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Traditional Near Eastern instruments

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Near East Dance
On-line Text Book

©Natasya Katsikaris 1999-2017
Reproduction forbidden by federal copyright law.
Please contact the author if you wish to quote this material

Input and corrections are welcome ...

Recommended Reading:
Serpent of the Nile by Wendy Buonaventura 1989
Looking for Little Egypt by Donna Carlton1994
Various articles by Morocco (Carolina Varga Dinicu)
The Tribal Bible by Kajira Djoumahna

Click here to go directly to the illustrated Bellydance Movement Dictionary

Click here for all about zills (finger cymbals)

A Comprehensive Course in Near Eastern Dance Including Arabic & Turkish Music Theory for Dancers

Chapter 1: History
Chapter 2: Defining Bellydance
Chapter 3: Evolution of Bellydance
Chapter 4: Geography
Part 1: Near Eastern Music Theory for Dancers
Chapter 1: Melodic Structures and Improvisation
Chapter 2: Essential Vocabulary
Chapter 3: Instrumentation
Chapter 4: Rhythmic Structures
Part 2: Near Eastern Dance Technique for Solo Improvisational Dances
Chapter 1: Introduction to Movement Repertoire for Near Eastern Dance
Chapter 2: Movement Repertoire for Raks (Click here to a Bellydance Movement Dictionary)


The dances of the Near East, especially the solo improvisational dances, have long fascinated Westerners. Called Belly Dance in America and Raks in the East, the solo Near Eastern dances have become popular with Western audiences and dance students in spite of often being misunderstood. The solo dances of the Near East were first introduced to modern Westerners through Orientalist art of the late 1800s arising from the French and British colonization of North Africa. Americans caught their first glimpses of Bellydance at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 (Carlton).

The solo dances of the Near East have survived both European cultural prejudices and the scandal of being associated with vaudeville entertainment to earn recognition as an art form. With the movement toward Academic multiculturalism in the late 1900s and early 2000s, Near Eastern Dance is coming into its own as a fully recognized Ethnic Dance Discipline. Western styles such as Jazz Dance have also had an influence on the development of Bellydance.

This course attempts to standardize the terminology, movement repertoire, and music theory for Near Eastern Dance, an artform that has been preserved largely through oral transmission and folk traditions.

The Near Eastern Solo dances (called Belly Dance in America and Raks in the East) are a synthesis of many divergent dance cultures. In their countries of origin, these dances may be folk dances with specific names and movements, or they may simply be social dances done by men and women at weddings, parties, festivals, and other social events.

In America, Europe, and Australia, bellydance is found as a social dance within immigrant communities or as entertainment in ethnic restaurants and nightclubs. The entertainment aspect of Near Eastern Dance has proved so popular that Bellydance is increasingly taken up by Westerners. You are as likely to see a blonde-haired, blue-eyed European dancer in an Arabic or Greek nightclub as you are to see an ethnic Near-Eastern dancer.

Defining Bellydance

The dances of the Near East can be divided into two basic categories: solo improvisational dances and traditionally choreographed group line and circle dances.

Group line and circle dances are regionally and culturally specific and generally have clearly defined names, steps, costuming, and music associated with each dance.

The solo improvisational dances are a much broader category of dances. Raks or Belly Dance are the names most often given to Near Eastern Solo Improvisational Dances.

Modern Bellydance contains North African, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Romani (Gypsy), East Indian, and American Jazz influences. The argument against using an umbrella term such as bellydance is that it downplays the importance of regional folk dance styles. Egyptian dance is very different from Lebanese dance or Turkish dance. However, there is a commonality of movements and themes in the solo improvisational dances of all these countries that is easily recognized by natives and foreigners alike. In recognition of this commonality (and for simplicity's sake) the Solo Improvisational Dances of the Near East will be referred to as Raks or Bellydance in this text. Raks means "dance" in Arabic.

Evolution of Bellydance

Bellydance arrived in modern America and Europe in the late 1800s with groups of touring musicians and dancers from Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, and Persia. Starting with cultural exchanges between the Soviet Union and Egypt in the 1950s and increasing in frequency during the latter part of the century; Russian, European, and American dancers have toured the Middle East (especially Egypt) contributing the influence of Ballet, Jazz, and Modern Dance to the traditional Eastern forms. (Carolina Varga Dinicu).

This fusion of traditional dance movements that are perhaps thousands of years old with modern dances results in a vital living dance--both ancient and modern at the same time. 

