WHAT IS RAQS SHARQI? There are different, strongly held opinions about this question in Europe and Egypt. Here we present some brief facts about the issue.
Raqs Sharqi is an Arabic term meaning ‘Eastern Dance’. The term has been in use for at least a century but is of unknown age. It refers to a dance form originating in Egypt and usually means a dance performed in public by women. Historical evidence shows that in Egypt dance performance was an important aspect of celebratory occasions from the earliest times.
Foreigners have been intrigued by public female dancing in Egypt from antiquity onward, and have commented on it in various ways and in different periods ever since. From the late 19th century onward, cultural colonialism, the growing ease of international travel, the development of recording technologies, and new forms of entertainment gradually encouraged different interpretations of Egyptian dance to become widespread abroad also. Some were later reimported into Egypt and absorbed. Many versions exist currently in Europe, Australia, the USA and elsewhere, as well as Egypt, (where the dance of course had continued to flourish). Some aim to be rooted firmly in Egyptian traditions alone, while others have incorporated influences from abroad - from other Middle Eastern countries and the West. The term ‘Raqs Sharqi’ is now used widely by many people involved in performing and teaching these dances. In order to distinguish clearly between them, it is probably best to state exactly to which ‘school’ they belong. A fruitful debate about this issue is likely to continue.