Background & Breakdown of One of the Most Famous Belly Dance Songs of All Time
Even if you haven't been belly dancing very long, you might have already come across Leylet Hob before. And if you've been doing this for a while, you've definitely danced to it countless times by now!
But how much do you really know about this timeless classic and belly dance favorite? If your answer is "actually, not much" you've got to keep reading this post because it's packed with information about this absolutely must-know composition.
About Leylet Hob
Leylet Hob (ليلة حب, alternatively spelled Laylet Hob, Laylet Hobb, Lailet Hob, Laylet Houb, Lelat Hob, or Leilet Hob) is a classic Arabic song that was composed in the 1960's by Mohamed Abdel Wahab, written in 1973 by Ahmed Shafiq Kamel and subsequently sung by Om Kalthoum. Its title means "Night of Love."
The original song, like many of the Arabic orchestral classics, was an entire concert on its own, at over 50 minutes in length. Today there are countless modern renditions of it by Arab and non-Arab musicians alike, usually around 5 to 15 minutes long, with or without vocals.
Singer, Lyricist & Composer
Om Kalthoum (1904? - 1975) was a legendary Egyptian singer who was--and is to this date--renowned across the Arab world. Her face, name and voice are recognized and loved throughout the region, where she is likely the most famous singer of all time. Such a revered figured she was, her funeral was one of the largest gatherings in the world, attended by around 4 million people. Many of the most famous Arabic songs (and most popular belly dance songs) were originally sung by her.
Mohammed Abdel Wahab (1902? - 1991) was one of the most prominent composers and singers in Egyptian history. He was responsible for composing many of the classic masterpieces that us belly dancers perform to on a regular basis. He introduced Western instruments such as the guitar, bass, accordion, organ and synthesizer to some of his compositions, innovating upon existing traditions and influencing all Arabic music thereafter.
Ahmed Shafiq Kamel was an Egyptian poet who became known as the "Poet of the Two Pyramids" for unifying the two great talents--Om Kalthoum and Mohamed Abdel Wahab-- in his work on Leylet Hob, which became the first of many collaborations between the two.
The Full Rendition
You can listen to the full, 59-minute rendition of Leylet Hob sung by Om Kalthoum here:
Can you spot the guitar, accordion, and synthesizer in this composition?
Leylet Hob is a song of love and longing. You can hear in Om Kalthoum's voice the longing that is felt for an absent lover. It speaks of yearning for that lover's return, where the singer imagines their night together while describing their love in the deep, poetic terms the Arabic language is so well-suited to relate. You can read a full, line-by-line translation of Laylet Hob by clicking here.
One of the most famous interpretations of Leylet Hob is this one by Soheir Zaki, one of the most famous belly dancers of the 1960's-80's:
Soheir Zaki is a classic, timeless dancer. You can read more about her in our Timeline of Egypt's Biggest Stars post.
Laylet Hob is played in the Maqam Nahawand, a type of melody that is perfectly suited to evoke the feelings of love and passionate yearning that this song speaks about.
Some of the rhythms encountered are malfuf, maqsum, baladi (masmoudi saghir), masmoudi kebir, and 6/8. Let's break down* each rhythm by section, using the shorter 8-minute version of Leylet Hob in the Soheir Zaki video above as our reference:
Baladi/masmoudi saghir (0:11-1:09, 1:27-1:52, 6:37-6:57, 7:19-7:40)
|DD| T|D |T |
Malfuf (1:10-1:20, 6:57-7:19, 7:40-8:34)
|D T| T |
|D | | |T | | |
|DT| T|D |T |
Masmoudi (4:02-4:15, 5:51-6:01?)
|D|D| | |D| | | |
|DT| T|D |T |
Guitar solo - no rhythm
Is Leylet Hob one of your favorite classics and go-to songs, like it is mine? If so, I hope this post has been helpful to you.
I encourage you to listen to the hour-long version for study and for enjoyment, and that you hear as many versions of this beautiful composition as you can get your hands on.
What's your favorite version of this song? Which dancer have you seen do the best interpretation of it? Let me know in the comments below... And if you've found this post informative, don't forget to spread the knowledge by sharing it with your belly dance students, teachers, and peers.