In the USA, a new form called Modern Fusion or Modern Tribal Fusion has arisen which combines classic bellydance with Hip-Hop and other New World influences.  The 2000s have seen the export of this style to Europe, Australia, and South America.

Geography - Regions important to the development of belly dance

Many of the dances and styles presented in this text are regional folkloric dances, so a good working knowledge of the geography of the Near East is helpful. Bellydance is essentially a fusion born of many divergent nations and cultures. For simplicity, the nations contributing most to the development of Raks have been grouped into regions to give students a brief overview.

Region 1: Mediterranean North Africa
This region is includes (going West to East) Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. The area is heavily influenced by Arabic and Islamic culture, and to a lesser extent by European Mediterranean culture. All countries of this region are primarily Moslem. Moroccan dance is additionally influenced by Spanish, and Cale Gitano influences. Of all these countries, Egypt is the most famous for setting international bellydance and music standards. Raks Sharki and Raks Beledi are the most well-known styles of Egyptian bellydance. Cairo is an international center for the design and production of bellydance costuming.

Region 2: The Arabic Gulf
This region is comprised of the Gulf States: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, U.A.E., Kuwait. This area is almost purely influenced by Islamic and Arabic culture. Some of these countries follow isolationist policies and have had minimal influence on modern international bellydance styles. Generally closed to Westerners (except for oil company workers), very little traditional Gulf style raks is seen in the west. Khaleegi is the most well-known Gulf style solo dance.

Region 3: The Levant
Moving from South to North, this area includes Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, parts of Turkey, and parts of Iraq. Perhaps the most culturally diverse of all the regions named thus far, this area has strong Islamic, Jewish, and Christian influences as well as Arabic, Ottoman, and European influences. Turkish dance and music styles set international standards during the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Turkish dance and music styles were introduced to the U.S.A. in the 1960s. To this day, Istanbul (rivaled only by Cairo) remains a premiere center for the design and production of Bellydance costuming.

Lebanon also has a reputation for setting international dance and music standards. The Baalbek Festival held in Beirut is one of the most important music and dance festivals in the Middle East. Lebanese music and dancers are popular throughout the Middle East, rivaled only by the Egyptians for their international appeal.

Region 4: Mediterranean & Balkan Europe, Asia Minor
Belly Dance is found, to an extent in Western Turkey, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Greece. In these countries, bellydance is attributed to the Ottoman reign. The Greek social dance, Tsiftetelli, is a style of bellydance thought to be introduced by the Turks yet gradually becoming part of Greek culture over time. Bellydance is often performed by Romanes (Gypsy) dancers in popular tourist spots of Istanbul.
In SPAIN, dances similar to bellydance are done by the Cale Gitanos. Versions of the Zambra Mora done barefoot wearing a low skirt and fringe scarves are very similar to bellydance and so included here.

Region 5: Central Asia and the Far East (Silk Road)
This region is includes all or parts of the following countries: Iran, Turkistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan. Although these regions are not the Near East, dances similar to Raks are sometimes found throughout the regions associated with the Silk Road. Women's solo dances of Central ia and Persia (Iran) are very different from Bellydance and most notable or their beautiful arm and hand work.
(Robyn Friend, Laurel Victoria Gray)

It is possible that some of the movements and costuming associated with Belly Dance originated in India, especially in Punjabi and Banjara styles. Popular lore claims these movements were brought west along the Silk Road by migrations of Romanes and other nomads. However this is theory--and difficult to prove as fact. Some historians claim East Indian influences are present in Flamenco.

Obviously, a trade route as important as the Silk Road must have influenced dance and music. Beginning with Alexander the Great, various empires, including the Persian and Arabic empires, have reached as far East as India. Trade across the Arabian Sea may have also played a role in the blending of East Indian and Arabic dance cultures.

In American dance culture, Ruth St. Denis introduced East Indian dance and costume stylings to the USA. Her influence is present in the evolution of American Tribal Style bellydance. (Kajira Djoumahna).

Bellydance as it exists today is a social dance done throughout all the regions mentioned above. Currently bellydance styles are most heavily influenced by Egyptian, Lebanese, Turkish, and Romanes styles. All the countries mentioned have their own unique regional dances styles.

There is no "one" form of Bellydance in the countries of its origin, rather many different styles share common movements and themes.

Near Eastern Music Theory for Dancers
Chapter 1
Melodic Structures and Improvisation

In Near Eastern culture, the music and dance are intimately linked. In contrast to Western traditions, Near Eastern dance culture places great emphasis on the dynamic and spontaneous interplay between dancers and musicians. Dancers and musicians both improvise, often playing musical "games" with each other whereby the dancer's movement responds to musical phrasing, or musical phrasing is improvised to suit the dancer's movements.

