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Bellydance A-Z

Bellydance A – Z is a glossary of terms for bellydance students to use as a reference guide. These are terms commonly used in the dance community, which includes Arabic musical terms, basic rhythms, regional dance styles, and other cultural information needed to get a foothold into the world of Bellydance.


You’ll notice I give examples of different spellings for several of the words. This is because Middle Eastern languages have different alphabets than the Roman alphabet that the English language is based on. Different people will spell these words differently when translating using the Roman alphabet. All the variations are legitimate spellings for the same word.


Arabesque – 1. an ornamental design consisting of intertwined flowing lines, originally found in Arabic or Moorish decoration. 2. In ballet, it’s a posture in which the body is supported on one leg, with the other leg extended horizontally backward. 3. The Bellydance Arabesque is used to describe a 4 count traveling step, in which the dancers travels, 1,2,3, hold on 4, slightly lifting the the unweighted leg off the floor and extending it backward.


Asharah Beledy – or simply Beledy. Also known as Beledy Awady, Beledy Progression or Beledy Taqsim. Beledy is an Arabic musical style. The music begins with a slow taqsim (meaning “improvisation” – see “taqsim”), and then typically follows a dialogue between the solo instrument and the tabla (drum). The full band joins in, progressing into a faster paced rhythmic build-up, sometimes ending in a drum solo. Asharah in Arabic is “ten”. It is thought that the name came from earlier times when Beledy was ten minutes in length when all sections of it were played.


Assaya – stick or cane used in Egyptian folk dances of Upper Egypt (southern Egypt), known as the Said. Traditionally, the Saidi men carried large staffs (see Tahtiyb) with them which they used as weapons, and eventually a folk dance developed where the men would mock fight with the long sticks. Women then began dancing with canes as a way of playfully imitating the men’s dance, and eventually raks al assaya, or “cane dance” developed into a distinct women’s dance.


Assuit – also known as Tulle-bi-telli. It is commonly called assuit after the city of Assuit in Egypt, where it is made. It is a textile of cotton or linen mesh with small strips of metal woven into the fabric in beautiful patterns, with its origins dating back to ancient Egypt. Other spellings include assuite, asyut, assyut, asyute, and azute. Tulle-bi-telli translates roughly as “net with metal”.


Awalim – (singular Almeh) female entertainers of Egypt who were well versed in dance, singing and poetry. Originally, the Awalim only danced for the women of aristocratic households, unlike the Ghawazee (see Ghawazee) who danced outdoors and in different venues such as mawlids (saints day festivals). Awalim were highly regarded entertainers in their heyday. In the early days of “bellydance” in Egypt, dancers were either Awalim or Ghawazee. The term, Raks Sharki or Oriental Dance (see entry for Bellydance), didn’t come about till the early 20th century as the dance became more modernized.


Awady – In Arabic music, this refers to the free-form improvised instrumental solo that has no underlying rhythm, called Taqsim. When the Taqsim ends and it is followed by a drum rhythm, such as in Beledy (see Asharah Beledy, Beledy Progression), it is called “Beledy Awady”, which is considered the favorite style of beledy for women to dance to. 


Ayoub – Arabic 2/4 Rhythm

Bedlah – literally means “suit”. This refers to the beaded two piece costume that bellydancers wear for performances. This style of costume was created in Egypt in the early part of the 20th century by, Badia Masabni, famous dancer and casino owner.


Beledy – (also spelled Balady, Baladi, Beledi) adjective meaning native, indigenous, of the country, rural, comparable to English folk, with a lower-class connotation. It can also apply to many other things that are considered native, rural, rustic or traditional, for example beledy bread, beledy rose, beledy dance. It is also an Egyptian musical style that came about at the turn of the 20th century in urban Cairo (see Asharah Beledy). It’s also common to hear bellydancers refer to the 4/4 rhythm, Masmoudi Saghyr, as “beledy”.

Beledy Awady - see Awady


Beledy Dress – Traditional long dress worn for women’s folk dances


Beledy Progression – Referring to an Arabic music style. Western term for Asharah Beledy, or Beledy Awady, or Beledy Taqsim.


Beledy Taqsim – Arabic musical form called “Beledy”. Another term for Asharah Beledy, Beledy Progression, or Beledy Awady.


