

Muslim cities of the Middle Ages added to the above list of "suspect" professions the following: usurers, traders in silver and gold and silk, moneylenders, slave dealers, wine sellers, pork sellers, bath attendants, midwives, players, storytellers, butchers, tanners, camel and donkey drivers, and veterinarians!

Ms. van Nieuwkerk gives historical evidence of the existence of female entertainers. In the 1800's, European travelers wrote of seeing female dancers performing in the street during the saint's day celebrations. Two different European woman wrote accounts of visits to these all-female parties, and both remarked upon the free and friendly association between the female entertainers and the women of the hareem.

There were two main classes of female performers: the "Awalim" (plural)(who sang only in the hareem at female-only parties) and the "Ghawazee", who danced in the streets and in coffee-houses. European travelers began to be interested in viewing ths dancers when they visited Cairo. Muhammad Ali, the Turkish ruler who had conquered Egypt, wanted Cairo to become more European and cosmopolitan. In 1834, he banned the Ghawazee from the city. They re-located to Upper Egypt (South Egypt). The Awalim were able to stay in the city because they did not perform in the streets.

In the 1850's the ban was lifted by Abbas Basha and the Ghawazee returned to Cairo. During the British military occupation in the 1880's, the Esbekiya entertainment district became frequented by British soldiers (as well as by Egyptian men). The profession of entertainer, and the profession of prostitute, were separate professions. But they were both located in the Esbekiya district, along with theaters, concert halls, and restaurants.

The houses where the entertainers lived were headed by women. These women had the title of "ustaa". Customers would arrange to hire performers in the ustaa's office on the ground floor of the house. They were not admitted upstairs.

After the turn of the century, nightclubs gradually began to appear. IThe dancers' costumes began to be nfluenced by western imitations of Eastern dance.(The western imitations began to appear after certain Middle Eastern dancers performed in the West--- for instance, the Chicago World's Fair of the 1890's) the costume began to resemble something more like what we know as a belly dance costume today, and the term "belly dancing" began to be used.

The dancers in these clubs were expected to sit and drink with the customers as part of their job. They received a percentage of the money that the customers spent on drinks.

Some of the female performers of that era worked their way up to becoming true stars. One of the most successful in those days was Badia Masabni, who owned very successful nightclub.

(There is an interesting biography of Badia Masabni on Hossam Ramzy's website if you click on "articles" and then on "Stars of Egypt".)

During this time, the Muslim Brotherhood was formed, and began to gain strength in Egypt. Many Egyptians were very angry at the British rule. The religious conservatives saw that poorer Egyptian women were being tempted by British gold into a lifestyle that was considered very sinful.

In the famous revolt of '52, when Shepheard's Hotel was burned to the ground, the building that had housed Badia Masabni's sala was also burned. She had left the country for her native Syria two years before.

Gradually after the turn of the century, the distinction between the awalim and the ghawazee began to dim. At weddings of the 1930's and '40's, the female entertainers would perform first for the women upstairs, and then go downstairs and perform for the men at a party which would last until the early hours of the morning. Later, weddings were mixed gatherings of women and men; the women of the house and their female guests sat with bride and groom at a mixed party, but the women would they leave early. Then the performers continued to entertain the male guests for many hours more.

From the 40's through the '70's, the Muhammad Ali street families remained active at weddings and saint's day celebrations.

During the 1970's, huge changes in the political and economic situation of Egypt changed the way of life of the female entertainers. A rising middle class took advantage of Sadat's open-door policy; there were a lot of newly-rich people who went in for conspicuous consumption. The fees paid to dancers and singers increased ten-fold, which had the effect of attracting performers from outside the original families.

When the boom suddenly ended, times became hard for the Muhammad Ali Street dancers. Big street weddings were (and are) not as common as before. The increase in hard drug use has led to a criminal class, and dancers have been robbed or even kidnapped of dancers as they leave work in the early hours of the morning. For financial reasons, more entertainers have adopted the nimar system, going to several short jobs in one evening.

Pressure from religious conservatives has caused the Egyptian government to initiate restrictions on the entertainment profession. The midriff section of the dancer must be covered. The system of fatith, entertainers sitting and drinking with customers, has been banned in the nightclubs. Saint's Day celebrations are not allowed to have as much secular entertainment as previously (especially dancing). And belly dancers do not perform on television any more, (though the old movies which feature dancers are still shown often and remain very popular).

