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Choreological Analysis

Traditional Kinemes and Dance Movements in the 1970s and 1980s

Table 25 shows that the traditional kinemes are still performed, along with those that had been observed for the first time in the previous timeframe, such as the hip jewel.

Traditional kinemes and dance movements in the 1970s
Table 25 – Traditional kinemes and dance movements in the 1970s and 1980s
(from the PhD of Dr Valeria Lo Iacono, 2019)

In addition, Soheir Zaki hip drops become this dancer’s signature movement and new kinemes are introduced, in particular by Nelly Fouad who is the most innovative in terms of movement vocabulary.

In addition to many allokines, such as layering of movements and motifs (combinations of steps that will be imitated in the future and will become part of the common raqs sharqi repertoire), Nelly uses kinemes that I had not seen before.

These include:

  • movements inspired by dances from the Gulf
  • maya (reverse vertical hip figure of 8)
  • chest lifts and drops
  • chest circles
  • belly pops (quick release and contraction of lower abdominals)

There are then two more new movements, which I observed in both Soheir Zaki’s and Nelly Fouad’s videos, which are:

  • pelvic tilts with weight transfer between one leg positioned in front and the other leg that is slightly back
  • Egyptian walk, or hagalla, which involves stepping down on one foot at a time, whilst lowering the corresponding hip.

Analysis Tables – Dance Traditions, Authenticity, Heritage and Transculturality

Table 26 and Table 27 highlight the themes that have emerged from this timeframe.

The main theme is the dialectic between tradition and innovation and the individual agency associated with the choice to either innovate or not.

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Sociological dance analysis of Raqs Sharqi
Table 26 – Raqs Sharqi in Egyptian Cinema and TV – 1970s and Early 1980s (Part 1) – PhD of Dr Valeria Lo Iacono (2019)

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Table 26 – Raqs Sharqi in Egyptian Cinema and TV – 1970s and Early 1980s (Part 1) – PhD of Dr Valeria Lo Iacono (2019)

Authenticity in Raqs sharqi

Soheir Zaki can be identified as the traditionalist in this timeframe and a discourse around authenticity in raqs sharqi can be constructed starting from the figure of this dancer, who was called ‘truly oriental’.

I agree with Zhu (2015, p. 595) who, instead of seeing authenticity as an objective phenomenon, decides to ‘approach authentication as a social process in heritage discourse’.

As such, Soheir Zaki embodied all the elements on which an authenticity discourse (evinced from written sources and interviews) has been built over time by the raqs sharqi community.

Rather than being centred around movements or costumes, authenticity for raqs sharqi is based on certain feelings and body attitudes (for instance, relaxation, playfulness), which Daniel (1996) and Hashimoto (2003) have identified as being important for authenticity in the performing arts.

As Burkitt (2014, p. 7) posits, ‘feelings and emotions only arise in patterns of relationships, which include the way we look at and perceive the world, and these also result in patterns of activity that can become dispositions’.

From the point of view of living heritage (following the conceptual framework in Chapter 3), this is connected with the idea of an emotional habitus as heritage.

These embodied dispositions are part of what is considered by practitioners the essence of authentic raqs sharqi. In addition, another element that has emerged in the raqs sharqi authenticity discourse is being yourself on stage and expressing your individual feelings.

There is agreement over a shared movement vocabulary and certain costumes, but these are not as important. As Ann commented about authenticity:

I think the basic thing with Egyptian is they do hip drops . . . they do shimmies and they do shoulder shimmies. And they do figures of eight . . . and I found, with the women that I’ve met that, apart from them listening to the music and feeling it . . . that’s the moves that they do, so I think that’s the authentic Egyptian that’s developed down from mother to daughter and everything else is being the flourishes and the embellishments that have gone on top and changed over the years.

Research volunteer (from the PhD of Dr Valeria Lo Iacono, 2019)

Joana commented, regarding the different elements that contribute to authenticity:

On a more superficial level, you know immediately if the dancer knows what she is doing. And authenticity starts there. . . . You know from the body attitude. Because there is a specific attitude for every style. Then we’re talking about clothing. We’re talking about props. You can tell how much she researched by details.

