Susan’s Glossary

So here’s the deal:  When I dared Ginger to take that bellydance class with me, it was like we’d both stepped into a whole different world.  Half of the terms we heard seemed like they were in a different language.  And guess what–it’s because they were.  To keep you all from going nuts while you read this book, I’ve made a list of some of the weirder words we had to learn.  By the way, since a lot of these words came from Arabic or Turkish or whatever, they can be spelled in English about fifteen thousand different ways.  Also, a lot of the time there is an Egyptian term AND a Turkish term for the same thing, just to keep it interesting.  When you’re trying to look up a word, this causes all kinds of  fun.  Good luck.

American Tribal Style (or just ATS):  This is actually a trademarked style of belly dance introduced By Carolina Nericcio, the founder of Fat Chance Belly Dance in San Francisco.  It’s designed for a group of dancers, all of whom are trained to recognize certain cues that introduce specific steps.  After that it’s all improvised.  One dancer takes the lead for a while and does the moves she thinks go with the music, then she gives way to another dancer, and they rotate.  It’s pretty freakin’ cool!  A whole troupe will be moving in unison, and you’d swear they’ve got every beat choreographed, but they don’t.  They just have really good communication.  The costumes are a lot more earthy than the sparkly-shiny outfits cabaret (see below) dancers wear.  They wear a lot of real silver coins and decorations, long full skirts, heavy pantaloons and, sometimes, turbans.  A lot of them have tattoos.  They always remind me of pictures of Berber tribes, but it is a distinctly American take on the look and the dance.  Since the 1970’s, when it really caught on, ATS has inspired a bunch of spin-offs–these are often called tribal fusion.

Assaya:  “Ah-SAI-uh”  Cane or stick.  Raks assaya or raks al assaya refer to the cane dance.  (See raks, it’s coming up.)  It really hurts to whack your elbow when you’re trying to spin one of these puppies, believe me!

Awwadi/awadi:  “Ah-WAD-ee”  An improvised,  freestyle, and unmeasured solo that is performed by an instrumentalist in an Arabic band.  This is where jazz solos came from, I’m telling you!  You hear these a lot at the beginning of a belly dancer’s set.  The dancer often won’t enter the room until the soloist is done–it’s the musician’s time to shine and set the scene for the dance.

Bedlah: “BED-la” A place were you lah down and go to sleep.  Hah!  Just kidding.  Literally, bedlah  means ‘suit’ or ‘uniform’ in Arabic.  It usually refers to the matched bra and belt set that cabaret belly dancers wear, like it’s their uniform.  Lots of sequins, lots of beaded fringe and crystals, you get the idea.  Of course, nowadays a lot of costumes don’t use a detachable belt, and all the ornaments are sewn directly onto the skirt.  Sometimes bedlah refers to the whole costume shebang: bra, belt/belt skirt, body stocking,  headpiece, arm bands and other bits.  Incidentally, it isn’t technically a ‘traditional’ costume–it came from an early 20th century Western concept of what belly dancers were supposed to wear, and that idea came from early paintings and movies!  When nightclubs in Egypt started attracting Western visitors, they adopted the costume that Westerners thought was traditional to rake in more dough.  Pretty funny, when you think about it!

Beledi:   “BELL-uh-dee” or “BAL-uh-dee” Oh wow, this word has about a million meanings, but who’s got that kind of time?  Here’s the quick and dirty explanation.  Beledi (and this is one of those words that can be spelled about a million ways–baladi, beladi, beledy, bellyday–Ok, I made that last one up!)  is an Arabic word that  means “of the village/country/region.”  Sometimes it’s used nostalgically, referring to the old home town, and sometimes it’s like our word “hick” and is the term Egyptian city dwellers use when they’re looking down their noses at Egyptian country dwellers.  Here are the ways it relates to belly dance:

1. A specific drum rhythm that goes “Dum Dum, tek Dum tek.”  That rhythm can also called masmoudi.)  Yeah, I know you don’t know what those terms mean yet, just hang onto your shorts and we’ll get there.

2. A type of costume associate with Egyptian folk dances.  It’s kind of a long, form-fitting dress with bell sleeves and a scarf tied around the hips.

3. An  Egyptian folkloric dance.

Cabaret:  This is the style of belly dance most westerners are familiar with.  It’s usually a solo performed in a sequined or crystal-covered costume with lots of shiny fringe-y bits that shake when the dancer does.  It’s often performed in nightclubs and, you guessed it, cabarets!  The Egyptian term for it is raks sharki.  More on that later.

Choli:  A form-fitting shirt that exposes the midriff.  It originated in India, and is worn with Indian traditional dress, but was also adopted by tribal dancers.  They often wear a choli under a heavy coin bra–a good idea, considering how often bellydance bras can go flying, I’m just saying…

Dum:  It’s pronounced “Doom,” like the video game.  It’s like a downbeat played on an Arabic or Turkish drum.  When the drummer hits the middle-ish part of the drum it gives this loud, deep sound that actually sounds like it says “doom.”  Dancers often emphasize a ‘dum’ with a heavy, downward motion with the hips or chest.   So you know what you call it when an Arabic drummer’s walking toward you?  Impending dum.   Haaa, ha hah hah!

