Defining belly dance styles is always tricky! 

Much like music styles, lines blur and definitions change over time. Do you know Def Leppard used to be considered a heavy metal band? Today they’re probably more considered to be in the rock category, with heavy metal bands sounding much heavier. Much like the Ramones were once considered super punk, but now there are much louder, noisier sounding bands in the punk category.

Dance is the same. Definitions we once used might change and evolve.

As a belly dancer, I’ve studied extensively and consistently with Egyptian and Egyptian-trained dancers, and lived in North America where I spent several years consistently studying American Cabaret (AmCab) style belly dance.

I remember asking one of my first belly dance teachers what the difference between these two styles was, and her reply to me was that she was still learning (aren’t we all!). So, I’m going to share with you the main differences and similarities that I’ve noticed or been taught about.

Take note that due to the ever-changing nature of dance, and the fact that every dancer brings their own personal style to the art form, there are no hard and fast facts. These are generalisations, not rules – and rules are often broken!

(Modern) Egyptian Belly Dance

In general, Egyptian style belly dance is (or has been) characterised by:

  • Shifting the weight of the body with each step
  • Being more integrated and less isolated than AmCab (but that doesn’t mean isolation does not exist; there is still great control over the body. While AmCab dancers may often stand still and perform isolations while standing in place like in a drum solo, Egyptian style dancers may do this less often, or be more likely to perform isolations while traveling, moving other body parts, etc.)
  • Less upright posture/less balletic posture compared to AmCab
  • Often more likely to see “inward” rather than “outward” movements, drawing isolations in towards the core (e.g. inward rather than outward horizontal and vertical figure 8s, often with a heel lift for the latter where AmCab would keep heels down). There are exceptions of course; Randa has started using outward vertical figure 8s (mayas) in recent years
  • Undulations tend to have less focus on the chest, and more focus on upper and lower abs
  • Arms often incorporated in a more organic way than the arm isolations used in AmCab style

Egyptian style belly dance is performed to Egyptian Arabic music. It can have an “earthier” feel than American Cabaret.

Up until 1:04 in this clip above you can see Randa’s feet quite clearly. Notice the ball of her foot is almost always in contact with the ground, even during hip work on one leg (like at around 0:15). 

You are generally less likely to see a super pointed toe during one-sided hipwork in Egyptian style belly dance, as dancers of this style often use the ground and the flexing capabilities of their joints (ankle, knee and hips) to help generate their hipwork.

For contrast, notice how Aziza, in this more AmCab style performance, has a very pointed toe, with just the toe making contact with the ground during standing postures and isolations in the clip below.

I have heard some dancers say that Egyptian style dance is less muscular than its Cabaret and Fusion counterparts; I would argue that this is a misunderstanding. 

Egyptian belly dance in particular draws a lot from using the force of the ground, but also, so many moves are generated from the core (and particularly the muscles in the front of the body), where in other styles, they might be generated from other parts of the body. 

For example, the more American Cabaret style undulation starts in the chest and rolls its way down, making use of the whole spine. The more Egyptian style undulation starts in the pelvis and travels mainly through the belly and pelvic area, using the belly muscles strongly and not affecting the chest so much. 

You’ll see examples of tight, internal, core-driven hip work in many of Randa’s performances, like the one below.

Of course, all Egyptian dancers have their own style, so you’ll see differences between each dancer as well. It takes a lot of watching and dancing to understand the nuances in each style (an excuse to procrastinate on YouTube!).

American Cabaret Style Belly Dance (AmCab)

“Belly dance is an art form that has been adapted in western cultures to create “related hybrid forms.” It is generally thought to have been first introduced to North America at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, after which it saw a surge in popularity as recreational dance during the 1960s and 1970s in the wake of the second wave of feminism and the sexual revolution and experienced a plateau in the 1980s.” – Milner et al., 2019

Belly Dance was super popular in the United States in the 60s and 70s, but at this time, the internet was not quite what it is today. Many dancers danced to live bands instead of tapes (although American dancers who were active in clubs and restaurants at that time have told me they did use tapes when there was not a live band!), and learned their technique and stylisations through their own teachers, through feedback from the (Middle Eastern) bands they worked with, or from simply mimicking what they saw other dancers do.

If they were working in clubs with live Arabic bands, they did often learn from dancers or musicians who had firsthand experience of belly dancers in their own culture (such as in Turkey or Egypt). However, because bands and native dancers were often from different countries, American dancers learned how to dance to Turkish rhythms and songs, Egyptian rhythms and songs, etc., etc. American Cabaret belly dance thus became a sort of fusion of many styles of Middle Eastern dance.

