Sharqi (Classical)

Pale blue skirt and veil, temple arms 'Sharqi' or 'Classical' Egyptian dance expresses the rich and beautiful traditions of Egyptian Arabic classical music. It emphasises 'musicality' in Egyptian dance: movements take on new qualities to express the melodies, rhythms, moods and instrumentation of the music. In other words the movement conventions reflect the music. There are two forms of Sharqi Egyptian dance: 'Traditional' or 'Courtly' Sharqi and 'Modern' Sharqi.

‘Traditional’ or ‘Courtly’ Sharqi

This is danced to ‘traditional’ or ‘courtly’ style Egyptian classical music – originally Turkish-inspired Egyptian art music of the late 19th century.  It was played by small ensembles of highly trained musicians, mainly in the homes of wealthy or ‘aristocratic’ families, as private entertainment.

The music was refined and exquisite, following set patterns, creating a feeling of ‘Tarab’ or ‘enchantment’ – and performances could last for hours. Performances were usually for men, but women would have been familiar with the music, having heard it filtering through from the men’s quarters or possibly as versions played by professional female musicians (‘Awalim’) on occasions in the women’s private quarters.

'Modern' Sharqi

This is danced to Egyptian classical music composed during the mid-20th century and played by large orchestras that sometimes included western musical instruments such as the cello and double bass. The music was innovative and confident, expansive and sweeping, with strong rhythmic lines and lyrical melodies. Key composers of this period include Mohammed Abdul Wahab and Farid el Atrash - look out for recordings by them. Their compositions are still hugely acclaimed.

The movement conventions reflect the music: expansive use of space and body line and varied qualities of movements ranging from powerful to refined through which the dancer can express the rhythm and 'feel' of the melodies. The taqasim sections (solo instrumental improvisations) offer rich opportunities for interpretation.

Modern Sharqi is the most contemporary form of Egyptian dance. It embodies influences from the film star Samia Gamal and her ballet training and has been developed for theatre performance in the UK and rest of Europe. 

Obviously, there are no moving images available of dance in women’s private domains, but this form of Egyptian classical music has become a valued part of Raqs Sharqi performances in a western concert or theatre venue.  The Society defines the dance conventions of ‘traditional’ or ‘courtly’ Sharqi as being refined and delicate with contained use of body and floor space - reflecting the essential qualities of the music.  The ‘taqasim’ (solo improvisation by a single musical instrument, expressed by the dancer) is a feature.