As belly dancers, we refer to a dance performed to music from the Said region (upper/Southern Egypt) as sa’idi. The more correct name for this dance is raqs-al-assaya/raqs-al-assayah (sometimes transliterated differently), which means stick dance.
Raqs-al-assaya is based off tahtib, a martial art form performed by men from the Upper Egypt region. This ‘combat’ form is often followed by an improvised dance with the stick, so the dancer can further display his dexterity and skill. Here’s an example of tahtib here:
Mahmoud Reda took field trips in the mid 1960s to collect inspiration for his dance troupe, one of the national troupes of Egypt, the Reda Troupe. Farida Fahmy was one of the principal dancers of this troupe for a very long time, and she has a whole lot of articles on her website (available in multiple languages! But unfortunately I don’t see Dutch) about the Reda Troupe. You can find the articles by Farida Fahmy here.
She says this of their field trips to influence dance creation for the troupe:
“His aim was not to research the indigenous dance traditions and events that he witnessed for any ethnographic purpose. His adaptations were never meant to be literal replicas of the indigenous dances that he witnessed and documented. Collecting material was primarily to find inspiration and to discover the potentials that traditional dance could offer for the stage.”
The Reda Troupe then performed raqs-al-assayah, and specifically something they called Al-assayah al-Gadida (the new stick dance). In the beginning, it seems mainly men in the Reda Troupe danced with sticks, and women danced mostly without.
However! You can see a very famous group of traditional performers, the Banat Mazin, dancing with sticks here:
And even Farida Fahmy dancing with Mahmoud Reda and sometimes taking hold of his stick for the dance here:
And in a recent video of the modern Reda Troupe in 2012, you’ll see the ladies take hold of the sticks very, very briefly at the end of the dance:
More Howevers! Nowadays, female belly dancers or Middle Eastern style dancers do often dance raqs-assaya with a stick. Here’s a good example of a group of dancers of different genders dancing raqs-assaya in a masculine style:
Dancers can choose to dance with the stick and be representing the masculine style of dance (Go feminism, amirite?) OR Dancers can choose to dance with the stick and put a feminine take on it, sometimes presenting in this “belly dance-y” way where they are much more isolated, poised, and reminiscent of belly dance.
See below for a modern version of this, an a classic of Mona El Said:
And sometimes they’ll actually present it in a way like they’re poking fun at men and their “big sticks!”
Makloub (aka Saidi) used in the Said region for Tahtib and Raqs al-Assaya
Other Stick Dances
Be aware: The presence of the stick itself doesn’t necessarly mean dance from Said/raqs-assaya… Don’t worry, I’m still learning all the differences too! It could be baladi with a cane, or it could be Lebanese cane dance.
This month Greenstone Belly Dance is celebrating its third birthday! We’re excited to celebrate with some free events this Sunday the 18th of July. We’ll begin in the morning with an in-person dance class and birthday picnic in Delft, then we have our online events in the event, starting off with a belly dance quiz, followed by a performance watch party! See the full schedule on our events page.
For those of you joining us in Delft, the Netherlands, we will be supplying cake! But we do invite you to bring a plate of something to share, if you wish. For those of you joining us online, we thought we’d share our 2021 birthday cake recipe with you!
*No wholemeal flour? No worries! Just make it 2.5 cups of standard flour instead
2 cups plant-based milk (e.g. almond, oat)*
2/3 cup neutral oil (e.g. canola or vegetable; don’t use a flavourful oil like olive)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Optional: Frozen raspberries
*No plant-based milk? If you’re not vegan, I often use regular milk
Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F. Lightly grease your cake tin or cupcake tin (I really like making these as cupcakes).
Whisk together all the dry ingredients.
Whisk together all the wet ingredients.
Combine wet and dry ingredients and whisk until just combined.
Pour the batter into your cake tin, or 12 cupcake moulds.
If baking cupcakes, optionally add 3-5 frozen raspberries on top of each filled cupcake mould.*
*In my experience, the frozen raspberries seem to work better on cupcakes than in a standard cake. I’m a dancer, not a baker, don’t ask me why!
If baking a cake, bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. For cupcakes, bake for roughly 20 minutes; keep an eye on them and also use the knife method.