Happy learning, and happy dancing!
Leylet Hob/Mohammed Abdel Wahab
Om Kalthoum's Funeral
Mohammed Abdel Wahab
Ahmed Shafiq Kamel
Leylet Hob Translation
Leylet Hob Rhythms
*Note regarding the rhythm breakdown: I am not musically trained, so I am breaking down this song by rhythm to the best of my knowledge and untrained ability. If you are a musician and have any corrections to make to this breakdown or anything to add, please contact me via email.
Has the idea of joining a belly dance class been nagging you for some time, but every time you get the chance, you back out at the last minute because you are afraid of the unknown?
If so, it sounds like you are suffering from a case of "cold belly!" Like cold feet, cold belly is a doubt strong enough to prevent you from doing something you were planning on doing, in this case, going to that belly dance class you've been wanting to try! And believe it or not, this "cold belly" phenomenon is is more common than you think!
Maybe you're afraid of having to bare your belly, or you think the class will be packed with young, mean women who will make you feel bad about yourself. Or maybe you're insecure about your lack of dance experience and you picture a class full of experienced dancers, making you think you won't be able to keep up with everyone else. Maybe you think you're not fit enough to try out this dance, or maybe you just don't feel like getting up and going out after you've already settled in at home for the night...
Regardless of the reasons behind your apprehension and inaction, the fact of the matter is that you are not alone in feeling this way! In fact, the majority of women who show interest in belly dance classes never actually end up showing up for one!
But isn't that a shame? Because the reality of most belly dance classes in the US (and certainly the reality for our belly dance classes at SharqiDance in New Jersey) is that they are a gentle, friendly and fun environment for women (and sometimes men and non-gender binary folks) of all ages, levels, shapes, and sizes to learn how to move their bodies in incredible ways and how to express themselves artistically through dance all while falling in love with Middle Eastern music and culture!
Most people start belly dancing because they think it will be a fun way to exercise. But most people stick with belly dancing because of the amazing connections they make with the incredible people they meet in class and in their local community, all while challenging themselves--inside a supportive environment--to keep getting better and better at this rich and evolving art form!
There is nothing to fear. You don't even need to show your belly to belly dance! In fact, most people in class actually don't.
You also don't need prior dance experience to start belly dancing, and there is no age too young or too old to start. And guess what, you can become quite good even if you start late in life without any prior dance experience, because belly dance is low-impact and easy on your body!
This also means you do not need to be fit to start belly dance, and you might be glad to learn that the belly dance community embraces a much wider range of looks, body types and sizes than society at large!
That doesn't mean the dance is easy, it just means that with guidance from a good teacher and practice, consistency, and time, it can be done well no matter who you are or what you look like!
Does that sound like something you should be scared of? We think not!
It's time to stop letting the weeks, months and years go by, and just give belly dance a shot already! Just imagine where you could be in one, five, or ten years if you just take that chance and get started today! You might discover a fun new thing to do every week, or you might uncover a lifelong passion. Or maybe you'll find that belly dance is not for you, but you won't know until you've tried!
So, are you ready to try out a class?
Belly dance is a long-enduring art form that embodies the rich and diverse cultures and traditions of its native regions. It is mainly characterized by controlled, smooth and fluid isolations of the hips, as well as sharp hip accents and vibration movements that give visual representation to complex Mideastern rhythms and melodies.
Famous for its sensual elegance, belly dance brings out our most feminine qualities in ways that are tactful and classy, while connecting us to music and cultural traditions from the Middle East. Belly dance truly is poetry in motion...
Over recent decades, this dance has taken the world by storm and become somewhat of an underground global dance phenomenon. These days, one can find world-renowned dancers in places ranging from North & Latin America, to Europe's East & West as well as Asia-Pacific in addition to its places of origin and constant innovation in the Middle East and North Africa!
Belly dance appeals to so many people--particularly women--around the world for countless reasons. At SharqiDance, some of our favorite reasons are:
If you are local to the New Jersey Shore's Ocean County or Monmouth County areas, come join our belly dance classes to find out why this dance is becoming all the rage throughout the world!