Although this important aspect of traditional Raks is lost with the use of recorded music, an understanding of Near Eastern music is essential for any dance student who wishes to master bellydance improvisational techniques.

Near Eastern music is quite different from Western music. Dancers native to Near Eastern culture may be able to instinctively improvise Raks movement based on a life-long exposure to the structures and rhythms of Near Eastern music. Western dancers, however, study the music theory in order to understand the dynamic interplay between dance and music and how this interplay structures and informs the dance movement of Raks.

Structured Improvisation
The role of improvisation in Near Eastern music and dance can not be overemphasized. Musical compositions are written with "room" for improvisation. It is an expected and important part of Near Eastern music. Every song, from simple folk songs to complex pieces of Art music will have a space for individual improvisation. In this way, Near Eastern music closely resembles American Jazz. Indeed, some of the conventions of modern Jazz music may be due to the influence of Near Eastern musicians living in New York in the 1950s and 1960s.

As with Jazz music, a typical Near Eastern combo will play a theme, let each member of the band take turns improvising, then return to the theme. Even when using recorded music, dancers should be aware of this basic structure and adjust their improvisational technique accordingly. Raks is an improvisational form, but it is not without structure. Bellydance improvisation is defined by the movement repertoire and musical structure. Musical phrasing and rhythmic structure inform and guide Raks improvisation. Choice of movement will depend heavily on the rhythm, tempo and style of the music.
Examples of this are: the use of Lyrical Movement during slower passages or Percussive movement during a Drum Solo.

Regional music styles by their very nature invoke specific regional repertoires of Raks movement. An understanding of the concept of Structured Improvisation is essential to the study of Near Eastern dance.

Chapter 2
Musical Vocabulary

The following terms define basic concepts in Near Eastern musical theory:

Maqam (Arabic) or Dromo (Greek): Similar to a scale in Western music. A maqam is a series of notes organized in set intervals between octaves. Maqam theory is similar in concept to the East Indian Raga. There are over 100 different maqams. Different regions may have their own maqams, however some, like Sabah, Hicaz, and many others are standard throughout the Near East. A maqam is similar in concept to a scale because it is a series of notes between two octaves. However, a more precise comparison might be the idea that a Maqam is similar to a theme in Jazz music. It is less specific than a song yet more specific than a scale. Maqams are said to have different moods or colors and certain maqams may be associated with certain hours of the day or night.

Modulation: When a song changes from one Maqam (dromo) to another.

Microtones or Quartertones:
Western music is built on whole-tone and half-tone intervals. In Western music, between two notes C and D is considered a whole-tone interval. Going up the scale from C, the interval between C and C# (C sharp) is considered a half-tone interval. Likewise, going down the scale one half-tone interval from D, gives the note Db (D flat). C sharp and D flat are the same note; both describe the half-tone interval between C and D.The appellation sharp or flat simply indicates whether one is moving up or down the scale.

Near Eastern music makes use of Quartertones and Microtones. In Arabic music, the whole-tone interval between the notes C and D can be broken down into quartertone intervals. Going up the scale from C in Arabic music gives us: C, C half-sharp, and C sharp. Going down the scale from D renders: D, D half-flat, and D flat.

More complex than Arabic music, Turkish musical theory divides the whole-tone interval into ninths. In Turkish music, a C sharp could be a one coma sharp, a two coma sharp, etc. It is this use of microtones that sometimes gives Eastern music a discordant sound to Western ears. However, once one develops a taste for the Maqams of the Near East, the incredible subtlety and range of emotional expression available through the use of microtones becomes compelling. Microtones are occasionally present in Western Jazz, Blues, and Rock music through the "bending" of notes.

Taqsim or Taximi:
A solo improvisation. The taximi may be played either at the beginning or in the middle of a song. When played as an introduction to a song, the taximi explores the maqam (melodic structure) without any particular rhythm.

Within the song, the taximi is a improvisation inserted between the regular verses or refrains of the song. In this case the melodic or drumsolo improvisation follows the rhythmic structure of the song. The taximi "lays on top of" the regular rhythm.

Typically, different members of the band trade-off taximis, similar to an American Jazz combo.

Song Structure in Near Eastern Music:
As with Western songs, Near Eastern songs usually have a basic melody, chorus, and refrain. An important addition to this structure is the use of Improvisation: Taqsim (Arabic) or Taximi (Greek). In Near Eastern music, even formal Art Music compositions are written with "room" for the taximi. The importance of Improvisation is echoed in the Dance Theory as well.

