Rising Phoenix Dancers Calendar

Styles of Dance: Egyptian and Turkish

(by Sherezzah Bint al-Waha)


I occasionally participate in discussions about the differences between different styles of belly dance, usually about Egyptian and Turkish. On more than one occasion, someone has said after some comment I made on the subject, "Gee, that's really good information. You should write an article on that." So that's what this is.

The thing is, although I've been actively studying the dance since 1981 and hope I have learned something in all that time, and I've traveled to both Turkey and Egypt to study the dance, I don't really consider myself an expert on this particular topic. I really need to give most of the credit for what I know to my teachers. There are some teachers that have done significant research in this field and are able to articulate their observations especially well. I've tried to list those teachers I've drawn on most directly in the references and acknowledgements.


Of course, reading text is not the best way to learn about different styles of dance. It's better to have a real live teacher so you can get a better demonstration of what is being said.

I have the following recommendations for teachers if you're interested in learning more about Egyptian or Turkish style. I'm sure there are many other teachers who are very capable of teaching the subjects also; these are only those that I have direct personal experience with and highly recommend.


Other teachers I've studied with who perform with a very definite Egyptian style include Jihan Jamal, Samay, and Sahra Saeeda. I don't list them above because I haven't experienced them explaining what makes Egyptian dance what it is. It doesn't mean they can't, only that I haven't experienced it.


Another performer I've seen who has a very Turkish style is Eva Cernik, but I haven't taken a class with her so I don't know how she teaches.

The Styles

So, let's get to the observations about Egyptian compared to Turkish style dance. Of course there are other styles, but I don't really feel I understand the distinctions among those as well, so I'll mention them only in passing.

Do keep in mind, of course, that what I describe here are generalizations. As with most things in life, there are no absolutes, there are exceptions to every rule, blah, blah, blah.

Form and Shape

Vashti had a wonderful summary of identifying dance styles by shape.

Sohair Zaki 1 Egyptian dance is frontal, centered, vertically symmetrical. Think of the basic posture you probably learned in your very first belly dance class. At left and right, some images of Sohair Zaki looking (as usual) classically Egyptian. Sohair Zaki 2

Belly Dancer tapestry Turkish dance is more diagonal. Think of that classic bellydancer image, one hip to the front, leaning back. At left, a tapestry with a classic bellydancer image, although the pose is probably not physically possible for a real person. At right, a Turkish dancer in a pose emphasizing diagonals. (Dalia has also commented on the use of the diagonal in Turkish dance.) Turkish dancer

Vashti also mentioned that there was a Moroccan style of belly dance, which had an S-curve aesthetic.

Musical Interpretation and Movement

Egyptian dance seems to be more about expressing the music. Shareen el Safy often explains about interpreting how the music makes you feel inside your own body. Zahra Zuhair points out that, while all dance styles will commonly interpret the rhythm of the music, Egyptian dancers are more likely to occasionally interpret the melody also.

Turkish dance, on the other hand, seems to be more about expressing your passion.

Egyptian dance tends to be very internal (a word Shareen el Safy uses a lot). That's not so much referring to the mood, but rather to where the movements happen. Zahra Zuhair explains how the movements start and end in your center.

Turkish dance, on the other hand, is "edgier." Although the normal meaning of the word is probably applicable (see my previous comment about passion), I'm actually again referring to where the movements happen. Whereas a typical Egyptian-styled movement would originate near your center, a similar Turkish-styled movement would originate closer to the outside edge of your body. For example, a Turkish hip lift would focus on the outside edge of your hip; an Egyptian hip lift would happen with your psoas muscle. If you think about it, this movement-on-the-edge fits in with the diagonal aesthetic.

Other Comments

Artemis quotes an observation by Ibrahim Farrah: "Egyptian dancers glisten; Turkish dancers sweat." You could relate this to my previous comment about passion.

Turkish music often uses odd-counted rhythms such as the 9/8 karsilama, whereas Egyptian music more commonly uses even-counted rhythms (2/4, 4/4). It occurred to me while writing this article that this also seems to correspond to their aesthetics: balanced and even for Egyptian, and a bit off-balance, shall we say, for Turkish.

There is also a Lebanese style that is often mentioned. I personally don't have as clear a feeling for it as I do Egyptian or Turkish; it seems to fit somewhere between the two. Lebanese style seems to have more of a "party" attitude.

There are also differences in costuming between the different styles, but I won't go into that here--that's a subject for a different article.

References and Acknowledgements

Dalia Carella. American performer (fusion styles). www.daliacarella.com

Elizabeth Artemis Mourat. American performer (Turkish style). www.serpentine.org

Raqia Hassan. Egyptian choreographer. www.raqiahassan.net

Shareen el Safy. American performer (Egyptian style). www.shareenelsafy.com

Vashti. English performer. (Cathy Selford.)

Zahra Zuhair. American performer (Egyptian style). www.zahrazuhair.com

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