We all have different backgrounds. Most of us came to belly dance at different stages of our lives, for different reasons and with different goals, and we all started with differing amounts of natural skill. We also have different learning styles and prioritize the dance differently in our lives.
Belly dance can mean different things to different people. Some do it for fun and socialization, or as way to get to know more about a foreign culture and its enchanting music and dances. Others do it as an outlet for artistic expression, or as a form of exercise to get in touch with their bodies at a deeper level. Some just belly dance to feel more sexy and beautiful, while others want to reach the highest levels, dancing at professional venues or competitive stages.
No matter your reasons for being drawn to belly dance, always remember that your journey through this dance is unique to you, and honor that unique journey by looking within yourself for the reasons why you do this dance, so that every time you do it, you can seek to get out of it the feelings, experiences, and results that you need.
There is no reason to look at other dancers with judgment if you think they are worse than you and therefore not "worthy." There is also no reason to look at other dancers with envy if you think they are "better" than you or that they have some unfair advantage. Those dancers are walking their own paths that are different from yours, for their own reasons that are different from yours, encountering their own roadblocks that are different from yours, towards destinations that are also different from yours.
If you spend time comparing yourself to others, you lose sight of your own journey and give up control of your destiny! You miss out on lessons you can learn from your individual struggles and on the unique insights you can offer, because no one else has walked the same path as you. You miss the opportunity to learn more about yourself and carve a path that truly fits your own needs, hopes and dreams!
Respect your unique journey through belly dance, honor and own all the reasons why you dance, and don't worry about what others are doing. This way you will feel happier throughout your journey, and it will take you to the most incredible destinations!
This month I am challenging my belly dance students to shimmy for 5+ minutes at a time, 5+ days a week for 5+ weeks, and I'd like to invite belly dancers everywhere to join us!
A shimmy is simply the fast shaking of one's hips. However, there is more to this move than it appears! It must be controlled and sustained enough for other moves to be layered on top of it, and there are many different techniques that achieve different visual results. It really is so much more than just aimless shaking, and the best way to learn proper belly dance shimmy techniques is to take a local belly dance class or a remote online class if you can't find any classes near you!
If you are having trouble with shimmies, don't worry... you are not alone! The shimmy is one of those moves that can take months or even years for beginner belly dancers to grow completely comfortable into, and for most people there is no way to perfect it unless it is practiced frequently and for extended amounts of time. Even intermediate and advanced dancers can have trouble with this move, if it isn't practiced enough. And since it is one of the most prevalent and important moves in most styles of belly dance, there is just no way of getting around it...
We all lead busy lives and it can be difficult to find the time to practice, but anyone can spare 5 minutes a day 5 times a week for something they want to get better at! Thus, the 5/5/5 shimmy challenge was born ;)
You can be as laid-back or as serious as you'd like with this challenge. You can set aside the time and dedicate it fully to practicing your shimmy techniques in front of the mirror, or you can do it as part of your warm-up before you train on another physical activity, or if you're really short on free time you can just shimmy for 5 minutes while you shower, do the dishes, or cook.
You might end up doing it every day of the week, or you might only get around to it once or twice a week, but the point is to get that practice in as opposed to doing absolutely nothing :)
Feel free to share your practice/progress by tagging us on Facebook or hashtagging Instagram (#SharqiDance #shimmychallenge), or just let us know how you're doing in the comments section below!
So, will you join our Shimmy Challenge?
While belly dance in its most basic forms may have existed for centuries, or possibly millennia, it was only over the last 100 years or so that it really began to take the shape we have come to recognize and refer to as "raqs sharqi"--or belly dance--today, thanks in large part to these incredible women who made history as belly dance stars in Egypt.
In this timeline of famous Egyptian belly dancers, you will learn a little bit about each woman and their influence on the dance as well as see them in action, thereby getting a glimpse into how this dance has changed and evolved over the years. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!
Badia Masabni (1892 - 1974) - The Godmother of Belly Dance
Badia Masabni was a Syrian/Lebanese actress and dancer who moved to Egypt and opened the first music hall in Cairo in the 1920's which featured singing, dancing, and other entertainment acts.
