The Greats



Bellydance Term Glossary

I have organized these terms such that the reader will find the same types definitions categorized together (i.e. dances will be listed as Dance and the name of the dance, Instruments and the name of the instruments). You'll notice that many dances and rhythms have the same names, as the dance is based on the rhythm. I have also included pictures for the instruments (click on image for large image) so you'll know what you're looking at when you're at a show with musicians.

(Please be aware that many of these terms have various spellings)

A    B    C    D    E    F    G    H    I    J    K    L    M    N    O    PQ    R    S    T    U    V    W    XY    Z



(EYE - wa)

Arabic for “yes”. Often used as an exclamation when you “get” something, i.e. a teacher is doing a move and you understand what she’s doing, Aie-wa! or a dancer does a move really well, Aie-wa!

Al Jeel

Arabic “pop” music, evocative of the youth culture of Egypt.

"And" One of the hardest musical themes to describe. It's sort of a half note. For example an basic 4/4 rhythm would be:   1 - 2 - 3 - 4. With the half notes it would be:  1 - and - 2 -  and - 3 -  and - 4. If you were doing a ¾  shimmy you would step on the whole count (1-2-3-4) and your opposite hip would be going up and down on the "and".

Arabic “C”

Holding your hands with fingers spread and the thumb and middle fingers almost touching, so that it looks like a C.


(a - WA - lim)

Initially (pre-1850) meant learned women. Wrote poetry, composed & played music, improvised, sang. They also danced - for women only. Later meant only a dancer/singer such was found in Muhammad 'Ali Street before 1940.
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Back Bend

Bend knees slightly and lean backwards leading with the head. Make sure knees are bent. This movement should be controlled by the thighs, not the back or you may hurt your back. This position should only be done either with your side facing audience or with your back to the audience.


(BAL - la - dee)

Literally means "Country". Also beledi, balady. See also Dance and Rhythm.

Basic Egyptian

Step onto a flat foot, bring the other foot to land in front with the ball of the foot in contact with the floor (demi pointe), in the hip drop position. Then step forward on the same foot and touch with the first one. Make sure that after you touch you pick the foot up and step forward with it rather than just dropping the heel down. Keep your head at the same level; do not bounce up and down.

       step       touch    step       touch

          R             L              L              R

This step may be done as above, but a hip drop is usually added while you’re in the hip drop position.


(BED - la)

The cabaret-style beaded bra, belt and skirt costume that bellydancers are most commonly known to wear for a performance. In Egypt, law also requires a body stocking.

Belly Rolls

The isolation of the abdominal muscles and diaphragm. To do the upward Belly Roll you would contract your diaphragm, then your lower abs, then release your diaphragm, then your lower abs, so that it looks like a wave. To do the downward Belly Roll you would contract your lower abs, then your diaphragm, then release your lower abs, then your diaphragm. You must learn to separate your diaphragm from your abs to do these.

Bint girl; daughter
Bint il-beled "Daughter of the country" - stereotyped as streetwise but modest, honorable and chaste.

Body Contractions: Locks/Pops

 Locks and pops are generally used on the torso. A lock is when you do a hard contraction. In order to do the contraction, the body part must be slightly extended and is then brought sharply in. There are generally 3 points on the front of the body that can be centers of contraction: 1. the bottom of the breastbone, 2. just above the navel at the waist, and 3. just above the pubic bone (hardest one to feel). Pops are basically the opposite movement, however in order to do the pop, the body part must be slightly contracted. While the contraction of the lock may be held, when you do a pop you “pop” out and bring it back quickly.

Body Figure 8

A movement, which adds the third dimension (front-back by twisting) to the undulation. May be considered a twisting camel. The chest leads in a figure 8 towards one side with the hips following a bit behind, resulting in a pivot-change-release through the feet. Arms are usually out or up. Doing it in the lower body only results in the Egyptian hip twist-release.

Body Wave

Also called a reverse undulation. Start in a slight sit position, then push your hips up through the torso sending a ripple through the spine, rising up and ending in a chest lift. Your head should be the last thing that moves. May be done smaller by initiating higher up in the torso.


Rising up partway on balls of feet to drop percussively onto heels or dropping and straightening through the knees for a similar effect. Often used in combination with a large hip circle for a percussive, accented effect.

Box Step

This is the Jazz box step (as opposed the ballroom box step)

Right crosses in front of Left
         Left steps back
         Right moves to the Right of Left
         Step Left beside the Right
         Step in place on the Right

May also be started with the left foot in the opposite direction. May be done flat or Demi Pointe.

Box Step Pivoting

The Jazz box step done while turning in a circle. If starting with the right foot you would circle to the right and vice versa.