Reasons for Society's Views
Ms. Nieuwkerk suggests several reasons why women performers are looked down upon in Egypt. For one thing, they are perceived as "women without men", who do not conform to the womanly ideal of devoting one's life to household, children,and family, and avoiding contact with male strangers. The long-time practice of sitting and drinking with customers gave nightclub entertainers a bad name which continues to this day. Also, entertainers as a whole are seen as flatterers and hypocrites because they praise whoever hires them. Some people decried the bad example female entertainers set for young girls. Except for the very top nightclubs (such as those in five-star hotels) most of the Egyptians Ms. Nieuwkerk interviewed had a low opinion of nightclubs. Though most Egyptians have been to the weddings where the Muhammad Ali Street performers work, only a very small percentage of society goes to the better class of nightclub. The nightclub entertainers are seen as harming families by their ability to ruin men financially and tempt men awasy from their wives. Whereas the Muhammad Ali Street performers perform for families, Ms. van Nieuwkerk would be told, helping people celebrate the joy of a sanctioned marriage, the nightclub performers are seen as increasing sexual excitement which is outside of marriage and thus inappropriate. The interviewer also found differences in attitude depending on what class the (non-performer) interviewee belonged to. Many lower class Egyptians view the Muhammad Ali entertainers as people who just "have to earn a living"; as "pitiable" people who would change their lifestyle if they could.

The Profession of Entertainer has Changed Over the Years
In the past, female entertainers were expected to be singers and dancers at the same time. As Ms. van Nieuwkirk says in the book, "A good performer was supposed to be complete (shamla) - that is, competent in singing and dancing." In the recent decades, entertainers tend to be either dancers or singers, but not both. The Muhammad Ali entertainers said that in the past, the families of their neighborhoods were able to have strict control over the social behavior of the female entertainers, but that this was not happening anymore. Examples of behavior that was considered inappropriate would be drinking with customers, allowing male customers up to dance on the stage, accepting business cards of customers, wearing revealing costumes, and letting customers put tips in the costume.

The "Bint Al-Balad"
Ms. Nieuwkerk found a contradiction between the feminine virtues which are said to be consistent with the ideal of a good Muslim woman, and the Egyptian tradition of the Bint al-Balad. The "Bint al-Balad" or "daughter of the people", is tough, can hold her own, good at bartering, good humored, generous, and, though not necessarily educated or literate, highly knowledgeable about life. Many women not in the entertainment business also fit this tradition, and they work outside the home, in factories, tailor shops, or run their own small businesses. She is pleasant, keeps herself attractively groomed and dressed, and acts coquettishly in conversation, but can be tough when it comes to defending her family or her reputation. As n example of this, Ms. Nieuwkerk quoted an entertainer who told proudly of an incident where she used her high-heeled shoe to publicly beat a man in a coffee-house, after that man had gone around spreading rumors about her reputation! These women showed pride in their toughness. Several of them remarked, "At work, I am a man among men!"

At the end of the book, I was so thankful to Karin Van Nieuwerk for taking me into these women's homes, and to the celebrations and clubs where they work. I am filled with compassion for the entertainers, who give Egyptian society so much joy, but must (in the case of the Muhammad Ali Street dancers, at least)contend with attitudes that lead to expressions such as "Son of a Dancer". I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in Middle Eastern dance and/or in finding out about other cultures. This book teaches the reader so much, while also making the world of these women come alive.

(The viewer may also be interested in checking out an update to the above book, wherein Ms. van Nieuwkerk went back to the neighborhoods in Cairo and describes the changes that have taken place there since she wrote the book. This update can be seen at Nikki Brown's website,

2. Attitudes Toward Dancers
in Indian Culture


(The following was originally a "post" on the Middle East Dance List on-line forum, by
DaVid, "The Male Belly Dancer of Scandinavia"
First of all I would like to point out that art in general is looked upon as something you just do, ----nothing you actually do in the Indian Culture. Oh yes, they/we have certain things that we appreciate as decent, proper and high class art such as classical song (Raga), classical music (sitar, tabla, etc.)ghazals (Mogul tradition) classical dance (Bharata Natiyam, etc.) to mention a few.