She is credited with adapting belly dance from its social and folkloric roots into a dance that is done on the stage to entertain a large audience. The usage of ballet-inspired arms and lines, greater use of space and traveling steps, and the incorporation of the veil as a prop can all be traced back to this woman, who is understandably referred to as "The Godmother of Belly Dance."
She is also credited with being a mentor to two major belly dance figures, Samia Gamal and Tahiya Carioca.
Tahiya Carioca (1915 - 1999) - The Marilyn Monroe of the Arab World
Eventually dubbed the "Marilyn Monroe of the Arab World," Tahiya Carioca began her belly dance career at Badia Masabni's Casino Opera where she rose to become one of its biggest stars.
She was given the surname "Carioca" due to her fascination with Brazilian rhythms and dance, which she incorporated into her performances.
She began appearing in films in 1935, going on to become an important part of Egyptian movie history. The height of her fame occurred during the "Golden Age" of Egyptian cinema in the 1940's and 50's, and she continued to dance until 1963.
Samia Gamal (1924 - 1994) - The National Dancer of Egypt
Another Badia Masabni protegé and Golden Age star, Samia Gamal would eventually be proclaimed by Egypt's King Farouk as the "The National Dancer of Egypt."
Samia was not only one of the most famous belly dancers of her time, but was also a very successful actress, having appeared in over 50 movies throughout her career. She also performed in international films and clubs, helping bring worldwide attention and recognition to this dance.
As a dancer, she was known for her beautiful arm movements and enchanting smile.
Naima Akef (1929 - 1966) - Bellydancing Acrobat
Naima Akef began her performing career as a child at her family's circus, where she performed as an acrobat.
After the circus disbanded, she eventually found work as a singer and belly dancer in Cairo's famous nightclubs, and in the 1940's she began singing, dancing and acting in movies as well.
She was lost to cancer at the young age of 37, but not before having become a Golden Age star in her own right, forever making her mark in this dance form with her fast and energetic spins, dramatic arm and leg movements, and impressive displays of acrobatics.
Nagwa Fouad (1936 - present) - Queen of Raqs Sharqi
By the 1970's, Nagwa had become one of the most important belly dancers in Egypt, but her reputation reached far beyond Egypt as she performed all over the globe throughout her career. Every famous personality who came to visit Egypt would come to see Nagwa perform, including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Jimmy Carter.
By the time she retired, Nagwa Fouad had had a very impressive and versatile 45-year career in dance and film, having appeared as a dancer in over two hundred and fifty films and acted in more than one hundred!
Soheir Zaki (1944 - present) - The Om Kalthoum of Dance
Fifi Abdo (1953 - present) - Queen of Baladi
As a child, Fifi Abdo would watch the films of the likes of Tahiya Carioca, Naima Akef, etc, and copy their moves. She started performing belly dance at age 13 and thanks to her hard work, talent, and toughness, she rose to become a top belly dancer and actress in Egypt in the 1980's and 90's, and today she is one of the wealthiest women in the country!
In her films, she usually portrays empowered female archetypes, and her work is often provocative and controversial for its boldness.
While Fifi is an amazing all-around belly dancer, she is best known for being the embodiment of baladi: the simple, earthy, grounded, country style of dance from which raqs sharqi originated.
Mona Said (1954 - present) - The Bronze of The Nile
Mona Said began her belly dance career at age 13 after being encouraged to become a dancer by a nightclub owner and a big-name singer who had spotted her dancing at a disco.
She left Egypt in 1970 to perform in Lebanon for a few years, fleeing her father who was disapproving of her career choice. In Lebanon she found fame before returning to Cairo in 1975. She then went on to perform between Cairo and London for the next 5 years, and became one of the top belly dancers in Egypt through the 80's and 90's.
Mona was nicknamed "The Princess of Raqs Sharqi" by Tahiya Carioca herself, and "The Bronze of the Nile" by Egypt's media.
Mona is best known for her feeling and emotion when dancing. She does not believe in counting music, but instead in focusing on the feeling and allowing it to take over in the moment.