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Camel Walk

Undulation in combination with the step-together-step or shuffle (flat-ball-flat) stepping pattern. Variations include the alternating step (R-L-R, change, L-R-L, change); the down-up-up (flat-ball-ball-ball).

Chest Circle: Horizontal

Rib cage isolation in a circle using the chest slide (side-side and front-back) positions. The chest circle goes smoothly through all four positions, right side, back, left side and forward. This move is done with the chest parallel to the floor.

Chest Circle: Vertical

Rib cage isolation in a circle using the chest slide (side-side) and chest lift positions. The chest circle goes smoothly through all four positions, right side, sink chest down, left side and lift chest up. This move is done with the chest vertically like the face of a clock.

Chest Drop

A percussive isolation of the chest (rib cage) by preparing with a chest lift and then dropping the chest back to a neutral position sharply and on the beat of the music. (Neutral meaning a normal, unslouched posture.) Don't bring the drop into a caved in posture, that’s a contraction.

Chest Figure 8

A figure 8 pattern made by the rib cage. The chest moves front to back through center at the cross of the 8. This can be done horizontally (2-D using horizontal plane) but looks more interesting done 3-dimensionally wherein as the ribs move back-side-front they go into a lift like a banking turn of a roller coaster.              

Chest Lift

Chest (rib cage) isolation up and forward by lifting the chest as if you took a deep breath. The lower body does not move.

Chest Slide

Horizontal isolation of the rib cage separate from the head and lower body, which stay in line with each other. May be side to side or front to back. Don't let it pull the hips from side to side.


(CHO - lee)

An Indian bare-midriff, backless blouse made popular in bellydance by the Tribal movement.

Choo Choo Shimmy

A very fast scooting movement done on demi pointe, the feet alternately inching forward very fast. Usually done with a hip shimmy.

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Dance: Beledi

(BELL - uh - dee)

Translates as “country”. It’s also the name of a 4/4 rhythm. Also Baladi, Beledy, Balady. Also a Middle Eastern Rhythm (see Rhythm definitions)

Dance: Cabaret  
Dance: Debke


Folkloric circle and line dance traditionally from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Israel, known for its many step combinations with foot stamping accents.

Dance: Guedra

(GAY - dra)

A ritual dance ceremony performed by the Tuareg villagers of Morocco (Berbers), also known as the blue people.
Dance: Gypsy 9/8: Originally from Turkish/Macedonian styles.  Several musical instruments can accent this dance, including the tambourine, finger cymbals, and spoons. Other variations are Dunyavi, Rom, Turkish Rom,
Dance: Hagallah

(HA - gal - la)

A folkloric dance of celebration performed by the Bedouin in Western Egypt. Often performed during the date harvest, which is the wedding season in that area.  Hagallah is performed at weddings (leading the Zeffa and at engagement celebrations. 'Hagallah' refers to the dancer, the music and dance itself. The central element of the experience is  the dancer.  She may be fully or partially veiled and moves in front of the line of men, called kefafeen who stand, clapping and chanting in unison.  She does a steady, unwavering shimmy walk up and down in a line in front of them, taking very small steps.  She may have either a small stick or a handkerchief in her hands.  If it is a stick, it is just held, not twirled or manipulated. 

Dance: Kaliji

(ka - LEE - gee)

Saudi Women's Dance Comes from the Gulf Region such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain as well as other Emirat countries. It is traditionally performed by women tossing their hair and wearing a large, T-shaped dress known as a thobe. Also Kaleegy.

Dance: Melaya Leff

(me - LAY - uh - lef)

Playful Alexandrian dance style using a black shawl (Melaya) as a prop. the dancer usually is dressed in a short dress and wears high heels. The Melaya is wrapped around the body to show it off. The dancer makes a show of wrapping, unwrapping and re-wrapping the Melaya during the dance. The dancer may also be chewing and popping gum (the only time a dancer should have gum in her mouth!)

Dance: : Raks al Assaya

(ROKS - al - as - SI - ah)

Stick (Cane) Dance from Upper Egypt. The cane dance is a charming and fun folkloric dance. Egyptian cane dance can be traced back to Pharoanic times and was originally a men’s combat dance. The women’s version is playful and flirtatious.

Dance: Raks Sharqi

(ROKS - SHAR - kee)

Means "dance of the East", and refers to cabaret-style belly dance as it is performed in nightclubs

Dance: Saidi

(SY - ee - dee)

It’s an earthy style from Upper Egypt, often using a cane (raqs al assaya) as a prop. The costumes are more covered, such as a baladi dress.

