Egyptian cabaret and raqs sharqi are considered by some as two different styles. However, nowadays these two styles very often overlap in the same dancer’s style so that it is often difficult to try and distinguish between the two. We could say that Raqs Sharqi tends to have smaller and more internalised movements, while Egyptian cabaret bellydance makes more use of the space and incorporates influences from ballet.
Egyptian style raqs sharqi or cabaret as we know it today, originates from the early 20th century in Egypt. It was the style that developed in Badiaa Masabni’s ‘Opera Casino’. Badiaa Masabni wanted to appeal to an international and upper class audience, so her choreographies started incorporating a larger use of the stage, a lot of footwork and influences from western dances such as ballet.
Egyptian style music incorporates orchestras with many instruments, both traditional and acoustic (i.e. tablah or nay) and modern and electric. Example of Egyptian cabaret music are Hossam Ramzy’s or Hassan Abou El Seoud’s music.
Famous Egyptian raqs dancers include the dancers/ choreographers Raqia Hassan and Ibrahim Akef, Fifi Abdo, Nagwa Fouad, Soher Zaki and, among the contemporary belly dance legends, Dina, Randa Kamel and Dandesha. Whereas, going back in time to the golden era of Egyptian belly dance in the 1950s and 1960s Samia Gamal, Naima Akef, Tahia Carioka.
In Egyptian style the movements tend to be more internalised and small than in other styles of belly dance. At the same time, even the smallest movement in Egyptian raqs, if performed well, is quite dramatic. Egyptian raqs and cabaret style include some ballet and ballroom dance influences, such as in footwork (for example the use of arabesque) and in stance and arm positions, although adapted to an oriental style. Floorwork and certain pelvic moves are banned, due to Egyptian law.
In general, when dancing with an orchestra, dancers tend to move around more and make more use of the space, while if dancing to the sound of one or two instruments (i.e. drums solos) movements are more limited to a small area. Sometimes Egyptian style cabaret dancers make an entrance with a veil, which they discard after about the first 30 seconds of dancing.
Generally, the Egyptian cabaret costume, called bedlah, is the one that many people today associate with raqs sharqi. That is, the two piece with bra and hip belt (although nowadays a lot of Egyptian cabaret costumes have beads sewed directly onto a tight skirt rather than a hip belt). Some costumes are one piece only, but all of them are elaborated and with a lot of beads. Egyptian law forbids to bare the stomach, hence, even when wearing a two piece costume set, belly dancers in Egypt cover their torso with a stocking type of material.