A vocal taximi, usually in the beginning of the song. Amanes are often associated with Greek Rebetika music, but may be heard in Roma, Turkish, and Kurdish music as well. Typical words sung during the Amane would be "aman, medet aman". There is no literal translation for this. It might be equivalent to saying "Oh God!" but not exactly. One does not dance during the Amanes as they often express existential emotions or suffering as well as highlighting the skill of the vocalist.

Chapter 3

The Near East enjoys a rich musical heritage with many unique musical instruments not found in the West. Some Western instruments have been adapted by Easterners, however, due to the use of microtones, not all Western instruments can be adapted to Eastern music.

The following is a list of the most commonly used instruments in Near Eastern music. Other instruments exist, but the following list is summarizes the instruments most often used to play music for Near Eastern Dance.

Dumbek or Darbukka: The universal drum of the Near East, shaped like an hour-glass. Traditionally it was made of clay with a fish skin (in Egypt) or goat skin head. Now dumbeks are made of cast aluminum with vinyl heads, although the traditional clay ones are still easily available. The drum is held across the lap and played with both hands.

Riqq: A tambourine made from a round wooden frame with small cymbals set into the sides. A fish skin head was traditional, but riqqs are now made of aluminum with plastic heads as well. The riqq is played with much more finesse than the Western tambourine. It is a true musical instrument capable of complex rhythms.

Bendir: A wooden frame drum with a deep mellow sound. Traditional bendirs were headed with Goat or cow skin, however, plastic is the most common head now. The bendir is most commonly held with the left hand and struck with the right.

Tabl Beledi or Davul: A two headed drum played with one large and one small stick, the Tabl Beledi is used throughout North Africa and the Davul is used in Asia Minor, Anatolia, and Kurdestan. The drum is usually strapped on and played while standing, walking, or even dancing. This is a loud drum associated with folk music, festivals, parades, weddings, etc.

Oud: A stringed instrument used throughout the Near East, the oud is the precursor of the European lute. The oud has a bulbous laminated wood body with a short, wide fretless neck. Eleven gut (or plastic) strings are arranged in double courses with the lowest note being single. Strummed with an Eagle feather in the past, the oud is now played with a long flexible plastic pick. (photo courtesy of Dan Eshoo Sr.)

Kanun: The pre-courser to the piano, the kanun is a multi-stringed instrument similar to a zither or harp with a sound box. The kanun is used throughout the Near East, however, there are differences between Arabic and Turkish kanuns. A trapezoidal flat wooden sound box forms the base of the kanun, additionally, a skin drum forms part of the sound box which creates the kanun's characteristic resonant sound. Across the base and supported by bridges are strung multiple courses of strings. Strings are plucked with metal and plastic finger picks. The strings are tuned with a tuning key. Additionally, at the end of each string is a series of small levers called mandals. The number of mandals in the up or down position renders the note as one coma sharp, two comas sharp, etc. Not surprisingly, the kanun is considered the most difficult and complex of all Near Eastern instruments

Electric Bass: With the advent of modern fusion, fretless electric bass guitars are often being used by Egyptian and Lebanese musicians.

Saz: Primarily a Turkish instrument used throughout Asia Minor, Anatolia, and parts of Central Asia, the saz is a long-necked lute with a gourd-shaped body. It has 7 metal strings arranged in two double and one triple course. The saz has movable frets. Different sized sazes are called cura saz (smallest), baglama saz (regular size) and divan saz (largest size). The saz is used in both Folkloric and Art music. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Eshoo)

Violin: Exactly the same as the Western violin. Due to its fretless neck, the violin is easily adapted to Near Eastern music making it one of the most versatile of all musical instruments.

Cumbus: The cumbus (pronounced jimbush) is essentially a banjo with an oud neck and metal strings. The body is a round metal cylinder with a plastic head. The cumbus is played almost exclusively by Roma in Asia Minor.

Rebaba and Kemence: The rebaba is a primitive Egyptian "violin" sometimes called a spike fiddle. The rebaba is made of a coconut shell or gourd with a skin head. A spike comes out of the body to support the instrument on the ground as it is played. The neck is a rounded stick with pegs on the end for tuning the strings. Metal strings do not actually rest against the neck as they do on modern stringed instruments. The rebaba is played with a bow as is the violin. The rebaba is, not surprisingly, very difficult to play. It is used almost exclusively in Egyptian Saidi and Ghawazee music. A similar Turkish "spike fiddle" is called the Kemence. These spike fiddles are considered Folkloric and are not used in Art music.

