The Different Types of Belly Dancing – Part 2

The Different Types of Belly Dancing – Part 2

Part one of this blog discovered the nuances between Egyptian Raqs Sharqi dancing and Turkish Oriental. It also delved into the country style of Egyptian Baladi dancing and its old culture. In part two we look at the Zar ritual and its importance in belly dancing, and the folklore of Iraqi Kawleeya, Khaleegy and Saidi & Raks Assaya.

Zar Ritual

Let’s get this straight, Zar is not a style of dancing, in fact it is a trance ritual that is performed in Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries.The Zar ritual varies from place to place, and is performed by women to a slow rhythmic sound. Its original purpose was to drive evil spirits away. Belly dancers use the ethos of the Zar ritual as it comes up time and again in the music. Women who perform Zar do not do it for the benefit of others, the dancers are simply referring to the ritual in their movements and to educate others on the meaning of Zar.

Iraqi Kawleeya

When people refer to the Iraqi style of belly dancing it is probably Kawleeya that they mean. However most Iraqi dancers would consider Debke or Chobi as more traditional. The Kawleeya form of dancing is thought more of a Gypsy style, one that is performed for money. The Kawleeya form of dancing is most popular in the Gulf states and is part of the Khaleegy group of dances. Dancers wear long flowing dresses with no flesh exposed, and the adornments are kept to a minimum apart from perhaps a ceremonial dagger. One of the defining aspects of the dancers is the hairstyle, and they use their hair frequently in their movements to emphasize them. They whip it back and forward, swing it in a circular fashion, and even dangle it.


Khaleegy is all about the Persian Gulf, and it emanated from the country folklore dances of the region. Countries such as Kuwait, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, UAE and Saudi Arabia all have slightly different styles of Khaleegy but are essentially basically the same. Khaleegy dancers have a very distinctive costume which is similar to a caftan. The dress is very ornate and called a Thobe al Nasha’al, but normally referred to simply as a thobe. Modern belly dancers use aspects of Khaleegy in their dances because it is great fun using head slides, swirling hair tosses and graceful gliding steps. Probably the biggest reason is that it is a really fun thing to do and brings life into their performances.

 Saidi and Raqs Assaya

For those who have been fortunate to see Raqs Assaya performed you would have enjoyed a very energetic style of dancing. Incorporating bouncy footwork, steps like a horse, and always has a cane or a stick. It is a typically a masculine Egyptian dance form. The Said region of Egypt is a rural area in the upper part of the country and there are many country traditions that are involved in this style of dancing. These many forms and styles of Middle Eastern dancing all are referenced to some degree in modern belly dancing. They provide color and interpretation of the culture from this old and traditional part of the world.

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