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  • Lisa Lumina

Lebanese Style

Post 3 of 10.

This post is to give students enough of an orientation to Lebanese style to get the lay of the land. You can probably tell by how much shorter than the others it is, but there is more to the story which you're better off learning from sources more focused on this style. ​


Some things to draw attention to in the Lebanese style: During the early 20th century the Egyptian and Lebanese styles were pretty much the same. Badia Masabni, who owned and operated the Casino Opera where many golden era Egyptian dancers got their start, was a Lebanese woman who moved to Cairo, which was like the Hollywood for Arabic speaking media, much like actors in the US gravitate to either NY of LA, depending on whether they want to be in films or on stage. On that note, while Cairo is often compared to Hollywood, Beirut is often compared to Paris.

In this playlist (it says unavailable, but click to open it in youtube and it should load) you'll see Nadia Jamal performances from 1955 to the 80s. She was born to Greek and Egyptian parents in Egypt, and was pivotal in the development of the Lebanese style. In the early clips, you can see how her dancing looks a lot like the style from post 2 of 10.

This is the same dancer in a Hindi film that was released 5 years before Lebanon's civil war started. Nadia Jamal is the dancer who influenced the addition of Jazz elements to Lebanese dance, and you can clearly see the change in her dancing here.

Lebanese also has it's own tradition with the cane, rooted in dabke, which is discussed in this post. You may also come across Lebanese dancers doing Sa'idi tableaus, so don't get confused.

Lebanese style includes floorwork and high heels. Some of the big names that are known by English speakers, especially from the 80s and 90s, actually came from outside of Lebanon, including Samara, from Iraq (above), and Giselle, from Brazil (below).

Many dancers, including Lebanese superstar Amani, maintain that there aren’t really differences in styles from one country to another, only differences in individual dancer’s personal styles. There are two reasons I find studying styles helpful: one is that it gives a way to look at the history of how social, political, and technological changes have influenced the dance, and the other is that it lets you interpret each style on it’s own terms. In terms of historical influences for Lebanese style, factors influencing the style include Bedouin and dabke folklore, colonization and Westerners drawing borders all over, a civil war, and a culture generally accepting of plastic surgery.

On this second reason, I have heard some dancers proclaim that “it’s all bellydance, we don’t need these divisions!” in one sentence, and then mere minutes later complain that some dancer doing something “wrong” because they were following a different style. We cannot evaluate a vintage Egyptian performance by modern Turkish aesthetic values, no more than we can evaluate a football game by ballet’s rules.


That said, a “style” is more like an accent. Each dancer will absolutely have their own VOICE, their personal style, but the same way you can tell the difference between two people’s voices even if they have the same accent, there is still such a thing as dialect differences. Saying “elevator” or “lift” can both be correct, depending on which dialect you mean to speak. Dancing with a veil streaming behind you for an entrance before tossing it or entering wrapped and languidly dancing with the veil for your entire second song are both correct ways to dance with a veil, but correct in the context of different styles/dialects. 


Additionally, the same way an accent changes over time, with words falling out of favor and new slang being added, naming a region where raqs is done cannot define a style without also marking a time period. We don’t talk like Chaucer, or like our grandparents for that matter, and times change the dance as well. In the case of Lebanese style, Nadia Jamal's experimentation with jazz elements became popular and influenced other dancers who came after her.


Again, the best way to get a handle on what is different between each style vs what is just different between individual dancers is to watch a collection of dancers in the same style, then another style, then the first again. Just enjoy diving into that youtube rabbit hole!

Lastly, I want to warn you that you might hear people call Lebanese style “a cross between Turkish and Egyptian", which is not true, and could come across as insulting to a dancer who focuses on Lebanese style. While it does have a jazzy-ness like Turkish (more on that later) and the Arabic roots like Egyptian, it came to this place on its own, not by crossing the two styles.

Next week we'll cover Turkish style through the ages!

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