Accordion: Quartertone accordions have become a mainstay in Egyptian music, although they are increasingly being replaced by synthesizer keyboards. Regular accordions are also used in Balkan, Greek, and some Turkish music, most often by the Roma.

Clarinet and Saxophone: Throughout Asia Minor, the clarinet is the lead melody instrument of choice. In Greek, Turkish, and Roma music, the clarinet plays a key role. The musicians of Asia Minor tend to achieve microtones by "bending" notes (through finger placement and breath control). Quartertone clarinets and saxophones are sometimes used by Egyptian and Lebanese musicians.

Ney: The Western-style flute is almost never used in Near Eastern music. Instead, a reed flute called a Ney is used throughout the Near East. Neys are in different keys according to their size. Placement of finger holes allows for microtone notes. The ney is similar in sound and fingering to the flute. It is played by blowing across a breath hole, much as is the flute, however, the embouchure of the mouth is quite different as the instrument is held more "vertically" than the flute. The ney is played in both Folkloric and Art music, it is especially used in the Sufi devotional music of Turkey.

Mizmar or Zerna: A reeded pipe similar to the modern oboe. The Mizmar is played in Egyptian Saidi and Ghawazee music, the Zerna in Turkish and Kurdish music. These instruments are loud and raucous and are played in Folk songs rather than Art music.

A typical Arabic combo playing bellydance music might include: A dumbek, riqq, oud, kanun, violin, ney, and vocalist. In Egypt, an accordion might be used as well.

An Egyptian Ghawazee or Fellahin band would include: a tabl beledi, dumbek, several mizmars, several rebabas, a ney, and vocalist.

A Romanes combo of Asia Minor would include: Dumbek, oud, kanun, cumbus, violin, clarinet, and vocalist.

A traditional Turkish combo would include: a davul, several sazes (baglama, cura, divan, etc.), a ney, a zerna, and a vocalist.

In Spain, the Cale Gitanos perform the Zambra Moro to the music of the guitar and hand-clapping. While not Raks in the strictest sense, this dance is closely related to Raks.

Chapter 4
Rhythmic Structures for belly dance

2, 4, & 8-beat 2/4, 4/4, & 8/8 rhythms form the foundation of Egyptian and Arabic dance. They are the easiest for Americans to learn as most American popular music is in 4/4 time. Beledi and Saidi are Egyptian rhythms that have been played since ancient times. Other 4/4 and 8/8 dance rhythms include: Zaar, Ayyub, Maqsum, and Malfuf. Tsiftetelli (Grk.) or Chiftetelli (Turk.) is an 8 or 16 beat rhythm indigenous to Asia Minor which spread as far as Egypt.

5-beat 5/4 and 5/8 rhythms are rare. 5-beat rhythms appear in Turkish and Greek music, Moroccan Jajuka trance dances, East Indian music, and American Jazz. The related 10/8 rhythm is prevalent in Armenian music & line dances.

6-beat (includes ¾ and 6/8 rhythms) 6/8 rhythms form the foundation of Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian, and Persian dance music. Americans are familiar with the related 3/4Waltz. Persian 6/8 differs considerably from the North African in both melodic style and dance movement. 6/8 rhythms appear in East Indian dance as well.

7-beat 7/8 rhythms are used for line dancing in Turkish, Greek, Balkan, and Armenian music as well as solo dances in East Indian music. Some Armenian 7/8 line dances are considered men's dances, while other 7/8 dances are performed by women or mixed groups.

9-beat 9/8 and 9/4 rhythms are indigenous to Asia Minor. A spirited couples' or women's solo dance performed to 9/8 is called Karsilama and in the USA, musicians often refer to the rhythm by this name as well. Bellydancers influenced by Turkish or Greek styles often perform at least one Karsilama in their sets. The Romanes (Gypsies) of Asia Minor use a stylized "blues" form of playing and singing 9/8. The improvisational solo dance done to this style includes stylized movements where the dancer strikes herself. Romanes Karsilama uses hip and torso movements found in "bellydance" but also includes more footwork than is commonly associated with other forms of bellydance. Other 9/4 rhythms include Tamsara (Assyrian and Armenian line dance), Zeybek (Turkish) and Zebekiko (Greek) which are men's solo dances. In Greece, Zebekiko is associated with Rebetiko (urban "Blues" music).

Part 2
Bellydance Technique

Movement Repertoire for Near Eastern Dance

The movement repertoire Near Eastern group line and circle dances is very different from the movement repertoire for bellydance.

