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.

Do you have certain areas you’re struggling with in your dance? Have you ever turned up to practice and decided to work on the things you like the most (probably what you’re strongest at)?⁠

How about some accountability to turn those struggles into opportunities for growth in your dance (and mindset!) in 2021?⁠

I’m so excited to be part of Struggle to Strength. Struggle to Strength is an online NON-competition for belly dancers, and you have a chance to join in for free!

There’s one free entry to the non-competition up for grabs, which is good for 5 months of motivation! If you win (or if you register to join us on this journey!), we start off with an anonymous and filtered peer review session of your dance, and then proceed into two separate feedback events where the wonderful guides of this (not) competition centre you and your journey to help you get where you want to go with your dance! Enter the giveaway to win your spot in Struggle to Strength here.

The giveaway closes on the 2nd at 11:59pm EST, so enter while you can, and share to increase your entries! You get extra entries for everyone who signs up through your link!Winner will be drawn on Instagram on Jan 3rd at 10am EST!

Missed the giveaway? Learn more about the Struggle to Strength program here. The guides include me (Siobhan Camille!), Michelle Sorensen, Aziza, Ebony Qualls, Serena Spears, Greyson von Trapp, Amanda Rose, and sooo many more amazing dancers and coaches I love and respect.

Missed the deadline to sign up for the program? I adore helping students learn more about their bodies to enhance their dance (and their experience IN their bodies while they dance), so feel free to get in touch about private (online or in-person) belly dance coaching, or personalised strength and conditioning programs for dancers!

Hi everyone, Greenstone Belly Dance director, Siobhan Camille, here!

I am delighted to share that I came 3rd in the Professional category of the Hamilton International Bellydance Competition 2020, and also received a special Judge’s Designation for Excellence in Stage Presence!

“Backstage” in my home studio waiting to perform at the HIBC Online Results & Celebration Show on Saturday night! #assuitallday

I had a fab time dancing at 1am at the results show on Sunday morning !😂 I stayed up until 3:30am Netherlands time enjoying the other dancers’ performances (and a particular shoutout to some of my Montréal dance friends, Leyana and Layal, I was so happy to see you dance again), and by the time I got into bed here at 4:30 the sun was waking up!

A huge thank you to the judges for their considered, constructive feedback. I highly recommend entering the HIBC to anyone seeking thoughtful advice to further their dance journey. And a big, big thank you to Aziza for encouraging me to enter. 

A massive thanks to Eshe Yildiz. What an amazing, hardworking and caring woman this competition organiser is. I have a new favourite (paraphrased) quote thanks to Eshe: Don’t be afraid to sing your own praises, because every time you do, you’re sticking it to the patriarchy! 

You can find the full video of my award-winning performance on the Greenstone Belly Dance YouTube channel. If you’d like to see my performance from last night (and epic 50 second costume change) head over to the Hamilton International Bellydance Competition Facebook page to watch the recording. It won’t be up for too long!

An extra special thank you to my friends in New Zealand, Germany, the United Stated, and Canada who tuned in to watch me perform live at the results show. I truly appreciate your support.

Siobhan Camille and Greenstone Belly Dance are thrilled to announce that Siobhan Camille is a finalist in the Hamilton International Bellydance Competition 2020!

Siobhan Camille had wanted to enter previously as Aziza highly recommended this particular competition due to the fact that the judges provide constructive, helpful feedback. However, it was always a bit much to enter a competition in Canada while working in Europe! Of course, things had to change this year with COVID-19 and Siobhan Camille finally got her chance to enter their online edition. She was certainly not disappointed and is very grateful for the opportunity to receive tips and pointers from dancers she admires.

Siobhan Camille will be performing at the Results & Celebration Online Ceremony this coming weekend at 7pm EST on Saturday the 27th of June (that’s 1am for us in the Netherlands, CEST!). If you’d like to attend the event and see Siobhan Camille (and all the other finalists!) perform, you can find the information on Facebook here.

You can watch Siobhan Camille’s finalist placing original choreography and performance below!

Dear dancers, friends, and followers,

I hope you’re all doing as well as possible at a time like this. I know it’s an uncertain, scary, time for a lot of us. Maybe this has greatly affected your work. Maybe there are people close to you who have already been diagnosed with this disease. Maybe you’re filled with worry. I’m sorry and I wish I could do more to help you.

What I can do for you is this: I can promise to do my best to keep you dancing at home. I can give you a time to dance and shimmy and remember that there are still pockets of joy in hard times. I can give you a chance to dance in your own home, but not alone, via our online classes.

As you’ll all know, the social distancing measures have been extended by the Dutch Government until at least June 1. This means no in-studio classes until June at the earliest. However, Greenstone Belly Dance has already taken the plunge into live, interactive, online classes. And we are getting better every time! I’m doing my best to research and invest into new technologies to give you fabulous audio, a great picture, and of course, a great time dancing!

I have just announced block of online classes in April (we were due to take a month break in April; however, I now think it’s even more important that we keep moving to look after our brains, our bodies, our minds, and to get a chance to say hi to your classmates from the comfort of your own home). The free trial classes in May will indeed go ahead, but they will be taught online. At least the first portion of each class session will be taught online. If the Dutch Government relaxes restrictions by June, I will gladly look into moving the classes back into the studio.

I’m looking forward to shimmying with you again in person when we can. But for now, let’s stay home and do our bit to protect the most vulnerable around us. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, keeping moving as much as possible, stay connected, and look after each other.

Love and strength and shimmies,

Siobhan Camille,
Greenstone Belly Dance