Non-Arabic Bellydance Music

Zoe, Fifi, and more
The Goblet Drum
The Goblet Drum
The goblet drum (also chalice drum, tarabuka, darbuka, debuka, doumbek, dumbec, dumbeg, dumbelek, toumperleki, or table, Arabic: دربوكة‎‎ / ALA-LC: darbūkah) is a single head membranophone with a goblet shaped body used mostly in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and Eastern Europe. The African djembe-wassolou is also a goblet membranophone.[3] This article focuses on the Eastern and North-African goblet drum. | Goblet Drum, Halice Drum, Tarabuka, Darbuka, Debuka, Doumbek, Dumbec, Dumbeg, Dumbelek, Toumperleki, Tabla, Music, Percussion,

Can or should I dance to other styles of music?

When it comes to choosing music for belly dancing, either for performances, classes, or just for practice, the big question always arises – can or should I dance to music other than Middle Eastern or Oriental music? The answer is yes, and no, it depends on different factors that we’ll discuss here. There is a lot of sensitivity when it comes to representing traditional dance and music from other countries, but the infinite possibilities of creativity and fusion speak out loud as well, and make part of the art evolution.

I once heard from a cymbals instructor at a workshop that we can play cymbals to any music, so there you go! Let the fun begin!

At the beginning…

When you first start learning this ancient art, I believe it is important to learn it the traditional way. Meaning, learning about the different styles that are contained under the umbrella of the general title ‘Belly Dance’, learning the right moves to the right dances, learning the right costumes to the right styles, and learning the different rhythms and melodies that are original from the Orient.

Our art has graciously received the general name of ‘Belly Dance’ long time ago by French lucky observers that had their focus on the belly moves of the dancers they were watching. Since then, most Middle Eastern and Oriental dance performances have been generally called ‘Belly Dance’, and that is a misconception that we only understand when we dive into learning this art. I am mentioning this because it is important to know that this title is generic, and that we need to deepen our understanding of these cultures before choosing to create new elements to fuse to this art.

Therefore, I believe that when you start your first lessons, you should start by learning your moves through using original Middle Eastern or Oriental music, and using the right songs and rhythms with each style of moves. I am not trying being radical, but I think that to understand the original steps of an art is fundamental to being able to be creative after, and it will make it easier for you to be creative as well.

The original Oriental and Middle Eastern rhythms are very different from what our ears are used to if we grew up on the Western world. The tempo, compass and pauses can be very different and complex, therefore it is important to get our ears and mind used to them, and the only way to do that is listening to that type of music, exposing ourselves to Oriental music in general. Doing that will also help you to understand if you REALLY love the art and want to dive deep into it, because if you don’t like that kind of music, it is better that you rethink your interest for Belly Dancing.

After mastering your dance skills…

There is a special moment in your belly dance path that out of a sudden you realize that you have mastered many skills and that you are ready for the next challenge. That is the moment when I think that the use of other types of music other than ME or Oriental can step in. I don’t think there is a standard time for this to happen, everyone has a different time length to learn and to master belly dancing, and that is up to you to realize that. Some artists learn very quickly, to the point that it almost seems that they have reincarnated from a ME or Oriental culture, because they are so natural. For other people it takes longer to deprogram their Western rhythms and moves and to get it flowing.

Anyway, once you are ready, start experimenting! Let your creativity flow! Listen to the beats of non-Middle Eastern and non-Oriental music and start making a connection with the moves you want to dance to.

Let’s take as an example that you love Rock & Roll and you want to perform a fusion piece to a Led Zeppelin classic like ‘Stair way to heaven’, or you love Latin music, and you want to perform to a salsa or samba tune. What next? Well, suggest that you pick a song and start listening to that song many times (that’s why it needs to be a song you love!) until you know every single beat of the song.

After you know your chosen song very well, experiment your moves and accents to that song. It is like finding the right pieces of a puzzle, the pieces must fit in perfectly, otherwise it looks obviously out of place.

Fusion… moves x songs…

There are in my opinion three main ways how fusion pieces are being created:
  • Performing to a non-ME/Oriental song
  • Performing to a song that is a non-ME/Oriental - ME/Oriental MIX
  • Performing to a ME/Oriental song followed by a non-ME/Oriental song, or vice-verse

Each case is different, because dancing to a non-ME/Oriental song will need to be a total adaptation of the moves to the chosen song, dancing to a mix will require to adapt moves to the different parts that are either non-ME/Oriental or the ones that are, and dancing to half and half song will require to adapt to each of the different rhythms.

You can see that it can be a little more complex than we think, because if not well thought, the new piece might not flow very well.

Samba and Hawaiian rhythms for Belly Dance fusions…

Here is a fusion that has been getting very popular the last few years. I have watched very nice performances that fuse belly dance moves with samba moves, or that use samba rhythms to belly dance.

Samba beats are in a certain way similar to some ME rhythms, that’s because samba is known to be a Brazilian rhythm, it has its roots in Africa. That makes it a very interesting fusion, and very fast and upbeat, great for drum solos mixes.

In this particular fusion, I think it is better to either adapt some samba moves into ME music, or adapt some belly dance moves to a samba rhythm. The half and half would work too, but I don’t think it flows as good as if you just mix the moves to the one rhythm, either ME or Samba.

That’s another fusion that is easy to adapt, either if you choose fast drumming Hawaiian beats to belly dance, or the soft Hawaiian melodies to perform a veil dance or baladi moves.

