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 – (Also known as Beledy Progression or Beledy Taqsim) Arabic musical term. 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, typically ending in a drum solo.
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 dancers of Egypt, who also sang and played musical instruments. Originally, the Awalim only danced for the women of aristocratic households, unlike the Ghawazee (see Ghawazee) who danced outdoors and in different venues. Awalim were highly regarded entertainers in their heyday, up to the turn of the 20th century. In the early days of “bellydance” in Egypt, dancers were either Awalim or Ghawazee. The term, Raks Sharki or Oriental Dance (see entries), didn’t come about till the early 20th century as the dance became more modernized.
Awwady – In Arabic music, this refers to the free-form improvised instrumental solo that has no underlying rhythm. This is often used for the opening few phrases of music played for a belly dancer, and it is then followed by the fast- or medium-tempo entrance music.
Ayoub – Arabic 2/4 Rhythm
Drum Pattern: Dumm (rest-rest) Tak, Dumm (rest) Tak
(see Dumm, Tak, Ka, entry)
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. It’s also common to hear bellydancers refer to the 4/4 rhythm, Masmoudi Saghyr, as “beledy”.
Beledy Dress – Traditional long dress worn for women’s folk dances
Beledy Progression – Referring to an Arabic music style. Western term for Asharah Beledy (see entry for Asharah Beledy)
Beledy Taqsim – Arabic music. Another term for Asharah Beledy or Beledy Progression (see Asharah Beledy).
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, in Arabic called Wahda Kabira, Wahada Kebira, Dar e Noss, Sheftetilli). Today a faster version is called Sonbati. Chiftitelli is also the Greek term for bellydance, not referring to the rhythm.
Drum pattern: Dumm rest Tak Tak rest Tak Tak rest
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
Dumm – Tak – Ka – Sounds made when striking the Tabla (see Dumbek). “Dumm” (also spelled Doum or Dum, 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.
Fellah – Arabic meaning, peasant, farmer, or agricultural laborer. A Fellahin could be seen wearing a simple cotton robe called, gallabeya.
Fallahi Rhythm – (peasant) Arabic 4/4 rhythm
Drum pattern: Dumm Tak Tak Tak Dumm Tak Tak
Gallabeya – traditional Egyptian and Sudanese garment native to the Nile Valley (see Fellah)
Ghawazee – (or spelled Ghawazi, singular is Ghaziya) Dancers of Egypt: a group of female traveling dancers of the Nawari people, sometimes referred to as “Gypsies”. The term Ghawazee in Egypt refers to the dancers in rural Egypt who have preserved the traditional 18th to 19th century style of dancing. The most famous family of the Ghawazi are the Banaat Maazin of Luxor Egypt.
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.
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 counted 2,2,2,3.
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”).
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.
Malfuf – (Arabic meaning wrapped, also called Laff – meaning Wrapping) Arabic 2/4 Rhythm. Also spelled Malfouf. Drum Pattern: Dumm (rest) Tak Tak
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), it is similar to masmoudi saghyr, except that the second dumm is replaced by a tak.
Drum pattern: Dumm, Tak (rest) Tak, Dumm (rest) Tak
Masmoudi Khabir – (Big Masmoudi) Arabic 8/4 rhythm. A slower version of masmoudi saghyr. Also spelled masmudi, masmoodi.
Drum Pattern: Dumm Dumm (rest) Tak Dumm (rest) Tak (rest)
Masmoudi Saghyr – (Little Masmoudi) Arabic 4/4 rhythm, typically referred to as “beledy” by some bellydancers.
Drum pattern: Dumm Dumm (rest) Tak Dumm (rest) Tak
(Embellishment: Dumm Dumm ta ka Tak Dumm ta ka Tak)
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. 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.
Rakkas – Arabic word meaning, “the male dancer”.
Rakkasah – Arabic word meaning, “the female 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
Drum Pattern: Dumm Tak (rest) Dumm Dumm (rest) Tak
Samaii – A musical form in classical Arabic music
Samaii Thaqil – Arabic 10/8 Rhythm
Drum pattern: Dumm (rest-rest) Tak (rest) Dumm Dumm Tak (rest-rest)
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.
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.
Tabla – Arabic 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”. 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.
Thobe – Arabic word for “dress”
Thobe al Nashal – Ornate dress worn in women’s khaleej dancing. See “Khaleeji”
Tribal Bellydance – An American style of modern bellydance, which was created and codified by Carolina Nericcio-Bolman, called American Tribal Style or ATS. The roots of Tribal Bellydance are accredited to Jamila Salimpour of the San Fransisco Bay area. 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 moulids (religious 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.
Wahda Khabira – 8/4 rhythm, also known as Chiftitelli (see Chiftitelli). Also spelled Wahda Kabira, Wahda Kebira.
Wahda w Noss – Arabic meaning “one and a half”. It is also another name for the 4/4 rhythm known as Maqsoum (see Maqsoum)
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) – a custom that involves an individual (usually female) possessed by a spirit. The zaar ritual releases the individual of the spirit, or protects them from the spirit, 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. 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.
Drum Pattern: Dumm ta ka tak tak dumm tak tak
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