The BIGGEST mistake I see Bellydance hobbyists make
Updated: Aug 16
Just a suggestion….
Though based in Cairo now, I still travel to many a hafla in the UK and over the years I have definitely been to what is close to, or even over, 100 haflas. At some points I would go to at least 3 a month. And I have seen my fair share of what is passed off as bellydance. Now, I’m not here to preach (well, not tooo much) just to lend a suggestion. You can take it or leave it.
I know women all over the country bellydance for different reasons. Being authentic or practicing ‘proper’ bellydance isn’t always their priority. They dance for health, community, self confidence etc and that’s great. Travelling to these haflas, talking to women and finding out their stories about what bellydance has done for them has made me less concerned with that dreaded word, the elephant in the room, APPROPRIATION.
But, that said, we are all aiming to better ourselves in dance, right? Regardless of how seriously we take it? Well, here is what my observations have led me to conclude: I feel as a community we all generally NEED TO USE MORE AUTHENTIC MUSIC. Also, more up-to-date current music.
Of course there are many dancers dancing to Authentic music but gosh there are a lot that aren't.
What do I mean?
I have been to haflas where, I am not kidding, of nearly 20 performers only two or three dance to Egyptian/Arabic music. This hasn’t been a one off thing! At many a hafla 70% of the music has been Western/English. I’ve seen everything from Celtic to Bruno Mars used to perform ORIENTAL BELLYDANCE. And I am not talking about tribal or fusion pieces, those I can understand (but even these style could use the new electronic/fego/mahragan music coming out of Egypt which)
By authentic I mean MUSIC FROM THE COUNTRIES BELLYDANCE ORIGINATED ….... mainly Egypt but of course other Arab countries plus Turkey and Greece.
This is also a good article for pro bellydancers:
WHO SHOULD BE UP-TO DATE WITH MODERN MUSIC. How can you call yourself pro if you are not in-tune with what is happening to BELLYDANCE AND THE MUSIC in the countries of origin right NOW, if you don't keep your music fresh and if you are not adding new songs to your sets. If you didn't you will end up dancing to Shick Shak Shock and Kiss Kiss for the rest of your life and if I'm honest, lovely as the songs are, you are doing a dis-service to your art. Bellydance is SOOO much more than these songs, the ARABIC (and Turkish) WORLD OF MUSIC is so much more than these songs. And no pro dancer is performing to these songs regularly in Egypt/Turkey/Lebanon so should euld we in the UK?
Think about it
It’s crazy how much English music is used. Imagine going to a samba or salsa party and all the music they were dancing to was Chinese ?!?!! You would think it was insane. Well, bellydancing to Western music is just as strange but it has been normalised for us, so we see it as ok.
But forget about that. It’s just not natural. The music you choose is the base upon which you make your dance: your art. Choosing music that doesn’t naturally fit the moves means you are just forcing moves onto music it doesn’t naturally sit with. Bellydance moves DON'T GO WITH WESTERN MUSIC. It’s like jamming two, mismatched, jigsaw puzzle pieces together. The music should be your guide, your foundation, your play mate. When the music naturally calls for your body to move in a bellydance manner the dance is easier to execute and arguably safer for your body.
I understand and empathise with you (but it is not an excuse)
I know, I know. I hear your pain. I know why you choose English music. I can empathise. When I was a beginner I was even guilty of doing the same. To me now, Bellydancing to English music just seems weird. Not to say I won’t do it but if I did, it would be for a particular artistic, thought-out reason.
English music is NATURAL TO YOU. It’s what you listen to regularly. It’s what you grew up with. You understand its beats and rhythms and yes it’s in a language you understand. Therefore, it may even feel more natural to bellydance to English music, seemingly contradicting the point I made above, but it isn’t. I repeat: When the music naturally calls for your body to move in a bellydance manner the dance is easier to execute and arguably safer for your body.
And, I know you want to be respectful. You don’t want to offend and dance to a song you don’t understand, so you play safe and choose an English song. Also, it’s not always easy to know how to get hold of Arabic music. It can seem like a jungle out there!
And, you might want a song with a certain feel, ie romantic and floaty and to identify such a song, with those feelings, in another language and rhythm can be daunting. But, believe me, ANY FEELING OR VIBE YOU WANT TO DANCE TO there is an Arabic song that fits the bill.
I’m not here just to moan - YOU WILL LOVE IT!!
Often, it’s just a little effort and know how that can help overcome these barriers stopping you choosing Arabic music. TRUST ME when you get comfortable with Arabic music, especially Egyptian (yes I’m biased) IT IS MAGICAL!!
MY TIPS AND MORE
So here are my tips (assignments) for getting more into Arabic (and other authentic) music
1) Listen Arabic music A LOT
Fill you phone/mp3 player with Arabic/bellydance/authentic music. Listen to it all the time, on the bus, as you do your chores, walking to the shops before you go to sleep. At first you may not feel comfortable with it, but persist until you are relaxed and at one with it all. Until it no longer feels foreign or alien to you.