Then let them cool a little before you remove them from their moulds/the tin, then enjoy!
Let me know if you make this at home! I’d love to know if you put your own spin on it. This cake is really fudgy, so I usually don’t put an icing on top. Icing is definitely optional if you want to go ahead and add some. 🙂
Dansers en danseressen, we zijn zo blij dat er vanaf 5 juni weer groepsdanslessen mogen worden gegeven in de studio!
De Delftse lessen vinden plaats op donderdag om 18u (Improvers; basiskennis buikdans is aanbevolen) en om 19u15 (intermediate/gevorderd; 18 maanden aaneengesloten buikdanservaring is vereist). Bekijk het volledige schema hier. Online lessen (met onze professionele audio-visuele setup) gaan door op dinsdag en woensdag voor degenen buiten Delft, of degenen die liever online verder dansen.
Dank u, dank u voor al uw geduld en steun deze laatste 6 maanden. We zijn er nog steeds dankzij jullie!
Shimmies, Greenstone Belly Dance
Dancers, we are so thrilled to announce that from June 5, group dance classes are allowed back in the studio!
Delft classes take place on Thursdays at 6pm (Improvers; a basic knowledge of belly dance is recommended) and 7:15pm (intermediate/advanced; 18 months continuous belly dance experience is required). See the full schedule here. Online classes (with our professional audio-visual setup) continue on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for those outside of Delft, or those who prefer to continue dancing online.
“Baladi” is a term used widely within the international belly dance community, but also within Egypt. It’s a word that can describe a person, a dance, a musical style, food, and so much more! So it can get a little confusing when trying to understand what exactlybaladiis.
In this blog post, I’ll touch on the multiple meanings of baladi, along with baladi dance stylisation and musical progressions.
I’ll be discussing:
The idealised archetype of a baladi person in Egypt
What we tend to mean when we’re talking about baladi stylised dance
What a baladi solo or baladi progression is
Ibn-il balad and bint il-balad: The Sons and Daughters of Egypt
The idealised archetype of a baladi person in Egypt
Baladi means “of the country,” and “ibn-il balad” and “bint-il balad” mean son and daughter of the country, respectively. Specifically in the lower-middle class in Egypt, there is a specific (positive) stereotype associated with these roles. It is important to note that other social classes may have negative stereotypes regarding the roles of “the sons and daughers of the country.” When it come to dance, however, we are generally trying to embody the style of the proud, clever, good-humoured, and honourable baladi woman.
The above quote is from Karin van Nieuwkerk’s 1995 book, “A Trade Like Any Other.” She also recently published “Manhood is Not Easy” (2019). I had the pleasure to speak to van Nieuwkerk last weekend during a book club meeting. I asked her whether the archetype of the baladi man and woman had changed over the years. She said that in the same social class, she has not seen the archetype change much. However, she did say that she has not interviewed many young Egyptians in the lower-middle class. Most of the Egyptians that she has interviewed over the years are the same people.
So, much the same way our grandparents might stick to beliefs from their childhood, it could be that she hasn’t seen much change as she is interviewing the same people over time. It would be interesting to know if younger Egyptians are changing their outlook on what the ideal Egyptian man or woman is.
You’ll notice that the description van Nieuwkerk provides above of the banât il-balad closely resembles the “costume” we see dancers don when performing milâya-laff dance (sometimes spelled melaya leff, and a multitude of other ways).
A little tangent: It’s worth knowing that the “melayadance” is a theatrical piece developed by Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy, not a traditional dance. Milâyat are worn as a general sort of cover up when leaving the house to do errands. So when performing dance with milâya, many advocate that you should try to embody the proud bint il-balad – that is, perhaps flirtatious or cheeky, but also good-humoured and honourable.
See Farida Fahmy below speaking about some of the misconceptions around dancing with the milâya.
So as you may be starting to see, baladi is a term that is used quite positively within the same class of Egyptian people who primarily engage in the entertainment and performing arts trade.
Baladi can be used to describe almost anything within Egypt: a person, food, music.
What we tend to mean when we’re talking about baladi stylised dance
I will preface this section by saying there is a lot of debate over this! I’ve seen many experience dancers passionately argue that baladi is not a dance style.