So other art forms are treated with a "oh anyone could do that" attitude. I myself have been dancing and performing Bhangra for 18 years and still "my people" just look upon it as a hobby---even though I teach and promote it as well. That's the way folkdancers are looked upon in the Indian region.

Then we have the entertainment arts, "classical Indian". It all probably started out as decent dancers---which people then saw a sales potential in--- If they changed the dance style a teenie weenie bit. Classical Indian went on and became murjah which is a Mogul tradition. The girls would dance, flirt and tease the men---and the men would shower them with notes. And then they would pay the "manager" and "get a room", so to speak. I cant speak for the Middle East tradition on just this area, but from what I have understood, there are a lot of similarities between the entertaining bellydancers and the murjah girls.

So of course these women weren't looked upon as decent at all by others. They developed a certain way of behaving, a certain way of dressing, a certain attitude and a certain way of life. They went different, & nbsp (sic), and claimed their right to exist. Oh, and people spoke of them as prostitutes, heartless husband-stealers, thieves, low cast, demoralized, etc.

The "kothe" where the murjah dancers performed (called flats/whorehouses in hindi) were closed down and forbidden by the Englishmen and by the Indian government, but they still exist today, illegally.

Today people really don't want to be associated with being a dancer, they might be damn good at it but they would never call themselves a dancer, because the meaning of the word "nachne vali/vala" has several meanings - which often aren't that flattering to ones image/person/art.

Most parents (like mine used to) hope that their children will quit dancing when they reach a certain age. Oh well...

So my point with all this is that my impression is what this is what happened with the Middle East dance too. It makes perfect sense with the way most Arabs look upon (female) dancers. It also makes sense with a lot of the flirtatious moves and gestures that exist in the dancers.

Now I look upon the Middle East and Indian dancers with GREAT respect - just to have said that. And I would never do anything on stage that I myself would find that disrespected or misrepresented my respect for the dances. When having said that - people expect you to be an entertainer, artist and a dancer - not a stiffneck who's mostly dancing with his/her eyes closed and being introvert. They pay you to entertain, flirt, and create a certain atmosphere. I personally feel that I as a representative for Middle East/Indian dances have a duty to show them that Middle East/Indian dance can be both serious and flirtatious. You can entertain and tease and flirt without inviting to anything more. There is a balance and a certain "reservedness" needed and a dancer should find the balance and security to be able to do this within her/himself pretty fast.

So even though the dance/dancers are looked upon in a certain way, you don't need to
be that way yourself. You choose your style, radiation, expression yourself....

Oh, just my two cents added...


3. More Egyptian Women Buying Dance Costumes


This short summary of an article in the Cairo newspaper, "Al Ahram" is by the editor of this website, Grace "Lennie" Clark.

In July of 2004, one of the "features" articles in the above Cairo newspaper stated that more Egyptian women are buying belly dance costumes. The author interviewed costume dealers in the Khan el Khalili, who told her that formerly their customers had mostly been tourists*, but that this is beginning to change to a significant percentage of local women. It is almost "de rigeur" said the author of the article, for a young married woman to own a dance costume or at least a dance scarf. Where do they wear these costumes? To all-girl "henna parties" where dancing does occur. The parties have been around forever but not the custom of wearing dance outfits to them. The reason for this change is attributed to the fact that some of the female Arabic music stars are now wearing costuming in their videos. The singer Shakira is also popular in the Middle East and has had an influence.

*From the prices quoted, I deduce the author was interviewing dealers of less expensive costumes.

4. Joyful and Sexual can be Entertwined:
A Description by an American Dancer of the
Attitudes She Has Experienced Among Her
Middle Eastern Friends


("Editor's note: The following "post" was sent to the Middle East Dance List By A'isha Azar. The context: a debate over whether belly dance was "a dance of seduction" or rather an innocent expression of joy and exuberance. A dancer wrote in, saying that she was certain that her dance was not perceived as sexual, giving as proof the fact that she often danced at Arabic-American community events, with children and grandparents present, and they all enjoyed her performance. Soon after, the following opinion was sent to the List by A'isha Azar. With A'isha's permission, I have included it here; I feel that her description of how differently sexual matters are viewed by the two different cultures is relevant to the subject matter of this page.