Belly Dance – (bellydance or belly-dance) also known as Middle Eastern Dance, Arabic Dance, or Raks Sharki – loosely meaning Oriental Dance, is an ancient art form from the Middle East and North Africa. Belly dance developed and became highly stylized in Egypt in the early part of the 20th century. It also became very popular in the Egyptian movies. The term “belly dance” is translated from the French term “danse du ventre” which was applied to the dance in the Victorian era. It is something of a misnomer, as every part of the body is involved in the dance; the most featured part being the hips. In common with most folk dances, there is no codified naming for belly dance movements. Some dancers and dance schools have their own terminology for the movements, but none is universally recognized.


Chiftitelli – Turkish rhythm in 8/4 time. (Also spelled, Ciftetelli, Tsiftetelli, Shiftaatellii, Ciftetelli. Chiftitelli is also the Greek term for bellydance, not referring to the rhythm.


Dabke – Also spelled Debke. Levantine Arab folk circle dance, performed in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Israel. Dabke combines circle dance and line dancing and is widely performed at weddings and other joyous occasions.


Def – (also Daf) Middle Eastern frame drum


Dum – Tak – Ka – Sounds made when striking the Tabla (see Dumbek). “Dum” (also spelled Doum or Dumm, pronounced “doom”- a deep sound) is the dominant hand on the middle, or “sweet spot” of the tabla. “Tak” (brighter sound, also spelled Tek) produced with the dominant hand striking the rim. “Ka” – is produced with the recessive hand striking the rim.


Dumbek – (also spelled Doumbek) Hourglass-shaped Arabic drum. Also called Tabla, or Darbuka, depending on the region of the Middle East.

Fannana Sha'abiya - Folk Artist


Fellah – Arabic meaning, peasant, farmer, or agricultural laborer. A Fellahin could be seen wearing a simple cotton robe called, gallabeya.


Fallahi Rhythm – (peasant) Arabic 2/4 rhythm


Gallabeya – traditional Egyptian and Sudanese garment native to the Nile Valley (see Fellah)


Ghawazee – (or spelled Ghawazi, singular is Ghaziya) Dancers/singers in rural Egypt who dance in the "country style". Many Ghawazee are Dom people, sometimes referred to as “Gypsies”, however not all Ghawazee are Dom. The most famous family of the Ghawazi are the Banaat Maazin (daughters of Maazin) in Luxor, Egypt (Upper Egypt). Ghawazee are generally a family of dancers, singers and musicians. There are also Ghawazee in the Delta region of Egypt (Lower Egypt, which is North). 


Habibi – meaning “my darling” or “beloved” in Arabic, and appears in many Arabic song titles and lyrics


Hafla – Arabic meaning, party, get together (also spelled khafla). Outside of Arab speaking countries, many bellydance teachers will sponsor a Hafla for their students and/or the dance community. They can be small gatherings with open floor dancing, or more elaborate events with live music and solo and group performances, as well as vendors selling their wares.

Helwa - something sweet in Arabic. Ya Helwa, means Oh, Sweet! or can mean, Hey Beautiful! or it is used to describe something lovely. The word is used a lot in Arabic songs. Zahra Dance Retreat is called, Ya Helwa! Dance Retreat. Check it out.


Iqaat – The rhythmic modes of Arab music are known as iqa’at (singular iqa’). They consist of regularly repeating sequences of beats, with each beat represented by one of two different types of drum stroke: the Dum and the Tak (see Dum, Tak, Ka)


Jeel (also known as Al Jeel, or Geel in Egyptian Arabic)- Arabic pop music, modeled after foreign rock and roll, and pop music. Al Jeel became oriented around dance pop.


Kanoun – (also Qanun, Qanoun) is a string instrument played in much of the Middle East and Central Asia. The Kanoun is made of wood, fish skin, nylon cords and metal keys. It looks similar to a dulcimer.


Karsilamas – pronounced carshulamah, is a folk dance spread all over Northwest Asia Minor and carried to Greece by Asia Minor refugees. The term “karsilamas” comes from the Turkish word “karşılama” meaning “face to face greeting”. It can also refer to the 9/8 Turkish rhythm.