What she is wearing, shoes, something on her hair, makeup. Second, authenticity is connected with the understanding of the music, your inner attitude. . . . Authenticity, I think, is a combination of knowledge and personality.

Because, you cannot be authentic in Egyptian dance, if you just know the context and act accordingly. You have to be you. That’s authenticity.

Research volunteer (from the PhD of Dr Valeria Lo Iacono, 2019)

Connecting authenticity to being true to oneself (‘you have to be you’ as in the quote above), is a modern Western construct, based on an idea first promoted by Rousseau, from whom ‘we learned that what destroys our authenticity is society’ (Trilling, 1972, p. 92).

This stance was adopted also by twentieth-century philosophers, such as Heidegger, who contrasts authenticity with inauthenticity, which was caused by people being caught in an ‘everydayness’ that prevents them from truly ‘owning’ themselves (Bendix, 2009, p. 18).

As such, it is questionable whether being true to oneself would be part of an authenticity discourse for somebody who comes from a different cultural background.

Still, this element has seeped into the international Egyptian raqs sharqi authenticity discourse. Thus, the interaction between individual agency, a sense of personal identity/authenticity and cultural authenticity can help explain changes in the authenticity discourse, if the concept of fluid authenticity is adopted.

The most traditionalist dancers so far, Tahia Carioca and Soheir Zaki, have been labelled ‘bint al balad’ and the feelings considered authentic in raqs sharqi (confidence, honesty, spontaneity, grounded body feeling) are also associated with the baladi spirit, therefore with Cairo’s working classes.

However, raqs sharqi is also associated with the middle and upper classes, in particular in connection with the venues where it takes place as a form of presentational dance, which only people with enough financial capital can attend.

This association with upper classes translates into movements in the quality of elegance (slightly more lifted, whilst still relaxed attitude), which emerges as one of the distinctive characteristic of raqs sharqi as opposed to social Egyptian dance.

This constitutes a form of appropriation of the habitus from a certain social group to another or, as Desmond (1993) would argue, a form of hybridity, as the habitus of different classes merges in a dance genre.

Ways of Innovating in Raqs Sharqi

The two innovative dancers of this timeframe, Nagwa Fouad and Nelly Foaud, each innovate in different ways.

Nagwa’s innovations are expressed in her productions, which take raqs sharqi closer to theatrical dance (theatrical in the sense employed by Desmond (1993) of staged and codified dance), rather than to its social origins (such as Soheir Zaki’s interpretation, which relies more on simplicity and purity of form).

However, Nagwua Fouad seeks a connection with traditions by drawing from Egyptian folkloric dance traditions.

Nelly Fouad innovates with movements, as she creates new allokines and motifs from the old traditional kinemes, by layering and combining movements in a variety of new ways.

However, both Nelly and Nagwa are ‘authentic’ according to the raqs sharqi authenticity discourse, as they also embody the truly oriental feelings of joy, playfulness, sensuality, musicality, emotional expressiveness and other feelings listed in Table 26.

At the same time, even a traditional dancer such as Soheir Zaki, not only develops her own style, even within the tradition, but she also innovates albeit in more subtle ways. In particular, Soheir innovated by being the first dancer to ever perform to Umm Kahltoum’s songs.

Dance and the Field of Cultural Production

It seems that each dancer creates a niche for herself, as she competes in the field of cultural production with other dancers, to improve and then maintain her position.

Based on Bourdieu’s (Bourdieu and Johnson, 1993, p. 30) conception of art as a field, raqs sharqi is ‘a field of forces, but it is also a field of struggles tending to transform or conserve this field of forces’.

New artists in the field push for a change but older artists want to keep things unchanged (even if they innovated in their heyday) and (ibid, p. 60) ‘the history of the field arises from the struggle between the established figures and the young challengers’.

In the field of raqs sharqi, older generations of dancers rarely appreciate newer generations.

