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Raqs sharqi

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Raqs sharqi performance on a tourist Nile cruise ship in 2007

Raqs sharqi (Arabic: رقص شرقي, Egyptian Arabic: [ˈɾɑʔsˤ ˈʃæɾʔi]; literally "oriental dancing") is the classical Egyptian style of belly dance that developed during the first half of the 20th century.


Raqs sharqi was developed by Taheyya Kariokka, Samia Gamal, Naima Akef, Zeinat Olwi, and other dancers who rose to fame during the golden years of the Egyptian film industry. This has come to be considered the classical style of dance in Egypt by the 1950s. These dancers were famous not only for their role in Egyptian films, but also for their performances at the "Opera Casino" opened in 1925 by Badia Masabni. This venue was a popular place for influential musicians and choreographers from both the US and Europe, so many of the developments pioneered here can be considered new developments in the dance.

The belly dancer Taheyya Kariokka

Later dancers who were influenced by these artists are Soheir Zaki, Nagwa Fouad, Fifi Abdou, and Dalilah. All rose to fame between 1960 and 1980, and are still popular today. And later generations, such as Dina, some of these later dancers were the first to choreograph and perform dances using a full 'orchestra' and stage set-up, which had a huge influence upon what is considered the 'classical' style.

Though the basic movements of raqs sharqi are unchanged, the dance form continues to evolve. Nelly Mazloum and Mahmoud Reda are noted for incorporating elements of ballet, and their influence can be seen in modern Egyptian dancers who stand on relevé as they turn or travel in a circle or figure eight.


Since the 1950s, it has been illegal in Egypt for belly dancers to perform publicly with their midriff uncovered[1] or to display excessive skin. It is therefore becoming more common to wear a long, figure-hugging lycra one-piece gown with strategically placed cut-outs filled in with sheer, flesh-coloured fabric. If a separate bra and skirt are worn, a belt is rarely used and any embellishment is embroidered directly on the tight, sleek lycra skirt. A sheer body stocking must be worn to cover the midsection. Egyptian dancers traditionally dance in bare feet, but these days often wear shoes and even high heels.

Respectability in Egypt[edit]

Generally, Egyptians do not consider Raks Sharki to be a respectable profession, despite attempts by several groups to change the perception. Many Egyptians also continue to employ native Egyptian dancers for wedding receptions and other celebratory events. Strict moral laws prevent a lot of local Egyptian dancers from performing in public spaces so many dancers performing for tourists in nightclubs today are foreigners.

Belly dancers in Egypt have restrictions placed on their costume and movements. Most notably, no floor work is permitted and the dancer's midriff must be covered. However, many Egyptian nightclubs don't necessarily follow the government guidelines.

In 2009, a plan to establish a state institute to train belly dancers in Egypt came under heavy fire as it "seriously challenges the Egyptian society's traditions and glaringly violates the constitution", said Farid Esmail a member of the parliament, a thing that was widely viewed by many Egyptian celebrities and dancers as hate against Egyptian arts.[2]


  1. ^ Hanna, Judith (1988). Dance, Sex and Gender. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-31551-7.
  2. ^ Move to teach art in state institute triggers controversy Archived 8 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine

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