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

Dear Shira


Dear Shira:

I Want to Dance Barefoot!



The Question

Dear Shira,

I have been dancing for almost five years. I recently got a wonderful job traveling with a Middle Eastern band. I did my first Lebanese wedding reception last week and a few of the women asked me where my shoes were! I have seen many dancers wear them, usually character shoes. I have observed Eastern dancers even wear almost ridiculously high heels that almost seem to be an exotic dancers shoe. I love dancing in my bare feet and prefer it. I don't know if Hermes sandals would compliment a cabaret costume or setting. What is expected, or the norm at gatherings such as this?

--Content to Be Barefoot



Shira Responds

Dear Content:

Most Oriental dance artists from some parts of the Middle East do indeed wear high heels to perform, and therefore some ethnic audiences expect high heels. The Levant, which encompasses the countries (including Lebanon) on the eastern end of the Mediterranean sea, is one such area. So I'm not surprised the Lebanese women asked you about your barefoot status!


Why Do People from the Levant Expect Shoes?

According to the dancer Morocco, Lebanese dancers wear very high heels because of Nadia Gamal. Nadia was the earliest Lebanese dancer to achieve fame, and even today she is remembered as being a leader in developing the Lebanese style of Oriental dance. Nadia was extremely petite, and wore very, very high heels in her shows to give herself added height and stage presence. Other dancers throughout the Levant imitated her because of her importance as a legend in their art form.

The photo at the right is a screen shot from a video titled Nadia Gamal: The Legend. It shows that she wore high heels even with folkloric costuming. Click on the photo to see it in more detail.

Nadia Gamal Wearing High Heels

So, I would recommend that when you perform for a Levantine audience, it would be a good idea to wear ballroom dance shoes or other high heels because that's what the dancers from their own countries do. If you perform barefoot for this audience, they will think you either forgot to finish getting dressed, or that you're a low-class dancer.


What About Other Places?

Photos from the Middle East in the 1800's show mostly barefoot dancers. However, in the early 20th century it became fashionable for many dancers in the Middle East to perform wearing shoes. The photo to the right is from Egypt in 1920. Click on it to see more detail. Ghawazee Dancers
Every modern-day Turkish dancer that I've seen perform has worn shoes. The photo to the right was taken in 2000 at Gar Gazinosu nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey. This dancer was the headliner for the evening's show. Notice the shoes - not only are they high heels, but they are also platform shoes! Dancer At Gar Gazinosu in Istanbul

Egyptians have somewhat different expectations. Many of the star Egyptian Oriental-style dancers in the better clubs still perform barefoot, but they have beautifully pedicured feet, polished toes, and decorative ankle bands. They might come out for their entrance wearing high heels, then slip them off once their dance gets fully underway. Ghawazi in the Luxor/ Quena / Esna area always wore shoes when they danced.

The dancer Morocco reports that dancers in the Maghreb (Morocco and surrounding area) are likely to perform either barefoot or wearing flats.


What Should You Do?

Consider your audience. Just as a smart performer selects music and costume appropriate to the situation, she should also make appropriate decisions on what to do about footwear. Educate yourself on the expectations of the audiences for whom you expect to dance, buy a pair of high-heeled ballroom shoes that you can wear when doing gigs for audiences that are likely to expect heels, and choose a look that will delight whichever audience you will be dancing for.




Related Articles

Other articles on this web site related to footwear include:



About this Column

Shira has received many questions from readers over the years related to various aspects of the dance. In this column, she picks some of the more interesting ones to answer publicly. Details contained in the questions are sometimes removed or disguised to protect the anonymity of the person who asked the question.



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