Line and Circle Dances are almost exclusively comprised of stepping, hopping, or leaning movements. The torso is generally erect and the body carriage vertical although some dances may involve squatting (deep plié) or leaning. Generally hands are clasped with the hands of other dancers or hands are placed on the shoulders of other dancers. The movement repertoire is basic and simple, the complexity of the dances comes from the arrangements of steps and figures or patterns created by the dancers (circles, lines, etc.).

In contrast, bellydance has a much larger movement repertoire.  Complexity in bellydance styles comes from improvisational creativity and the large variety of movements from which the dancer may chose. Bellydance movements are also much "freer" than Line Dance movements, there is far more twisting, bending, and swaying of the torso in bellydance.

For obvious reasons, bellydance incorporates far more hand and arm movement than Line and Circle dances (which are done holding hands or shoulders).

Movement Repertoire for Belly Dance

A note on the movement names:
At this point in time, no standard terminology exists to describe the movement repertoire for Bellydance. Dances and movements have largely been taught by example. The naming conventions used here represent my best efforts to assign descriptive names to the movements of bellydance while using standard accepted musical terminology or ballet-based terms where applicable.

Belly Dance technique may be divided into four basic types of movement:
Lyrical, Percussive, Locomotor, and Layered.

Lyrical or Fluid (muscular) movements are characterized by a smooth flowing quality. The origin of the movements is in the muscles. Lyrical movements give the illusion of being purely muscular--the dancer appears to have no bones. Lyrical movements have a watery or wave-like quality, one movement flows into the next. They are often performed during a taximi or to slow tempo music, usually melodic. Lyrical movement can be arrhythmic (not following any specific meter).

Percussive (mechanical) movements are characterized by a sharp, exact, quality. Percussive movements are often performed during drum solos or to fast-tempo music. The movements should appear to be "mechanical" and precise. Percussive movements often use "locks" and stops. Percussive movements should always be executed rhythmically (on the meter of the song).

Locomotor movements are moving steps. They are all variations on the basic walk Many movements, either lyrical or percussive, can be turned into Locomotor movements by layering the movement onto a "walk".

Layering is an important concept in Belly Dance. Layering is the process of adding one movement to another to execute both simultaneously. For example: a percussive movement (the hip shimmy) can be layered onto a basic walk. The resulting movement is the Locomotor Movement shimmy walk.

Some layered movements may mix lyrical and percussive elements. Percussive movement can be layered onto lyrical movement (shimmy layered onto a hip figure 8) to produce a mixed effect.
Carolena Nericcio and Suhaila Salimpour both teach "layering" concepts.

Some movement combinations, while not strictly layering, may also produce "mixed" effects. A lyrical movement may end with a lock according to the musical phrasing to produce a dramatic effect.

Level Changes
Level Changes can be considered two ways:
1. as a variation of Layering
i.e. a hip shimmy is layered onto a grand plie--sometimes called a shimmy down
2. as an element of movement
i.e. dance movements can be executed standing, in releve, on the floor, etc.
Click below to see an illustration of the basic levels used in belly dance:
neutral--legs soft (basic posture for most movements)
demi-plie (demee plee-ay = half-bend)
knees bent as far as possible with feet flat
grand plie (grand plee-ay = full bend) grand plie in performance
knees bent as far as possible, heels come up (used in level changes)
Note:  knees are always parallel in a bellydance plie--no turn out.
plie releve (plee-ay rel-ev-ay)
on the toe with knees bent (used in some hip shimmys, hip lifts)
releve (re-le-vay = raised)
on the toe with knees soft
demi releve / flat ball--one foot flat the other on ball, used in many traveling steps
Models:   Natasya Katsikaris, JoAnn Terry, Byzantium Dancers

Note on terms unique to Belly Dance:

some movements are unique to bellydance and have no ballet equivalent or descriptive term.
a vibrato movement alternating up & down or side to side
a tense, fast vibrato movement. Involves less mechanical movement and more muscular tension than the shimmy
An isolation movement on the horizontal.  Head may slide from side to side or front to back on a horizontal plane.  Chest may slide from side to side or front to back on a horizontal plane. Hips may slide from side to side or front to back on a horizontal plane.

Basic Posture for Near Eastern Dance:  feet together, toes pointed straight ahead, knees slightly bent.  Spine straight, chest lifted, and hips / low back neutral.  Low center of gravity.  Never arch the back in basic posture as this could cause back injury.  Basic posture is also "First Position". (front view) (side view).   Spine is straight, chest lifted (not arched) and hips in neutral alignment.
 Egyptian Posture (photo coming),  In the following Tribal Style PostureLayback Posture the spine is neutral (perfectly straight) ... it is never "arched" even though it might appear so.