Don’t have any music to start with? Download this RADIO app on your phone or a similar radio app and listen to either Nagoum FM / Rehab FM / 90s FM radio station, or another Arabic radio station you like, just type Arabic or Egypt into the digital radio search and you will find all the radio stations you hear playing in taxis around Cairo.
2) Get acquainted with the classics
The songs by Umm Kalthoum, Abdel Halim Hafez, Ahmed Adawaya and Warda are a must to know. Yes, they are old singers and songs but they are dance classics, universally known and loved. Search their names in Google to find their songs. There are already LOADS of blogs listing all the classic songs dancers should know so I won't list them here. There are 100s of resources and already translated lyrics of all their songs. A good resource is Shira.net.
Overwhelmed? Still don’t know where to start? Start with my favourite Abdel Halim Hafez’s song, Sawah, get the lyrics from here, and listen to it here AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN. Put it on in the background, let his voice and the sounds of the music take you over. Lay on the floor, close your eyes and listen to it. PRINT OUT THE LYRICS AND SING ALONG WITH IT!
3) Ok, Ok so you know the classics. You’re bored and you want new music.
SUBSCRIBE ON YOUTUBE to these music channels: Sha3beyat Official , Free TV (look for the new arab hits they have english as well) , Mazzika and El Sobky Production (music from films). These are the big guys driving what music comes out of Egypt, so keep an eye on the newest music videos coming from their channels. STILL BEWILDERED? Here is a link to an article I wrote in Zameena – a list of some recent songs from these channels.
4) Want to know what the song is about?
Have a look at the music video as it usually tells the story to an extent. DOES THE MUSIC VIDEO HAVE A BELLYDANCER? Is the singer shaking her/his thing? Then you can say for the most part it’s of good for you to dance to. Though yes, it may still be political but it’s a start.
Comment on the video on YouTube and ask the world of the internet what the song is about. Write it in CAPITALS you will most probably get a response quite quickly. People love sharing their knowledge on YouTube.
Another tip (yes i'm full of them lol) get the name of the song in Arabic (should be able to copy this from the YouTube title) then paste this into google with the word "Lyrics" (BUT IN ARABIC "كلمات الاغنية") this should then give you a load of pages in Arabic with the lyrics, click on one of the top searches, it will be OBVIOUS where the lyrics are they are written out in a poem/ song like format either get google to translate the whole page (there is more than likely a pop up already asking if you want it translated )or copy and paste the lyric section into google translate and get a translation. These translations are a bodge job at best BUT give you a really good jist of what is going on in the song, the key words said and the theme. It will definitely give you reassurance that it isn't to political, racist, violent or religious.
5) Still gagging for that English song? I still stand by that ANY feeling you are getting or wanting from an English song you can find in an Arabic song but, if all the above right NOW seems a lot and you seriously want to dance to an English song SEE IF THERE IS AN ARABIC VERSION (this is a last resort not the first)
If it is a massive famous song the chances are there is an Arabic Version made. Type into youtube the name of the song you want plus "Arabic Re Mix" or "Arabic Version" or "Turkish Re-Mix" or "Bellydance Re-mix" - trust me you're more likely to find one, either still in English BUT WITH Arabic/ traditional instruments AND RHYTHMS (arguably the most important thing) or with the Arabic language, meaning your one step closer.
Here are some examples (see if you can reognise them) LITERALLY PUT IT TO THE TEST: YOU CAN FIND ARABIC/BELLYDANCE VERSION OF BASICALLY ANYTHING and if you don't that is a sign to you that this isn't an English song that has captured the hearts of Arabs .... so maybe go for another song.....
Ok so you are doing your bit, now it’s time for me to do mine.
I am in the lucky position of dancing in Egypt right now and get all this great new music handed to me on a plate so I am going to do my best and share it with you all. In June’s Zameena I listed Egypt’s current Top Ten songs and since August, I have added a new MUSIC SPOT section to my monthly newsletter, Zamena. I am going to try my best every month to feature a song that is good to dance to, straight from the streets of Cairo and one or two lines about the song. BE SURE TO SIGN UP TO THE NEWSLETTER, here. BE SURE TO LISTEN TO THE SONG every month, follow the link of the song to YouTube and see what other song suggestions are thrown up. Chances are they are similar and also good resources. HAVE A SHAKE AROUND IN YOUR LIVING ROOM TO THE SONG, even if you don’t like it or are not confident enough to use it for your next performance, HAVE A GO AT HOME ANYWAY.
LET’S DO THIS, let’s shed our fear of the unknown and embrace the ‘foreign’ and I WILL SEE YOU ON THE DANCE FLOOR AT THE NEXT HAFLA FOR A PROPER SHIMMY!