Arabic Types of Dance

By Nakia Jackson
American interpretations of Middle Eastern dance often blend Egyptian and Turkish elements.

The Arabic speaking world is ethnically and culturally diverse, with influences coming from Southern Europe, Africa, Western Asia and nomadic tribes. This is reflected in the many dance styles in Arabic speaking countries, but many Americans and Europeans are familiar only with Egyptian styles. The Middle East is home to many dance styles besides the one known as "belly dance."

Khaliji: Dance of the Arabian Peninsula

The word "khaliji" means "of or belonging to the gulf" and this dance is performed in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. The dance is performed by groups of young women or girls, and features a shuffling gait and swinging or tossing the hair. Dancers wear flowing, colorful gowns which are manipulated to show off their embellishments. Different countries have variations on the dance, but this dance does not have the hip movements associated with what is known as belly dance, and does not use the zills, or finger cymbals.

Debke: Dance of the Levant

The debke is a dance performed in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories. The dance may be performed in a line or a round, and the main steps consist of grapevine steps, stomping and kicking. The dancers are usually stationary from the waist up, but improvised solos may include shoulder movements. This dance is performed by men and women, and is often performed at celebrations. Some styles may have a leader at one end of the line to direct the dancers through changes in steps. The debke does not make use of special costumes in the way that khaliji does.

Raqs Sharqi: Dances of Egypt

The dances of Egypt are the styles that most Americans and Europeans are familiar with, due to Egyptian films featuring dancers in musical numbers. Egyptian dance styles are known as "raqs sharqi," or eastern dance. These dance styles may use props including canes, swords or jugs of water. Egyptian street vendors have also developed dance styles to call attention to their wares. This term sometimes refers to a set of specific dance styles performed in cabarets or developed for cinematic work, but may also refer to all Egyptian dance styles, including folk styles that are not performed in cabarets or for films. Raqs sharqi often emphasizes torso and hip movements, and may use zills.

Ouled Nail, Schikhatt and Guedra: Dances of the Maghreb

The dances of the Maghreb include those used for rituals and to honor the transition of a young woman into adulthood and married life. The Ouled Nail is a tribe in Algeria about which little is documented, but they are most famous for their dancers and their distinct dance style, which involves small, rapid foot movements paired with vigorous torso and hip movements.

The Schikhatt is named for the Arabic feminine plural of "sheikh." In this Moroccan dance, older women instruct a bride in vigorous hip and torso movements.

The Guedra is a Moroccan dance performed to induce an altered state of consciousness, with a solo performer beginning the dance with hand movements, then swinging the head and torso until a trance state is reached.

About the Author

Nakia Jackson has written for online publications since 2006, including columns for Sadie Magazine, Naseeb and Muslim Wake Up!. She has written on religion and beauty, crafts and music. Jackson's expertise stems from personal experience and her years at Berklee College of Music, pursuing a Bachelor of Music.