Dance: Saudi

(SOW - dee)

Dance incorporates tossing the hair from one side of the face to the other (2 beats per side) and keeping the upper body and head loose and softly swaying in a forward-and-back motion. The feet are front foot flat, back foot ball and kind of shuffly. The traditional costume is a thobe,

Dance: Schikhatt

(shi - KAT)

A particular style of dance, which originated in Morocco. Originally, it was an erotic dance with exaggerated hip, stomach, and breast movements used to educate a bride during the pre-wedding festivities on how she will be expected to move in the marriage bed. More recently, the Schikhatt has become a social dance that women do with their families or female friends.

Dance: Tribal Style

A style originated in America sometime referred to as American Tribal. Usually performed as a troupe. Most recognized by the costume of turbans, cholis, lots of coins and metals and tassels.

Dance: Whirling Dervish This is a sacred ceremony dance where the dancer (or dervish) spins in a precise rhythm. The purpose of the ritual whirling is for the dervish to empty himself of all distracting thoughts, placing him in trance and by releasing his body he conquers dizziness.
Dance: Zaar

Spiritual "trance" dance. In some cases it can go on for many hours, until the dancers drop down exhausted.

Dance: Zeffa Wedding procession lead by a dancer, musicians and members of the procession carrying candles or lanterns. The dancer may also be wearing a shamadan.  Traditionally it occurred at night, winding its way through the streets of the neighborhood from the home of the bride's parents to her new home at the groom's house. In modern times, it’s just into the catering hall or reception ballroom.

Demi Pointe

Refers to how far the heel is raised off the floor. For Bellydance purposes it’s half-way between on your toes and flat footed.

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(fa - LA - hin)

Plural for Egyptian peasants or country folk. Singular is Fallah. See also Rhythms.


A really fast, small bounce through the knees that makes the whole body tremble (keep the feet flat and do it through the knees or you may get pains in your shins).

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(ga - WAH - zee)

Refers to the tribe of Gypsies that settled in Egypt.


Sideways traveling step in which one foot always steps to the side and the other foot alternates stepping across in front and across behind.

         Step right with the right foot.

         Cross the left foot in front of the right foot.

         Step right with right foot.

         Cross the left foot behind the right foot.

May also start with the left foot in the opposite direction. May be done flat or on demi pointe.

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(ha - BEE - bee)

Arabic for darling or beloved one. It is usually the masculine gender you hear in songs even though it is usually addressed to a woman.


(HOF - la)

A party that may have dancers taking turns performing for each other, and open-floor dancing for everyone or may be a full Bellydance festival, with vendors and a more formalized show.

Head Slide: Circle

Continuous horizontal side-front-side-“back” motion of the head. Don't turn or tilt and keep shoulders still.

Head Slide: Front - Back

Horizontal front-to-“back” motion of the head. You don’t really slide your head back, you just return to a neutral position. Sliding your head back is not a very attractive look. Don't turn or tilt and keep shoulders still.

Head Slide: Side - Side

Horizontal side-to-side motion of the head. Don't turn or tilt and keep shoulders still.

Hip Circle: 2-Dimensional

Circular isolation of the pelvis moving through the positions of forward-side-back-side but without any up and down tilting of the pelvis.

Hip Circle: Omi - 3-Dimensional

Circle the pelvis through the positions of (starting either right or left) one hip up, pelvic tilt forward, opposite hip up, pelvic tilt back. It’s a very tight and controlled movement.

Hip Circle: One Hip - 2-Dimensional

As in the hip drop, the heel of the accent hip is raised and the hip makes a circle by flexing and extending the knee. The movement is push hip back, lift hip up and then drop it down. May be reversed.

Hip Circle: One Hip - 3-Dimensional

Same as 3-dimensional hip circle except that one hip is emphasized by raising one heel and emphasizing that hip, which also makes the hips vertically asymmetrical. Very small and tight.

Hip Circles: Traveling (Sideways)

Hip circles that use the “step-together” step to move sideways. You step out on the front part of the circle and bring your feet together on the back part of the circle.

Hip Drop

A vertical motion accenting one hip. Most of the weight is in the supporting, bent leg with flat foot. The heel of the accent hip is raised and the foot is on demi pointe. You start with the hip up and drop it down. In the hip drop, the downward movement accents the downbeat of the music (think down, down, down…). Should be done on a diagonal to audience.

Hip Drop Shimmy

A very fast hip drop. The difference between this and the regular shimmy is that one foot is on demi pointe and only one hip is going. May be done facing or on a diagonal to audience.