Khaleej – or Al-Khaleej, is an Arabic word for Gulf, meaning anything from the Persian Gulf/Arabian Peninsula


Khaleeji – Also spelled Khaleegy or Khaliji. Western bellydancers use this term to refer to the styles of music and dance from the Persian Gulf/Arabian peninsula. One of the main characteristic of the dance is tossing of the hair. The traditional costuming for this dance would be a Thobe al Nashal, which looks like a elaborately embroidered caftan, with beading, pearls and sequins. Bellydancers typically use the term Khaleeji Dress, or simply, Thobe (dress), when referring to the costume worn for the dance instead of thobe al nashal. The Arabic name for the dance is, Raks Al Nasha’ar (“hair dance”) or Raks al-Nashaat (“hair tossing dance”).

Khaliji Rhythm - 2/4 rhythm:


Layla – (Also spelled Leyla) Arabic meaning Night, plural – Layali. There are many references to the night in Arabic lyrics and poetry. Nighttime is very magical. Layla, Leyla, Lailah, or Laila, is also a popular girl’s name in the Middle East.


Mahraganat – Egyptian Arabic. The origins of mahraganat (songs of mahragan – festivals) began in the shaabi neighborhoods and slums of Cairo combining shaabi music and electronic dance music, with influences of rap, grime and reggaeton. See shaabi and shaabi dance.


Malfuf – (Arabic meaning wrapped, also called Laff – meaning Wrapping) Arabic 2/4 Rhythm. Also spelled Malfouf.


Maqam – is the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music which is mainly melodic. The word maqam in Arabic means place, location or position.


Maqsoum– Arabic 4/4 rhythm. Also spelled Maksoum, Maksum – (divided; also called Wahda w Noss- one and a half). Maqsoum is one of the most commonly used rhythms for bellydance.


Masmoudi Khabir – (Big Masmoudi) Arabic 8/4 rhythm. A slower version of masmoudi saghyr. Also spelled masmudi, masmoodi.


Masmoudi Saghyr – (Little Masmoudi) Arabic 4/4 rhythm, typically referred to as “beledy” by some bellydancers.


Mawwal– A vocal improvisation in Arabic music. The singer demonstrates his skill with non-metrical improvisation on a poetic narrative text and melody.


Megeance – (magancy, majenci, mejense, or mergence) Also known as the Oriental Entrance. It is the first song of the bellydancer’s show when she makes her grand entrance to the stage. It comes from the word emergence. The entrance music is a complex composition, meaning the music can have various rhythm, tempo, and mode changes.


Meleya – (also melea, malaya) a modesty wrap worn by urban Egyptian women up until the early 20th century. It can also refer to the meleya dance. See Meleya Luff


Meleya Luff – (also spelled Malaya Leff, Melea Laf) An Egyptian character dance that is fun, lighthearted and flirty depicting a beledy girl wearing a meleya (modesty wrap). The dance can be a girl from Alexandria (Eskandaria or spelled Iskandaria) or urban Cairo depending on the music.


Mizmar – in Egypt it is a single or double reed wind instrument. It has a high pitched whining sound. In Turkey it is called Zurna. In other countries such as Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria, it may be known as Zamr. Mizmar is also a term used for a group of musicians, usually a duo or trio, that play a mizmar instrument along with an accompaniment of one or two double-sided bass drum, known in Arabic as Tabl Beledy, or simply Tabl.


Muwashahat – (also spelled Muwashshahat) Arab poetic form as well as a secular musical genre. The Muwashahat genre is inspired by tenth century court poetry of Arab-Andalusia, developed when Arab intellectual and artistic culture flourished in Spain. There are several traditions based on this poetic form. The Syrian and Egyptian wasla tradition is popularly used by Oriental dancers in performance.


Ney – (also spelled Nay) is an end blown flute that figures prominently in Middle Eastern music. The ney is an ancient instrument that has been played for 4,500 – 5,000 years.


Oriental Dance – see Belly Dance and Raks Sharki


Oriental Entrance – The first song of a Bellydancer’s show. See Megeance


Oryantal Dans – The term and spelling for Oriental Dance/Bellydance in Turkey.


Oud – A musical instrument that is a form of lute or mandolin played in Arabic countries. It is a pear shaped, fretless, stringed instrument that is very popular (and beautiful sounding) in Arabic ensembles. Oud is also the word for wood in Arabic. There’s also the fragrance oil known as oud (or oudh), it comes from the wood of the Southeast Asian agar (aquilaria) tree. Many intoxicatingly beautiful Arabian perfumes and incenses are made with oud.