A'isha Azar is a performer and instructor, based in the northwest part of the United States. More information about A'isha is found at the bottom of the page.)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"One of the other areas where I have paid close attention to how Arab culture seems to be different from American culture specifically, is how free people often are about sexual references in front of their kids. I mean this both verbally and in other ways. For example, one of my Arab woman-friends got mad because she found her husband's issues of Playboy magazine. When he refused to get rid of them, she immediately got a subscription to Playgirl and looked at it with her 12-year-old daughter, discussing the photos therein in a pretty ribald manner. I don't think I know one American woman who would have done the same thing! I know that I would not.

"I have also seen woman talk about _____* sex in front of young kids. I was pretty freaked out about it, the first few times it happened. I have seen women dance provocatively in front of a whole room full of their relatives, wear short, sexy clothing to the hospital to visit their grandmother, etc.

"Joyful and sexual can be entertwined, and often are. One does not have to be separate from the other, and I think in less Puritanical cultures, rarely is. Middle Eastern people are often very sensual, and sexuality plays very much into that. It is a huge topic for both men and women. When you mentioned the older women getting up and shaking their shoulders while you are dancing, I have often seen this done, by males and females, and I can only say that there was indeed a sexual aspect to it as well as a joyful one.

"As far as Catholicism goes, I was raised Catholic (and am recovering nicely, thank you!) However, Catholics are way into sex, also. I am the oldest of eight children and we all got here by the usual method. Almost like the forbidden fruit reaction, I would say, and this reaction is very similar to what I see among both Muslim and Christian Arabs in a lot of instances. Some Arabs are far more modest than others, just as we find in the typical American room full of revelers, but usually the very modest ones would not be doing any kind of body response in a mixed crowd, or sometimes not even in a strictly female environment.

"I think the main point that I am trying to make is that we must not judge what is sexual and what is not in other cultures by the same yardstick that we judge our own culture's responses. They are not the same, and are often different than they appear on the surface. Having kids or nuns in the room does not necessarily mean that people will not be joyful and sexual at the same time. Think about the pronouncement of "You may kiss the bride" at your average wedding. How many grooms politely kiss their brand new wife on the cheek? Usually there is a big, deep, beautiful sensual soul kiss in front of how many people? There is the hint of sexual fulfillment and other kinds of intimacy in that very public kiss. Would you consider this a nonsexual act? And yet everyone responds joyfully!

"I think that in some ways the kiss can be a good analogy to the dance. Dance can be good, deep, sensual, and yet sexual, soulful and joyful all at once. What is the problem here?

A'isha Azar"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

A'isha Azar is a Northwest-based performer who has studied the cultures and dances of the Middle East and North African since 1974. She has studied with the natives of these regions and with some of the very best dancers from Western countries. A'isha has taught Egyptian dance (Raqs el Sharqi) and folkloric dance since 1976. Her approach to instruction includes the entire "picture" of the dance, covering movement, music, costuming and cultural information. She has developed a format for teaching Egyptian belly dance, based on 10 fundamental concepts in movement in order to create a comprehensive learning process. She states, "Belly dance is the physical manifestation of, and visual complement to the music. The body and spirit are instruments through which the music is given physical dimension and yet another aspect of emotional depth. Contact information for A'isha appears at the end of the quote.)

A'isha currently teaches at "A Time To Dance" studio in Spokane, Washington. she is available for workshops and master classes in any of her areas of expertise. She eagerly shares her knowledge and promises a worthwhile and enjoyable learning experience. To receive an information packet, write to A'isha at P.O. Box 4782, Spokane, WA. 99220. or e-mail her at A'isha Azar.


5. How Dance is Learned in Egypt


Tarik Sultan, a male bellydancer based in New York City, posted the following message on the Middle East Dance List. He was answering a "post" by a dance student. The student had just learned that there are no belly dance classes in Egypt (as we know them in the U.S. and Europe), and she wanted to know how belly dance was learned in Egypt. Clicking on Tarik's name takes you to an article he wrote which is published on Morocco's website which describes how he learned to dance as a child and teenager in New York City.

Raqs Sharki is primarily a folk dance that is done at home in family and community gatherings, or among friends. Because of this people just assimilate it from the time they're kids, by following the grown-ups. All the women over there who dance professionally already knew how to dance because they learned how to at home. They might have shown above-average talent or desire and then decided to pursue a career in dance as a result, even though this is a very serious step for a young woman's reputation over there. ("Good girls" don't associate with men outside the family; however, the financial rewards were strong enough incentive to flout convention.)

