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

Belly Dance Drum Solo Tips: Builds

By Saqra

Table of Contents




So you are a belly dancer and you can tic-toc your hips, move your shoulders forward and back, and move your chest up and down all at the same time in some kind of order. Yay for you. Now stop it.

Combinations like that are very popular in belly dance drum solos because of hip hop fusion influence. Such combinations make audiences somewhat dumbfounded when watching them. They let you show off the hard technique you have learned to do and how coordinated you are.


Your job is to be the visual representation of the music. The video to the music's audio. And our drum solo music doesn't do that. Yes, dubstep and its closer hiphop relations do. But not belly dance.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Sarah Selwood, Leeds, United Kingdom.




Format of a Belly Dance Drum Solo

"Back in the day" (okay, prior to the mid-80's) drum solo music in Oriental dance was more like a drum solo at a rock concert: changing rhythms, changing time signatures. It was not the modern style of overlaying a cake of rhythm with the icing of accents most common now.

The way the dancers most easily handled that music was with layering builds. The real concept of layering.... not sticking one clicky movement with another clicky movement until something explodes.

The dancer was working with 4 kinds of builds (whether she knew it consciously or not):

  • Speed
  • Complexity
  • Level change
  • Travel

The dancer would lock into a simple shimmy and establish it, then add one kind of build to increase the interest. Once the new combo was established, the dance might add another build, or might break the energy by stepping forward or back or turning around and change to another simple shimmy. Then she would start building up the builds again.

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

Adding more than one build at a time made the change too explosive for the music, much as the "left front up right back down" combinations currently popular are too much for most music.

There are a lot more things on this topic, but the concept of builds are enough for one post.

REMINDER: this is my opinion. Your mileage may vary.




Creating Builds

What Are Builds?

  • Speed. Establish a movement then speed it up or slow it down.
  • Complexity. Establish a movement. Next, add isolations, or add a different shimmy to the first one. If an isolation is in the same body part as the shimmy I refer to it as a "shimmy overlay". If it is in a different part of the body I refer to it as a "shimmy with an isolation".
  • Level change. Establish the movement, then take it straight up, straight down, angle (for example, up and forward, then return to down and center), arch it over. The idea is to move it up and down in literal space. This can take numerous shapes.
  • Travel. Establish a shimmy and then simply go somewhere or add a traveling foot pattern.

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

Here is a way to simplify the process:

  1. Start a shimmy. Establish it by doing it long enough for the audience to see it.
  2. Add a build.
  3. Establish the combination of the original shimmy plus the build.
  4. Add another build if desired.
  5. Repeat 3 & 4 as much as you want to.
  6. Break the energy by stepping forward/back/or sideways or turning around.
  7. Establish a new simple shimmy.

This process works for "old style" drum solos, live music, and drum solos to which you are faking it.




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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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