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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Alternative Music for Belly Dance: Creating a Great Performance


By Saqra





Before we talk about anything else, we need to define "fusion" and "alternative". I also need to make sure I give a nod to the people who are going to say non-Middle-Eastern music is never okay to use.


Fusion consists of blending two different movement styles together in a single dance. Many social media conversations have discussed general tips on that in a big way so I'll just say: when you fuse two things, it is best if you actually can do both of the things you are fusing. That's enough on that. Now I will go back to my real topic.


Alternative music is music that does not come from any of the cultures in which "belly dance" is done by indigenous people. Examples of alternative music could include American music, Korean music, Native American music, European music, Martian music, Atlantean music (did I make that up? Music from Atlantis is what I meant), songs of the whales, etc.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.




Why Some People Say, "Don't Use Alternative Music"

Here is the short explanation on why some people say "never, never use " alternative music: 

When you dance, you are directly interpreting music. The music creates the dance. When you dance to music that is not from one of the cultures in which "belly dance" is done by indigenous people, you can't possibly produce a dance that is "really belly dance", because the music isn't.

There is a strong logic to that opinion, so it really does need to be said. And now that it has been said, I can go back to my topic: doing performances that use alternative music well.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Keith Darkchilde.




Making It Work

Yeah, yeah... sometimes we get an urge to dance to a piece of alternative music because we like it! It speaks to us! However, just picking out a beloved piece and dancing to it is a lazy approach. It shows no attempt to do your first job as a performer: to entertain other people.

So how do we increase the enjoyment potential for an audience?

  • Start with a clear creative vision. Attempt to communicate your vision in multiple ways. Use movement choices, costuming, props, mood.
  • If your audience is supposed to hear the lyrics in order for your creative choices to make sense, then make sure the vocals are understandable to people who do not know the song.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.


Seriously, suppose you feel a strong need to do a retro performance using the song "Smoke On The Water", and you plan to enter in a huge cloud of stage smoke, and you have arranged for big pyrotechnical flames to shoot up at the end of the phrase "smoke on the water, and fire in the sky". In that case, your performance won't work if the audience hears "mumble mumble bla bla, and deedle deedle dieeee" or "slow motion Walter, the fire engine guy". If people probably won't be able to understand the song, definitely do not try to act out the words. It may be better to just pick out something else that is more audience focused.


Building an Act Around the Song

  • Can you select costuming that supports your choice somehow? A flapper dress for a 1920s piece? A fluffy yellow costume for dancing to "Yellow Rose of Texas"? A bloody nose and a track suit for dancing to the theme from the movie Rocky?
  • Can you bring in props that reflect your music choice? A fan for some Spanish feeling Santana music? A glass to balance on your head for "Raise Your Glass"? An umbrella for "Singing in the Rain"? A chainsaw for "I'm A Lumberjack"?
  • Can you add in some movement choices that are appropriate to the style of the music? Samba for a samba piece? Swimming motions for a vintage beach piece? Head banging?
  • Can you maintain the mood of the piece? If the piece is elegant, can you keep that up throughout the whole routine? If the piece is moody, can you keep it going through the whole routine? Can you infuse the mood of the music into every movement selection?

You can choose your music according to what you like, but you need to create a performance around that for the audience, and the better you support your creative choice, the more the audience will appreciate your dance. A good performance truly shouldn't be for you, it should be for your audience.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but your routine will go a lot further if you do it in a hockey mask to the theme from the movie Friday The 13th.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.

Competition Judging Criteria

N   Y   Y+     ALTERNATIVE MUSIC – if used, were words understandable if dancer was acting upon them?

N   Y   Y+     ALTERNATIVE MUSIC SUPPORT – was there a creative reason for the use of alternative music? Was it reflected in another way?  Movement choices? Costuming?




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About the Author

Saqra (Seattle, Washington, USA) is a powerful dance artist and a master instructor. Her fluidity, grace, and technical skill is highlighted by her friendly demeanor and clear joy of the dance. She did not inherit the diva gene.

Saqra won titles in Belly Dance USA (Oregon), Belly Dancer of the Year (California), Belly Dancer of the Universe (California), Wiggles of the West (Nevada), and many other competitions. She was voted "Best Kept Secret of 2005" and "Instructor of the Year 2008" by readers of Zaghareet Magazine.

Saqra's journey in this dance form began in 1977 and has led her to study with many of the best dancers in the world, including in America, Canada, Turkey and Egypt. Saqra continues to travel and study both in the USA and abroad and prides herself on proper research for anything she teaches. Folklore, fakelore, and stage creativity: all three are valuable, and Saqra clearly presents for each what they actually are. Saqra is constantly expanding her expertise in the traditional ethnic forms of the dance, the modern stage variants, and the continuing evolving fusion techniques, all these areas combined keep her material fresh and current.

Saqra is widely known as an event promoter, musician, music and instructional video producer, and a registered hypnotherapist in the state of Washington. That is enough stuff to start explaining what she has been doing in belly dance since 1977. Visit her at

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California. In the photo, Saqra is holding her Teacher of the Year 2008 Award from Zaghareet Magazine.

Saqra with Award



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