The Required Qualities of Dancers

Summarized & Translated by George Dimitri Sawa

George Dimitri Sawa has translated the following text from the document "Oration of the Geographer Ibn Khurdadhba" (from 911 CE) in front of the Caliph al-Mu'tamid of Bagdad (in 892 CE), as reported in "The Meadows of Gold" by Al-Mas'udi" (dated around 957 CE). Al-Mas'udh was a historian and a traveler, and became known as "the Herodotus of the Arabs".

The Dancer needs certain qualities in his/her natural disposition, in his/her physical constitution and character, and in his/her performance.

  1. Natural Disposition: What he/she needs is grace and charm, good innate sense of rhythm, and to joyfully seek creativity in his/her dance.
  2. Physical Dispositions: What he/she needs is a long neck and long side burns, coquetry and flirtation, good nature, ability to sway the sides of the body, narrowness of waist, sprightliness and agility, good body proportions, floating girdles, circular shape of bottom of dress (while turning), good breath control and rest, patience in enduring the process to reach a long goal, graciousness of feet, suppleness of fingers and mastery over fingers movements in the various types of dances such as the camel and horse dances, suppleness of joints, speed of motion during turns, suppleness of sides of the body.
  3. Performance: What he/she needs is the knowledge and mastery over a large repertoire of all types of dances, turning around well while feet are in control during the rotation, left foot motion must be similar to right foot motion. The setting of the feet on the ground and the raising of the feet off the ground is done in two ways: one follows the iqa' (rhythm) and the other one lags behind it. What is better and more perfect, is the one which follows the iqa' (rhythm) because it relates to love and beauty; as for the one that lags behind, what is better and more perfect, is that in which the foot leaves the ground with the iqa' (rhythm), but touches the ground lagging behind it.

Belly Dance Music

About the Translator

This translation was done by Dr. George Sawa and presented at the International Bellydance Conference of Canada in April 2008.

Dr. George Sawa was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1947, where he completed his undergraduate studies in Western music and Classical Arabic music. In 1970, after immigrating to Canada, he completed graduate work at the University of Toronto, obtaining an MA in musicology and ethnomusicology at the Faculty of Music, and a PhD in Arabic historical musicology at the department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. Since 1972, when he founded the Traditional Arabic Music Ensemble with Ebrahim Eleish, he has directed and performed with the ensemble all over North America, in both concert venues and in lecture demonstrations at universities and colleges. As a soloist, Dr. Sawa has also performed in Europe, in concerts and radio broadcasts. As well, he is frequently invited to international conferences for presentations and lectures on various aspects of medieval and modern Arabic music. At present he is directing the Centre For Studies in Middle Eastern Music.

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