Hip Drop-Release

Add on to the hip drop. Most of the weight is in the supporting, bent leg with flat foot. The heel of the accent hip is raised and the foot is on demi pointe. You start with the hip up and drop it down, but on every other down beat you release your foot as you’re coming down (a little kick like you were trying to kick away a cigarette but off the floor). The timing would be up, down, up, down-kick. Should be done on a diagonal to audience.

Hip Figure 8: Horizontal

The hips describe a figure 8 horizontal to the floor with each hip drawing one of the loops. Can be done in two directions: with the leading hip reaching forward or reaching back. An essential part of getting this figure is the rotation (twist) of the pelvis through the middle of the eight. Practice just the twisting part to get the feel of this. push one hip forward while pulling the other back, then switch

Hip Figure 8: One Leg

As in the hip drop, the heel of the accent hip is raised and the hip describes a figure 8 lying on its side by flexing and extending the knee and by allowing the pelvis to rotate forward and back. This figure works better if the direction followed goes down through the middle of the 8. This step can travel sideways by replacing the ball of the foot at each hip scoop up-to-the-front and up-to-the-back. The flat foot can shift at these points. 

Hip Figure 8: Vertical Up

Also called the called the reverse Maya.  Add the vertical dimension by lifting the heel off as the hip comes around from back to front (don't let the other leg straighten or the figure 8 will flatten out again). There is no front to back movement here. Hips should move as though in between two panes of glass.

Hip Fling

A hip drop that “flings” front and back. Lift hip, drop back, lift hip drop front. Should be done on a diagonal to audience.

Hip Lift

A vertical motion accenting one hip. Most of the weight is in the supporting, bent leg with flat foot. The heel of the accent hip is raised and the foot is on demi pointe. You start with the hip down and lift it up. In the hip lift, the upward movement accents the downbeat of the music (think up, up, up…). Should be done on a diagonal to audience.

Hip Shimmy - Double: Half, Full-Time

Two hip accents per weight change or step (this is the leg doing the work!) This will go R-L-R, L-R-L so don't skimp on the second hip accent, keep all the movements even or you'll lose the full articulation of the movement. The second accent might be bigger and move you slightly more sideways, but make sure it is still predominantly a vertical motion, not a hip bump. Done at half time the hips move on counts 1-2-3 and hold on 4. Done at full time the motion becomes a shake-shake through the leg on each step.

Hip Shimmy - Single, Basic

An alternating up and down motion of the hips caused by a pumping action of the legs. Always done with bent knees. Keep yourself an inch shorter than your actual height by bending the knees. Keep the knees moving straight ahead as they work--don't let them fall into your center line and don't push them out to the sides. The knees do not straighten completely (careful if yours hyperextend or you will cause twisting and tilting in the pelvis. Do not lock you knees or it will turn into a freeze. Keep the shoulders level and upper body still, but without tension. The single shimmy is continuous, R-L-R-L. The regular single shimmy looks different from the upside-down shimmy only when traveling. When walking with the single shimmy, each step causes the same hip to move upward in the same accent motion as in the stationary shimmies. Don't let it twist or sway.

Hip Shimmy - Upside-Down, Double

Just like it sounds. It is a full-speed double shimmy with the hip dropping twice on each weight change. See videos of Sohair Zaki for a really good example of this step--it is her favorite shimmy walk.                 

Hip Shimmy: Egyptian

This is the shimmy most Egyptian dancers do these days. An alternating back and forth motion of the legs. This movement is done basically with straight legs; however you still should not hyperextend your legs back or you may hurt yourself. Let the movement transfer through the whole body. You will feel it bouncing through you all the way up your body.

Hip Slide

Move the pelvis smoothly from side to side in a horizontal motion. The hips stay parallel to the front and do no not twist. Don't allow one hip to lift higher than the other as in a shimmy. The pelvis moves away from the center axis while the head and feet stay on the axis.

Hip Twist

Horizontal twisting of the pelvis so that first one hip bone then the other moves forward in a circular path Just like the "agitator" in a top loading washing machine. Can be done stationary or traveling.

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Instruments: Argul

(R  - gul)

A short melody pipe with finger holes, and an adjacent longer drone pipe. The end two pieces of the drone pipe can be detached to shorten the drone pipe and alter the pitch of the drone. Each pipe has a free blowing reed. Both are inserted completely into the mouth for playing.

Instruments: Duduk or Mey

(DU  - dek)

The Duduk or Mey is identical in Turkey and Armenia. Thumbhole, 7 fingerholes, a gigantic double reed, but an astonishingly mellow tone. The instrument is about 14" long, and the reed adds another 4-1/2". Sounds like an ethereal clarinet.