Like Egyptian belly dance, American Cabaret (AmCab) style belly dance has evolved and continues to evolve over time, but in general, AmCab is often:

  • More isolated and upright than Egyptian style belly dance (e.g. heels on ground for vertical figure 8s, whereas Egyptian style often allow the heels to lift)
  • More shapes and isolations are used in the chest in AmCab compared to Egyptian; although we are seeing more circles and pops in the chest now in Modern Egyptian styling
  • Hands and arms can be a bit more deliberate than in Egyptian style, sometimes less “organic”
  • The modern “Drum Solo” as a standalone performance is much more AmCab than Egyptian. Drum solos by themselves are rarer in Egyptian dance, but you do see them in the context of mejances and baladi progressions
  • Tends to blend technique from a variety of belly dance styles, and has had quite a heavy influence from Turkish style; lots of technique also similar to modern fusion styles

I hope you learned something new! Keep in mind, dancers have their own individual styles, dance evolves and changes over time, and rules are broken. Nothing is ever black or white, but I hope you’ve got more of an idea of the differences and similarities between Egyptian and AmCab style belly dance.

Siobhan Camille teaches regular classes online! See the full class schedule here, and sign up for classes in the Greenstone Belly Dance shop.

One of the biggest mistakes I see dancers make when it comes to training is ignoring the concept of progressive overload.

What the heck is progressive overload!?

Progressive overload refers to gradually (the key word here!) increasing the amount and/or difficulty of your training over time. In both the rehabilitation and athletic performance spheres, we use progressive overload to safely and effectively improve strength, mobility/flexibility, and conditioning status (cardiovascular fitness).

Learn more about progressive overload, and how to tell if you’re increasing your (dance) training load too quickly!

I see dancers make two big mistakes when it comes to progressive overload:

Not acknowledging (or perhaps understanding) where they currently are NOW.

I see so many dancers injure themselves (or just make themselves so sore that they NEVER want to train again!) because they set a goal that is too lofty for their current fitness levels. Lofty goals are fun, but you need to progress towards that goal over time. Just because someone else can run 5km right now, doesn’t mean you can right away, especially if you’ve never run before!

The next most common problem I see is:

Building up to a certain level…. And then never changing anything!

You don’t need to always aspire to stronger, faster, more flexible (although, I truly believe that stronger is better in lots of ways for our bodies – but that’s a discussion for another time). But our bodies are REALLY good at adapting to stressors. Exercise is a stressor. We need a certain amount of consistency for our body to adapt, but once the body is used to something, we need to change it up to keep ourselves seeing the same benefits of training. This can be as simple as changing the type of exercises you do every 4-6 weeks, or adding weight or resistance to the exercises you’re doing.

Progressive overload is not just important for our strength, conditioning and mobility work. It’s also important to consider when planning our dance practices.

Consider this common scenario:

You’re going to a belly dance festival for the first time in a long time (especially after the last 2.5 years of most things being online!). You’re usually dancing for 45 minutes, three times a week. But you’re so excited to dance again, and all the workshops look SO good (sound familiar?). So you’ve signed up for 8 hours of workshops this weekend!

Jumping from 2.25 hours of dance in a regular week to 8 hours (or 10.25 if you also did those standard regular classes) is a big jump in load for our bodies. This can be one of the reasons you might be more likely to sustain an injury at a dance festival – it’s a huge jump in loading that your body is not used to.

But don’t just take my word for it – let’s use a simple method to assess this jump in dance volume:

The acute-to-chronic training/workload ratio (ACWR)

Sounds complicated already, I know! But I promise it’s not, and for this simple method, you can even find a calculator online. I use a slightly more involved version of this method, but this basic method is a great way to get a snapshot of whether you’re increasing your dance and/or training volume too much.

The acute-to-chronic training/workload ratio (ACWR) compares your mileage (for activities like running, cycling, and swimming) or duration (for activities like dance) from the last week to your average weekly mileage/duration for the last four weeks. Week 4 is last week, Week 3 is the week before it, and so on.

When you do an ACWR calculation, you’ll end up with a number at the end. Here’s what the numbers signify:

<0.8 = danger zone; undertraining which can lead to injury risk (yes, we also don’t want to DROP our training amounts too much from week to week if we want to avoid injury!)

0.8-1.2/1.3 = sweet spot; optimal workload and lowest relative injury risk

1.3-1.5 = increased injury risk

>1.5 = danger zone; significantly increased injury risk, highest relative injury risk

So let’s revisit our dance festival example:

ACWR Example: Dance Festival

Week 1 = 135 mins (3 weeks before the festival: your standard 3 x 45 minute dance sessions)

Week 2 = 135 mins

Week 3 = 135 mins

Week 4 = 615 mins (The week of the festival: Your standard 3 x 45 minute dance sessions, plus your 8 hours of workshops at the festival!)