Oum Khaltoum – Legendary singer of Egypt. Her birthdate is unknown, approximately born 1904 – died February 3, 1975. Known as “The Star of the East” and “The Voice”, she was known for her extraordinary vocal ability and style, Oum Khalthoum was one of the greatest and most influential Arab singers of the 20th century. Every serious Bellydancer should know the music of Oum Khalthoum. Other spellings, Um Kalthum, Om Kalsoum, Oumme Kalsoum, Uum Khalthum, and more.


Rakkasah – Arabic word meaning, “the female dancer”.

Rakkasah Sha'abiya - Folk Dancer

Rakkas – Arabic word meaning, “the male dancer”.


Raks – also commonly spelled Raqs (Pronounced “rocks”) Arabic word for “the act of dancing”.


Raks Al Assaya – Arabic meaning, “Cane dance”. See Assaya


Raks Al Beledy – Arabic meaning, “folk dance”


Raks Al Balas – Water jug dance – folk dance of Egypt


Raks Al Kawliya – (or Raqs Al Kawleeya) Iraqi “gypsy” dance. An energetic dance with wild hair tossing movements.


Raks Al Nasha’ar – Hair dance (see Khaleeji)


Raks Al Nashaat – Hair tossing dance (see Khaleeji)


Raks al Shamadan – Candelabra dance. The candelabra or shamadan is balanced on the head while dancing. The dance was made famous by Shafiqia al Koptia (Shafiqia the Copt), the most famous Awalim (see entry for Awalim) of the late 19th century in Egypt.


Raks Sharki – Also spelled Raqs Sharqi. Arabic meaning, Dance of the East, or Dance of the Orient, translated as Oriental Dance. In America we call it “Belly Dance”.


Riqq – (or Riq) Arabic tambourine


Sagat – Term for finger cymbals in Arabic. Also spelled zagat, sagaat. See entry for Zills


Saidi – This refers to anything of the Said region of Egypt, such as Saidi music, Saidi dance, Saidi people, Saidi food, etc. The Said is also known as “Upper Egypt”, located in the southern part of the country. Raqs al assaya (the cane dance) originated in the Said. Also spelled, Saidee, Sayeedi


Saidi Rhythm – 4/4 Rhythm from Upper Egypt


Samaii – A musical form in classical Arabic music


Samaii Thaqil – Arabic 10/8 Rhythm


Shaabi – Arabic meaning, folk, or popular of the people. It is also a musical genre, known as “Egyptian street pop”. It first became popular in the 1970’s by the godfather of Shaabi, Ahmed Adaweya. Shaabi lyrics use the language of the streets of Cairo, full of working class slang and double entendres. (See Mahraganat)

Shaabi Dance - Also known as Street Shaabi, embraces a more spontaneous street-style approach, with influences of hip-hop, folk steps and arm and hand gestures, such as wielding knives (in a playful way), depicting life in the streets (see Mahraganat). Many bellydancers enjoy adding shaabi to their dance repertoire, whether the more recent electronic street shaabi, or older shaabi music. Older shaabi music is dance to "balady style" with bellydance movements.

Shamadan – A candelabra used to balance on the head while dancing. See Raks Al Shamadan (also spelled Raqs Al Shamadan)


Sufi – A Sufi is a person who practices Sufism.


Sufism – mystical Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God. See Tannoura


Tabla – Arabic goblet shaped drum. See Dumbek


Tabl Beledy – or simply Tabl. In Arabic music, it is a double sided bass drum played in folk music. See entry for Mizmar


Tahtiyb – Men’s folk dance of Upper Egypt done with large staffs in a mock fighting manner – see Assaya and Saidi entries


Takht – A small ensemble of Arab musicians, often including oud, kanoun, nay, tabla & riqq.


Tanoura – The whirling dervish of Egypt. The whirler wears a colorful skirt, each color representing each Sufi order. The word may also refer to the dancer, traditionally a Sufi man. Tanoura is associated with Sufism and is performed at Sufi festivals, but it is also performed by non-Sufis as a folk dance or concert dance. In Egypt it is not uncommon to see a Tanoura dancer as one of the opening acts before the Bellydance show.