Instruments: Doumbek

(DUM  - bek)

The hourglass-shaped or goblet-shaped drum of the Middle East. The Doumbek  is a Middle Eastern Hand drum, originally played in Egypt, Turkey and Armenia. Also know as a Darabuka (Turkish).

Instruments: Kanun

(KA - noon)

A musical instrument, common in Turkey and Arabic countries, which somewhat resembles an autoharp. Its wooden frame is designed to lie flat on a surface such as a table or the performer's lap, and the fingers, clad in picks, pluck the strings across it  to produce the melody. In the twentieth century, the Turks improved the design by adding tuning keys to alter the pitch of individual strings by eighth or quarter tones, thus facilitating transposition.

Instruments: Mijwiz

Arabic for "dual", A double-pipe, single-reed instrument (sometimes referred to as a "double-clarinet") popular in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. It is predominantly used to accompany the dabkah, or line dance, at weddings and other festive celebrations. The mijwiz consists of two identical cylindrical cane pipes bound together with a tar or beeswax coated string. Each pipe is fitted with a single vibrating reed and produce a disctinct nasal sound. The instrument is played continuously (without stopping) through a technique known as "circular breathing", with the entire mouthpiece inside the mouth.

Instruments: Mizmar

This instrument is a member of the clarinet family comprising a single or double pipe. The pipe (s) is made of wood, reed, ivory or bone and bound together with strings, wax, metal or glue with 4 to 7 stops per pipe.

Instruments: Ney

Ney is Persian for "reed" . It is the material from which the Ney,  a wind instrument from Iran, is made. It is an end-blown flute with seven finger holes. Six in the front and one in the back. The Ney is made of a nine-segment section of reed.  (sometimes spelled as nay, or nai). It consists of a hollow cylinder with finger-holes. Sometimes a brass or plastic mouthpiece is placed at the top to protect the wood from damage, It used in Turkish and Arabic folk music that resembles a flute both in appearance and sound.

Instruments: Oud

The oud is the Middle Eastern lute from which all European lutes evolved. Commonly used in Arabic, Turkish, and Armenian music, it has 11 strings and no frets. Today the oud is very popular all the way from Morocco to Istanbul. Turkish instruments (known for their rich bright sound) are the most prized of all ouds.

Instruments: Rebaba

An Egyptian string fiddle, typically used in music of the Said (Upper Egypt). It may have one or two strings.

Instruments: Riqq

Similar to the tambourine and a main component of the traditional Turkish, Persian and Oriental percussion. The instrument consists of a beech frame, as well as 20 brass bells, and is coated with a thin and hard goat skin. Also Reque.

Instruments: Saz

Turkish Long Neck Lute. The Saz is the grandfather of the Greek Bouzouki. It originated in Central Asia where Turks lived before their westward migration. Like the guitar in Spain and the bouzouki in Greece, the Saz is the most popular stringed instrument in Turkey. Although similar in shape to the Greek Bouzouki, the construction, size and sound of the Saz is different. You need a baglama saz to be able to play the microtones (Perde) of Arabic music. These instruments have traditional tied frets that are movable, and 3 courses of strings.

Instruments: Tabla

 A pair of drums.  It consists of a small right hand drum called dayan and a larger metal one called bayan. The dayan (right hand drum) is almost always made of wood.  The diameter at the membrane may run from just under five inches to over six inches.  The bayan (left hand drum) may be made of iron, aluminum, copper, steel, or clay; yet brass with a nickel or chrome plate is the most common material.  Undoubtedly the most striking characteristic of the tabla is the large black spot on each of the playing surfaces.  These black spots are a mixture of gum, soot, and iron filings.  Their function is to create the bell-like timbre that is characteristic of the instrument.

Instruments: Zills

Turkish name for finger cymbals.  An early Asian percussion instrument often used by female dancers. They are small non-pitched cymbals that are commonly attached to the thumb and middle finger of one or both hands and struck together in a specific rhythmic pattern. The Arabic name for finger cymbals is Zagat or Sagat.

Instruments: Zurna

(ZER  - na)

Arabian double reed folk oboe found in Turkey, south-east Europe and parts of Asia. A very loud instrument with one and a half octaves and played with a continuous blowing technique.  May be compared to a primitive oboe from the Middle East.

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Jewel Step: Egyptian Hip Twist

I’m looking for a way to explain this step. If anyone has any suggestions please email me!

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(ka - LEE - gee)

In Arabic, this word means "gulf", and belly dancers use it to refer to the style of music and dance from the Persian Gulf/Arabian peninsula area--Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Also Khaleegy.