It's just like if someone over here decides they want to be a singer. They have a natural talent and probaly began singing with their families, or in their church choirs. When they decide to go pro, they might go to a voice coach to polish their talent. If they are pop singers, they should get coaches to teach them stage craft. Just think of "making the band" on MTV and you'll get the idea.

Dancers over there have a skill which they learned at home. If they decide to make a career out of it, they might receive coaching from a (usually) male choreographer, but more often than not though, this is learned by experience.

Most dancers start out dancing at local weddings, then move up to small clubs, and then, if they're lucky and catch the attention of the right people, the five-star hotels. Needless to say, only a few managed to get that far. Most of the star dancers will hire a choreographer to create their routines. Naghwa Foaud, for example, had several choreographers during the course of her career.

That in a nutshell is it. Hope this puts things into perspective.


Tarik Sultan's e-mail

6. Morocco Sets the Record Straight:
Q and A about Dancers in Egypt


A young dancer in a "post" to the Middle East Dance List, which contained some "facts" she had heard about what it is like to be a performer of raqs sharqi in Egypt. "Aunt Rocky" was only too happy to set the record straight, in her own inimitable style.

Student: One of my current teachers tells me that the dancers in Egypt are required to become certified in order to perform...

Morocco: No, they are required to have a performer's **liscence** which is very different than certification

Student: This means that they must take classes in ballet as well as in cabaret style, and I'm assuming they study the Mahmoud Reda* style which incorporates ballet movements.

Morocco: Totally wrong in everything, except Mahmoud Reda's theatre style does incorporate ballet, modern & Hollywood movie style dance movements.

I will say it AGAIN! There is no NO such "style" as "cabaret". Period.

That term and "category" is just another totally false American fantasy. Raks Sharki is Raks Sharki. It's just "supposed to" be better and more coherent for performance purposes than for simply having a good time boogeying at Cousin Samira's wedding.

In fact until a couple of years ago, there was no such thing in Egypt as classes in Raks Sharki, yet dancers (& all other entertainers) have been required to be liscensed since 1954. Every performer needs a liscence: singers, dancers of every kind, acrobats, comedians, magicians, mimes, etc. It does not attest to quality or skill. All a female dancer has to prove in order to get a liscence, is that she is breathing, can show up on a stage in a costume, and move around to music/wiggle a bit.

It is not any sort of certification. NOT every female who gets a gig as a dancer in Egypt is necessarily a good dancer or has any training in anything. I have seen some pretty horrendous "dancing" on many more than one occasion "over there".

Student: Apparently folkdancers in Egypt were considered low class...

Morocco: Still are...

Student: And making a living doing them was hard.

Morocco: Making a living in any of the Arts has always been hard. Probably always will be...

Student: My teacher also tells me that many dancers are prostitutes AND are mainly Gypsies, as good Muslim women do not display themselves in such a manner.

Morocco: OH BOY! Have you brought in a whole box of worms, never mind a can! Going on a fishing trip, by any chance?

Yes, female dancers of any/all kinds of dance anywhere in the generic Muslim world (*&* here too, my dear, especially when I started in 1960) are CONSIDERED prostitutes, whether they really are or are not "full service" professionals, because "good" girls are supposed to stay in the home & never display their bodies to men who are not within the "allowable" circle.

NO they are NOT mainly Roma, they are mainly gadje. While some of the very few Roma men & women that live in Egypt make their living a s musicians & dancers (though the Ghawazee have not performed for 10 years! While the men can still play their music with impunity) it is VERY VERY rare for a Roma woman to really be "full service". We are very very VERY strict/uptight about things like that

Family folklore troupes, some of which are, but most of which are NOT Roma, almost NEVER prostitute their women. They work together specifically to be able to protect their women at all times

See if you can get your cute little hands on the film "Halli Belek Min Zouzou" with Souad Hosni and Tahia Carioca & you'll see the family dynamic of souch a troupe *&* the riot that ensues when an audience member even starts to get a bit out of hand.

Student: Many of the well-known dancers are either from families with money or are very lucky.