To calculate your ACWR, add up the minutes from each week:

(615 + 135 + 135 + 135) = 1020 mins 

Then, divide that number by the number of weeks (this is standardly measured in 4 week blocks):

1020 / 4 = 255

Then, take the amount of load (in our example, in minutes) from the most recent week, and divide it by the average of the last four weeks (the number we just calculated above):

ACWR = 615 / 255 = 2.4

In this example, your ACWR would be 2.4 → You’re currently in the “danger zone,” the highest risk category for injury because of how fast, and how unevenly, the load has been ramped up.

This is just one of the reasons why we want to progressively overload all of our training – dance, strength, conditioning, mobility or otherwise. We want to progressively build up overtime to reduce our chances of injury.

Have you got any questions about progressive overload for me? Leave me a comment below!

Want to create the strength, mobility, and metabolic conditioning you need to be the dancer you dream of? Siobhan Camille writes personalised strength and conditioning programs for dancers, and regularly hosts online and in-person dance-specific workshops. Find out more about what Siobhan has to offer here, and sign up for semi-regular newsletter here to get all the knowledge delivered right to your inbox!

In addition to being the founder and director of Greenstone Belly Dance, Siobhan Camille is a Rehabilitative Exercise Specialist and Strength & Conditioning Coach. Siobhan Camille has an extensive background in exercise science with postgraduate level degrees in Exercise Prescription and Rehabilitation Science. She takes a particular interest in the safety, strength, and performance of dancers, and has conducted formal research on injury incidence in belly dancers. She draws on this background to emphasise safe dance technique and teaches her students how to find and activate muscles to create clear movement.⁠

I spoke to Aziza of Montreal, an internationally reknowned dancer and superstar – and a huge inspiration to me as both a person and a dancer.  We chatted practice, consistency, stage presence, cycling and more!

Join us for online belly dance workshops and a hafla featuring Aziza of Montreal on February 5, 2022!

Watch the interview with Aziza on the Greenstone Belly Dance IGTV below!

I’ve adored Aziza for a long time. Not only for her extremely elegant, poised technique, but also because she’s just a darn lovely person.

Aziza is a teacher who cares about you and your dance development.

She’s had a huge impact on my dance over the years, which is why I had to host her for our Online Workshops & Hafla this February 2022!

Join us for online belly dance workshops and a hafla featuring Aziza of Montreal on February 5, 2022!

YES! Recordings of the workshops will be available to stream for 2 weeks after the event.

Thrilled to be back on the Yallah Raqs podcast, this time talking about shimmies and strength! In this podcast episode, we discuss shimmies and the role strength plays when it comes to shaking those hips. There’s always something more to learn, layer, or experiment with when it comes to shimmies, so give it a listen. 🥰

Listen to the podcast here or click the image below.

Siobhan Camille chats all things shimmies on the Yallah Raqs Podcast!

For a long time, I didn’t publicly state this because it felt performative. But I’ve realised that being more vocal about what we believe in also helps ensure we attract the students and collaborators who also share the same core values.

To that end, I want to tell you what inclusivity looks like to us, and what we’ll be doing to do better as we go forward.

💚 Modifications are always offered in classes to accommodate injury or illness. You are always allowed to take a seat if you need a rest. On the rare occasion I don’t offer you a modification and you need one, you are always welcome to ask.

💚 There is no shame in leaving your camera off during online classes. I do often acknowledge it and invite you to give me feedback if you have a question (as I can’t see you and give feedback), but there is no shame here.

💚 There are no body type requirements and no body shaming in our classes.

💚 There is also no tolerance for whorephobia, fatphobia, racism, homophobia or sexism in our classes. I, Siobhan Camille, acknowledge that as a white female in our society, some of these things are ingrained and unconscious. I invite you to call me in if you hear me slip up.

💚 We make multiple donations per year to anti-racist organisations, and causes supporting dancers of MENAHT origin and MENAHT peoples in general.

✨ The important part – how will we continue to do better? ✨

💜 We will be more transparent in our donation processes. Currently we’ve been providing the donation overview amounts only to those who request it, for no real reason other than it felt “showy” to publicly post our donations. These will now be public. We hope this will also help highlight some awesome organisations and initiatives doing good in the Black and POC communities, MENAHT communities, dance communities and beyond.

💜 We will continue to teach on cultural relevance and significance in all dance classes; you cannot divorce this dance from its roots and context.

I also want to give a huge shout out to Eshe of Mahasti Creative Emporium who inspires me to stand up for what is right even when it’s uncomfortable. I truly appreciate you.

Let’s make the world a kinder place together.