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La Arabic for No

Lame Duck

So called because it resembles limping. Traveling sideways, the leading foot (or trailing) is on demi pointe and the other foot is flat making the hips unlevel. Looks like you’re stepping over something as you step sideways. Used for traveling hip drops or hip lifts or traveling hip sway.

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(MA - greb)

Used to describe Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco. Sometimes used to just describe Morocco.

(MA - com)

The way tones are arranged in Arabic music. Similar to a western scale but using quartertones and having associated emotional quality. There are about 90 different modes.

(MAR - ha - ban)

Means Welcome or Hello.


(MY - a)

An infinity sign movement of the hips in the vertical plane. The direction goes hip up the middle, out to the side and down. You can do this on one side or alternate hips. Hips should move as though in between two panes of glass. Really bend the knee of the hip you are pulling down while the other leg extends. You should be able to do it flat-footed.


(me - LAY - uh )

Large black woolen wrap worn by bint il-beled in old Cairo. Can  be pulled tight to display figure and wrapped and unwrapped. Stage versions are synthetic with sequins and can also be manipulated. It is not used  like a veil,
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Na'am Arabic for Yes
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Pelvic Tilt: Back And Forth

The forward-backward motion of the pelvis. The legs should be bent to allow range of motion in the hip sockets. As the pelvis is tucked (pubis and coccyx come forward), the hip sockets extend (open), as the pelvis is tilted (coccyx reaches back, hip bones drop forward), the hip sockets flex (the front of the hip bone comes closer to the thigh).

Pelvic Tilt: Drop

Get in the pelvic tuck position and then drop your pelvis down by relaxing your muscles. Again, think down, down, down.

Pelvic Tilt: Lift

Get in start of the pelvic tuck position and then crunch your pelvis up. Again, think lift, lift, lift.

Pelvic Tilt: Tuck

Stand with knees slightly bent and crunch pelvis up towards torso. You crunch the pelvis by squeezing up and pulling in your lower abs. Make sure the pelvis goes up, not front.

Piston Hips

A hip drop that usually travels sideways. Usually (and more easily) done on your toes, but may be done flat footed. May emphasize one hip (the leading hip) or may alternate hips evenly).

Pivot (See Also Pivot Turn)

Turning from front to back on yourself by leaving the ball of the pivoting foot in one place while you step with the other foot.

         Right pivot:

         Feet start together

         Step forward with right foot, leaving left foot down and turn facing back

         Step forward again with right foot, leaving left foot down and turn facing


Left pivot starts with the left foot.

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Arabic word for dance or dancing. Also Raqs.


About Rhythms: Middle Eastern rhythms are usually defined by Doms and Teks (or Taks). A Dom is the heavy sounding bass beat. A Tek is the treble beat and sounds like a “pop”. These beats can be played as is or they may have an “and” (see glossary) in them. Usually it’s the Teks that have an “and” and I have used Teky described these beats. Also important are Rests. Rests are places in the music  where nothing is played. (For example a simple 4/4 rhythm would be 1-2-3-4  1-2-3-4 with a Rest it could be 1-2-3-R  1-2-3-R or 1-R-3-4  1-R-3-4 for example. To get the feeling say the numbers aloud and where there is an R, don’t say anything.). A good place to hear the actual rhythms is Jas's-- Middle Eastern Rhythms site.

Rhythm: Beledi (Sagir)

(BELL - uh - dee)

Beledi is a commonly requested dance rhythm - just about everyone knows. "Beledi" can mean different rhythms depending on where you are. "Beledi" is the dance of the country folks. This version, more correctly called Masmoudi Saghir ("Small" Masmoudi) is perhaps the most common "Beledi" rhythm. If you look closely you will see that it is really a Masmoudi "squeezed" into 4/4 time.

Basic rhythm: Dom - Dom - Tek -  R- Dom - Tek

Variation: Dom - Dom - Tek - Tek -  Dom - Tek - Tek

Variation: Dom - Dom - Teky - Tek -  Dom - Teky - Tek

Rhythm: Chiftetelli

(shif - ta - TELL - ee)

Refers to a certain Turkish drum rhythm which is in 8/4 time, which may be played--as a fast, spirited, upbeat song or as a slow, hypnotic, sensuous melody. When bellydancers refer to Chiftetelli, they are usually thinking of the slow Chiftetelli, which they may use for floor work, balancing, or standing undulations. Remember when playing this rhythm that silence is a note. It is characterized by strong accents.