Morocco: The only *nightclub* Oriental dancer I know of, who comes from a family with money, is Dina (I don't think Suzy Khairy's family was wealthy.)

Many others are protected by:
1) Being from a traditional performing family, such as Nadia Hamdy & currently Dendash, whose male family members protect the women
2) Being VERY determined/strong
3) Being married to one of her musicians (usually the band leader) or a powerful man
4) Being protected by a family/male family member, who accompanies the dancer to every gig, because the family supports the dancer's talent + ambitions ---or really needs the money (Souher Zaki who, when she lost her stepfather, who had taken her to every one of her gigs since she was 14, lost all heart for performing and couldn't do a gig, even in her own club, without crying for thinking of him...)

(Editor's note: here Morocco goes on to discuss Mahmoud Reda in further detail: I have included that part on the "Interesting...!" page of this website. On that page, the section is titled "Mahmoud Reda: Morocco Sets the Record Straight".)

Student: Well, that's my two cents, which I borrowed from my teacher.

Morocco:: Here's a dime: get the more extensive/expensive more accurate version..8-)

Ooops---Don;t need the dime, I just gave it to you!!! Use the dime to by ice cream.

*See editor's note near end of article.

7. Non-Middle-Eastern Performers
(and Students)
of Middle Eastern Dance

(The following article is a work in progress.)

Begun July 24th, 2004, only the introduction, the questions and the first two sections are completed.))

I live in the United States, and always have had curiosity about other cultures. That curiosity gave rise to this page, and the first six articles/posts on this page do concern cultures different than my own.

This spring, I realized that the page was unbalanced, because it had no information about the attitudes of performers and afficionados of Middle Eastern dance who are not of Middle Eastern heritage. After all, websites are international, and I thought perhaps viewers from non-western cultures might be curious about why this dance form is so popular in Europe, South America, the U.S., and Asia.

To this end, I put a questionaire out on the Middle East Dance List in the spring of 2004, and received approximately thirty responses. Though not a large enough response to draw any generalizations from, I felt that I would publish the information and my "Attitudes" page would be more balanced in the information it provides.

To be honest, I didn't expect that the responses would be that compelling to me personally, because I have been around U.S. enthusiasts of this dance form for years, and I thought I'd heard it all! However, to my surprise I found the responses I got were often very interesting to me personally.

I would like this article to be a work in progress. If you would like to answer some or all of the questions, write me and I will add your information. I would especially like to hear from more dancers in Europe and South America, and from the Asian countries.

So far, all of the responses have been from female dancers; I'd like to hear from some of the guys who dance Middle Eastern style dance!

The largest number of responses came from the U.S.A. Of these, three were from northern California, two from Florida, three from the midwestern states, three from southern California, and two from Arizona, and two from the east coast. There were also one from Wales, three from Australia, one from Germany, one from Brazil, and two from England.

These were the questions:

1. What keeps you dancing this form of dance?
2. What started you dancing this form of dance?
3. When you see dancers in your area, what do you think they do best, and what do you think they could improve upon?
4. What social class are the women and men in your area who do Middle East dance?
5. What opinions does the general public in your area have about Middle Eastern dance?
6. How much money do dancers in your area spend on costumes?
7. What percentage of dancers in your area make a living at it?
8. What kinds of workshops are available in your area and what are the pros/cons in your opinion, of the workshops you've taken?
9. What kind of venues for performing are there in your area, and do people dance to taped or live music?
10. What kind of opportunities are available in your area for students to perform?
11. What is the going rate of pay for performances in your area, and how are tips accepted?
12. What costuming styles are worn in your area by dancers?
13. If you have seen dancers from the Middle East perform, how in your opinion does their style differ (in general) from western performers of Middle Eastern dance?
14. When did Middle Eastern dance become popular in your area? What were "the early days" like?

New Questions

15. If you've had experience dancing in a Renaissance festival, what was/is it like?
16. If you've been a member of a troupe, what are some of the issues you've had to deal with and how did you handle them?
17. If you are a teacher, what are some of the issues you've had to deal with and how did you handle them?
18. If you have been involved in big festivals or contests, what are they and what are some of the benefits/problems?
19. If you dance in the SCA or know people who do, can you describe what that is like?
20. Are there examples in your area of dancers who love the dance but are not willing to learn about the culture it comes from?
21. Have you had, or do you have, medical problems which have been helped by Middle Eastern dance?
22. What do you think the criteria should be for someone to be a paid performer?
23. Do you have "pet peeves" connected with dance classes, festivals, workshops, etc.
24. Is dance a spiritual experience for you?