I sit somewhere in the middle. I wouldn’t say baladi is a style of its own, but I do think that there are more baladi ways to dance, and more raqs sharqi (professional belly dance, but I’m specifically referring to modern raqs sharqi, like that of Randa Kamel) ways to approach dance.
I see it this way:
Baladi stylisations tend to be a little bouncier, and more movements are generated from the floor than in modern raqs sharqi. Some movements, while still isolated, tend to be a little bigger or looser than in modern raqs sharqi. Baladi stylisation – to me – has a lot of crossover with sa’idi and even sha’abi and mahraganat stylisations, as it draws heavily on social dancing. However, when a professional dancer includes baladi stylisations in his or her set, he or she will likely still perform in a way that shows she is a trained/experienced dancer. They may embody the aforementioned movement qualities (bouncy, looser, driven from the ground), but they likely won’t just have a casual boogie on stage, as they are still providing a show!
This dance stylisation can be performed to a whole range of songs that we generally consider baladi – kind of like “popular” music. Current popular music may lean more towards the sha’abi or mahraganat styles, but as I say, there’s some crossover in the movement quality.
Here is a good example of Shems (USA) performing baladi stylised dance:
Here the confusion can sink in a little more – some people in the belly dance community are primarily referring to a baladi solo or baladi progression when they talk about baladi music.
As I’ve mentioned above, multiple types of music can be considered baladi. But a baladi progression is actually a specific musical form that originated on stage between a band and a dancer. So while a baladi solo could be performed with baladi dance stylisation, it is likely when performing to a baladi progression, you’ll perform in a way that shows you have at least some professional dance training (or experience working as a dancer) – and some dancers may not necessarily nod to this aforementioned baladi dance stylisation at all, they may perform in a very modern raqs sharqi styling.
I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with either approach: dancing in either stylisation. As I say, the baladi solo originated on stage, so we expect to see a professional dancer dancing their own stylisation.
You’ll see above that Shems doesperform to a baladi progression (the second song), but that’s not the only music she performs to. She also performs to a piece of music that is more popular, but still considered baladi in its stylisation.
Below is an example of Fifi Abdo (Egypt) performing to a baladi progression / baladi solo. The baladi solo usually follows the form of: melodic improvisation, drum accents, rhythm joining in; then some sections may be repeated, and then there is sometimes a drum solo to end, or just a hard ending.
Fifi’s white galaybeya has become so iconic that many people choose to wear this style of costume for baladi stylised performances!
Baladi means a lot of things – and it’s okay to keep learning!
One of the beautiful things about raqs sharqi and its related dance forms is that there is such a rich history and cultural context to this art form, and it’s a living, breathing art form that is still evolving and changing in the Middle East, North Africa, Hellenistic and Turkish countries!
I know it can feel overwhelming – “There’s so much to learn!” But I think it’s really important to remember that it’s okay to keep learning. It’s okay to not know everything. But we do want to continue to seek out knowledge to deepen our understanding of the dance form and its associated forms.
For a quick overview of some of the Arabic terms mentioned in this blog post, see below!
I think by now, most of us are thoroughly convinced of the benefits of warming up for dance – or at least, we like doing it! When we surveyed 109 belly dancers in New Zealand, we found that 84% of them warm up prior to their dance practice (bravo!).
When I first started out in the world of exercise science, the evidence for warming up was a bit patchy and contentious. Nowadays, there’s a lot more evidence out there that a good warm up can improve your performance, and can decrease your risk of injury.
However, it’s important to know that not all warm ups are created equal!
To be fair, I have not seen too many awful warm ups in my time. The one that stands out was when a dancer started with extreme (and I mean: extreme) backbends and hair tosses within 30 seconds of the warm up song commencing. This was one of the few times I was generally worried about injuries (but to be honest, I was stifling laughter because it was so unbelievable). Aside from that, I do see a few warm ups that don’t really fulfil the goal of getting warm, and could have some potential for injury.
One of the common mistakes I see includes beginning with stretching. Dynamic stretching (moving joints through the range of motion you’ll use in your session, but doing so by actively using muscles) is a common part of a warm up routine, but it’s not usually the first thing we do, and it isn’t a passive, held (or static) stretch.