It is impossible to completely catalog all the different foot and arm placements used in Near Eastern Dance. However, most of the foot and arm placements can be considered as variations of the basic ballet positions 1-5 modified to Belly Dance.

The following photos show some (by no means all) of the hand and foot placements used in Near Eastern Dance.  
Models: JoAnn Terry, Natasya Katsikaris, Jessica Martinez, Byzantium Dancers, Vicki Westerling, Lucia Renteria, Brittney McWethy, Kaeli Brown, Cassi Nye

First Position Arms , 1st arms (variation)
First Position Feet , variation of feet
Second Position Arms , 2nd Low , 2nd High
Second Position Feet , Wide Second
Third Position arms , Beledi Variation , chorus line variation   
3rd Position feet
Fourth Position Arms ,  Bolero 4th  ,  Egyptian 4th
4th Position feet
  , Variation of feet
Fifth Position Arms , Egyptian Fifth ,  Low ,
Variation 1
, Variation 2 , Variation 3 ,
Variation 4, Variation 5 in performance
Fifth Position feet

Click here to see a full description of the system

Head slides, head rolls (from Zaar or Guedra trance dance)

Arms & Hands
Lyrical Movements:
snake arms, hand floreos, shoulder rolls.
The basic Snake Arms movement has several variations:
twisting snake arms, low snake arms, high snake arms, etc.
Poses and Positions:
Positions 1 - 5 modified for Near Eastern dance (see above illustrations)
Persian and Central Asian Arm Poses

Shoulder Shimmy (even time and triplet time), Shoulder drop, Shoulder freeze, "Kurdish" shimmy (a shoulder freeze executed with the arms in 1st and hands clasped behind the hips).
The basic shoulder shimmy can be executed with one shoulder or both.
Please see Birgul Benay in Eva Cernick's Istanbul Nightclubs video for an illustration of the "Kurdish" shimmy used in Orientale.
shoulder rolls and twisting snake arms involve both shoulders and arms.

Lyrical Movements:
lateral chest slide, chest circle, lateral chest Figure 8
(Figure 8s are also called Infinities by Morocco).
Chest Circles have many variations including:  horizontal chest circles, vertical chest circles and diagonal chest circles.
Percussive Movements: Egyptian chest pop, chest drop

Lyrical: Vertical Torso Undulation (also called camel or body wave).
The vertical torso undulation usually initiates in the chest and rolls down through the hips. (Roll down)
A "reverse" may also be executed initiating in the hips and rolling up through the chest.  (Roll up)
Lateral (Sideways) Torso Undulation.

Belly roll, reverse belly roll, belly flutter, belly pops and belly drops.

Lyrical Hip Movements:
Hip Circles. The Hip Circle movement has 3 basic directions:
horizontal hip circle, vertical hip circle, and diagonal hip circle.
Hip Circles also come in 3 basic sizes:
Large hip circles (Egyptian Style), Medium Hip circles (Arabic Style) and small hip circles (similar to Samba or Tahitian Style "Omi").
Hip circles may also be executed as half-circles or one-leg hip circles.
Figure 8s (called Infinities by Morocco, called Mayas by Salimpour).
The hip Figure 8 has 4 basic types:
Horizontal front, horizontal back, vertical up, and vertical down.
Figure 8s may also have a mixed nature, neither purely horizontal nor purely vertical, but a mixture of both.
Figure 8s may also be executed with one hip only.
Hip Undulations (similar to an Arabic in Salimpour and Nericcio formats).
The Hip Undulation is often layered onto a walk.

Percussive Hip Movements:
hip snap, hip drop, hip twist, hip locks, and hip shimmy (even time or triplet time).
Even Time Shimmy denotes one movement per one count of music--the count would be 1-2-1-2 in 2/4 time (up-down-up-down). Even Time shimmys may be done double-time (twice as fast) or half-time (slower) but the movement count is always even with the meter (beat of the music).
Triplet Hip Shimmys may be done "up-down-up, down-up-down, up-up-down" etc. There are many variations. Triplet is used according to standard musical terminology:  it denotes 3 movements done to 2 beats of music
(Count 1&2 3&4 in 4/4 time).
Similar patterns (up-down-up, etc.) could be done to 3/4 or 6/8 time music yielding a 3/4 or 6/8 shimmy.  
Note:   There is some confusion over the term 3/4 shimmy.  Naming conventions used here attempt to resolve the confusion by basing names on the time signature (count) of the music.
I.E.. all 2/4, 4/4, or 8/8 time signatures will take a triplet shimmy
3/4 music will yield a 3/4 shimmy.
Recommended video to learn shimmies: Suhaila Salimpour shimmy video