Question 1:
"What Keeps You Dancing?"

Response Summary

Reasons given were the social benefit (8), excercise or physical fitness (7), fun or joy (5) outlet for their femininity (4), "just can't stop" (4), excitement of performing (3), costumes (4) creativity (3), spirituality (2), beauty of the dance form (3), fascination with the Orient (3), the fact that this dance form is accepting of older dancers (3), love of the music (3), the "constant challenge (3), wanting to keep this dance form alive (1), medical benefits (1), the fact that it's a woman's dance (1), self esteem (3), it can be done in small spaces (1),emotional outlet (1), wanting to spice up her marriage (1). (Most of the respondees gave three or more reasons for continuing to dance.)

Further Detail

Only one of the respondees answered with less than heartfelt enthusiasm. This well-known instructor had experienced burn-out, but wrote that she keeps getting pulled into the dance world again, because she gets so many requests to perform and teach, and to continue to organize the large dance festival in her area.

The other respondees were so full of enthusiasm that in reading their answers to this question, I felt overwhelmed by what this dance form has done for their lives.

"The music and the mystique of it", one woman wrote simply.

From another, "I appreciate the artistry, the complexity, the history and culture. One could spend a lifetime learning; I find it interesting on a social and intellectual level as well as an artistic level."

Some answered this question based on the dance scene in their area. "Oriental dance is very popular in Germany at the moment---has been for some years. Large "scene", several good music and costume vendors, lots of quality workshops, many shows to see. Germans love to travel and explore other cultures." Others who answered the survey have almost no dance scene in their areas, yet they keep on dancing, teaching and finding venues for their students to perform in! I could not help but feel inspired by these women!

An instructor from Wales likes Middle East dance because it is "more readily accepting of older dancers and also of more sizes and shapes of women. Other forms of dancing are strictly for the young or very thin."

Continuing on that theme, a Florida dancer wrote that she has seen with her own eyes older women benefit from the power of this dance. "You gain self-esteem and you feel differently about yourself." A Southern California dancer wrote that "many start for the exercise but stay for the self-esteem."

A woman who describes herself as a "goth" had started a bellydance class because she and a friend thought that a few Middle East dance moves would add to the "sinuous grace and elegance" which is emphasized in gothic dancing. "After the first class I was hooked on the dance for its own sake. I discovered a grace I didn't know I had, and I finally felt like having hips and womanly curves was an excellent thing."

"This particular form captivates because its movements mirror my own instinctive ones."

And the costumes! "The costumes "appeal to the little girl in us who loved to play dress-up in spangles and sparkles", wrote a dancer from the American midwest.

"I did not ever wear a squin prior to bellydancing", writes the Australian woman quoted above. "It develops or can increase a woman's ability to express her femininity."

"It lets me be feminine", agrees a woman who works in computing, "which is still very much a man's world, so it's nice to let loose and just be a woman for a change."

Many have found deep friendships through this hobby, as the following quotes demonstrate:

"The social aspect should not be overlooked."
"Being part of a subculture of 'dance sisters' that instill that feeling of belonging."
"The ladies I dance with, the restaurant owner I dance for, the patrons I share my gift with, families who hire me for their family gathering, the community, the love in my heart..."

Physical exercise was one of the most commonly mentioned reasons for continuing with Middle East Dance, as these quotes demonstrate.
"An enjoyable way to keep fit, improves coordination and body awareness."
"Other people complain about exercising, I just put on some fast Arabic music and it's fun, therapy, and aerobic benefit all in one."

For some the dance form can be a form of prayer and blessings as well as entertainment.

Others seem to admit to what is almost an addiction to the dance. In my summary of answers to this question I call it the "just can't stop" response. From North Carolina, "I can't imagine being without it. My body just starts doing it whether I want to or not if I'm away too long - shimmies in the grocery store and the like."

As a Boston dancer writes, "I can't imagine not doing it. The movements are in my muscles and bones now. When nightclub dancing, I do figure 8's and undulations! The more I learn about Middle East Dance, the more I appreciate the complexity and subtleties, both in movements and music. No end to learning, the constant challenge is addicting."