We don’t generally recommend static stretching before exercise sessions (an exception is made at times for hypertonic muscles), as it’s been found to be linked with an increased injury risk due to decreasing the muscles’ ability to produce power (and therefore meet the demands of our dance). Most of this research is on long, static stretches of 60 seconds or more, which a lot of exercise professionals brush off, saying “no one does this in their warm ups anyway!” However, a specific sub-group sometimes does engage in this practice of long, static stretching: dancers!
So how do we warm up properly?
One common method that is supported by science is the RAMP protocol. This consists of three phases:
Activate and Mobilise
Let’s take a quick look at how we can use each of these phases to build effective warm ups!
The first aspect of the RAMP protocol relates to raising the heart rate, breathing rate, blood flow, and core body and muscle temperature, but also the level of skill of the dancer or athlete.
Raising a lot of these physiological aspects like heart rate and blood flow is particularly important for some dancers with pre-existing conditions like exercise-induced asthma, but it also helps all of us by increasing muscle temperature and getting our body ready for the challenges our practice or performance will present us.
Raising the level of skill is also not to be ignored. Here, you can think of including key movement and skill capacities for dancers. If you’re teaching a beginners class, it could involve introducing some basic foot patterns as part of this phase. For all levels, it could be including certain movements that use the same muscles you’ll be using in the rest of the class or session.
The general rule for this phase is that movements are bigger and less isolated, they make dancers feel warmer and breathe a bit heavier, and there is no kind of stretching present yet.
Activate and Mobilise
The “Activate and Mobilise” phase of the RAMP warm up protocol involves moving from more general movement in the “Raise” phase, to key movement patterns required for belly dance performance.
This is where things start to become a little more isolated and more closely resemble belly dance technique. This is also the phase where we start to focus on stability and flexibility, and use active range of motion exercises, such as lunges, big hip circles; things that start to move the joints through their required range of motion for the upcoming practice session. This will likely look different for a drills class compared to when preparing for an advanced choreography run-through!
This phase also has benefits for learning, as if you introduce similar movement patterns to those you’ll be using later in the class, it gives students a chance to repeat them and learn them better.
This is where the warm up starts to bleed into the class or practice session itself! The “potentiation” phase is all about increasing the intensity of the warm up until it is truly “sport-specific” (or dance-specific, in our case!). This phase is where you start moving and performing movements at the same intensity as you will for the rest of the class. The more intense you intend your practice session or performance to be, the more important this phase is. So if you’re about to get on stage and do a drum solo, you certainly want to be moving quickly, feeling really warm, and have worked up to fast, strong isolations by the end of your backstage warm up!
Warm ups should be individualised to what is coming in the class or performance ahead. The literature suggests that this full warm up (phases 1-3) should last about 10-20 minutes, which can sound scary when we only teach 50 or 60 minute classes!
However, as mentioned, the third phase (“Potentiate”) really starts to become inseparable from the class itself. I tend to spend around 8 minutes on the first two phases, and then I move in to specific drills that increase in intensity. That way, we’re all warm and ready to go, but we’re also learning and improving during this time!
As long as you make your warm up specific, that 5-10 minutes at the beginning won’t feel like a waste. Consider what dance concepts you can remind students of as you get them warming up so they’re not only prepared physically, but also mentally for the class ahead.
In addition to being the founder and director of Greenstone Belly Dance, Siobhan Camille is a Rehabilitative Exercise Specialist and Strength & Conditioning Coach. This blog post was originally written by Siobhan for her Safe Dance Column in the Middle Eastern Dance Association of New Zealand (MEDANZ) December 2020 Newsletter. You can join MEDANZ to access their newsletters and find out more about MEDANZ here. Photo by Veronika Hegedus-Gaspar.
 Milner et al., 2019. A Retrospective Study Investigating Injury Incidence and Factors Associated with Injury Among Belly Dancers.
 Jeffreys, 2007. Warm-up revisited: The ramp method of optimizing warm-ups.
 DeRenne, 2010. Effects of Postactivation Potentiation Warm-up in Male and Female Sport Performances: A Brief Review
 Malliou et al., 2007., Reducing risk of injury due to warm up and cool down in dance aerobic instructors.
 Barengo et al., (2014). The Impact of the FIFA 11+ Training Program on Injury Prevention in Football Players: A Systematic Review.