"beledi" (balady) is often translated as "of my country". A better "feel" for the word would translate it as "of my community". It is a word with a lot of emotional overtones. "raqs beledi" is folk dance and includes raqs sharqi. Often "shaabi" is used for folk dance because it is a more neutral term.
"Urban Beledi" is used to cover the style of dance brought to, and developed in, Cairo and Alexandria as the fellahi moved off the land and into the cities. It is the dance of the people (awalâd il-beled); not the foreigners, not the intelligentsia. "awalâd il-beled" includes key concepts of Egyptian identity such as honour, good humour, living for moment, generosity, and a tough worldliness (Nieuwkerk:1997 111-115).
From these roots a number of theatrical styles have been developed including the milâya-laff which includes manipulation of the wrap that used to be commonly worn by women. The dance style is earthed and strong. Even when the mood is flirtatious or coy – it is a knowing flirtation – and the woman is in charge. The moves tend to be relaxed and (deceptively) simple. Arms follow and frame. Fifi and Lucy do it very well.
Here are some other features of the style in comparison to the nightclub style or straight folk:
Regional & usually rural. Dances of ordinary people - celebrations, social interaction etc
Urban Beledi Roots:
Lower Middle class urban - influenced by folk but relevant to people in cities
Developed in venues such as the Casino Opera and Egyptian film industry. Involves trained dancers; cross-fertilization with West (Russian ballet) and other ME countries
Folk - Music:
Regional - "country" instruments - drums, pipes etc. Often traditional pieces
Rhythms tend to "local" and repetitious.
Urban Beledi – Music:
Varies. ‘Modern Egyptian’ with new instruments eg quarter tone sax, accordion, organ. Influenced by western blues & jazz.
Pop may be based on traditional pieces. Often with vocals.
Rap Double entendres – sound at expense of meaning (kalaam fadi)
Rhythms simple but can include a variety of different rhythms
Orientale - Music:
Often use orchestras - and orchestration. Often western influenced. Traditional pieces tend to become "fuller" in sound.
No Turkish music used by dancers since 1952
Rhythms most diverse - bringing together rhythms from difference countries - dancer show her education by "correctly" interpreting the rhythm eg head tosses and skirt circling in Khaleegy
Folk – Costuming:
Fully covered - often a version of a tunic. Sometimes more specific. Cabaret versions may be flashier and less covered. Bare feet. Often heads are covered by traditional headpieces.
‘Ethnic’ jewelry often chunky
Regional; don’t mix and match eg no Tunisian wool belts with Saidi costumes
Urban Beledi – Costuming:
Tend to be covered ie dresses or gallibiya (but bare midriffs do occur). Dresses often quite tight fitting or figure shown with melaya laff. No belts or plain fabric tied around hips.
Often with shoes. Head pieces simple eg none, beledi bands or bur’a. Sophisticated but not overly cabaret jewelry
Orientale – Costuming:
Often bedleh (bra/belt/skirt) - can be traced to "fantasy" of what a dancer should look like influenced by western painters last century and movies. These days also evening dresses.
Flesh exposed controlled by musannafât (Arts Police)
Folk – Feel:
immediate but not deeply personal emotions (except maybe trance if that fits here); eg joy of celebration
Urban Beledi – Feel:
expression of self - can be sassy, sexual, charming, chirpy, soulful, even painful. Never a victim.
With attitude; earthy
Orientale – Feel:
although can express pleasure there is a certain distance - this is professional entertainment
Folk – Moves:
Varies depending on region but often repetitive. Some are footwork intensive; some hip work; repetitive shimmies etc
No veil work or full body undulations! (in Egyptian)
Outside Egypt often group performances
Traditional choreography or improvised within a traditional framework
Urban Beledi – Moves:
Often centered not elaborate; emphasis on hip work; hands & arms plain. Sometimes gestures follow or expand words of song.
Hip work between folk and oriental
Orientale – Moves:
Often on balls of feet; larger variety of moves; elaborate arms and use of space. Borrows from other countries – both in ME (eg Khaleegy), India (head slides, snake arms), and the West (arabesques, pirouettes).
soloist; group sometimes or chorus supporting star soloist
Entrances & Exits usually choreographed (sometimes down to jokes and adjusting costume!); but also improvisation
The Middle Eastern Background section has more information on various folk styles
Kashmir teaches Urban Beledi classes from time to time. This is what is in the class
and here is the class timetable.
Also see Hosssam Ramzy's article
and Havva's article on the melaya laff
Nieuwkerk, K (1997) 'A Trade like Any Other' Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press
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Updated by JEWEL