Question 2:
"What Started You Dancing?"

Response Summary

Saw a Middle Eastern Dance performance and was fascinated (4), curiosity (2), love for all sorts of dance (1), saw an announcement for a class (3), friend's influence (4), loneliness (1), switched from other dance form due to physical inability to continue it (2) switched from other dance form because bellydance suited personality better (2) economic opportunity (1), wanted to "raise eyebrows" (1), found out it would be good for physical problems (2), always was fascinated (2), saw a video for sale, and bought it (2), looking for healthy form of exercise (2), thought it would help improve her gothic dancing (1), her mom ordered her a video (1), only dance class available (1), saw "middle east" dancers in old Hollywood movies as a child (2), wanted to bellydance for husband (1), "just for a lark" (1), wanted artistic outlet (1). (Most of the respondees gave one particular reason for starting, some gave a couple. These are reasons they came up with on their own; i.e., they did not check reasons off of a list.)

Further Detail

The different reasons which the respondees gave for starting Middle Eastern dance were so many and varied that it was difficult for me to summarize them! But I think they could be divided into two groups: those who had been fascinated by this dance form for a long time before they began, and those who began studying bellydance for some circumstantial reason or other (friend's influence, economic opportunity, convenient time of class) and became "hooked" after they began to learn.

I'll start with a few quotes from the ones who, one might say, "accidentally fell into it."

"A friend drug me kicking and screaming that I had two left feet and couldn't dance."
"I started doing it to buck the conservatism at the law school because when people asked me what my hobbies were I could say 'belly dancing'."
"I was dancing other forms, but lucked into an opening in a singing-telegram/balloon delivery business. They needed a belly dancer, and the woman who had been doing it offered to train me. Helped me find music, learn the basics, and make a simple costume. I used instructional videos and took occasional workshops until I could find a regular class."
"My mother, she's never been a dancer but is a fan of all forms of dance. She took me to shows, bought me a video."
"The first time I saw a belly dancer on stage, I said, 'You'd never get me up there doing that!"

A couple of respondees had been dancing other forms, but found them unsatisfactory. One of them started in jazz dance, but switched to bellydancing as she got older. She said the jazz style didn't suit her as an older woman. Another said, "I wanted to do something body-affirming as opposed to Adult Tap Dance, which I left through being completely incompetant." A third switched from ballet after she realized that she would never be at a level to sufficiently express herself through it.

The second group of respondees were fascinated by this dance form from the very first time they saw a performer, a video, or a book about it. Some of them wanted to learn it long before they found a teacher or a class.

"I saw a bellydancer at a rec enter and immediately looked for classes. I marveled at all the lovely Eastern dances and music and it was the first dance that expressly conveyed a womnan's beauty for me. I pretended to be a bellydancer years before I saw one."
"I saw a belly dance class in parks and recs schedule and started then and never stopped."
"The 'exotic' quality; I saw an article in Cosmopolitan about "Ateas' Magical Motion" and found a class through local college extension and signed up."

A Brazilian woman admitted to "a kind of Orientalism, a fascination with what mainly Hollywood called "Orient". As a Brazilian, I grew up with all these movies that showed me that something incredibly strange happens in that part of the globe."

She continued to say that she was "shy and awkward at teenage parties. Then I saw this dance once and I said to myself that's it! I'm gonna be good! Yes, it's a matter of self-confidence. I think that it's something that happens to every adult that launches himself/herself in an ansolutely new art form. It has always an element of broken self-esteem and an urgency to reconstruct it."

Some of these women were too shy to take a class in spite of their long-time desire to. "I saw a TV enterview where a UK dancer talked about back problems", wrote a student dancer from the UK. "Six years later a leaflet with local evening classes dropped through my door and mentioned belly dance class, so I joined. Friends and family thought I'd never stick with it, but I proved them wrong."
A dancer from Tasmania wrote that she too was too shy to attend a class, though she always had a fascination and interest with this dance form. Then when she found out that it would be good for her endometriosis, "It was time to take action." That was ten years ago!

The most poignant reason for starting Middle Eastern dance was given by another respondee from "down under", and I end this section with her words:

"Honestly, loneliness....I thought this would be something thrilling and exciting to be a part of (it is) and would increase my self-confidence."