Documenting belly dance as a researcher

The Rationale for Using Documents & Media

In addition to online videos, I used other online and offline sources to gather data.

These included books and DVDs, specialized websites and blogs, social media (especially Facebook), and open forums.

These sources provided useful material to understand the Raqs sharqi practitioners’ views and beliefs about this dance, as individuals and as a community.

As Marshall and Rossman (2010, p. 160) suggest, ‘the analysis of documents is potentially quite rich in portraying the values and beliefs of participants in the setting’.

Connecting with Raqs Sharqi Practioners

Raqs sharqi is practiced globally and practitioners sometimes meet in person at festivals, trips, and events, both locally and internationally.

Hence, the Internet has become a tool for them to keep in touch and create new contacts with other practitioners worldwide.

Even offline belly dance resources, such as books and DVDs, are promoted by practitioners online and, therefore, the offline and online world intermingle.

As Beneito-Montagut (2011, p. 717) comments, today ‘online and offline social interactions are often intrinsically linked’ and, Hallet and Barber (2014, p. 306) posit, ‘studying a group of people in their “natural habitat” now includes their “online habitat.”’

Sampling and Considerations

My experience as a Raqs sharqi practitioner has influenced the way in which I started sampling the textual material.

Moreover, my experience as a writer, web designer, and e-marketer for my own Raqs sharqi website ( has guided my understanding of the practical functioning online world.

Even before starting this research, I was part of the worldwide Raqs sharqi community and I already knew which sites and blogs could offer the most useful amount and type of information.

I had met in person some of the practitioners who have written or produced books and DVDs and I knew who was knowledgeable on the topic of Egyptian Raqs sharqi and could offer the most reliable information.

Hence, my knowledge helped me to achieve what Gratton and Jones (2004, p. 248) refer to as ‘guarantee of quality’.

Moreover, I was already on other practitioners’ mailing lists, to keep up to date on news and current activities.

Hence, some of the information came to me without me searching for it. To start, I selected the sources connected with ideas of culture and heritage and the sensitizing concepts from the literature review.

Finding Additional Sources

As I read these sources I found the links to other sources or I came across concepts that I searched for in Google, thus stumbling upon more data sources.

I used Facebook to connect with practitioners and find data. As mentioned by Baker (2013), Facebook can be used in ethnographic research as a tool, data or context.

I used it as a tool to sensitize my research, as I found and saved some thought-provoking discussions on Facebook, but I decided not to use them as data, due to ethical concerns, which I will highlight in 4.5.

Also, following Kozinets’s (2009, p. 56) suggestion that it is possible to use publicly available information online and then follow up with interviews, Facebook helped me find participants, whom I knew could be interested in the culture of origin of Raqs sharqi.

Emerging Themes

As I progressed with my research and I started interviewing participants, themes emerged and others were not as relevant as initially thought.

Hence, I narrowed down the number of online sources I used, from 321 I initially listed, down to 186.

Some websites were more authoritative than others and richer in information.

The most relevant sites for this research were mainly: and

These sites are the online version of two printed magazines with articles ranging from the 1990s to 2011, thus they are rich in historical information. The articles’ authors are experienced practitioners, who have studied this dance for a long time and traveled to Egypt.

Two other websites I used are and The former belongs to a practitioner who has studied Middle Eastern and Northern African dances for 50 years (Carolina Varga Dinicu, aka Morocco or Auntie Rocky, as she is affectionately known among practitioners worldwide).

The latter (owned by the American practitioner Shira) is a well-known site amongst practitioners, for its rich content, which also contains translations from Arabic of some interviews with Raqs sharqi dancers from the 1940s and 50s.

Bellylorna and Kisses from Kairo

A belly dance show on a boat in Cairo, from my Egyptian travels.

I analyzed two blogs: ‘Bellylorna’, by Lorna Gow from Scotland, and ‘Kisses from Kairo’ by Diana Esposito (aka Luna of Cairo) from the USA.

They both have lived and performed Raqs sharqi professionally in Egypt for many years and the blogs are about their experience of living and dancing in Egypt.

Blogs are online diaries which, according to Hookway (2008, p. 107) ‘offer a low-cost, global and instantaneous tool of data collection’.

Other sources of data found on the Internet are: online videos with interviews to Egyptian dancers; comments under YouTube dance videos and forum posts.

The video interviews were invaluable, because they allowed me to hear the opinions of practitioners whom I would have found hard or impossible to arrange an interview with.

The comments (see footnotes) under the dance videos on YouTube are many and I found a couple that was useful for this research.

Finally, there were a small number of forum posts relevant to my research and I used one or two, with uncontentious content.

Purposeful Strategy

Regarding the sampling strategy, the process adopted for this set of data was multiple.

In the beginning, I adopted a purposeful strategy, because my experience led me to pick those sources where I knew I could find the type of data that could help me answer my research questions.

Virtual Snowball Sampling Method

Also, sources that I knew would be reliable. As I started exploring those sources, I came across more useful sources, in a process I referred to in as ‘virtual snowballing’, as one source led me to another.

This process also involved a certain amount of serendipity, which Hendry (2003) and Clark (2010) admit are often involved in the way ethnographers find their data and/or participants.

Although virtual snowballing allowed me to find new sources, I chose to analyze them according to their relevance.

Thus, I engaged in theoretical sampling, which, for Flick (2009, p. 118), involves the fact that ‘sampling decisions aim at that material that promises the greatest insights, viewed in the light of the material already used, and the knowledge drawn from it’.

Theoretical sampling is often associated with grounded research, but Flick (ibid, p. 121) argues that it is not only limited to it and it is instead a principle ‘also characteristic of related strategies of collecting data in qualitative research’.

Indeed, theoretical sampling can be considered a form of purposive sampling, with theoretical sampling being more data-driven.


1 – Comments can range from appreciation or dislike for a performance, to remarks about the dancer’s costume or asking the title of the song being danced to.

Next Page >> Semi-Structured Interviews.