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

The Camel Walk - Way to Move!

By Arabella

 

The first step, ideally, in exploring the camel walk is to... watch a real camel walk! Thank goodness for National Geographic videos! We won't worry about the two-humped or Bactrian camel for our purposes - it's the Arabian one-humped beast, the dromedary, that's found in the Middle East.

Certainly there is something quite distinctive about the way a camel moves. Is it because he's walking on sand? That doesn't really explain it, as the movement is the same on solid ground. Perhaps the camel's anatomy has something to do with it? We'll leave this question to the zoologists and kinesiologists - I myself can only marvel at how a camel supports a torso shaped like a mountain on such skinny, spindly legs.

Khalida

It was while watching the opening scenes of Disney's "Aladdin" that I realized exactly what made the camel's gait different from the gait of most other animals. A horse or cat walks by moving one front foot forward, after which the opposite hind leg moves. For the next step, the other front foot moves, followed by the opposite hind leg. To observe this for yourself, get down on all fours and walk; you'll notice that if you move your right hand forward, your left knee follows automatically. But a camel walks by moving a hind leg first, then moving the front leg on the same side.

Fine, but dancers have only two legs, not four! Based purely on observation, my take on the camel walk is this: the back foot moves forward, causing a back-to-front sway in the pelvis, which in turn causes the front foot to advance. The back foot never advances beyond the front foot. But it seems that there are almost as many approaches for executing this move as there are instructors. Let's see what the books have to say...

Suzanne de Soye (La Danse Orientale et Ses Accessories) seems to have the simplest approach. The left foot is in front, with the right foot behind it. The left foot advances while the pelvis is pushed forward, then the right foot catches up with it. De Soye suggests executing the move on the balls of the feet, or alternatively, with one foot flat and the other on the ball. She doesn't say which should be which, but perhaps we may infer that the left would be flat and the right on the ball, if we keep the same order in which she mentions these points. What differentiates this method is that she executes the step on the diagonal while holding a veil - in this case she faces the right foot on the diagonal, with the left arm stretched out to the front and the right arm overhead. I like this simple approach very much, and especially appreciate the lop-sided effect which results from having one foot bent and the other foot flat. I find it easier, however, to move the pelvis along with the back foot rather than the front.

Özel's method (The Belly Dancer In You) seems to me quite awkward - or perhaps I'm just not interpreting it correctly. It's done by starting with the weight on the right foot and having the left foot bent. Presumably, the right leg is straight. With the spine arched, the left foot moves forward eight inches. Then the knees bend and the pelvis is pushed forward while the rib cage is pulled in. The knees straighten as the weight is shifted to the left foot. Arms are held high overhead throughout. Unfortunately, this is the only move in the book that doesn't have any illustrations!

Arabella, the Author of this Article

Dahlena's approach (The Art of Belly Dancing) seems by far the most complicated. She begins by describing two different rolls - one to be executed by the rib cage, and the other by the hips. She suggests practicing each separately before combining them: the rib cage roll which moves from back to front, then the pelvic roll from front to back. The next step is called "the camel rock", a very simple move. With one foot in front, the weight shifts from one foot to the other without moving either. When a tiny step is added to each foot, this becomes the camel walk. It can also be done stepping backward rather than forward. Finally the rib cage and pelvic rolls are combined with this camel walk to produce a "torso roll" variation, imitating the swaying movement of a real camel's gait. Whew! I can't begin to imagine how I could roll the two halves of my torso simultaneously in opposite directions. And perhaps the whole concept of rolling the torso is more complex than it needs to be: just think of pushing the ribcage forward, then pulling it back - you'll see that it rolls very nicely all by itself!

Ultimately, of course, it's up to you to decide what you like and what suits your body best. There is no syllabus for belly dance; nothing is cast in stone. Which, to me, is one of the many wonderful aspects of our dance. And why you're free to let your "inner camel" walk whichever way you choose!

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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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