Why is musicality considered hard to teach?


New member
I've just tried using choreography in my beginners class to teach musicality for the first time this term (in the past I've mostly done short combos and structured improvisation) - I've put together a simple choreography to the first minute and a bit of an instrumental version of Alf Leyla, incorporating moves and transitions that I want them to practise. We'll probably keep practising and polishing the same short section for the rest of the term, and adding extra layers as they become comfortable with it.

So far I'm happy with how it's working, although it's too soon to tell for sure if it's improving their musicality... I'm trying to explain as we go along why I've used certain moves where I have, and which elements of the music we're picking out, so hopefully some of it will sink in ;)


New member
I am not a teacher but for me, my musicality started developing when I took a workshop where the instructor explained there were three layers I could dance to and how to listen to the phrasing of the music. Through this, I also discovered I do not have to dance to every beat, ever everything and I'm learning to put pauses in. That is so helping me develop my musicality. That 3 layer idea really helped me because I had trouble when I was taught a choreography to music and they explained why they chose a move. I could see but could not translate it into my own use.


New member
Boy have I missed this forum. I start throwing in musicality early on, speaking about certain things in the music I'll respond to, having the students practise their drills to the beat for discovering it and keeping time. Choreography is a powerful tool but I will also use set combinations or movement types for structured improvisation excercises, having students respond to the speed and feel of the music. I will start introducing the rhythms used slowly after that, and later in the process, when instruments etc. have been covered multiple times and improvisation excercises have advanced, I sit with my students and disect a piece of music in three layers, as Teela mentioned and have them do the same with a song of their choice which might later be discussed in class. I also like the technique Mahsati mentioned, meaning I bring up musicality as a theme and have them both improvise and create choreography themselves over a longer amount of sessions in which I'll go over different aspects of the listening and creating process. We'll watch and evaluate each other's dances to see how different people might make different choices.
I also hand them combinations they have to fit into a song of their choice, or have them work with the same combination on different types of music in class.

It's indeed not that it's so hard to teach the basics and give students the tools to develop their own sense of musicality. The hard part is getting them as excited as I am to spend a lot of time listening and doing the hard work themselves, as some others have beautifully mentioned above. When that happens, though (and it has on quite some occasions, I am happy to say) it's magical and seeing the change in my students' dancing makes me a proud teacher.
Last edited:


New member
Okay, I know musicality is subjective because it's art, but these are the basic things I hear/do in the music. I'm totally putting myself out there and I'm not saying these are hard and fast "rules", but more of a general guideline. What do you agree and disagree with?

Accordion melody- torso centered, opening and closing movements
Big orchestra sound- traveling
Downbeat- more prominent movement
Drum solo- hips, accents, shimmy, very limited traveling
Drums- Earthy movement qualities/ mostly in hips
Flute melody- light airy movement quality/can be upper body
Gliding stop in music/note- movement glides to a stop
Instrumental solos (taqsim)- stay within a yard square invisible box
Kanoon- plucky metallic sounds highlighted by clean small shimmies
Mizmar and Saiidi rhythm- Saiidi steps
Notes closer together- smaller tighter movements
Notes further apart- larger more relaxed movements
Notes traveling down the scale- bringing movements physically downward
Notes traveling up the scale- bringing movement physically upward
Oud- deep quavering and plucking qualities, big relaxed hip shimmies
Pause- pause
Quavers and rolls- shimmy
Question and answer- side to side movement refrain
Smooth accent- soft precise accent
Smooth sounds- smooth and rounded movements
Staccato accent- strong precise accent
Staccato sounds- staccato movements
Sudden stop in music/note- sudden stop in movement
Swooping sounds- swooping, sweeping, spinning movements
Tempo- variations on the speed of movements within the structure of the music
Transitional sounds –spin
Upbeat- less prominent movement
Volume decrease- movement size smaller
Volume increase- movement size bigger

I'm not a big fan of "drop and go" combinations. I prefer phrasing.
Last edited:


New member

cannot be studied and taught without some basic knowledge of the music itself.

To me, this is the most difficult part of the oriental dance. Very few dancers and teachers pay attention to musicality because choreographies have been introduced exactly so that "we do not waste time" in exploring music and dance altogether. At the end, we end up with machine-like dancers who once they want to create their own approach to music, they just cannot. THe idea is not to do as the teacher does, but to think what the music tells you in person to dance!

That can be tricky, first because the music might require something more than you can do in terms of technique. Many times i found myself finding lacks in technique because of musicality. Second, technique in oriental dance needs years to learn so that you are able to work on musicality.

In most cases, people do nt want to invest so much time, they think that only ballet deserves such a dedication. While oriental dance has thousands more movements and musical scale-tunings than ballet.

What to do if the time for training is short?

First, use many different types of music while teaching or practicing. THis is what i did for my self, but also for my students.

Second, make clear that even if not dancing, a dancer needs to listened to oriental music for hours everyday. If she or he can learn basic beats and scales/makams, that is even better. Attention must be given that modern/shaabi songs have not good tuning and their musicality is flat. The egyptian cabaret style that has inundated everything the last years has destroyed musicality whatsoever. Avoid listening to shaabi and modern bad tuned music, and choose good composers and classical bands instead.

Third, for students who want to be long term dancers, studying rythms and makams is a prerequisite, just like for a good ballerina is a prerequisite to learn to play the piano and read music sheets.

Fourth, musicality is not only about feeling, but also about using the body because of the music, not despite the music. I mean, oriental music and every music has deep emotions, structures and expression levels itself. To explore one song only (forget about Um Kalthoum which is completely difficult, pick a drum solo, supposedly without explicit melody) you need weeks or many months. This is why you need to work with several music pieces for long in a parallel way. Each piece informs the others.

Fifth, teaching musicality is tough. It is not only that there are many interpretations of musicality of the same song, it is that there are many techniques too. For 1st or 2nd year students, exploring musicality with hands only is a good solution, that makes brains and hands evolve around oriental music so that the dancer can transfer the new skills to the rest of body later.

Finally, musicality cannot develop as hoped from the beginning. Students must be patient, so must be the teachers. Even if the students are within the bellydance culture before they start formal training, they still need training in musicality (then i would not accept arrogances like, i know, do not tell me!). At least, even if you know some things about musicality because your grandmother, and mother, and grand grand mother have been bellydancing since their childhood, you need to explore new ways of musicality and this cannot be done but with months and years dedicated to this specific study.


I disagree. I had one student recently who was starting to apply the concept of musicality from her fourth week of class as a beginner. Musicality is a long road, to be certain, and definitely one that one doesn't ever truly finish exploring. But that doesn't mean that a complete beginner cannot begin to grasp the concept of it from the beginning.

I agree about choreography though - it DEFINITELY makes musicality more difficult to learn IF that's the only way you're learning it. Otherwise it can be used as a teaching tool.


Premium Member
Hi, Everyone:

I do teach musicality in my one-year program. This part of my program is called "Tertiary Course - Entities in Music & Fluid Movement Expression.

There are certain specific entities in this music that repeat in similar fashions. And it's not about combinations or choreography. In my 12-week course, I address the most obvious entities. After this course, students walk away with a clearer understanding of how this music works. But it really takes about two to five years to really know and understand it much like learning a new language.

I think it's very important to teach musicality. Moves and how to execute steps are important, but they don't mean anything if one can't understand the music.