Pop and Rock songs for Belly Dance fusions…

Many dancers in North America love to perform to more modern and new pop songs like for example songs from Lady Gaga, Madonna, and many other pop stars. I can even include Shakira songs in this category, because most of her songs are pop rock.

These styles of music can be a little trickier to adapt to Belly Dance because most of these rhythms are very different and in a way, and adaptation can be challenging, it will definitely create a big diversion from the traditional forms of belly dancing.

I have organized different belly dance shows, and many of them had these kind of fusion pieces. That’s because I proposed a ‘theme’ for the show. One of them was a ‘psychedelic’ belly dance show, and dancers had to create pieces to psychedelic music from the 60’s. For that show, I performed to a Rolling Stones song called ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, and I did mostly soft belly dance moves like snake arms and hip rolls, taking advantage of every accent, that song was followed by another 60’s rock song to which I mixed rock moves with Belly Dance moves. I think that if you search Yonisha (Go with the flow) on YouTube you can still find the video for that fusion piece.

Anyway, taking this into consideration, always remember to know the song very well, and to smooth all the transitions of the fusion pieces, either the rhythms or the moves.

Techno and Electronic music for Belly Dance fusions…

A lot Oriental and Middle Eastern flavored techno and electronic music has been created and they are great for modern Belly Dance fusion performances. Many of these songs are very powerful and impressive, and resemble pharaonic times. Not that they are pharaonic, but for me they recall a pharaonic state of art, giving a big dimension to the performance, and taking the audiences to feel the ecstasy of the performer on stage.

Examples of artists that have created this kind of music are Dilentir, Claude Challe, Shiva in Exhile, Solace, Beats Antique, and many more. The Bellydance Superstars use this style of music a lot, and create amazing and very impressive theatrical fusion pieces.

Techno and electronic songs are also very commonly used for American Tribal and Tribal Fusion performances. They are great for Tribal performances, helps the improvisational flow of the movements. And because of its repetitive and hypnotic rhythms that can be anticipated by the dancers, it works very well for these impromptu collective pieces.

Flamenco Bellydance
Flamenco Bellydance

Sonia Ochoa demonstrating a flamenco-Bellydance fusion in China. Flamenco is an artform native to the Spanish regions of Andalusia, Extremadura and Murcia. It includes cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance), jaleo (vocalizations), palmas (handclapping) and pitos (finger snapping). | Photo: Aaron Stipkovich | Link | Sonia Ochoa, Samba, Flamenco, Tango, Fire, Bellydance, Belly, Dance, Middle Eastern, Arabia, Arabic,

Other styles of music commonly used by Belly Dancers…

I will not extend much into these styles of music, but I would like to mention other categories of music that have influenced dancers to create beautiful pieces:

  • Flamenco and Gypsy – used a lot on fusion pieces, but also on traditional dances, its big influence is very evident on the new Tribal Belly Dance movement
  • Reggaeton – a new Latin mix style of music that can be fused with Belly Dance to create very energetic performances
  • Bollywood – originated from what many dancers believe to have been the birth place of ancient belly dance forms, India, has influenced many dancers to create beautiful fusions
  • African – I haven’t seen much of this kind of music being used for Belly Dance fusions, but I am sure someone has already done that! At the end, nothing is new, everything is recreated and recycled!
  • Gothic and Metal – not too many years ago this kind of music started to get popularized by Tribal fusion belly dancers, and created a new trend of its own, called Gothic belly dance. Gothic in particular is great for creating pieces full of mystery and for very slow and robotic moves. Metal is more aggressive, and can unveil a very dark side to the dance.

Last considerations…

Depending on your personality and dance skills, you might choose to take that route and explore the amazing possibilities of music styles around the world. But is always good to take some things into consideration, so that you don’t step into unknown territory and get hurt. Many dancers in our community around the world are very sensitive to the evolution of the art, and do not like fusion at all.

Also, not all audiences will understand the different fusions we dancers create, so it is important to specify the details in your introduction as much as possible. For example, if I perform a fusion of Samba-Belly for a non-ME/Oriental audience in North America and I introduce it as ‘belly dance’ only, they will not know that it is a fusion piece with Samba from Brazil, since they’re not familiar with either culture. And that’s when you step into the ‘sensitive territory’ of belly dance.

Another thing, since we are already immersed into a belly dance tower of babel in terms of nomenclature and definition of styles, make sure you always define what you’re doing, if you are performing a classic traditional piece, name it the way it is – Saiidi, Baladi, Egyptian cabaret, etc. – but if you are mixing any elements, either using music from a different culture, using a modern mix of oriental music with techno, or mixing modern props, make sure to name it a fusion of ‘whatever the mix is’, that will save you from a lot of trouble, hear my words!

Remember, even though Isis was an ancient Egyptian Goddess with wings, the Isis Wings prop is a modern fusion adaptation of belly dancing, and it is commonly performed with music that is not traditional. The reason for the choices of music not being traditional in the biggest part of the performances, is because techno and electronic music flows better for dancing with Isis Wings. Anyway, it is definitely a fusion, so describe it as so!

Finally, I am not a traditionalist myself, and most of my performances are created with music from diverse sources. I love experimenting, but I also understand the sensitivity of keeping the cultural traditions intact. Both are amazing, modern fusion and traditional. I love it all! So, if you feel like it, I recommend trying this route, but after you have mastered and understood the basics of the traditional teachings.

I welcome your comments and feedback!
May the power of dance be with you!
Miriam Cunha (a.k.a. Yonisha)

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Updated Jan 14, 2018 6:23 AM EST | More details


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