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. 

What is “Sa’idi” dance? More information about raqs-al-assaya!

Raqs-al-assaya is based off tahtib (sometimes transliterated as tahteeb), an activity performed by men from the Upper Egypt region that is often likened to a martial art form.

Since 2016, Tahtib has been incsribed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Here is what the UNESCO website has to say about tahtib: 

“It involves a brief, non-violent interchange between two adversaries, each wielding a long stick while folk music plays in the background. Complete control must be exercised as no striking is allowed. Practitioners are male both young and old, mostly from Saeedy populations in upper Egypt, particularly rural areas where the tahteeb stick has been used by inhabitants as part of their daily lives and considered a sign of manhood.”

Tahtib is a really unique movement form, so it can be hard to explain it without showing it! 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 a modern video of Khairiya and Raja Mazin with sticks here:

And another modern video of Khairiya:

And even Farida Fahmy dancing with Mahmoud Reda and sometimes taking hold of his stick for the dance here in a very stylised staged interpretation: 

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:

And 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!”

The Rhythm

Makloub (aka Saidi) used in the Said region for Tahtib and Raqs al-Assaya

1-+-2-+-3-+-4-+-
D-T-_D-D-_T-_

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.

Baladi with cane:

Lebanese cane dance:

Want to learn raqs-al-assaya?

I, Siobhan Camille, will be teaching an in-person, outdoor raqs-al-assaya class in Delft, the Netherlands this August at part of our annual Summer School! Find the full schedule and details here. If you’re based outside of the Netherlands, I’m available for private online lessons via Zoom, with our professional audio-visual set up.

Have fun continuing to learn about raqs-al-assasya!

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 exactly baladi is.

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

“Like the ibn-il balad, the bint-il balad is perceived as fahlawiyya, clever, and trained in the “school of life.” – van Nieuwkerk, 1995.

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.

“The “daughters of the country,” the banât il-balad (singular: bint il-balad), have similar characteristics and attributes. They dress… with a milâya-laff… a multicolored headkerchief, high-heeled slippers, and if possible, many golden bracelets.” – van Nieuwkerk, 1995.

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 “melaya dance” 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:

What is a baladi solo or baladi progression?

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 does perform 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!

A quick overview of some of the Arabic terms mentioned in this article: ibn il-balad = son of the country; bint il-balad = daughter of the country; banat il-balad = daughters (plural) of the country; fahlawiyya = clever/shrewd/cunning; milâya-laff = a square of black cloth wrapped around the body for modesty; baladi = of the country.

Want to learn more about the multiple meanings of baladi, and the music styles and dance stylisations in can refer to? Register now for Siobhan Camille’s 4 Week Online Series: Baladi Feeling & Stylisation! Starting March 3, 2021!

I would like to acknowledge the study I have done under the direction of Amanda RoseKarim NagiYasmina RamzyShahrzadShemsThe Ruby Lady and Badriyah that have helped contribute to my interpretations in this article.