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

Why Middle Eastern Dance Is

the *Best* Kind of Dance!

by Arabella


My first love was - and still is - ballet. I saw a Russian ballerina dance on the Ed Sullivan Show, and it made me cry. It was the Bolshoi Ballet's Maya Plisyetskaya dancing "The Dying Swan". That's how I started; I thought I'd last about two months. Eighteen years later, I'm still taking Russian ballet classes.

During those eighteen years, I've also tried many other forms of dance: modern, tap, four types of Spanish, jazz, Indian classical dance, and Middle Eastern. I've always felt that you should have a class that offsets your main interest - something you can be less "serious" about; that is, "recreational." My thinking is that the secondary class teaches you to think and move differently from your main class, so you can be more relaxed and receptive in your primary class. Result: you are not as likely to repeat bad habits.

Throughout these different experiences, I've realized that Middle Eastern dance has a number of things going for it that set it apart from other types of dance. Following are my reasons for proclaiming Middle Eastern dance... the best dance!

  • You don't need a big space. There are no flying jumps. It can be done in an area as small as six feet square. A living room is fine. (Just think of dancing in a Sultan's tent!)
  • There's no need to worry about the floor. You can dance on shag carpet, wood, linoleum, or cement: it doesn't matter. Because there really isn't any jumping involved, you needn't be concerned about injury. A Spanish dancer needs a raised floor to "sound" her footwork, a ballet dancer needs a sprung floor with good traction, a tap dancer knows her taps will mark the floor. A Middle Eastern dancer has no such concerns and can dance on whatever is there.
  • No special shoes required! The only way a Spanish dancer can get the appropriate shoes is to hope that a friend is traveling to Spain soon. Pointe shoes cost a ballerina $75.00 - $100.00 per pair, and can wear out in a matter of days. Taps come loose and fly off into space. We dance in bare feet, or, if the floor is cold, in readily-available ballet slippers.
  • We can practice anywhere, any time, because we don't need special shoes or a special floor and because our dance makes no noise! (Note: to practice finger cymbals without making noise, just wrap a thick rubber band around each one.)
  • Supplies are readily accessible. If you can't find what you need where you live, there are many mail-order sources. And the choice is unbelievable! You want zills? Do you want big? Small? Patterned? Plain? Anything you can dream of - belts, bras, fabrics, patterns, books, recorded music, instructional videos - can be ordered via postal service.
  • The costumes are great! Initially this is what hooked me. Spanish dress is pretty - hand-painted fans, embroidered shawls, and flounced skirts. But where's the shimmer, the sparkle? Is there any sound like the tinkle of a coin belt in motion? And with so many styles to choose from ... cabaret bra/belt/skirt, Turkish harem pants and vest, folksy baladi - there's something for every taste.
  • It's virtually impossible to have a bad time at a Middle Eastern dance class. It's such a joyous form of dance that problems are quickly forgotten!
  • Almost everybody likes watching Middle Eastern dance. Men enjoy seeing a woman dance so sensuously, and women like to see one of their sisterhood truly enjoying her own femininity.
  • Since it's usually a solo dance, there's no worry about you or a partner making a mistake or forgetting choreography. If you are a confident dancer, you just carry on and the audience never knows the difference!
  • The Middle Eastern dancer can use taped music, and there's a great selection to choose from. A flamenco dancer needs a live guitarist, because the accompanist follows the dancer - if the dancer speeds up, then the guitarist must, too.
  • The sense of community among Middle Eastern dancers is very real. There are various associations, newsletters, and magazines to keep you up to date. Middle Eastern dancers are generous and truly enjoy sharing - it's the nature of the dance itself.
  • Middle Eastern dance may be the most naturalistic of all dance forms. Many movements are based on the natural rotation of the joints. There is no attempt to force the body to conform to an unnaturalistic ideal. Middle Eastern dance celebrates the body; it does not seek to transcend it.
  • Our dance seems the best way to stay flexible and supple as you grow older. In many other types of dance, the dance deteriorates along with the body. But one can dance our dance at every age.
  • Middle Eastern dance can assimilate a wide variety of dance styles. It is the only form I have studied where I felt I could bring all I had learned in other disciplines and they would enhance what I was doing, not work against it. The beautiful arms I strive for in ballet class are not out of place here, neither are the sensuous eyes of Odissi.
  • And perhaps the best reason of all: Middle eastern dance accepts women regardless of age, size, or physical condition. Not only accepts them, celebrates them!


About the Author

Arabella, the author of this article, has contributed many informative pieces to this web site on a variety of topics, including:

  • Analysis of technique for doing certain dance moves
  • Costume ideas
  • Essays and opinion pieces
  • Understanding Middle Eastern music
  • Helpful how-to's, such as remembering choreography

Please visit Arabella's home page on this web site for a full list of articles she has contributed.

Arabella began her dance studies with Russian Ballet classes. Frustrated by ballet's impossible ideals, and curious about more ethnic dance disciplines, she moved on to study various other dance forms. Moving further east each time, these included Spanish flamenco, Escuela Bolera, Middle Eastern, and East Indian Odissi.

Arabella, based in Toronto, Canada, is also a certified Mastercraftsman in crewel embroidery, with a special passion for metal thread and ethnic embroidery. Currently she particularly focuses on Palestinian and East Indian embroidery.

Photo of Arabella



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