Basic rhythm:  Dom - R-Tek - R - Tek - Dom - Dom - Tek

Rhythm: Fellahi

(fe - la - hee)

This rhythm is a used as "background" beat in Arabic folkloric music and is commonly found in music of Upper Egypt. Fallahin is usually played faster than Maqsoum (about twice as fast, actually) and is considered a 2 beat rhythm. "Fallah" is another word for country-folk or country people. It is used to accompany folk dances. Fallahi is played so fast there is little room for subtlety or frills.

Basic rhythm: Dom - Tek - Dom - Tek

Rhythm: Karatchi

(ka - RAH - chee)

A fast 2/4 like an Ayoub. It's used in modern Egyptian music and sometimes alternated with similar rhythms as part of a song. Karachi (like Ayyub) is a rhythm common in American Tribal music. The rhythm pattern is similar to a fast Ayoub, but with Doms and Teks reversed. One of the few rhythms that starts on the Tek instead of the Dom. Usually played fast

Basic rhythm: Tek - R - Tek - Tek - Dom

Rhythm: Karsilama

(KARSH - la- ma)

A Turkish musical rhythm, in 9/8. This means there are 9 beats to a measure, and an eighth note gets one count. Karsilama (Turkish for "face-to-face") is perhaps, the most common "odd count" rhythm in Middle Eastern music. It is very common in Turkish tunes and  can be played very fast, or very slow,

Basic rhythm: Dom - Tek - Dom - Tek - Tek - Tek

Rhythm: Malfuf

(MAL - foof)

A fast-paced rhythm usually used as entrance or exit rhythm for dancers.

Basic rhythm: Dom - Tek - Tek

Rhythm: Maqsoum

(MOK - soom)

Maqsoum (which means, "cut in half") is really a whole class of rhythms that fit in a 4 beat measure. Said by some to be  the foundation of Egyptian rhythm, it's quite basic to Middle Eastern rhythm. Maqsoum, in its simplest form and with lavish embellishment, is the essence of Middle Eastern percussion in its traditional sense.

Basic rhythm: Dom - Tek - R - Tek - Dom - Tek

Rhythm: Masmoudi

(mas - MOO - dee)

A rhythm in 8/4 time. The Masmoudi rhythm is characterized by the joining of two 4-beat phrases. Often the first phrase has three leading beats, sometimes only two. This rhythm can be considered a Baladi played at half tempo, or conversely a Baladi can be considered a Masmoudi played at double speed. For this reason, Masmoudi is sometimes called Masmoudi Kabir (big Masmoudi) while Baladi is called Masmoudi Saghir (small Masmoudi). However, the feeling is completely different from that of Baladi. There are numerous variations.

Basic rhythm: Dom - Dom - Dom - Tek - Dom - Tek - Tek

Variation: Dom - Dom - Dom - Tek - Tek - Dom - Tek - Tek - Tek - Tek

Rhythm: Saidi

(SY - ee - dee)

Saidi is a rhythm often used for a cane dance. The beats can be varied dramatically or replaced with other percussion (such as hand clapping) to give the rhythm a distinct sound.

Basic rhythm: Dom - Tek - R - Dom - Dom - Tek
Rhythm: Saudi

(SOW- dee)

 Rhythm of the Gulf region, "Saudi Arabia," this also called  "Kaleegy/Khaleegy." While usually played slowly, the accents are placed on Dom.

Basic rhythm: Dom - Dom - Tek

Rhythm: Waahida

(WAH - hee - da)

Arabic  for "one". Waahida is a family of rhythms with one Dom at the beginning, then goes on with Teks.

Basic rhythm: Dom - R - Tek - Tek - Tek - Tek

Rhythm: Zaar

Zaar (Ayoub, Ayyub) is a simple fast rhythm often played for accelerating or energetic sections of Middle Eastern Dance performance. It is a driving rhythm that usually goes faster and faster. Ayyub fits well within other rhythms and can be generally useful as an accent. It is played in areas of the Middle East from Turkey through to Egypt. It is used in a slow form for a tribal Egyptian trance dance also known as the Zaar.

Basic rhythm: Dom - R - Tek - Dom - Tek

Rhythm: Zeffa Wedding procession lead by a dancer, musicians and members of the procession carrying candles or lanterns. The dancer may also be wearing a shamadan.  Traditionally it occurred at night, winding its way through the streets of the neighborhood from the home of the bride's parents to her new home at the groom's house. In modern times, it’s just into the catering hall or reception ballroom.

Basic rhythm: Dom - Tek - Tek - Tek - Tek - Dom - Tek - Tek

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(SY - ee - dee)

Refers to anything that has to do with the Said region of Egypt. The Said region is also known as "Upper Egypt", and is located in the southern part of the country.


