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Homage to Folkloric Styles

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

by Nizana El Rassan When Oriana asked for theme suggestions for Fanoos Magazine, one of my two suggestions was a focus on folkloric dance, so I’m thrilled she chose it and expanded upon it. As a long-time dancer, I have seen fewer and fewer dancers performing folkloric styles over the years. One of my earliest teachers, A’isha Azar, instilled the importance of learning folkloric for me as she taught and we presented Debke, Khaliji, Saidi and a representation of an Egyptian Reda skit. From another teacher, Yasmin, I co-sponsored and took a Moroccan Shikhaat workshop, something I haven’t seen performed in years. I’ve continued my studies with additional instructors in these styles over the years, though the class choices are fewer.

I think studying and keeping these dances alive is really important. I thought it was really awesome when Malia of Hawaii sponsored Simon Sako years back, where he taught Debke and he and Sadie performed an awesome debke duet. It is great when festival and conferences hosts ensure folkloric representation along with Egyptian and fusion. I know there are some individuals and troupes that are keeping folkloric dances alive. I saw a great troupe presentation in California a couple of years ago that really excited the audience, and it was obvious that there is still a desire to see and learn these awesome dances. Saidi and Raqs Assaya are still presented, and there are Khalege dances out there, but beyond that, folk styles seem so far and few between. Folkloric styles provide an opportunity for community dances, foundational structure and history, and texture to a showcase or hafla. They are a lot of fun such as after some fancy footwork by the performers, the audience joins a debke line. Some of the costuming is unique or elaborate, such as the fancy Persian costumes or Khalege thobes with embroidery and beadwork. Because the countries from which they come and the people are so diverse, you will see some differences even among the same dance styles.

Perhaps why these styles aren’t as popular are due to a combination of things, such as the growth of fusion styles, the fact that the costumes aren’t typically glitzy cabaret or cool fusion, and personal preferences. Not every style is for everybody. For the belly dancer who performs or instructs though, it is important to understand and learn about as many styles as possible along with other important foundational aspects. It doesn’t mean you have to specialize in them or perform them, but you could! I can’t remember the last time I saw an Ouled Nail, a Zar, or a Ghawazee performance! Take the time to explore and learn about folkloric dances and you will be rewarded with new knowledge, new performance opportunities and an increased awareness of when your music calls for these nuances to be presented in your dance.

Nizana has long been involved in Middle Eastern Dance as a performer, instructor, student, troupe director, choreographer, event producer, and competition judge. Nizana's articles and reviews have been published in seven Belly Dance magazines and newsletters including Fanoos! Having studied with a wide variety of instructors, in addition to performing Egyptian flavored American Style Belly Dance, Nizana dabbles in folkloric and fusion styles. She is known for her expressiveness and connection to the audience. Nizana is available for instruction and has workshops scheduled in Florida and Washington State.

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