Raqs Sharqi dance in Egypt

Analyzing Egyptian Raqs Sharqi

The aim of this chapter is to analyze the data I gathered on Egyptian raqs sharqi from an ethnochoreological approach.

Drawing on the idea that the temporal dimension is important for heritage and agreeing with Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s view that (1995, p. 369) ‘heritage produces something new in the present that has recourse to the past’, I wanted to explore how this process might have taken place for Egyptian raqs sharqi.

Furthermore, as discussed previously (2.4), past and present are linked in the heritage discourse through transmission.

Raqs Sharqi Chronological and Historical Timeframes

Hence, I have used a chronological and historical approach to present the data and I have identified six timeframes:

1. Birth of Modern Egyptian Raqs Sharqi (late 1800s to 1930s)

The birth of raqs sharqi is a period includes the very first videos we have of bellydance (before raqs sharqi developed) up to the 1930s when the first Egyptian movies were made.Thus, I have called this the birth of modern raqs sharqi

Thus, I have called this the birth of modern raqs sharqi

2. Golden Era of Egyptian Cinema (1930s to late 1950s)

The Golden Era covers the time in which the first big stars of raqs sharqi appeared in Egyptian movies, when, however, there are no records of raqs sharqi being taught outside of Egypt

3. Internationalization of Egyptian Raqs Sharqi (1960s and Early 1970s)

Belly dance in the 1960s through to and including the 1970s, is documented as being learnt for the first time outside of its area of origin (starting in the USA), not just for professional reasons, but also for leisure.

Subsequently, teachers and students started exploring the cultural origins of bellydance (including Egyptian raqs sharqi), and started traveling to Egypt

4. Raqs Sharqi in Egyptian Cinema and TV (1970s and Early 1980s)

The 1970s and 1980s is connected with the first appearances of live raqs sharqi performances on television.

5. Last Big Raqs Sharqi Stars in Egypt (1980s and 1990s)

The 1980s through to the 1990s is connected with economic changes (covered in more detail in 5.6), which spelt the end of big live performances with big bands of up to 40 or 50 musicians.

6. Era of Raqs Sharqi as a Global Trans/cultural Heritage (2000s)

Raqs sharqi becomes global, thanks to the Internet and widespread travel.

Elements of Raqs Sharqi Historically

The above timeframes, which emerged from the data, are based on the way in which certain elements associated with the dance changed over time.

These include:

  • music
  • costumes and props
  • technology to record dance
  • social trends and trends in the dance field, in terms of movements and/or feelings.

Within each timeframe, I will try to depict a comprehensive and holistic picture of Egyptian raqs sharqi.

To avoid disrupting the flow of the history, I have written an analysis section at the end of each timeframe.

Analysis Layout

Each analysis section is accompanied by two tables: one summarising changes in the movement vocabulary and another one highlighting the main themes that have emerged in each timeframe. The main themes table includes seven columns.

The first column on the left lists the elements that I identified in the framework of living heritage, which comprises of tangible and intangible elements. These are:

  • dance traditions
  • dance movements
  • people (this category includes the mind-body aspects, such as emotions, embodiment and agency)
  • class
  • locations
  • aural elements
  • taste
  • social occasions
  • politics and economy
  • technology and other artefacts.

Intangible and Tangible Elements of Raqs Sharqi

The way in which these in/tangible elements interact and are expressed through practice, action and perception is shown through the elements in the remaining six columns.

The titles of five of these columns, based on the sensitizing concepts, emerged from the literature review and on the research questions, are:

  • authenticity
  • heritage, transculturality
  • change vs traditions and transmission.

Identity and uses of heritage are not present in this table, as they did not emerge strongly from this phase of the analysis, but I will return to them in Chapter 6.

The last column on the right, called ‘influences on heritage’, has been added as data emerged that can help shed light on what elements seem to have an impact on how heritage develops and on whether it thrives or struggles to survive.

Each timeframe revolves around some pivotal figures in the history of Egyptian raqs sharqi, famous dancers who have been influential in the development and transmission of this art.

I will highlight how, through their agency, they have shaped raqs sharqi and how they negotiated the dialectic between change and traditions.

Moreover, I will draw from interviews with practitioners and textual sources to unravel the discourse around these dancers, and how they have impacted on other practitioners’ experience and understanding of Egyptian raqs sharqi.

I have presented the movement analysis in more detail in separated tables: one for the dance style of each dancer and one for each of the main timeframes, to summarise how the movement vocabulary has changed over time, given that, as Adshead (1988, p. 24) states:

All dances have movement . . . but the interesting and important part is what kind of movement is typical and how it is patterned in time and space to produce the distinctive style of a choreographer or genre of dance.

Adshead (1988)

Egyptian Raqs Sharqi Movement Vocabulary

So far, a detailed analysis of Egyptian raqs sharqi movement vocabulary has been missing from the literature on this genre.

There are many instruction books and DVDs available where some belly dance movements are listed, but the aim of these sources is to teach and describe, rather than analyze the whole movement vocabulary of the genre, tracing its changes and developments.

Ibsen al Faruqi (1978, p. 8) rightly identified some characteristics of dances from Muslim regions, namely that:

In these dances the legs and feet seem relatively less important than the movements of other parts of the body. . . . The solo dance also stresses torso, arms, and head movements. High leaps and open leg movements are rare . . . the most important thing is the intricate rhythmic interplay between movements of a particular portion of the body and the percussion or melodic accompaniment.

Ibsen al Faruqi (1978)

The above statement is a general one regarding all the dance genres practiced in Muslim regions, rather than specific to Egyptian raqs sharqi.

However, it applies to Egyptian raqs sharqi, constituting a starting point for an in-depth analysis of this genre.

The analysis needs to consider the differences in style between each dancer, how the dance as a whole changes over time and how it is influenced by various factors, including but not limited to other cultures, fashion, society, physical training of the dancers and material elements such as costumes and props.

Based on the model of living heritage (3.7), dance/heritage needs to be explored holistically and this is the aim of this chapter.

Next Page >> The birth of raqs sharqi in the late 1800s to 1930s.

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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.