Is Folkloric Dance Dead?

blue saidi
Although it’s not technically Belly Dance, Folkloric dances are an important part of the art of Belly Dance. They have rhythmic names like Saidii, Zar, Beladi, Khaleegy, Hagallah, Fellahi and have a soulful, earthy quality. They are the foundations of the dance unfortunately; their existence is often unknown to many of today’s dancers and audiences.

I have a fascinating video of Nagua Fuad from the 80’s. She begins her routine with a classic Raq Sharqi. Then she goes into a Saidii cane segment followed by a Hagallah and several other folkloric dances all with traditional costumes and authentic music. It was a stunning display of her technical skills. At the time it was expected that dancers would exhibit several different techniques in one set.

Leila Haddad, in her last big show in the states (2011?) had a repertoire similar to Nagua’s and included Afghani and Indian dances. This type of show today is the exception rather than the norm. A typical Belly Dancer’s routine today consists of a dramatic veil number, mid tempo instrumental, drum solo, and a finale. A sword dance is included more often than a traditional Saidii cane dance. Even though there are traditional sword dances, the style that is usually done is quite modern (and Western in technique).

Why the change? Several possibilities come to mind. There could be fewer Instructors who know these wonderful dances to teach to new students. Possibly there is little call for then by theatrical/club/restaurant producers. Time restrictions may prevent performers from doing anything other than popular routines. Or, maybe the student dancers themselves aren’t interested in learning, favoring styles with which they are more comfortable.

Whatever the reason, I personally hope the tide will change. I love the authentic earthiness of Folkloric dances and take classes in them every chance I get. These are the origins of what we do today. Yet they have been polished with sparkly costumes and tweaked with ballet techniques to appeal to general audiences. Not a bad thing, but why not remember and enjoy all aspects of this art form. Just like in the Girl Scout song about old and new friends, “…one is silver and the other’s gold”.