Middle Eastern Dance

Camels and snake arms, jewels and choo-choo shimmies – English speakers have invoked a wealth of imagery to describe Oriental dance or “bellydance” movement. A performance art that evolved from a type of Middle Eastern social dance, Oriental dance has no classical tradition, meaning that it has neither recognized authorities who dictate norms nor a named set of standardized movements. As dancers outside the Middle East have adapted the dance to Western pedagogical strategies, they have labelled and taxonomized movements that, in their native contexts, are subject to little codification.

This project examines the vocabulary used for teaching Middle Eastern movement in North America and considers the verbalization of movement as a space for negotiating competing visions of the dance and its cultural meanings. Based on surveys of Canadian and American Oriental dancers conducted in 2016 and 2017, the project compares the terms that are in current use in both countries to represent Oriental dance movement and analyzes trends in the North American Oriental dance lexicon. Ultimately, the project interrogates the implications of North American dancers’ choice of terminology for attitudes towards the peoples and cultures of the Middle East.

"Listening with the Body: The Raqs Sharqi Dancer as Musical Interpreter"

Music & Culture Lecture Series

Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media, and Place

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Media Coverage

Link to an article from The Telegram - Shaking, shimmying and breaking down stereotypes
Link to an article from VOCM News - Oxford English Dictionary Contacts Local Historian to Help Redefine 'Belly Dance' Following VOCM Story
Link to article from VOCM News - Local Historian Redefining Belly Dance, Literally

Publications and Presentations

Refereed Journal Articles

2020. "La popularisation de « la danse du ventre ». Origine et transmission d’un nom vulgaire." Recherches en danse 9.

2019. "Belly Dance, Persona Non Grata of Cultural Dance." Conversations across the Field of Dance Studies 39: 8-11.

2019. "Camels, Temples, and Jewels: Representing Middle Eastern Movement in Canadian English." Journal of Intercultural Studies 40 (6): 772-88.

2019. "Middle Eastern Dance and What We Call It." Dance Research 37 (1): 1-17.

General-Interest Publications

2019. “Why do we call Middle Eastern dance ‘belly dance’?Edinburgh University Press Blog. May 23.

Invited Talks

2020. "Listening with the Body: The Raqs Sharqi Dancer as Musical Interpreter." Presented as part of the Music & Culture Lecture Series, Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media, and Place, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. February 25.

Conference Presentations

2018. "From danse du ventre to raqs sharqi: Middle Eastern Dance and What to Call It." Presented at the Dance Studies Association Annual Conference, Valetta, Malta. July 5-8.

2017. "Speaking of the Grassroots: Representing Oriental Dance Movement in North American English." Presented at the World Dance Alliance Global Summit, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. July 23-28.

2016. "Camels, Snakes, and Jewels: Talking Belly Dance in the English-Speaking World." Presented at The Uses of Intangible Cultural Heritage: Challenges and Perspectives, Québec City, Québec. May 19-22.

Public Talks

2021. "Talking Belly Dance: Orientalism and Anti-Orientalism in Dance Terminology." Mahin's Bellydance Quickies, Phoenix, Arizona. May 30.

2020. "Where the Words Come From: How Belly Dance Movements Got Their Names." Art in the Time of COVID Dance Series presented by ArtsNL, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. December 12.

Guest Lectures

2022 “Diversity and the Musical Experience.” Contexts of Music Education with David Buley, Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. January 26.

2018 “Dance Studies and Historical Methods.” Research Methods and Problems in Ethnomusicology with Kati Szego, Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. November 14.


2018. "Cross-Cultural Collaboration, Study, and Creative Practice." Ori, post-performance discussion, Arts and Culture Centre, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. November 2.

2015. "Where Words Fail: Challenges of Representing and Teaching Movement." Symposium on Embodiment, Gesture and Dance, Research Centre for Music, Media and Place, Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland. May 24.