So you want to learn to belly dance? Wonderful! But did you realize there are at least three distinct styles of belly dance being taught in the English-speaking world today? Most women (myself included) stumble onto an instructor or studio, sign up for a class, and continue forever after in whatever style they found by chance. But wouldn’t it be more fun and interesting to understand the basic differences so you could choose the one that suits your personality?
In this article, I describe the three main belly dance styles you’re most likely to encounter in the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world. I have included links to websites and videos of professional dancers and tribes who best represent these thee styles.
The first style is called Cabaret or Egyptian. The quintessential image of the cabaret dancer is an individual woman in a bright, sequined costume, performing in a Middle Eastern restaurant. Perhaps she is dancing with a veil, a fan, or even a candelabra on her head. She often shimmies a single body part and laughingly points to it as she does. She flirts with the audience, smiling coyly.
A dancer who epitomizes the cabaret style is Princess Farhana. Princess Farhana has incredible control of every individual muscle in her torso, and can isolate them at will, performing belly rolls and flutters, hip shimmies so fast your eyes can hardly keep up, and beautiful, flowing chest undulations. I’ve included a link to a YouTube video of her at the bottom of this article.
The next style I’ll address is known as ATS or American Tribal Style. This group style or tribal style of belly dance is, in a sense, the creation of one woman, Carolena Nericcio, who drew from movements of Indian and Middle Eastern folk dances. She standardized a vocabulary of choreographed short dance ‘phrases’ and instituted a system of cues that a lead dancer uses to communicate with the rest of the troupe. By using the cues, the tribe improvises together to the music, moving from one dance phrase to the next by following the leader. ATS belly dance groups use exclusively this vocabulary of dance phrases and cues, so a dancer from one tribe can follow the lead of a dancer from another.
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