Belly Dance Music

The rhythms of belly dance music and Middle Eastern music are inspired by the gaits of animals... the donkey, horse and camel.

This may not ring true for all of them but you can definitely hear it in a lot of the rhythms played out by the Darabouka or Duff (both typical of Egyptian music). Reflecting on the way of life of the desert nomads, mountain warriors and delta dwellers of the East, and their close companionship with the animals that allowed and allow them to survive in harsh conditions, we witness the intimate relationship between human and the natural environment and can understand how belly dance music was brought to life.

These three animals, among others such as the goat and sheep, perform a vital role in the lives of the majority of the people living in the Middle East, for transport, food and other bi-products such as leather, bone and hair. Their lives depend on these animals in primary ways and a deep and ancient relationship with the animals exists at the root of their existence, livelihood and society, much like the cow in African cultures.

I feel this is one of the reasons why belly dance music is so soul-filled, moving, emotive and powerful, for it's roots are ancient and speak many stories about experiences' sweet and harsh moments, the ebbs and flows of this beautiful symphony we call life.

Listening to the Nai, the reed flute, brings to me feelings and images of water and river reeds and the movement of the snake.

The gait of a camel can be felt in the ayoub rhythm...

D-tD-T, D-tD-T

...which is one of the rhythms of the Zar, the trance dance ceremony used for healing.

These are just a few examples of the rich images and feelings held in belly dance music, that with our bodies we can bring to the realm of movement, to the visual.

When dancing, the skilled dancer will communicate impeccably with the music, bringing out as much of the music as possible with her body. Using the core, arms, legs, head, fingers eyes, and hair, to engage as wholly as possible with the music.

When dancing with a live band, the dancer will inspire the musicians and visa-versa. A close, even intimate, relationship between dancer and musician is formed, incorporating certain signals and familiarities as a means of guiding each other through the performance.

Middle Eastern and belly dance music are created from the Arabic scale, which is fundamentally different from the western music scale in that it includes quartertones. Arabic music emphasises melody and rhythm rather than harmony.

Middle Eastern rhythms

Rhythm (Greek = flow) is the variation of the accentuation of sounds or other events over time. "Rhythm involves patterns of duration that are phenomenally present in the music" with duration perceived by interonset* interval. When governed by rule, it is called meter. It is inherent in any time-dependent medium, but it is most associated with music, dance, and the majority of poetry.

*In music the interonset interval or IOI is the time between the beginnings or attack-points of successive events or notes, the interval between onsets, not including the duration of the events. (Referenced from:

I have compiled a list of some of the basic rhythms you will hear in belly dance music. I do this for you to help enrich your understanding and appreciation for this world of music and dance.

I am not a professional musician, what you will see is compiled from what I have learned through musicians in Egypt and research I have done into this field.

Enjoy the information... use it to deepen your understanding of belly dance music and dance by clicking here.

Don't forget that the music is as important as the movements.


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