The discussions of floorwork, that part of Middle Eastern dance performed on one's knees, sitting, or semi-reclined on the floor, presented here center around its origins and attitudes towards it, not so much on particular moves to do.

Is Floorwork Middle Eastern?

"Floorwork is NOT an American invention: 'veilwork' & 'fan dancing' are. Floorwork was an integral part of most styles (that is, legitimate Oriental dance movements performed while on one's knees or in a backbend, not rolling all over the floor in paroxysms of "ecstasy" or a cleaning frenzy!). It was outlawed in Egypt in 1954, in the same set of rules that required the torso of an Oriental dancer to be covered by a 'shebecka' [the 'bodystocking rule'?]. Egypt being the movie/cultural capital of the generic Middle East, other countries followed suit to a greater or lesser degree.

"Back when Noah landed the Ark & I got off & started dancing in the 'authentic ethnic' clubs (1960), you could count the American dancers in the entire USA on the fingers of your hands: I watched Lebanese, Syrians, Saudis, Algerians, Egyptians, Turks, Greeks (rare), Armenians (even rarer), Jordanians, an Assyrian (not to be confused with Syrian), 2 Uzbeks (& a partridge in a pear tree) & they ALL did some sort of floorwork. It was required: opening number (fast), rhumba/bolero, heavy Chiftetelli (Wahad o noss), floorwork, drum solo, fast finale or Karsilama..... (Then we added another fast piece between the rhumba & Chifti(Wahad) & sometimes another short fast piece between floorwork & drum solo....)

"In the '80s in Morocco, they started doing it as a separate dance entirely, called it 'Dance of Scheherezade' (Yes, I asked. No, nobody there could give me a straight answer....)

"In '79 in Cairo, Negwa Fouad got away with doing floorwork in her Oriental ('Sitt el Hosni'), by claiming it was a period piece, set in the time of the Ottoman Empire (which, by the way, bunkies, ended with the forced abdication of King Farouk in '52!!!)..." --Morocco

Floorwork Origins Myths


"Someone told me that the Berbers invented floorwork because they had such low tents that they couldn't stand up straight to dance. Has anyone heard this story? Maybe it's like...one of those obscure urban legends." --Joyallah
"File that one with 'Once upon a time there were 4 bears' & 'Cane dancing originated with young women watching sheep & dancing in the fields'. Anyone who's ever been near sheep knows you don't want to dance/walk around where they've been recently. You haven't smelled the gates of hell till you step on sheep dip & some of those little globules open.............. Sorry, sometimes the truth is a bit gross. :-o :-o x o x o x"

Commissioner (self-appointed)
Folkdance Police

"P.S. There are dances/rituals that are done on the knees, each for its own & many other different reasons, low tents being one of them. Just has absolutely nothing to do with the floorwork section of Raks Sharki."


"I heard that floorwork evolved from the fertility aspect of the dance--veilwork is the flirtation, taqsim is the sexual act, floorwork is birth, and the fast dance after is the celebration of birth and the survival of the process." --Sadira
"Whoever told you THAT one, add it to the 'Once upon a time there were 4 bears' category & give'em credit for a really good imagination/continuity of story line. However, it belongs with the racist, "Orientalist", sensuous, 'sex-obsessed Saracen' paintings, operas & novels of the 'Orientalist' era, artificially posed 'French' postcards (read: 'the Colonial Harem' by Malek Alloula if you don't believe me. Read it even if you do believe me: very interesting & great pix! Also might want to read 'Veiled Half Truths' by Judy Mabro: fabulous research!!! ), etc. that originated with the truly sex-obsessed European imperialists of the 17-18-early 1900s.

"'Veilwork' is a total American invention/fantasy, started by: 1) those who didn't have enough of a dance repertoire to do a full-length show & 2) 'Dance of the 7 Veils'/'veiled harem cuties' fantasies. (Doesn't mean I don't like/disapprove of "veilwork" or that I haven't done it myself. I've seen veilwork so beautiful that it made me cry on more than one occasion....)

"Sorry to have to burst THAT baloon.

"REAL fertility dances (they do exist) are MUCH more to the point. The (only) 2 abdominal ('belly') moves in the total Sharki movement repertoire: camel & flutter, are direct imitations of the movements of labor & childbirth, but were integrated into the longer dance for fun/effect.

"Don't let this info put anay sort of dent into your dance/enjoyment. It's supposed to be an expression of joy & your soul, so go for it!" --Morocco

Modern Middle Eastern Attitudes

"...what i have learned from the Authorities That Be is that they used to do floor work in egypt as well as other places, but it fell out of favor, sometime before the body stockings rule (and almost certainly before the advent of those long beads!!! ;-). It was seen as more sensual=dangerous and exciting, or potentially cruder, or something, even ;-) than the rest of the dance. One of the first things to go...." --Shakira

"...[Floorwork] was outlawed in Egypt in 1954, in the same set of rules that required the torso of an Oriental dancer to be covered by a 'shebecka'. Egypt being the movie/cultural capital of the generic Middle East, other countries followed suit to a greater or lesser degree..." --Morocco

"As Elisa mentioned in a recent post, Sahra was up here in Seattle recently, and I have to say, she was a delight to work with. Not only is she a beautiful dancer and talented instructor, but she has a wealth of knowledge to share and is simply a wonderful person. The day before the performance, we had a tech rehearsal and ran through everyone's music and everything. When we got to Sabura's part of the show and Sahra became aware that Sabura was planning on doing floorwork, Sahra considered warning the band. She was concerned that the band might freak out since floorwork is illegal in Egypt. She said that if a dancer is caught doing floorwork over there, she would get carted off to jail. I mentioned that I had seen some videos of Egyptian dancers, including Mona Said, who did floorwork. Her response was that some dancers will go down to the floor, but they don't stay there long and do a whole floorwork number like you would see in the States. From other things that Sahra said, it sounds like things are becoming more and more restricted over there. I mean, I knew things were changing over there, but I was surprised by some of the things that she told me. Alas...." --Tina Sargent

