The History, Heritage, and Memoirs

by Soraya

Oriental Dance or “Raks Sharki” in its most classical form, translated from Arabic means “The Dance Of The Orient.” The term “Belly Dance” was first used by the French when they saw the undulations and the body isolations, “The Dance of The Stomach.” Also, it was called “Danse Du Venture,” or the dance of adventure. In the ancient Middle East/Mediterranean, the belly dance was first performed as sort of a birthing aid. Basically, the sisters of the women giving birth would aid the new mother by undulating and rolling their bodies in natural, curvy snake-like movements to help with the delivery of the baby. It is a dance as second nature as breathing, and it got its start not as entertainment, but for childbirth.


Slowly Middle Eastern dance became more of an entertainment related art form. This dance was first brought to America just over 100 years ago at the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893 by “Little Egypt.” “Little Egypt” was the first, and more people than ever are collecting memorabilia of her famous belly dance.

Middle Eastern dance form is as esthetic and holistic as it is misunderstood. The Belly Dance is a spiritual connection between mind and body. Belly Dancing is as majestic and regal as classical Ballet, but differs because it offers its practioners a total experience, a sense of well-being, joy, freedom and most importantly, is a celebration of the feminine soul and inner spirit through movement. The Goddess within emerges every time I dance. I am entranced by my craft, and become totally engulfed with the art and can slip into a “dance trance.” When I enter my dance space, my presence and energy is immediately communicated to my audience. I “speak” to my audience with strong Egyptian technique, intricate and precise movements mirrored with a playful personality. The “glue” that holds it all together is a vivacious theatrical presence and professionalism. As I explain the history I use my own professional experiences throughout, so you can get a complete and total visual image.

Something as beautiful as the Belly Dance cannot be exploited, unless it is taken out of its intended context and it is placed into the wrong hands. Also, with some closed-minded audiences, sometimes the belly dance itself can be misunderstood. It can be viewed as sleazy and “something a nice girl does not do.” That depends on who the belly dancer is. If the individual is trashy, than so will her performance of this art, and it will be cheapened. Also, there is nothing funnier than when a dancer hides lack of true talent by constantly using ridiculous props in her shows, and never really dances. Belly Dancing is not at all a strip tease. It is just so ignorant of people who refer to stripping as “EXOTIC” dancing. Exotic means “from a far away land,” go-go dancing should be referred to as “EROTIC.” The belly dancer does not remove her costume, the costume is very much a part of the dance routine. A belly dancer is proud of her costume, and it is crucial to wear the most elaborate and elegant dress to convey class and professionalism. I wear Madame Abla’s designs, the best and most beautiful costumes in the Arabic world. When I enter the stage the high-class Arabic families that I perform for know “it’s an ABLA!” I am known for not only being a true artist, but I am also well known for wearing the best. To me every performance is a night at the OSCARS, or THE GRAMMYS, or even The MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS!! I perform every show with intense artistic detail and I try to do an awesome concert no matter how big or small my audience is.


Middle Eastern dance is a reflection of the performer, and it can be misrepresented and in turn kills the value for other performers who are pure artists, PERIOD! Belly Dance is a dance of the heritage of Middle Eastern culture that transcends a wide variety of nations reflecting a common art with different variations and styles. Since this is a dance of another culture, a lot of Americans fail to realize this. It is important to understand the customs, religions, ideologies, and the Arabic mind set of the people. It is also important to understand the language, in order to properly interpret the feelings, emotions and meanings of the songs. It is too easy to say you are a teacher when the instructor herself does not understand 100% the cultural dance that they are improperly conveying to impressionable students. This dance is different than tap, modern or jazz dancing. One can learn steps, but, may not be able to perform it, for this art emanates from the heart and soul. It can appear mechanical and choppy if not felt on a personal, internal level. For example, Hawaiian dancing, The Hula, is more of a cultural interpretation of that region and the movements all mean something.

Most Americans believe that all belly dancers are female. Traditional belly dance is performed by both sexes. In the Middle East, men perform more of the folkloric dances, like the men's stick dance. Some male performers include: Yousry Shariff (NY and Egypt), Mahmoud Reda (Egypt), Ibrahim “Bobby” Farrah (NYC), etc.



Class and elegance should be the top priority, coupled with talent. I always pride myself on working with a select clientele, I do not waste my time with unprofessional, low-class promoters who are not interested in quality and the best talent but have other ideas in mind. The only promoters that I deal with are wonderful, professional gentlemen who treat me with respect. My reputation in the business is just as respected as my interpretation of the dance. I emphasize knowing, “HOW TO DANCE,” not “JUST DANCING”! When groups of very religious, veiled Muslim woman come up and kiss me, I know I am doing something right. In Islam, entertainment is “HARAM” or not good. So, when I bring joy to Islamic people, as an artist, it makes me feel great. When I dance they can tell I am very different than their idea of a dancer, and they enjoy my show. After one of my shows, at an Egyptian wedding, (hafla), a women came into my dressing room and said, “You dance beautifully, you cannot be American, you move your body like Zohair Zaki.” I was so flattered, it was one of the best compliments that I have ever heard. She was a Muslim woman (Islamic), who at first, was reluctant to watch. Another thing I have to say is, whenever I open one of my Arabic concerts in the many showrooms that I frequent,the audience puts down their forks if they are eating,and THEY WATCH!

