Active member
The "Misirlou" clips are good example of the importance doing your own musical research. If you just download a single version of a song at the suggestion of a teacher and listen to it 15 times, you're going to have a more impoverished learning experience than if you spend the same amount of time listening to Shanazel's clips and poking around online to find...

Mosavo's version

and George Abdo's version

and this frantic Latin-fusion/ elevator-music version by Xavier Cugat

and this vintage version produced for classic Turkish star Özel Türkbaş

and the famous Dick Dale version

and a Greek version

and Chubby Checker's version with a Spanish verse in the middle

and late, great cymbal-casting master Harry Saroyan's version (he also chose the lyrics with the Spanish verse)

and a klezmer version

and this group's "Gypsy Swing" version

and an Armenian version

and this organ version by Korla Pandit that: (1) sounds like it would rock a Halloween hafla, and (2) is such a racial hornet's nest that you definitely need to understand the backstory before even considering performing to it (no, seriously, go read who Korla Pandit was https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korla_Pandit)

and an Indian version

and a version with an orchestra and a Theremin?!

A kaleidoscope of ethnic versions! Traditional versions! Modernized versions! Crazy versions!

"Misirlou" is one of the most beloved and covered songs from that part of the world, and everybody has an idea for how to play it, so it's a bit of an outlier. (Don't be intimidated. Most songs won't have hours of different versions online.) Nevertheless, which dancer got a better understanding of the ways a band might play "Misirlou"? Or how production changes between different ethnic musical traditions? Or how the lyrics sound in different languages, even without understanding the words? Not the one who listened to the same MP3 15 times!

You can't learn everything from one song, but over time, patterns start to develop, and that's where you build those critical dance skills.

Now, I'm going to get up on the soapbox and holler.


Dancing 👋 is 👋 about 👋 hearing 👋music 👋 and 👋 wanting 👋 to 👋 move👋 to 👋 it 👋👋👋.

Magicians have sleight of hand skills and a collection of illusions.

Dancers have dance technique and music.

The songs you choose and the way you dance to those songs are the equivalent of a magician's tricks and the vibe of their act (e.g., Doug Henning was mysterious, Penn & Teller are funny, Harry Anderson was grifty).

These things define you as a performer.

You should be passionate about what defines you!

If your priority is swanning around in pretty clothes while people clap, you're just doing formalwear exercising for an audience.

Pre-internet, students had an excuse to be musically uninformed, but we have a richness of resources now that should leave every dancer sobbing at how much amazing music you'll never have time to discover and share.

Don't be afraid of ME music. Make time to listen to as much different ME music as you can. Hearing a wide variety of songs builds your ear, so songs and artists that sound "too foreign" at first become familiar and relatable.

No, you won't love everything you find, and that's okay. Dive in anywhere. If you only like Tarkan's voice or Gulf pop at first, cool. Start there. Just start. And keep digging. There's so much wonderful music in that part of the world!


"The Veiled Male"
"Miserable Lou". I tend to drop into a Greek dance for this one...

I never choreograph anything (for solo performances) - HOWEVER - if you've performed to a certain piece of music enough times, it starts turning into a choreography anyway, usually a "spot" or "skeleton" choreo. I'm horrid at dancing choreos, but they're a necessary evil in troupe performances.

Cobra Hips

New member
"Miserable Lou". I tend to drop into a Greek dance for this one...

I never choreograph anything (for solo performances) - HOWEVER - if you've performed to a certain piece of music enough times, it starts turning into a choreography anyway, usually a "spot" or "skeleton" choreo. I'm horrid at dancing choreos, but they're a necessary evil in troupe performances.
Yeah I have some songs I have been dancing to and I have made up Kinda/sorta choreos for them. :D

Cobra Hips

New member
💥Brace for word avalanche!💥

I'm going to go in a slightly different direction and say there's not really one answer to this question because the who, where, and when represent a wide range of possible authentic cabaret performing styles. A dancer doing some form of traditional ME dancing to some type of culturally recognizable ME music in a costume audiences associate with that kind of dancing has a tremendous amount of leeway to recreate a moment in the past or work in a contemporary style.

Cabaret belly dance performances usually draw from three categories of music: ME classics/standards/oldies (each ME subculture defines their own, some favorites are shared among multiple groups, and some of these songs can also be classified as "folkloric"), popular ME current music (ditto), and compositions made specifically for belly dancing (which could be instrumental reworkings of music from the other two categories, or original works that, depending on their production, may sound relatively timeless or tied to a specific era).

It's almost easier to generate a list of what NOT to perform cabaret style to: music that has nothing to do with the Middle East or belly dancing (that's for fusion), religious music (okay, maybe some Christmas stuff from Fairuz or the Brothers of the Baladi at holiday parties if you're confident no one will be offended), social-protest/political/nationalistic music (almost impossible to pull off without upsetting someone), and crude songs (younger audiences in hookah lounges may enjoy a dancer using a song with vulgar lyrics, especially if it's popular mahraganat, but otherwise, don't. If you're not deeply immersed in the culture, you're probably not entirely in on the joke, and the optics are problematic when most people don't respect belly dancing very much to begin with).

I know this isn't very specific, but the suggestions for someone looking to recapture the vibe of the old "North Beach Memories" column in the Gilded Serpent isn't the same as for someone who wants to model a performance after whatever Johara would be doing in Egypt if the world wasn't half shut down.

A number of dancers have compiled essential song lists (search "songs every belly dancer should know"), and you can also google the most popular songs by specific ME artists. The internet is full of videos, music files, and streaming options (free and subscription).

Personally, I think one of the most important things you can do as a dancer is make a habit of finding your own music. Exploring a wide variety of ME music is part of the answer to all of those questions about improving musicality, recognizing folkloric musical cues, building improvisation skills, learning cultural history, and finding your own individual dance style.

How else can you learn what you like if you don't experience what's out there? And if you're not sure what you've found, people are always around to help.
Thank you for the avalanche! :D

I like the idea of what can't you dance to as a good guideline. Youtube has been a pretty good resource thus far. Belly dance is such a fun and fascinating realm with so much variety!