Taqsim– also spelled taxim, takseem, taqaseem. Arabic musical term for the improvisation of a solo instrument.


Tarab – Traditional Arab music has an intimate ambience and aims at evoking “tarab”, or ecstasy, in the performers and listeners. These days, Tarab refers to classic Arabic music that has become timeless, sung by iconic singers, such as Oum Khaltoum, Farid Al Atrash, Warda Al Jaizaria, Mohamed Abdul Wahab, Feirouz, and many more artists. Many Bellydancer’s dance to Tarab music.

Tet - the sound made by the accordian (or other instrument) in the style of Beledy. The instrument makes a 
"tet-toot" sound as the music builds. See: Beledy Awady, Beledy Progression, Ashrah Beledy, Beledy Taqsim.

Thobe – Arabic word for “dress”


Thobe al Nashal – Ornate dress worn in women’s khaleej dancing. See “Khaleeji”


Tribal Bellydance – An Americanized style of bellydance, which was created and codified by Carolina Nericcio-Bolman, of the San Francisco Bay area, called American Tribal Style or ATS. The roots of Tribal Bellydance are accredited to the late Jamila Salimpour of San Fransisco. In the 1960's-70's, Jamila's style was mostly authentic Middle Eastern folk & bellydance styling, but with a "hippie flair" that suited that time and place, opening the doorway for newer innovations. Tribal bellydance has taken on many forms today, which includes the fusion of many styles including traditional bellydance, ATS, Hip-Hop, Popping, Flamenco, Khatak and more.


Tulle-bi-telli – Net fabric with slivers of metal woven in indicate patterns. Arabic meaning “net with metal” see Assuit


Undulation – Term used by Western belly dancers to describe the flowing bellydance movements of the hips and torso, such as figure eights, circles, belly rolls, etc.


Veil – The use of a veil in Bellydance was added in the early part of the 20th century in Egypt. As the dance became more modernized and moved to the professional stage, more traveling steps and turns were added, as well as a veil. Before then, the dance was done in small coffee houses, private homes and mawlid (saints day festivals). In the Middle East the veil is used for the bellydancer’s grand entrance to the stage (see Megeance), not as a dance within itself as is performed in the Western world. 

Note: the use of scarves is common in many folk/traditional dances of N. Africa and the Middle East, a long veil is a more modern innovation to Raks Sharki or "bellydance".


Wahda Khabira – 8/4 Arabic rhythm. Also spelled Wahda Kabira, Wahda Kebira


Ya Laylee – Arabic meaning, Oh night! The vocal improvisation, Mawwal (see entry), is also referred to as “Ya Laylee” when the singer sings of the night (Ya laylee, Ya layleeeee, ya, ya ,ya, Layleeeee…Oh night, Oh night, Oh, Oh, Oh night!)


Zaar (or zar) is an old custom that is thought to bring good luck, blessings, protection, through ritual music and dance. Observed in Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, southern Iran and other parts of the Middle East.


Zaghareet – A high-pitched ululation done with the tongue (done by women only). It is a sound of celebration associated with weddings, parties, and other joyful occasions in Arabian countries. American bellydancers like to zaghareet at dance events to show appreciation for a dancer’s performance. However, in the Middle East, zaghareet is not a show of applause at music and dance performances. It’s celebratory when getting good news, or at a joyous event, for example: “As the bride and groom entered the room, they were greeted with loud zaghareet by many of the guests.” Singular is zagharoot.


Zeffah – (also zeffa, zaffa, zaffah) Arabic meaning “procession”. Traditional procession leading the bride through the streets from her home to her new life with her husband. The procession traditionally involves dancers and musicians, as well as family and friends leading the bride. Nowadays, the zeffah is done in a banquet hall, hotel, or other facility where a wedding would be held.


Zeffah Al Arousa – Arabic meaning “procession of the bride”


Zeffah Rhythm: A slow rhythm accompanying the bride’s walk, during the wedding procession.


Zills – Finger cymbals played by bellydancers – Turkish zils. “Zills” is the most common term for finger cymbals used by bellydancers in America. Also see Sagat


Zurna – (also spelled Zorna) Turkish wind instrument. See Mizmar


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