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by Rachel Devitt

November 21, 2013

Bellydance 101

by Rachel Devitt  |  November 21, 2013

"Bellydance" is, of course, not really a genre of music. Instead, it's an Americanized version of a vague, made-up, fairly reductive French umbrella term (danse du ventre) that lumped many distinct traditions of percussive, hip-shimmying dances found in the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and other cultures. Dance traditions like these developed throughout the region and were often grouped locally into one of two Arabic-language categories: raqs baladi, a community (though sometimes gender-segregated) folk dance; and raqs sharqi, the solo, improvised, polished performance cousin of raqs baladi. While the specifics of these traditions vary regionally and historically, similarities include movements that incorporate body isolation (intricate, subtly acrobatic movements of the hips, abdominals, rib cage, etc.) that is engaged in an intimate dialogue/mirroring with the heavily rhythmic music accompanying it.

Problematic terminology and complex histories notwithstanding, bellydance is here to stay as a term -- one that has even been adopted by dancers and musicians as a synonym for dances that are often categorized under the term raqs sharqi in the Middle East. So what does this playlist introduce? A wide range of musics associated with those percussive, body-isolating, hip-shimmying dances so many of us call "bellydance." We start in Egypt, where dance traditions like ghawazi are considered to be the touchstone for modern bellydance. We also cover both traditional and popular "bellydance" music from Turkey (where bellydance traditions are often closely associated with Romani communities), Lebanon and Morocco, along with newer Western traditions of "tribal" and/or electronic bellydance music from the likes of Turbo Tabla and Beats Antique. (We are keeping to the Middle Eastern-based traditions, however, so no classic burlesque or Shakira. This time, anyway!)

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