(SOW- dee)

Often used to refer to anything that has to do with the region of the Saudi Arabia peninsula, especially the musical rhythm that is particularly associated with this region.


Like the undulation but different in that it moves side to side in an S-curve through the spine like a snake. Can be focused in the upper body, lower body or both. Don't allow any twisting forward and back or the serpentine will turn into the body figure 8 (twisting undulation). Movement should be as though in between two panes of glass.


A large, ornate candelabrum worn on the head.


Woman of ill repute; whore.

Shimmy: ¾ Hip Shimmy

Shimmy, usually done while traveling. Step on right foot, lift left hip up, then down. Step on left foot, lift right hip up, then down. Keep stepping alternating hips.

Shoulder Rolls

The shoulder makes a complete circle, up, back, down, front. Shoulder rolls are the basis of snake arms. As a dance movement, always roll them backward. Shoulder rolls are a good exercise for rounded or uneven shoulders.

Shoulder Shimmy

An alternating forward and backward motion of the shoulders with the hands staying in one position as if you were holding a glass of wine in each and didn’t want to spill any. Done really fast it become essentially a breast shimmy.

Shoulder Slant (Tilt)

One shoulder comes up, while the opposite shoulder goes down.

Shuffle: Alternating Sides

May be used in the Camel walk and is often used in quick-time as an entrance walk.

       R          L                R          (change)     L           R               L           (change)

    step     behind     step                          step    behind     step   

Shuffle: Unilateral

Doesn't change sides. Used primarily in the Camel walk or traveling sideways.

       R                  L                R              L                     R               L

     step             behind    step        behind          step         behind


(SHOO - kran)

Arabic for thank you.

Snake Arms

Done to the sides or front. Practice sides as this is harder. Elbow leads up, forearm hanging vertical, wrist relaxed and palm facing in (not back!) until elbow reaches shoulder height then upper arm rotates to point elbow down as forearm flips up to side (not front!) with palm facing out as elbow leads down. Can be done symmetrically or with one elbow leading up as the other leads down. Try them in different sizes (see shoulder rolls). Don't take elbows above shoulders (lower if you are really tight--work where you can control it to improve flexibility) or your shoulders will end up around your ears and you'll loose whatever neck length you have.



Arabic name for market in a city or village. Also suqq.


Focusing on a fixed point through a turn. Allegedly J helps to not make you dizzy while turning.


Folkloric step used in cane dances. Step on one foot and then hop on it while swinging the other leg up to the front with a bent knee. Alternate sides or continue on same side. Can be done traveling or in place.


Sideways traveling step where you just step the legs apart with one foot and then bring the other in to meet it. Good for traveling hip circles sideways.


(SOO - fee)

A sect within Islam focused on philosophy and mysticism. One Sufi form of expression that most Westerners have heard of is the "whirling dervish". The whirling is a form of movement meditation.

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(TOK - seem)

Arabic for "division" and refers to the section of music where a specific instrument is playing a solo. It’s the improvisational slow part of the dance where the dancer performs intense sensuous movements to the melody of a single instrument, usually the oud or kanun. Also Taqsim.



A traditional dancing dress of the Saudi Arabian peninsula.

Tummy Flutter

A fast, in and out, vibratory movement of the diaphragm. Can be done by panting or by holding your breath and pushing in and out on diaphragm.

Turkish Drop

Several very quick spins followed by dropping to the floor on knees in a back bend. CAN BE VERY DANGEROUS IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOUR ARE DOING. You must land correctly and gently. I highly recommend having a teacher instruct you on this if you don’t know what you are doing.

Turn: 3-Step Turn

R,L,R, together; L,R,L, together

Turn: Matador Turn

Place one foot over the other as far back as you can and quickly spin around on the balls of both feet.

Turn: Paddle Turn

A turn around on one foot. Make one foot your “center” and push around yourself using the other foot (as if you were on a skateboard). The “center” foot does not move.

Turn: Pivot Turn

A quick turn on one foot. Just lift the heel of the pivoting foot to allow it to turn.

Turn: Wheelbarrow Turn


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May also be called a camel. Lift your chest and pull it back. As your chest comes back, push your stomach forward and then pull it back. As your stomach comes back, push your pelvis forward and then pull it back. This should be done so as to look like a ripple effect.

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 Arabic for Come on! or Let'sgo!

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(za - ga - REET)

A high-pitched call done with the tongue. It is a sound of celebration associated with weddings, parties, and other joyful occasions. Within the context of belly dancing, it is a favorite tool for expressing approval for whatever the dancer is doing at the time.

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                                                                                                                        Last Updated:  Sunday, 10 August 2008 07:46 PM -0600