Laban research for dancing

Dance Movements Analysis

Table 39 below summarizes the movements noticed in this time frame.

Laban anaylsis of the belly dancers from early 2000s

The only new kineme I have noticed is the heel stomps, lifting and lowering both heels at the same time once, to stress an accent in the music.

Most of the innovations instead come from a change in the quality of the movements and in the emphasis given to body parts.

For instance, Raqia Hassan focuses on the deep abdominal muscles, while Dina accentuates the contrast between contraption and release and weight shifting and introduces a wider variety of facial expressions (including sadness as well as joy).

Randa Kamel is the first one whose movements quality is for the most part sudden, direct, and with a bound flow, as opposed to all the other dancers who (each in different degrees) prefer sustained, indirect and free-flowing movements (using the opposite qualities only for specific accents).

Camelia also, like Randa, prefers direct and sudden movements, but for the most part, free-flowing rather than bound. Hence, these two dancers both distinguish themselves for their energetic style, but Randa is more powerful, while Camelia is softer.

Table 40 and Table 41 highlight the main themes of this timeframe. The most evident characteristic from the late 90s onwards is the global diffusion of Egyptian Raqs sharqi.

Raqs sharqi as a Worldwide Transcultural Heritage


Raqs sharqi transcultural heritage
Table 40 – 2000s. Raqs sharqi as a worldwide transcultural heritage – Part 1

Back in the 1970s, Raqs sharqi (along with other belly dance genres/styles) was imported into the USA, due to the diaspora from the Middle East and later it spread to London, through the nightclubs that catered for wealthy Arabs.

Now though, thanks to mass travel, the use of DVDs, and the Internet, this genre has spread globally, to places such as North and South America, Japan, Korea, China, the whole of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

In particular, festivals (in which every style of belly dance is taught, including Egyptian Raqs sharqi) have become ubiquitous.

There are at least four different yearly dance festivals in Egypt, which focus on Egyptian styles, and several others worldwide, attended by practitioners from many different countries who go there to learn and teach and, among these, there are Egyptian teachers who live in or outside of Egypt and travel for teaching.


Part 2 of Transcultural heritage
Table 41 – 2000s. Raqs sharqi as a worldwide transcultural heritage – Part 2

This timeframe coincides with the emergence, of what Urry (2007, p. 5) calls a ‘mobile world’, where ‘there are extensive and intricate connections between physical travel and modes of communication and these form new fluid sites’.

These connections are created by the co-existence of forms of ‘physical mobilities’, with ever more powerful and faster ‘virtual mobilities’ thanks to the Internet.

This has generated a worldwide transcultural community of Raqs sharqi enthusiasts, who connect via the Internet (using social media, emails, blogs) and sometimes meet in person at festivals or during trips, as Urry (2007, p. 164) notes, ‘people meet up from time to time, dwelling together in a shared place’.

In this way, international dance communities become what Giddens (1984, p. XXVII) refers to as ‘inter societal systems’.

Practitioners become members of what Welsch (1999, p. 204) terms ‘transcultural networks, which have some things in common while differing in others, showing overlaps and distinctions at the same time’.

Following from the above considerations, Raqs sharqi heritage can now be transmitted via:

  • in-person interaction, with dancers who embody the heritage by drawing from traditions
  • or from DVDs and online videos. Subsequently, heritage transmission has become de-territorialised, because anyone in the world can watch and post videos, but also de-temporalized, because it is possible to watch dance from the past and learn by watching dancers who are not even alive today.

Hence, transmission opportunities have increased but these do not follow a linear path. The use and sharing of online videos of dance is also significant, because it allows the practitioners who upload these videos to be active participants in heritage safeguarding.

Practitioners actively influence heritage by posting dance videos online because, as Pietrobruno (2014, p. 758) observes:

Once a video is uploaded onto YouTube, a combination of cultural forms comes into play – narratives and lists – whose potential to document and shape intangible heritage is forged through human subjectivity and interpretation.

Pietrobruno (2014)

Fluid Authenticity and Dance Heritage

In terms of fluid authenticity, the same topics emerge once again in the discourse, such as spontaneity, emotions, fun, connecting with the audience, musicality.

However, a new element has emerged, from the discourse of non-Egyptian dancers who go to Cairo to learn more about Raqs sharqi, that is, the feeling of the place as a sensorial experience.

For example, the way in which Egyptians move, the sounds, sights, and smells of Cairo, which captivate its visitors.

This is important for the practitioners’ discourse on heritage, because, as Burkitt observes (1999, p. 2), ‘the way in which we sense our body in the world seems to be . . . important in creating meaning’.

Also, visitors perceive phenomenologically a sense of peace in the midst of chaos, which is reflected in the feeling of relaxation that traditional Egyptian Raqs sharqi is supposed to have, whilst also being proud and strong.

Emerging Elements in Raqs sharqi Heritage

In the heritage discourse, an emerging element is Raqs sharqi being in danger of disappearing in Egypt with Dina, for instance, declaring to be the ‘last guardian’ of this heritage.

This could just be a reaction against change from older generations of dancers. For example, Tahia Carioca was quoted as saying ‘after a Nagwa Fouad show . . . that in her opinion modern dancers looked as if they were trying to pass a kidney stone’ (Azzazy, 1999).

This is connected with the dynamics of conflict in the field of cultural production, as mentioned in 5.5.4.

Class, Baladi and Afrangi

However, there is also a class issue, the afrangi/Baladi dialectic that has emerged since the birth of Raqs sharqi.

Raqs sharqi has shown, from the start, a certain amount of ‘class hybridism’ with elements from Baladi and afrangi classes reflected in the dance.

In contemporary Raqs sharqi, baladi (or, more recently, shaabi) and upper-class elements still coexist. Dancers now appear in Shaabi music videos and movies and a ‘Baladi’ aesthetic has developed in dancers’ looks, hair, and make-up.

At the same time, the upper classes (and dancers catering for them) feel nostalgia for the ‘golden age’ classier look. The epitome of this style is Samia Gamal who, herself, was quoted as saying that ‘these days the dancers are vulgar.

They wear mini-skirts . . . that does not look Oriental! (Cifuentes, 1994, para. 8), and ‘You want to know what I think about dancing these days? Farida Fahmy is the only one whose elegant dancing appeals to me’ (Moawad, 1968, para. 32).

This baladi/afrangi dichotomy also possibly reflects the distinction that Bourdieu (1984) drew between legitimate taste, associated with the dominant classes, rich in educational capital, and ‘popular’ taste, mostly associated with working classes.

Heritage and the Connection Between Dance and Music

Another element that has emerged, regarding how different elements of heritage interact, is the connection between dance and music.

From the authenticity discourse, it has become clear how important music is for Raqs sharqi, in particular, live music because of that element of spontaneity that is enhanced if dance and music are co-produced at the same time.

However, it seems that dance and music are now disconnected as the performance of the dance is taking place worldwide, but the source of the music is still in Egypt, so part of the heritage is lost when the dance is performed without live music.

Other Elements Impacting on Heritage Change

Multiple elements have emerged, in this timeframe, that can hinder or promote heritage, or generally influence its development.

Technology and Ecomin Factors Affecting Heritage

Firstly, technology, as mentioned previously, can facilitate the international reach and transmission of heritage.

Economic factors are also crucial, not only as dancers with high economic capital (often non-Egyptians) can invest more in the development of their art but also as businesses develop around heritage, whose interest it is to promote it.

For instance, Raqia Hassan has created a brand around Egyptian dance, organizing festivals, producing CDs and DVDs, and designing costumes.

Regarding costumes, a small industry has grown in Egypt for designing and making them, catering for an international market.

This is a niche market, but it is a good example of how living heritage can support a sustainable form of tourism if the culture is (Hendry, 2008, p. 275) ‘shared rather than consumed.

Shift in Social Acceptance of the Dance

Secondly, there has been a change in taste and a shift in social acceptance of the dance, which might affect the way this dance is perceived and its hopes of surviving in Egypt.

