About a decade ago, I began creating a complete
naming system for hipwork for my teaching curriculum. An unexpected side benefit of this project
was that it suddenly became much easier for me to understand my own
choreography notes! Recently, I realized
that in order to shorten the
description of arm moves and poses from a full sentence about each arm to a
symbol, I needed to extend this naming system to arm positions. I share some of them here with
you, not as a definitive or comprehensive list of arm positions/movements for
any particular dance style, but rather as a starting point for your own
ideas. If, like me, you also find them
useful in taking choreography notes, so much the better!
Classic Egyptian Arms are soft and fluid. Rather than poses, most of the postitions are points through which the arms move.
click for printable hi-res image
This Egyptian Arms series is based on classic Raks Sharki as seen
in Egyptian movies from the 1940s and ‘50s.
The elbows tend to be soft and rounded, the wrists bent, the palms and
fingers relaxed. Arm postions E1-5 are not
intended as poses, but rather as points through which the arms continuously
flow. For example, E5 to E2 and back
again looks elegant with classic moves like Step-Step-Step-HipLift (E5) Step-Step-Step-ShoulderShimmy
(E2). Try to keep the elbows relatively
still while moving the hands inwards to E5 with a very slight chest contraction
(as though you were hugging a small child) and then lead with the wrists
outwards to E2 with a mini chest lift.
A fluid circular arm movement starting at E2 with the
arms dropping through E7 and then moving up in front of the body through E4 and
back to E2 makes a nice compliment to Hip Figure 8s.
Undulations are emphasized with a circular
arm movement in the opposite direction beginning at E3 and moving down through E1
and out to E7.
Arms in E6 create a nice
frame for shimmies.
Traveling steps work well with one arm in E6 and the
other arm in E3 or E8.
I think of E8 - E10 as the movie star poses. In Hossam
Ramzy's "The Stars of Egypt - The Great Unknown," you can see Horeya Mohamed
use E9 for turns, and a very young Soheir Zaki use E10 as her finalé pose.
Classic Lebanese Arms are styilized and dramatic. All of the positions pictured here were used by the great Lebanese dancer, Nadia Gamal.
All the positions in the Classic Lebanese
Arms series are based on the work of the great Lebanese dancer, Nadia Gamal. In contrast to the soft, fluid Egyptian Arms
presented above, Lebanese arms are stylized and dramatic. They work especially well with dynamic drum
L1, L7, and L8 are great for Hip
Pulls and Hip Drops.
L2, L4, and L5 all
work well with fluid hipwork if the upper body is isolated and still.
L3 looks beautiful with
Forward-Step-Back-Step (some teachers call this move Arabic Basic), especially
when the step is layered with a 3/4 Shimmy.
L6 emphasizes complex hipwork, and works very well in combination with
other arm positions, such as L4, E3, and E8.
L9 makes a dramatic accent if you pose with
your torso twisted in one direction and your hips in the other (try looking
over the shoulder of the raised arm).
L10 for Hip Pulls, and it becomes a classic when alternated from side to side
for Step-Hip to slow belady.
If the dynamic style of Lebanese Arms appeals to
you, I highly recommend "Ibrahim Farrah Presents: Rare Glimpses." This gem of a video includes a fabulous
performance by Nadia Gamal as well as many other interesting historical clips.
Anatolian Arms are great for finger cymbal playing. The hands are gently curved inwards and the arms are rounded.
"Anatoli" is the Greek word for "east." While it is a point on the compass, it is also
often used to refer to the geographic region that touches the eastern edge of
the Mediterranean Sea. With the elbows rounded and the hands gently curved inwards,
Anatolian Arms create a frame that you can use to emphasize your movements.
A3 with one arm and A2 or A6 with the other
gives Step-Hip an open and fluid feeling.
A4 adds drama to Shimmies and Body Rolls.
Spins look great with one arm in A1 and the
other in A3; you can hold them static or slowly alternate while you turn.
For a side view, A8 makes a lovely frame for
Hip Pulls or Pelvic Tilts.
I like to use
A9 for Hip Figure 8s and Single Hip Rotations traveling side.
A10 can be used to add a dynamic quality to
any movement that emphasizes one hip.
A fluid movement starting at A3, going
through A5, A7, A2, and then repeating is an elegant addition to Hip Figure 8s
traveling back or side.
Similarly, arms going
from A7 through A8, A4, A3 and back to A7 gives a lyrical feeling to Hip
Circles or Body Rolls stepping back.
Anatolian Arms are simple yet dynamic, perfect for
finger cymbal playing. The palms face
the body in all of them. This is
important because with any quick arm movement and especially with spins,
centrifugal force will pull heavy cymbals outwards. If your hands are curved inwards, your palms
will be between your cymbals and your audience.
If an elastic becomes loose or breaks, you don't want your cymbal to go
flying. This happened to me once: my
cymbal flew through the air and crashed into a customer's soup bowl! With his face and shirt dripping avgolemeno
(a specialty of Greek cuisine, not a spa treatment) the poor guy complained to
my boss (who yelled at me), AND he kept my finger cymbal. I guess he deserved a souvenir, but three
cymbals aren't very useful, and in the 1980s you couldn't find decent finger
cymbals in Athens, Greece. Back then, we
didn't have the internet to just order up a new set of Saroyan Professionals
(still my favorite!), so I had to dance without cymbals 'till I could get to
Istanbul and buy some there. Moral of
the story: check your elastic regularly and remember keep your palms facing
Combo in Alternating Styles
backs of both hands
to R temple → very low L1 = Betty Boop Arms
L10 with both palms
Up to Down V
Turkish Basic (A1 & A3)
hands curl → E9
E1 to E7
Hands cross in
front of mouth → push down to E7
E1 to M7
R Hip Drops
hold E7 → high soft L1, chest lifted
L forearm under
hair, R arm in M7
Hip Pulls B-B-F-F
hold, then move
backs of hands towards temple, elbows lifted
While the arm positions depicted here belong to the art of Oriental Dance, the ideas, concepts, words, and images on this page are my copyrighted original work. If you would like to use the images or text, all you have to do is ask. The Daughters of Rhea like to share! Piper