She is a perfect example of the "less is more" philosophy applied in belly dance, milking every beat and every note in the music, giving it no more and no less than what is called for, building up energy only when the music builds, all while expressing a variety of different emotions and personalities.
Dina (1965 - present) - The Last Egyptian Dancer
Dina began her dancing career in the 1970's training with Mahmoud Reda, co-founder of Reda Troupe, a group of Egyptian folkloric dancers that toured nationally and internationally.
She began her solo career in the 80's, quickly rising to the top of the belly dance scene in Cairo and remaining there up to this date, in a difficult and evolving social and political landscape.
Times have changed in Egypt, and the pendulum has been swinging further and further towards religious conservatism over the past few decades. In a 2008 article, Newsweek called Dina "The Last Egyptian Dancer," in reference to the growing conservatism in the country which is causing fewer and fewer native-born women to become professional dancers. This, coupled with Dina's provocative costumes and movements, have made her into a very controversial figure in her country and abroad.
But whether you love her or hate her, her influence in modern Egyptian style is undeniable. Dina herself is the clear dividing line between the vintage and classic styles that came before her and the modern styles that exist today.
Her Reda-influenced steps marked the beginnings of new trends in belly dance which favor more complex footwork and weight shifts. Her exaggerated and dramatic facial expressions and gestures, sharper hip and pelvic accents and slower and more provocative hip circles have been copied all over Egypt and the world. Her daring bras showcasing ample cleavage became the new normal in belly dance costume design (the "Dina bra"), and her occasional choice of a mini-skirt over traditional full-length skirts created new trends that are still being followed and developed upon all over the world today.
Newsweek may have dubbed Dina "The Last Egyptian Dancer," but she is far from it. We are certainly no longer in the heyday of belly dance in Egypt, but many new dancers have popped up since Dina, and they continue to set their own trends today. They won't be covered in this blog post, but may be covered in future posts so please stay tuned!
I encourage you to keep reading and watching belly dance videos to find out more about this dance, its influential figures, its history around the world, and the myriad of different styles that fall under the belly dance umbrella!
Wikiwand - Badia Masabni
Bellydance Superstars of the Past - Badia Masabni
Gilded Serpent - Badia Masabny Star Maker of Cairo
Wikiwand - Taheyya Kariokka
Belly Dance Museum - Taheya Carioca
New York Times - Tahia Carioca, 79, Dies; A Renowned Belly Dancer
Wikiwand - Samia Gamal
Belly Dance Museum - Samia Gamal
Google Doodle just honored this iconic Egyptian dancer
Wikipedia - Naima Akef
Serpentine - Naima Akef
An Uncommon Woman - Nagwa Fouad, Queen of Oriental Dance
Serpentine - Sohair Zuki
Belly Dance Museum - Soheir Zaki
Wikipedia - Fifi Abdou
Serpentine - Fifi Abdo
Mona el Said
Mona El Said
Gilded Serpent - Mona el Said in Dallas, Part 1
Mona El Said: Moving in Mysterious Ways
Wikipedia - Dina Talaat
DINA at the MENA!
Newsweek - Saudis and the Last Egyptian Belly Dancer
This Valentine's Day has me thinking about some of the notions people have about belly dance.
To the general public in the Western world, the words "belly dance" tend to conjure up thoughts of harems where half-naked concubines dance to seduce the sultan...
But did you know that's actually an incorrect stereotype?
Belly dance originated from folkloric dances of the Middle East... dances that are regularly done informally at family and social gatherings, by children and adults alike, both female and male.
It is a dance of joy and celebration, with a rich history and culture behind it that is now studied and performed all around the world.
Reducing it to nothing but a "dance of seduction" is really a wild inaccuracy!
Then again, it is also easy to see how this dance--which can indeed be very sensual--could actually be used for this purpose. After all, who can possibly think that a slinky undulation or precise controlled hip shimmy isn't attractive? Even if it's an inaccurate stereotype, there is still truth to the fact that belly dance can be a sensual and mesmerizing art form.
