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Samia Gamal in the 1954 movie called "Lady Pick Pocket"

Gilded Serpent presents...
The Egyptian Dance Code:
Technique to the Perfect Dance

by Sausan

We all know that Belly dance, described as such, will conjure up exotic images and promote visual mystique of a bygone era that heretofore might have existed only in the pages of the “One Thousand and One Nights” story collection had it not been for the Egyptian film industry and Taheyia Karioka who popularized this very old—yet very perfect—dance. And thanks to Samia Gamal, Na'eema Akef, and the others who followed, we were able to latch onto the different styles of the dance as each individual performed it, relative to her own experience.

Belly dance, done correctly and in the Egyptian manner, is the most perfect dance in the universe. It is perfect in its timing and execution. It is perfect in its expression. It is perfect in its articulation, its gesture, its eloquence, and its portrayal. In fact, it is so perfect that nothing else really comes close to it (that is, when done correctly) the Egyptian way.

What is the Egyptian way? I remember asking myself that very same question over and over again while I watched Suhair Zaki, Nagwa Fouad, Nellie, Hala El Safy, and Mona El Said on video for many hours, trying to catch a glimpse of the secret of the dance that made it look so easy on them; yet, I struggled to emulate “the style” but always came out looking Western. Some call it "essence", some call it the "it" factor. Whatever we call it, it is missing in many Western Belly dancers—even those who call themselves "Egyptian Style".

Isolations, a technique I had learned during many workshops I had attended after my initial stint with Jodette in Sacramento, stood forever forefront on my visual mind as I sat glued to my television watching and studying these Egyptian dancers dancing on video for hours, weeks, months and even years. But where were the isolations on these women? I couldn't see isolations. In some other workshops I attended, I was told to "never shake my breasts" because it would send a wrong signal and appear lewd and unladylike to the customers. Yet, there they were—Suhair, Nagwa, Hala and all the rest—shaking their breasts on that video like there was no tomorrow and enjoying every minute of it. And there were other things they were doing, like rotating their wrists into a kind of wrist flip. How was that done? Suhair seemed to have that one perfected, with Nagwa a close second. On the other hand (no pun intended), I had been told to keep my hands at my side at "Second Position"… whatever that meant. The arm movements of these Egyptian dancers never seemed to be in "Second Position" longer than a nanosecond.

Twenty-eight years after my first class in Belly dance, I looked at all the dancers once again and realized what they were doing to look Egyptian. I had discovered the Egyptian Dance Code. That was back in 2000.

The secret to achieving "Egyptian-ness" in one's dance is in knowing how the Egyptians hear and keep the beat of the music. We in the West hear and keep the beat of the music in our lower bodies—evidenced by the way we clap when we listen to music. We clap toward the floor or the ground. We snap our fingers in the same direction. We dance with our bodies falling on the major beats and lifting on the minor beats; i.e., beats one and three in a four-beat measure are the major beats.

Remarkably, the Egyptians do the exact opposite. In fact, most of the Arab world keeps the beat opposite from the West.

I remember my first time in an Arabic nightclub, and I thought to myself, “How odd it is that these Arabs clap their hands in the air while I have always clapped my hands toward the ground!” It was in my study of the dance that I discovered that the Egyptians, as do many Arabic cultures, hear and keep the beat of the music toward the ceiling or sky on the major beats, lifting their upper bodies on the major beats and dropping them on the minor beats. Taking a step further, I studied Fifi Abdo and found this to be infinitely true as the epitome of the "essence" of Egyptian dance or as having the "it factor" -- what I have coined and documented as the Egyptian Dance Code.

What is most remarkable is that, since this way of hearing and keeping the beat of the music is not in our Western experience, it is virtually impossible to see it as Westerners, although we recognize that the Egyptians dance differently than the West. We simply do not hear the music like the Egyptians do to begin with; it is not part of our culture or our way of life. On the other hand, it is so ingrained in the Egyptian, albeit the Arabic culture and way of life, that the Egyptians cannot really teach it. It is the foundational core and complete part of their dance and the root to looking Egyptian. Ultimately, in our view and study of the dance, we can only conclude that the dance must be using isolations since that is the only way we can justifiably explain the movement the Egyptians are doing. While they are keeping the beat of the music in their own way (the Egyptian way), we see it the only way our cultural experience has taught us to see it. When the Egyptian's chest rises first and then drops, we in the West see the drop of the chest as being the first beat and the raising of it after it has dropped, and it appears to look like an isolation.

There are no isolations in Egyptian Belly dance. There is containment of movement, but isolations are not a part of the dance.

There are no ballet-like movements in the dance either. Ballet terms may be referenced in workshops, but only because our Western experience can relate to this terminology. After all, ballet is more Western than it is Middle Eastern. It is no wonder why we have taken those terms to define a dance that is not inherently in our experience or in our culture. The importance of ballet in any dance form is for the instruction of posture and grace.

Every Egyptian dancer has her own style; it is a style born out of and cultivated from personal experience. However, every Egyptian dancer looks Egyptian in her style of dance. It is the Egyptian Dance Code. It is inherently part of her culture out of which she perfects her style, and we in the West must learn to identify it and perfect it in order to look and dance like an Egyptian and then go on to achieve the Egyptian style of Belly dance.

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