"Sah'ra (who is a total sweetie-pie: I'm not surprised everyone loved her) was correct re floorwork in Egypt & warning the band. They would've freaked. If Tafteesh el Feini (the Arts Police!) get you, minimum fine for a first offense is 100 Egyptian Pounds. Things have gotten tighter/nastier of late, which is why you'll see alot of dancers with spandex bike shorts (that look like my grannie's mid-thigh length old woolies) on under their costumes (tacky!). I have an article from the Egyptian Gazette from 1 1/2 years ago, with excerpts from a speech/article of Mubarak's that was printed in the New Yorker, where he tried to blame the rise in pseudo-'fundamentalist' violence on 'drummers, belly dancers from the slums'. Can send you a copy, if you don't believe me!!!..." --Morocco

"Regarding derogatory Arabic comments on floorwork, it could be the part of the ME the speaker was from. Some things acceptable in one area are VERY frowned on in others! In Egypt, only a very few of the well-known dancers do floorwork and then in only a very limited fashion (eg., sitting on the floor) and only very modestly done. Other areas are more open to that sort of thing and in some areas anything goes. But then Suhaila mentioned in a recent seminar here in Seattle that the reputation of any dancer is very much in question in those areas so nobody cares what they do. Hmmm... :( " --Zinahom

"My Lebanese dance teacher was very big into floorwork, so consequently I teach it as a major part of the curriculum in my classes.... not the American style with lots of belly undulations etc. but with hip/breast eights, hip/shoulder eights, breast circles etc. Occasionally I'll show a backwards drop with shimmy, or a sit/kneelup hip circle or eight.... whether this is a regional thing or an individual teacher thing I don't know. My teacher explained to me that eight is a mystical number (hand, hip, breast eights are actually horizontal so are symbols of the infinite) and should be the basis of even shimmies (gawd, ever tried shimmying in an eight? and I dont' mean layered movement, I mean using eight as the method of driving the shimmy). Hawaida does the most spectacular Turkish drops in her performances in Lebanon, but I don't actually see any of the stuff my teacher taught me." --Jenny L.

"I am certainly not an authority on ME floorwork, however I have a dear Egyptian friend who supplies me with videotapes of nightclub or "cabaret" dancers that she receives from her family back in Egypt. These are televised recordings from various parts of the ME so I can't be specific other than the fact that she tells me some of the dancers were recorded in Lebanon and some in Turkey or other areas as well as Egypt. The styling of the floorwork IS different than we American dancers are used to and as I mentioned does seem to vary according to the area. I saw one non-Egyptian dancer in a Turkish drop position (knees wide open) doing tummy roles and then letting her arms float alternately up from the floor and then down a few times before returning to a standing position. (Not very attractive!!) And a particular Lebanese dancer tends occasionally to sit on the floor and do a mock Zar to finish her routine. As I mentioned, the Egyptian dancers that I have seen do floorwork tend mostly to sit gracefully on the floor and do a few things with their arms or affect a cute pose for a moment or two before returning to a standing position." --Zinahom

Non-Middle Eastern Dancer Attitudes

"...Personally, at this point in my 'career' I don't do floorwork in my Oriental for 2 1/2 reasons:
  1. I'm not going to drag a beautiful, hand-sequinned, expensive Mme. Abla (or anyone else's) skirt all over somebody's dirty, possibly splintery floor;
  2. If you're in a restaurant or performance space where the seating isn't very raked, nobody will see you beyond the first row or line of tables & the rest will think you were the virgin (!?) sacrifice to the volcano gods, so all your efforts (& your audience's attention) will be lost;
  3. (1/2 reason) I prefer the look/esthetic of a full-body line.
"I do do a floor segment in my Candelabrum dance, but it's a traditional/necessary part of the 'gimmick'." --Morocco

"Just can't let this thread go by without throwing in my 2 cents-or should that be drachmas? I love floorwork! Absolutely, completely dotty about it. Love to watch it, love to teach it, love to perform it. Remember that feeling of accomplishment the first time you managed a full backbend? And the first time you came back up without putting all your weight on your hands? I teach some of the childbirth aspect of it; and I feel it works well in that context. But, I've never given birth, so in some ways I feel like a fake. (My daughter was a bonus thrown in when I married her father). So, and to add in Rocky's 2 cents-or is that drachmas?-I do some serious swordwork on the floor. This gives me the chance to do all the floorwork that I love to do, but doesn't emphasize a part of life that I am largely ignorant about. Besides, floorwork may be misinterpreted, but, as Rocky says, people mostly leave someone who can do a backbend and undulation while holding onto a sword alone!" --Kahaz

"[Floorwork] is also a good way to show off your skills if you are dancing with something balanced on your head, like a sword, basket, tray, etc..." --Shu-Ju

"...Floorwork is and ws part of the taxim--the internal, emotional portion of the music. One of the most expressive parts of the music. Done this way, it can be fascinating; it can speak to and of the human spirit--without being necessarily gymnastic or erotic...[floorwork] can be so much more...it was, and on a few dancers still is, one of the most poetic portins of the dance." --Shakira

Last Modified: 15 Jun 1997
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