Dumbek/dumbec/doumbec, etc.:  “DOOM-bek” A goblet-shaped drum used in Arabic music.  In Turkey it is known as the dumbek or  darbuka and, in Egypt, the tabla.  Because of course just having one word for stuff makes it too easy.

Habibi:  If you listen to Arabic music you’re going to hear this word a lot.  It means “loved one” or “beloved,” and is repeated the same way “baby” is in Western songs.

Hafla:  A party–but even better, a dance party!  This is where people get together to dance, eat, listen to music, and generally have fun.  Sometimes there’s a sign-up for people who want to try out their solos, but there’s usually open dance, too.

Ney: “Nay” Middle Eastern flute.

Oud/Ud:  “OOd”  This is a very cool Middle Eastern instrument that was the ancestor of the European lute and the modern-day guitar.  It has a bent neck and a big round guitar-ish body.

Raks/Raqs: “Rocks” Basically this word means ‘dance.’  You put Raks in front of another word, and it says what kind of dance it is.  So, Raks Beledi means a traditional, folkloric dance, Raks al-assaya (we often shorten it to Raks assaya) means stick or cane dance, Raks Tahtib means the tahtib dance, and so on.  Rakkasah means a female dancer, Rakkas means a male dancer.  You get the idea.

Raks Sharqi:  “Rocks Sharky” Bellydancing on top of a shark!  No really, it means the “dance of the east” in Arabic, and it usually refers to cabaret-style belly dance.  Again, lots of sequins and sparkles, and very intricate movements, usually improvised by a solo female dancer.  It’s also called “oriental” dance.

Saidi: “Sah-EE-dee” This refers to the region of upper Egypt called the Said, which is actually in the south, but it’s called upper Egypt because the Nile flows north and the region is upstream of the Nile delta.  I know, right?  That’s geography for you!  The people were mostly farmers, and a lot of the dances and music from here reflect an agricultural life.  The saidi rhythm is a specific rhythm that goes Dum-Tek, Dum Dum Tek.  Music with this rhythm is often used for cane or stick dances.

Shamadan:  “SHA-ma-dan” A big candelabra that’s used in traditional Arabic and Egyptian wedding dances, and–get this–the dancer wears it on her head!  Usually with real, on-fire candles!  The dancer leads a winding procession, called a Zeffa, of the bride and groom, followed by the wedding guests.  It symbolizes the lighting of the way to the couple’s new home, since in early times the dancer would be leading the bridal procession without the benefit of streetlights! The procession, called a zeffa (or zaffa)  includes musicians and other types of performers as well.  The dance with the Shamadan itself is called, of course, Raks al Shamadan, and showcases how many types of movements the dancer can do without dropping the candelabra or setting the joint on fire!

Souk/Souq/Suk:  “Sook” Marketplace.  Shopping.  ‘Nuff said!

Tahtib:  “TAH-teeb”  This is an Egyptian martial art where men whack each other with sticks.  There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, but that’s it in a nutshell.  Men have sticks, therefore men must whack each other with sticks–that’s the logical progression in the male mind.  It’s pretty acrobatic, and it’s been turned into a folk dance.  It also became the ladies’ cane dance, which is a flirty way for women imitate the menfolk.  Like, “Yeah, I’ve got a stick, too, tee hee!”

Tek: A sharper sound on the drum, it is used as an upbeat in rhythms.  Great place for a chest or tummy pop!

Tribal:  A general term that refers to pretty much any style inspired by the original ATS.

Zaghareet:  A long, shrill, ululating (try saying that five times fast!) cry used to cheer on dancers and musicians.  It basically means, “Yay!” To do it, say “lalalalalalalala” while you zing your voice up as high as it will go.  Some people can actually vibrate their uvulas–that thing in the back of your throat–to do this, but most of us do it the easy way.  If you want to see something really funny, try doing it behind a sleeping cat!

Zar/Zaar:  A trance dance or ritual, it is used throughout the Middle East to heal or throw out evil spirits.  It also refers to a specific rhythm.

Zeffa/Zaffa/Zeffah:  Weddings are a big deal everywhere, and the Middle East is no exception!  A Zeffa is a wedding procession, especially in Egypt but with variations throughout the Middle East.  Dancers, musicians and other entertainers lead the procession.  Dancers may carry candles, or elaborate candelabras may be balanced on dancers’ heads (this became popular early in the 20th century.) Huge processions once lit the way through the streets to the bride’s new home, but nowadays it can be just one dancer leading the couple and guests around the reception room to symbolize the old tradition.  A dancer at a wedding is considered to be good luck.  She introduces the newly-wed pair to the guests at the reception, encourages them to dance, and helps get the party started!

Zills:  Also known (in Turkey) as Zagat, these are finger cymbals.  A dancer uses four, one pair for each hand.  They attach to the thumb and middle finger by elastic loops.  If you think dancing is hard, try it while you keep on the beat with your cymbals!

Want to know more about belly dance?  Susan doesn’t have time to tell you everything! Go to

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