Egyptian-style belly dancing is based on the work of belly dance legends Samia Gamal, Tahiya Karioka, Naima Akef, and other dancers who rose to fame during the golden years of the Egyptian film industry.
Belly dancing and Raqs Sharqi consists of movements that are initiated by the feet and executed throughout the body. The focus of the dance is the pelvic and hip area.
It is, fundamentally, a solo improvisational dance with its own unique dance vocabulary that is fluidly integrated with the music’s rhythm.
Raqs Sharqi dancers internalize and express the emotions evoked by the music. Appropriately, the music is integral to the dance. The most admired Raqs Sharqi dancers are those who can best project their emotions through dance, even if their dance is made up of simple movements.
The dancer’s goal is to visually communicate to the audience the emotion and rhythm of the music. This is especially apparent during the drum solo portion of a performance.
Many see Raqs Sharqi as a woman's dance, celebrating the sensuality and power of being a mature woman.
A common school of thought believes that young dancers have limited life experience to use as a catalyst for dance. Sohair Zaki, Fifi Abdou, Lucy, Nagwa Fouad, and Dina are all popular Egyptian dancers above the age of forty.
Despite the fame of female dancers, men often perform Raqs Sharqi as well.
Egyptian-style belly dance is based on the work of belly dance legends Samia Gamal, Tahiya Karioka, Naima Akef, and other dancers who rose to fame during the golden years of the Egyptian film industry.
Later dancers who based their styles partially on the dances of these artists are Sohair Zaki, Fifi Abdou, and Nagwa Fouad. All rose to fame between 1960 and 1980, are still popular today, and have nearly risen to the same level of stardom and influence on the style.
Though the basic movements of Raqs Sharqi have remained the same, the dance form continues to evolve.
Mahmoud Reda is noted for incorporating elements of ballet into Raqs Sharqi and his influence can be seen in modern Egyptian dancers who stand on relevé as they turn or travel through their dance space in a circle or figure eight.
In Egypt, three main forms of the traditional dance are associated with belly dance: Baladi/Beledi, Sha'abi and Sharqi.
Egyptian belly dance was among the first styles to be witnessed by Westerners. During Napoleon's invasion of Egypt (the campaign which yielded the Rosetta stone, leading to the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics), Napoleon's troops encountered the Ghawazee tribe.
The Ghawazee made their living as professional entertainers and musicians. The women often engaged in prostitution on the side, and often had a street dedicated to their trade in the towns where they resided, though some were quasi-nomadic.
At first the French were repelled by their heavy jewelry and hair, and found their dancing "barbaric", but were soon lured by the hypnotic nature of their movements.
The most important non-Egyptian forms of belly dance are the Syrian/Lebanese and the Turkish.