What is a Belly Dance Drum Solo? And why do I want one at my wedding or event?

Drum Solo Belly Dancer

Possessed by drums.

Many belly dance songs from the Middle East are heavy in drum rhythms and drumming is a big part of the music culture. Much like in rock and jazz  music, the drummer is featured in a drum solo to show off his or her speed and skill with an intense section of constantly changing and complex drum rhythms. With regard to belly dance, the drum solo also allows the dancer to also show off her speed, strength, and body control skill.

The Drum:

[ Silver Dumbek ]


The goblet shaped hand drum used in a belly dance drum solo is called a doumbek; also known as a dombak, darabuka, darbukka. It is also refered to as a tablah, which comes from the Arabic word tabl, meaning “drum”. The earliest doumbek drums found are dated to be from 1100 BC in Babylonia.  The doumbek name comes from the two main sounds made by the drum. The “Doum” is a bass tone make by strike to the center of the drum with the fingers and palm of the hand. The “Bek” is a high-pitched crack made by hitting the rim of the drum. There are many more sounds the drum makes including snaps, slaps, pops and rolls that are used to accent the main rhythms.

The Dance:

Drummer and belly dancer dynamic

In the moment during a drum solo performance.

Due to a complete lack of a melody, the drum solo dance is sharp with lots of hip pops, locks, shimmies, and movement layering to mirror the complex drum rhythms. The drum solo is usually performed in the middle of a long show or at the end as a grand finale. The mood of a drum solo can range from intense to playful to comedic. Most of the time all three moods are portrayed as the dancer chooses to show off her coordination or accent a drum beat with a funny movement like a wink or an unexpected stomach pop. An experienced belly dancer will add another layer of complexity and skill to the drum solo by playing her finger cymbals along with the drumming. This makes for quite an exciting dance!

The Difference:

Within a long 30 minute belly dance show, the dancer may use up to 6 or 7 songs. Unless your guests are avid listeners of Middle Eastern music, many of the songs may start sounding alike. With no other instruments, the drum solo stands out as a unique piece and is therefore memorable to your guests and provides a point of difference for your guests to experience during the show. In addition, many of the first dances in a belly dance show are full of elegance with swirling, soft hip movements and pretty spins. To provide contrast to the graceful movements of the melodic songs, the drum solo features sharp and percussive motions. The belly dance drum solo may be tightly choreographed like a gymnasts’ athletic routine or improvised to reflect the mood of the party.

The Dancer-Drummer Dynamic:

Even more exciting than a recorded drum solo is a live drum solo and even more exciting than a live drum solo is the dynamic between  a drummer and a belly dancer. A dancer performing to a recorded drum solo can show off her  belly dancing skills, but a whole other level of higher entertainment is experienced by your guests when that same dancer performs a drum solo dance with a drummer.

belly dance drum solo

Funny moment during an improv drum solo.

Many times a belly dancer and a drummer will perform a rehearsed show. The tightly rehearsed and practiced routine is very clean and consistent. Your guests will be thrilled with the precision and skill demonstrated by a seasoned belly dancer and drummer team.

However, the real magic happens when both the dancer and the drummer are improvising. Improvisation, when performed by experienced performers, allows the belly dancer and drummer to create art in the moment taking in everything from their current moods and unique personalities to your guests’ moods to the atmosphere of your event. Improvisation creates the most personal shared experience between the belly dancer, the drummer, and your guests. Please note that improvisation at this level is different from “winging it” and not a display of amateur unpreparedness. Being able to create a beautiful dance in real-time based on a deep understanding and connection to the music is what separates true artist belly dancers from the rest.

Video of improvised drumming and belly dancing.

The Decision:

When deciding on which belly dancer to hire and how to arrange your Arabian Nights entertainment, make sure to hire a skilled belly dancer who can perform a variety of belly dance styles including a drum solo. To provide maximum entertainment for your wedding, birthday party, or corporate event, consider also hiring a drummer. The extra energy and entertainment value added by a drummer and belly dancer duo are well worth it for an exciting and personal belly dance show experience!

• Meet the Author • Nyla Crystal

Dr. Nyla Crystal holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and performs family-friendly shows for weddings, birthday parties, and corporate events in the Silicon Valley portion of the San Francisco Bay Area. She also co-directs the international award-winning Troupe Scimitar and the Dangerous Beauties Belly Dance show. Learn more about Santa Clara belly dancer, Nyla Crystal.

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