One of the very-big-deal facets of Middle Eastern Dance is the music. The way I was taught, pretty much everything a dancer does, whether he or she is dancing socially or in a staged show depends on the music. And along the way, I’ve found that the dance most of us see and label “belly dance” has many elements that are—for better or worse—influenced to some degree by Western culture and entertainment styles. Costuming, show formats, and a whole host of other factors from the West found their way into the art form over time. The conscientious Middle Eastern style dancer always tries to draw from the roots of the dance as they best know how, but this is, after all, a living, breathing art form, done by living, breathing people.
Thanks to emergence of new and easier, faster transportation, media, and political changes, US products flooded world markets post-WW2. Culture is by far one of the fastest influences to travel, and in this case I think it’s safe for me to say that American pop music is our biggest cultural export. Fly into any international airport in any big foreign city, hop into a taxi, and what will the driver have on the radio? There’s a good chance it’s some kind of pop music from there. It may be in a foreign language, it may have instruments, sounds, and textures you’re not used to hearing, but it is likely something you’ll recognize as being pop music-like. Thanks to this cultural blending, we now have K-pop, AfroPop, and a whole bunch of other genres that have twin roots from disparate sources.
Is this a good thing? Critics say that indigenous cultures and traditions are in danger of being lost and they dislike the pervasive influence of Western media. Politics, history, colonialism, and cultural appropriation are certainly issues to be considered by any active dancer, for sure. Others see the various adoptions and subsequent adaptations of American pop music to be a bridge linking us globally. A version of pop music that is different than your own may be odd, but probably not that much of a mental stretch; hearing music from a completely different culture that bears absolutely no resemblance to anything you think of as music tends to turn people off, and it’s unlikely they’ll stick around to acclimate themselves to it and have the sound grow on them. It is human nature to think our own music, artwork, humor, foods, customs, mores, and values are the best examples of those things, whoever we happen to be; it makes evolutionary sense to like and trust things we’re used to already.
Whatever your position on the issue is, there is certainly no going back now. Having a form of music that has common threads from two sources is a bridge that can lead to familiarity and exploration without too much discomfort. Hearing some of the current music from another country is a handy and painless portal to points around the globe. So with that idea in mind, here’s a video by the popular Shaabi style singer Hoda for you to enjoy and groove along with: