Phoenix Belly Dance

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Sha'bi (Shaabi)
by Melissa Gunn

A music and dance style originating in working class Cairo in the 1960s, Shaabi means ‘of the common people’, or working class. It developed into the ‘70s as people began to get cassette players and boom boxes in their houses, enabling the spread of counter-culture music. 


Since the originators of Shaabi tended to be only one or two generations removed from the countryside, they brought baladi rhythms with them, and maintain some of the traditional musical structures from baladi, eg the mawwal at the start of the song. 


One of the first well-known Shaabi singers was Ahmed Adaweya, who sang protest songs which included veiled commentary on the government. Lyrics often include double-entendres , slang and street talk. The themes explored differ from the typical Egyptian theme of unrequited love, and explore the difficulties of modern life.  Humour is common.  Another well-known Shaabi singer is Hakim, although he is from a middle-class rather than working class background, and his songs are more shaabi-pop, and tend to be apolitical.


Shaabi dance style tends to include lots of repetition and exuberance. It is cheeky, sassy and full of attitude. It has its roots in traditional dance styles from Upper Egypt such as ghawazee and fellahi. 


Dancing is flat-footed and earthy, arms are relaxed,  with a natural rather than polished style – in fact, the way people dance on the street (rather than on the stage of a hotel or nightclub).