Egyptian people’s attitude towards raqs sharqi has always been ambivalent, but, if this is coupled with difficult economic conditions, it could indeed be a threat to the survival of this form of heritage in its country of origin.

Moreover, the increasing internationalization of the dance has opened up new opportunities for Raqs sharqi dancers, but it has also increased pressure from competition from foreign dancers, introducing new players in the field of cultural production.

This can be an opportunity to foster creativity and raise standards. However, it can also lead to changes in the feeling of the dance, as it loses its original soft and spontaneous feeling when dancers try hard to impress international audiences, who do not necessarily appreciate the same qualities in the dance.

Gender and Dance Heritage

Thirdly, gender can also influence the development of dance/heritage. More male Egyptian dancers are involved in the transmission of this dance today.

However, the majority of them were trained in ballet, and in the Reda tradition, styles that were considered in Egypt better suited to men.

This influence makes their dance style quite balletic (more elevated and stiffer than traditional Raqs sharqi). As these dancers teach and perform abroad, they pass on their interpretation of Raqs sharqi.

Living Heritage and Dance

In terms of the interaction of the tangible/intangible elements in this timeframe, the Living Heritage Framework (3.7) can help situate the new themes that have come to light.

First of all, the body is still a central resource for social agents to innovate on a tradition (or perpetuate it as it is).

However, the fact that in this timeframe innovations happen with regards to the quality of movements (in the Laban analysis sense) and highlighting different body parts, foregrounds the role of the body even more.

The feeling of being in the body (the lived experience) and kinaesthetic empathy have become expressive resources to challenge structural rules.

A dancer like Dina now distinguishes herself within the field of cultural production through the use of artifacts (costumes in particular) as well as the emotional expressivity of her body (through the quality of movements).

At the same time, the actual movement vocabulary has not changed much as she still draws inspiration from dancers of the past.

Quality of Dance Movements and Heritage

The way in which dancers draw on the quality of movements can also explain some of the contrasts in the data.

For example, Randa, whose movement qualities are completely opposite to those of other dancers, makes a bold statement that goes beyond simply marketing and positioning herself in the international field of Egyptian Raqs sharqi.

By comparing her dance style with some of the statements she makes in interviews, it seems that she is proposing an alternative way of being a dancer and a woman in Egyptian (and possibly world) society.

Randa seems to be showing, through the assertiveness of her movements’ qualities, that dance is a hard craft that needs to be taken seriously and that a woman can be strong and assertive, rather than delaa (soft and teasing).

She looks back at and gets inspiration from dancers of the past but also breaks with tradition. Randa is using movement qualities as resources to create her own narrative and support change.

Artefacts and Objectified Cultural Capital

In this timeframe, artifacts are central as forms of objectified cultural capital (which can be converted into economic capital) but also as resources.

For example, technology facilitates the global diffusion of Egyptian Raqs sharqi, and costumes made in Egypt are sold to international customers.

This (2000s) is the last timeframe in the development of Egyptian Raqs sharqi, based on my video analysis. I will briefly summarise this chapter, before moving on to the synchronic discussion of data in Chapter 6.

Chapter Summary

The aim of this chapter was to provide a holistic view of Raqs sharqi within a Living Heritage Framework guided by a dialogical paradigm.

This point of view has informed the Raqs sharqi history outlined in this chapter, through the figures of its most influential dancers.

I have focused on the sensitizing concepts (used as headings for the tables I designed) that have emerged from the literature review, which has, in turn, shaped the research questions, in order to be able to then address them.

I have analyzed six timeframes diachronically, categorizing the findings in the sensitizing concepts of:

  • authenticity
  • heritage
  • transculturality
  • change vs tradition and transmission.

Additionally, a new category of influences on heritage has emerged.

Within these six categories, I have inserted the tangible and intangible elements of heritage to find out how they interact.

Having analyzed the six timeframes separately, the next step will be to gather this information together and consolidate it into a synchronic analysis. This will be dealt with in the next chapter.

Next Page >> We move onto Chapter 6 and the Discussion section starting with authenticity findings.