Locomotor Movements:
Beledi Walk, Shimmy Walk, Grapevine Step, Ghawazee, Algerian Walk, Double-Algerian, Twist walk, Saidi Hops, & many other variations on the basic walk.  Armenian and Persian dance has footwork identical to the Hip-Hop zigzag or float (also called Suzie Q)

Axis Turn (a pivot turn onto which a movement is layered.}
Dancer turns on her own axis. Could be described--front side back side, around the world, etc.  Hip drops, hip circles, hip undulations etc. are commonly layered onto an Axis Turn.
Chaine Turns (shen-ay = chain) Sequential turns moving across the floor
Spins--sometimes called paddle turn. Dancer spins in one place
Barrel Turns--a spin spotting the floor. See the movie Latcho Drom

Poses, Floorwork, and balancing moves for bellydance:

Belly Dance makes use of poses which highlight a dancer's flexibility and/or balancing skill with a prop.
The Standing Back Bend (Model: Natasya Katsikaris) is used in almost all styles of Belly Dance. Another back bend
Although not used in all styles of Belly Dance, Floorwork is an integral part of many styles. Some floorwork poses are similar to Yoga poses. Where applicable, yoga names are listed along with the descriptive name.
Yoga names for poses taken from B.K.S. Iyengar's Light On Yoga
kneeling back bend (Model: JoAnn Terry)
Turkish Back Bend / Supta Virasana (Models: Byzantium Dancers at Ojai Day 2003)
Turkish backbend / Supta Virasana Variation (Model: Paris Maloof at Ventura Bellydance Festival)
Splits / Hanumanasana (Models: Fusion Studio students Kaeili & Cassi)  Splits w/ 5th position arms (Joann Terry)
Cobra / Bhujangasana   (often done balancing a sword or other prop)
Model: JoAnn Terry
The following are all variations of Vasisthasana. I am calling them Side Cobras since they are usually done in series with the Cobra (above).  
Side Cobra Model: Amara at Ventura Bellydance Festival
Side Cobra , Side Cobra (low) , Side Cobra (high) Model: JoAnn Terry
Pigeon Pose with Sword (EkaPadaRajaKapotasana) Model: Paris Maloof at Ventura Bellydance Festival.

zill rhythms for near eastern dance

Triplet Zills (2/4)
Beledi Zills (8/8)
Bolero Zills (8/8)

level 2 & 3 zill rhythms

Tsiftetelli (16/8)
T tk

Karsilama 9/8

D = Dun (bass note, 1 count)
T = Tek (high note, 1 count)
P = Pop (accent note, 1 count)
tk = tekka (2 sounds in 1 beat  "1&" )


Belly dance Styles YouTube examples:

New World Bellydance Styles:
American Cabaret or Orientale
American Cabaret ... more ... more ...

American Tribal Style (ATS - Nericcio format)
American Tribal Style

Youtube of ATS bellydance
Youtube - ATS to 6/8 rhythm

Modern Fusion - Vintage Revival
Rachel Brice & The Indigo , Rachel Brice Solo
Modern Tribal Fusion
Zoe Jakes, UnMata

Old World & Traditional Dances
Rajathani dance influened American Tribal Style belly dance
Egyptian Style
(Raqs Sharqi) More ...
Classic Egyptian Style
Egyptian party dance on TV with star Dina
Folkloric or Beledi Egyptian Style
Katy - classic Egyptian my favorite
Katy was a Greek dancer who lived and danced in Egypt during the "golden era" of Egyptian musical films
Lebanese style belly dance
Amani, my favorite lebanese dancer,  more ... more ...
Turkish style
Turkish Roman (Gypsy) style
Lesson in Turkish Roman style
excellent Turkish Roma dance... and more
male Turkish Roma dance ... a more macho guy
Real *Gypsy* dance ... more ...  hungarian ... more ...
Skirt Work is Eastern Europe Roma ... not so much Turkish
Please note the difference between Americanized "fantasy Gypsy style" and real Romanes ...
Greek Tsiftetelli (Belly dance) more ... party style ...
Greek-American 9/8
Tsiftetelli to Bourneli - classic song
Flamenco Fusion Belly dance