Yet there are ways to use this quality without reducing the dance to something that is done solely for the pleasure of leering men. Because if there is one person you should definitely try to use belly dance to seduce... that person is you!
You can use it to see beauty in the diverse people who perform it, and in turn to see beauty in yourself.
You can use it to teach your body how to do new and amazing things that you will feel beautiful doing.
You can use it to express the music you love and the deepest feelings inside your soul.
This Valentine's Day, do a little belly dancing, and fall in love with yourself!
I wrote out these tips for my students who are studying and practicing for their very first belly dance solo performance, but they would be helpful to any belly dance student who is new to performing, and perhaps feeling overwhelmed!
1. Pick a piece of music that you love, and get to know it inside and out! The more you like your music and the better you know it, the better you will be able to express it and the more comfortable you will feel.
2. If you feel stronger working with choreography, then choreograph. If you are more comfortable with improvisation, improvise! Or do a mix of both. There is no need to force yourself into any method that doesn't work for you!
3. Remember you don't need to show us a million moves or prove anything to anybody. Pick a few moves you can do well and that go together with the music, and have fun with them! It is possible to do a whole belly dance routine with just a handful of moves, if you do them well and know how to use different variations and timing that fits well with the music.
4. Watch lots of dancers perform... there are thousands and thousands of videos available on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, so use these resources! Don't ever outright copy another dancer, but let yourself be inspired by what else is out there.
5. Just have fun!!! You work on technique in class and you practice it at home so you don't have to worry about it when you perform. Forget about whether you are doing it right or wrong, just let go, have fun and show us how happy you are to be dancing for us! Your audience wants to see you succeed, and they will have fun with you if they see you are enjoying yourself!
Follow these tips and you will come out of your first solo feeling happy and proud of yourself for putting a smile on your audience's face! Break a hip!
I'll take discipline over "natural talent" any day of the week!
Innate ability will carry you through the initial stages of learning a new skill and might even help throughout all stages of development (better results for the same amount of practice), but without deliberate and consistent study and training, talent on its own is nothing but unsatisfied potential.
This is true for absolutely anything in life, including belly dance. I’ve been thinking a lot about how beginner students often create limitations for themselves that don’t actually exist, by perceiving their lack of ability to do something right off the bat as a permanent limitation as opposed to a perfectly natural part of the learning process, and even an opportunity to learn the process at a deeper level than those who don’t have to struggle through it.
Sometimes as teachers we even encourage this type of thinking, by overly complimenting a student’s natural ability to just “pick up” a new move right away, but neglecting to give attention and positive reinforcement to the improvement that student is showing week after week on a move they struggle with.
If you are that student in class who just can't understand the explanation given, if you're that person making mistakes and looking around and noticing that everyone else remembers the choreography but you, if your body just won’t move the “right” way, or you just feel awkward, or whatever it is...
There are reasons you are having a hard time, and none of them are your fault, so there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Yet these reasons are also mostly within your control, if you want them to be.
If you want to improve, if you consistently practice, if you have good guidance in some or many forms (in your teachers and mentors, friends and peers, books and/or other reading materials), then it's just a matter of time before you become good, or even great, or even awesome.
Many aspects of belly dance did not come naturally to me, so I'm familiar with all types of learning struggles and learning styles, and try to tailor each class to the specific individuals in it by using a mix of verbal, visual, kinesthetic, and other methods of explaining movement.
In my class, "mistakes" are not bad, mistakes are opportunities for progression (for both the student and myself as a teacher), because they allow me to rethink my explanations and tailor them to the student/s having issues so that they are receiving the best instruction for their individual needs.
Or if the issue is not with my explanation, then it allows me to look at the root of the problem and recommend appropriate solutions. Maybe it's just a matter of drilling that specific movement over and over again. Or maybe we need to specifically target the muscles that are not working optimally in this move, in which case I will recommend an exercise outside of belly dance that will do just that.
I am amazed at the progress I've been seeing from each and every SharqiDance student! When both student and teacher are committed to this progress, wonderful things happen. I feel absolutely blessed to have dedicated students who come to my class to embark on this journey!
Yamê is a Brazilian-American belly dancer based out of New Jersey, USA.