following excerpts are from: Dance Scope 76/77.
"Dances of the Muslim Peoples", By Lois Ibsen Al Faruqi.
there has been considerable literary production on dance as a religious
practice, there is amazingly little information available discussing dance
as an aesthetic expression or entertainment. Reports by Western travelers
to Middle Eastern countries have occasionally included short descriptions
of a particular dance or dancer; but, even among non-Western writers, systematic
discussions of the dance are singularly rare.
Orientale has been known over a long period of time in history. This dance
is usually labeled derogatorily in the West as the "belly dance" or "danse
du ventre." In the East such names are never used. They would be considered
indecent and offensive. Instead, the dance is known as "Oriental Dance"
(raqs sharqi) in Arabic. A dance of this kind was known in the Mediterranean
areas as early as the Roman Empire, and it has been described by various
writers in the intervening centuries. The dance has no fixed choreography,
no fixed sequence of steps or floor patterns, and no predetermined time
length. It is an improvised combination of movements which are repeated
and varied according to the improvisatory skill and technique of the dancer.
As a professional
dance, raqs sharqi is most often a solo performed by a woman in the
family or community festive gathering. There are recognizable individualized
movements which recur wherever this dance is done. These include head moving
in a straight line from shoulder to shoulder, undulating movements of the
hands and arms, shoulder shaking or jerks, trembling or horizontal movement
of the breasts or the chest, trembling or flexing of the abdominal muscles,
shaking or jerks with the hips, rolls by one or both hips, swirling turns,
backbends, with or without shoulder or breast shaking, manipulation of flowing
scarf or handkerchief, tapping of tiny metal cymbals worn on the thumb and
middle finger of both hands. These movements require strict and individualized
control over the muscles of the whole body.
Clothes for the raqs
sharqi vary greatly depending on the occasion. When done for a cabaret
audience, the female soloist sometimes wears an abbreviated bikini-type
outfit augmented with sheer veils, skirt or harem trousers. More common
however is the baladi (village) dress. This is a straight, long-sleeved
full-length Arabian dress decorated with heavy embroidery. The dancer adds
a hip sash to emphasize the movements of that portion of the body.
Not only the costume
of the soloist varies for these dances when done in different situations,
the movements are also altered to emphasize different qualities. The cabaret
performer, for example, will make a display of sex and sensuality. On the
other hand, when performed in family groups to celebrate circumcisions,
weddings, harvest or national holidays, the soloist will instead stress
its abstract, non-descriptive rhythmic intricacies.
In the United States
the raqs sharqi has been known since a promoter by the name of Sol
Bloom brought the first "Oriental dancer" to the Chicago World's Fair of
1893. The people who visited the show were fascinated. Some, however, shocked
by the scantily clad dancer and her sensuously exciting number, protested
against its alleged damage to morals. By 1903, the fad of "Oriental dancing"
among native-born Americans seemed to be over, only to be revived in recent
years with the rebirth of interest in ethnic dance and ethnic arts.
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