Now, the elements that make up Oriental Dance is a combination of agility, fluidity of movement, grace, creativity, physical aerobic strength and proper Egyptian technique. The best dancer that I have ever seen is “Egypt’s dance trainer to to the stars,” Madame Rakia Hassan — the epitome of Egyptian belly dance, the trainer to Fifi Abdo, Mona Saai'd, Nelly Foaud and Aza Shariff. I am self-taught, but Rakia is who I go to for inspiration and training. She was the lead dancer and choreographer for the famous Mahmoud Reda troupe in Egypt.

When I dance, all time stops, any worries or problems dissipate, and I slip into my “dance trance.” The inner Goddess emerges to greet my audience. I was born to belly dance. Oriental dance has been my main job all of my life. Ever since early childhood, with my Middle Eastern/Mediterranean cousins, dancing became second nature to me because I grew up doing it at countless family haflas (parties), weddings, etc. I knew at age five, that it would be my destiny to captivate audiences all over the world.


The Belly Dance originated in the countries in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The following is a brief history on the North African Mediterranean Arabs and the Middle East. First of all, the Berbers (Moors), of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are all descendants of the Roman Empire (Carthage). These three countries, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are called,”The Magreb” or farthest left in the Arabic world. So, Countries on the Arabic side of the Mediterranean are North African Mediterranean white (Caucasian) and Arab. Also, some of the towns in certain cities range in climate, from extremely hot to quite tolerable. For example, in Marrakech, It is very hot, so the people’s skin color is very dark, in other words they have more Melanin in their skin, so they do not burn, and like the people who live in very hot towns in Saudi Arabia, Israel, India and Bangladesh. In Casablanca, it is not as brutally hot, so the people are not as dark or olive complexioned. That is why in Sicily, Italy, the people are much darker than in the more Northern Italian regions, it is not as hot. Please keep in mind that there are many different religions in this area, and in the Middle East as well as elsewhere in the world. There are many JEWISH people as well as MUSLIM (Islamic) people, and a smaller amount of Christians, depending on the country. Morocco's wonderful King Hassan has been a great supporter of the Jewish people and understands the struggles and oppressions of the Jews. Libya and Egypt are more Middle Eastern than the Magreb region. I like to inform people, so to eradicate any ignorance toward this rich and often misconstrued culture.

In my many dealings, both professionally and personally with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Arabs, I have come to some interesting facts about their differences in personality. What I have observed over the years, is that the Mediterranean Arabs tend to be more relaxed, even tempered, laid back, so to speak, than the Arabs of the Middle East. The Saudi Arabians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Iraqis, the eastern side of the Arabic world are a bit more restless, somewhat hyper, maybe it is more of the warrior persona or ideology. The Arabs of the Persian Gulf are just of a different nature, in comparing and contrasting with the Mediterranean Berbers (Moorish) Arabs in the Magreb. Taking into consideration, that people all have their own individual personalities, generally speaking, that is just how some of the people are. I really enjoy the Mediterranean mentality or mind set, the mellow attitude, the “cool” nature in which they conduct themselves. The Mediterranean is very self-contained, different, and completely separate from anything beneath it. The Moroccans remind me of the Italian people, they have the most delicious food. They also dip just about everything into the richest olive oil that I have ever tasted. Not to mention, the Moroccan mint tea and “SCHFINCH” (Moroccan donuts or biscuits).


When I performed in Rabat, Morocco, for the Royal Family, and traveled around to different towns, for example, Casablanca, etc., I really enjoyed the sights from my limo (Moroccans are crazy drivers!!) Ha, Ha! I experienced the most beautiful sunsets in the world. There was even a McDonald's, I went through the drive through in a limousine and ordered a Quarter Pounder! Wow! A piece of America, the delicious! Then I saw the most gorgeous mosque,The Mohammed 5 mosque, it was spiritual and breathtaking.

There was something so fascinating about the Mediterranean. I felt like I was home... again... A past life experience....

The magical, holistic, and therapeutic nature of this ancient art form is always in vogue. The exotic mystery of the Belly Dance, the quarter tones in Middle Eastern music, the haunting musical arrangements and compositions are an unconscious reflection of my archetypal primal existence. Even people from East India, love this art because it is somewhat similar to Indian dance. I have entertained at numerous affairs for Indian medical doctors, I really enjoy working for them.

I hope to continue to Belly Dance, as well as becoming a great homemaker (Domestic Goddess) and when I have a husband and family of my own, I will enlighten them to my feminine strength and energy, not only as a true entertainer, but, as a woman, chasing her dream.... Ensh’ Allah (God Willing).

Thank you to all my fans over the years: Well, the dream has been found and it is just incredible! As of early fall of 2001, I married my true soul mate (Dr. Rob), the most wonderful human being on this earth. I am a “Domestic Goddess” now and loving every second of it. I have reached all of my professional goals and now I can REALLY relax and enjoy life to its fullest! Please access this magical page: Soraya and Dr. Rob’s Dream Wedding Page. I hope that all of you find your true happiness as well!!!

YA Salaam.

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