For example, Tahia Carioca and Samia Gamal were both quoted as saying that new dancers were:

  • vulgar (with the exception of Soheir Zaki for Tahia) (Cifuentes, 1994)
  • Nagwa Fouad did not like modern costumes, in particular, Dina’s, and did not think much of Dina as a dancer either (Adum, 2010)
  • Soheir Zaki was not impressed by young Egyptian dancers she saw perform in 2001 at Raqia Hassan’s Ahlan Wa Sahlan Oriental Dance Festival, commenting that ‘none of them had yet reached an advanced level in the dance’ (Sullivan, 2002, para. 36).

In this timeframe, the heritage dimension of raqs sharqi is growing, as dancers look back to acknowledge their heritage, which they see expressed not only in the folkloric dances of Egypt but also in the old films of the Golden Era.

For example, Nagwa Fouad acknowledged that Golden Era movies and dancers provided inspiration for her own shows.

At the same time, innovations introduced by each generation of dancers become part of the tradition.

Music is also part of the raqs sharqi heritage, as old songs, as well as new ones (created in the 70s and 80s specifically for the most famous dancers), accompany the dance.

These songs, both from the Golden Ages and the 1970s and 80s, are now part of the classic raqs sharqi repertoire.

Transcultural Elements

Most transcultural elements from this timeframe are identifiable in the dance movements: especially those performed by Nelly Fouad, which were inspired by dances of the Gulf region.

This could be due to Egyptian dancers occasionally working in other Middle Eastern countries, such as Lebanon (where Nelly Fouad first became famous) and the Gulf region, such as Soheir Zaki and Nagwa Fouad who performed in Abu Dhabi (TheCaroVan, 2015f, 2015i).

At this time, television becomes increasingly important for the recording and transmission of raqs sharqi and recordings from TV shows, as well as scenes from movies, contribute to the establishment of a recorded dance/heritage.

Technology, therefore, asserts itself even more clearly as an important factor for safeguarding heritage.

Likewise, politics and economy are deciding factors, as in this timeframe expensive dance shows are produced for the benefit of a wealthy segment of society who appreciates watching raqs sharqi live in exclusive venues.

Finally, the agency and choices of individual famous dancers shape the direction towards which this type of heritage evolves.

Tangible/Intangible Heritage Framework

In what follows I highlight the most prominent tangible/intangible elements from the Living Heritage Framework to be found in this timeline.

Firstly, there is the phenomenological level of the feelings that, according to the international Egyptian raqs sharqi discourse, tend to be a sign of ‘authenticity’ (authenticity will be discussed further in 6.2) as discussed in this section.

Feelings can then become dispositions (drawing on Burkitt [2014] cited earlier in this section), and dispositions are seen by Bourdieu (1977) as components of habitus.

Secondly, Egyptian raqs sharqi is a field of cultural production in which dancers tend to accumulate capital and create their own niche, by developing a unique style within the constrictions of the field.

Also, the wider social field of Egyptian society influences the way in which the heritage of Egyptian raqs sharqi develops via politics and economics.

Moreover, the tastes and dispositions of different social classes within society influence the field of cultural production of Egyptian raqs sharqi.

Thirdly, the dialectic between tradition and innovation, in this timeframe, is heavily influenced by the choices and the agency of the dancers who were analysed.

The movement vocabulary is a set of rules, which also becomes a set of resources in innovating, as is the case for Nelly Fouad.

Traditions themselves are both rules and resources, which, in Giddensian terms, are components of social structure.

Dancers can choose to either embrace them completely and use them to positions themselves as traditional, ‘truly oriental’ dancers (Soheir Zaki) or to show continuity with tradition while at the same time innovating (Nagwa Fouad who draws on folkloric traditions but creates entirely innovative productions).

The contrasts between the dancers in this time frame can be explained using the Living Heritage Framework.

Next Page >> The Last Big Raqs Sharqi Stars in Egypt (1980s and 1990s).

Indeed, dancers willingly seem to position themselves in opposition to other dancers to distinguish themselves as different, by using the rules and resources at their disposal and that they are most comfortable with, in an attempt to defend their position in the field of cultural production.

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Hi - I'm Dr Valeria Lo Iacono and I am a dance researcher with a PhD in dance as a form of living heritage. I also teach belly dance and love to travel to discover new dances around the world. I have worked also as an academic and in the UK and in Korea. Thank you for visiting my site.