‘Raqs’: Arabic word for dance describes many rich traditions of the art form

One form of Arabic dance has been performed on the international stage and viewed by millions

Raqs is the Arabic word for dance
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Choreographer Martha Graham, known as a pioneer of modern dance, has said that "dance is the hidden language of the soul". Her words suggest that it is a form of expression and storytelling that transcends culture, language and connects people through art.

Like all cultures around the word, this week’s Arabic Word of the Week, raqs, describes a rich and diverse tradition of dance in the region that is timeless and evolving.

Raqs is a noun made up of the three Arabic letters: rah, qaf and sad. It means dance and is derived from the verb raqsa which means to dance. Raqs is also used to define many forms of dance.

Raqs sharqi, which translates to oriental or eastern dance, describes the art of belly dancing. Raqs baladi describes the many forms of folk dance in the Arab world, often performed in rural areas. Raqs clasiki, which translates to classical dance, refers to any type of formal dance that includes structured choreography and movement and is more often performed on stage.

Raqs Arabi, which translates to Arabic dance, refers to any forms of dance – traditional or contemporary – that originate from the Arab region. Raqs al dabka, also known simply as dabka or dabke, is a popular traditional folk dance which has many different forms across the region, from the Kurdish people to the Levant and parts of the Gulf. There is also raqs al-samai, a form of traditional dance performed to a type of Arabic music called samai.

As a word, raqs can also be used in the context of choreography and musical pieces or even films that are intended for dancing or have dancing as a core component in their storytelling. The word for a dancer in Arabic, raqasa, is derived from the word raqs.

Perhaps the most famous forms of raqs is Raqs sharqi, the classic Egyptian style of belly dancing.

There have been many pioneering Egyptian belly dancers who not only popularised the art form into a grander scale in the region but also internationally. These dancers include Samia Gamal, Tahiya Karioka, Naima Akef and Soheir Zaki.

In the 1960s and 1980s it evolved thanks to dancers such as Nagwa Fouad, Fifi Abdou and Dina. These dancers were some of the first to perform with full orchestras on stage in front of a live audience and broadcast on television.

The basic dance form of raqis sharqi has not changed but continues to evolve, with many belly dancers known to have incorporated other forms of dance, such as ballet.

Over the years, many of the different forms of raqs that either originated in the Arab world or are associated with the region have intersected with each other and been influenced with other forms of dance and styles from around the globe.

An example of this is the Lebanese dance group The Mayyaswho won season 17 of America's Got Talent. They are influenced by several dance forms, but mainly raqs sharqi.

Updated: November 03, 2023, 6:02 PM