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Fatma Akef, 1970's

Dunyah, Rakkasah 2000

Goblet Dancing
by Dunyah
September 2005

History of Goblet Dancing in the U.S.
Fatma Akef, sister of the famous Egyptian dancer Naima Akef, brought the goblet dance to San Francisco nightclubs in the 1970's. She performed standing on the goblets with a live parrot on her shoulder and while balancing a pot on her head While dancing on the goblets, she would remove her outer costume, revealing a second costume underneath. (See photo above left).
Jamila Salimpour, the well-known dancer, teacher, and promoter of that era, saw Fatma's act and later included goblet dancing in some of her troupe routines.
Shelly Muzzy, a Salimpour protegee, performed a goblet routine with her troupe, Bou Saada, and I, Dunyah, learned the dance from a member of Bou Saada. Shelly has written about her experiences with goblet dancing on the Gilded Serpent website, at
I've been performing the goblet dance for over 15 years now. I've had a lot of fun with it. Until recently it was almost a forgotten specialty, rarely seen in performance, at least in our area (Oregon, USA). This past year I have taught workshops on Goblet Dancing in Roseburg, at Saqra's Showcase Festival in Portland, and at Mezdulene's Belly Dance Retreat for Women in Southern Oregon. I have already seen some beautiful goblet dances performed by dancers who attended those workshops, most notably Jamara, the award-winning dancer from Roseburg.
Description of the Dance
The actual dance is done while standing on three goblets, two under one foot and one under the other foot. As a "right-hipped" dancer, that is, right hip dominant, I prefer to place two goblets under my left foot, while the ball of my right foot rests on the single goblet. The heel of my left foot is placed on one goblet while the ball of the left foot is supported by the second goblet. For the sake of clarity, in this paper I will refer to the left foot as the foot supported by two goblets, and the right foot as the foot supported by one goblet.
This position can be duplicated by standing on the floor, left foot flat, right foot on the ball. In this stance the dance is executed--basically a "standing taxim,"  or improvisational sequence incorporating undulations of the torso, hip or shoulder shimmies, hip articulations, arm movements, rib cage articulations, belly rolls, etc.
Advanced Moves
The following moves can be incorporated into the dance only if the dance floor has a very smooth surface. Some dancers create a large board with a polished surface which they bring with them to venues lacking such a floor.
Slide to the side: The single goblet can be moved out to the side by maintaining a light downward pressure of the right foot while extending the right leg and bending the left knee. Maintain the downward pressure, slide right foot back to center and straighten left knee. Snake arms or other movements can be added to enhance this step.
Turn: Further, a slow paddle turn can be executed by shifting the two goblets slightly under the left foot. In performance this can be accompanied by a right hip lift and framing of the hip with the arms to direct the audience's gaze to the hip.
When audience members realize the dancer is turning on the glasses, they are sometimes shocked enough to gasp aloud.  
Props: Adding a second prop, such as balancing a pot or sword while standing on the glasses, adds another level of difficulty to the dance. My signature dance involves balancing a pot on my head, dancing with that for a minute or two, then mounting the goblets for standing taxim, level changes, half-turn with hip lifts, some moves with my back to the audience, half-turn with hip lifts to the front, and finishing with shimmies and a pose with arms raised.
Then I step off the glasses and finish my dance with a "hinge" backbend and a dramatic spin with the pot still balanced on my head.
For my finale, my assistant  brings out a fourth goblet and I  pour red "wine" (juice) from my pot into the clear goblet while miming a toast to the audience. I use a real, ceramic pot. Some of us like dancing on the edge of disaster!
Alternatively, I have seen a dancer mount the goblets and then have an assistant bring her a sword which she balanced on her head for the remainder of the dance.
The "Shiva" trick: Invented by Beth, a workshop student at Mezdulene's Retreat, this trick involves picking up the single goblet with the toes after having mounted the goblets. By wedging the stem of the goblet between the big toe and second toe of her right foot, Beth is able to bring the goblet up to hip level and then hold it in her hands and present it to the audience. A "Shiva" pose with the knee bent and the right foot raised to crotch level is achieved. Circles and figure eights of the knee can be done, demonstrating the dancer's excellent balance. Then she returns the goblet to its place on the floor, again placing the stem between the big toe and second toe.
If not balancing another prop on the head, the single goblet could be balanced on the head while a few moves are executed standing only on the two goblets under the left foot. Note: I consider this type of pose a fusion movement. It is not a traditional raqs sharki movement.
Drum Solo: I saw this performed in a video clip of a Russian dancer whose name I do not know. The clip did not show the mount, but she danced a drum solo while standing on a cast metal dumbek with a mylar head. To dismount, she hopped down, picked up the drum and made her exit while drumming. Very effective. Mounting a twelve-inch goblet-shaped drum must be tricky, I wish the clip had showed that part of it. One solution might be to have an assistant bring a small step, which is removed once the mount is accomplished. Or perhaps the assitant just gives a "hand up." See photo of Tarik Sultan dancing on a drum, below.
Showmanship is an important aspect of doing a goblet routine. It is important to create a mystique. You want to create an image of difficulty and skill in the audience members' minds. It helps to have an assistant to bring out the goblets for you, or to have a table at waist- or chest- height located upstage. Having a costumed assistant, similar to a magician's assistant, creates even more of an aura of mystery for the audience.
In any case, I like to clink the glasses together while presenting them to the audience. This lets them know that yes, indeed, these goblets are REAL GLASS and are not fake stage props of some kind.
It is essential to practice the correct placement and spacing of the goblets on the floor so that when you are ready to step onto them, they are in the correct position to receive the heel and ball of the left foot. The single goblet on the right must be placed not too far away and not too close, so that your feet will be in the correct position during your standing taxim, i.e. approximately hip-width apart.
This is even more critical if you are balancing a pot or sword on your head before mounting the goblets.
Obviously you can't look down at the goblets while balancing a prop on your head. But even if you aren't balancing a sword or pot, try to practice spotting the location of the goblets without looking down at them while you dance about the stage and greet the audience before mounting the glasses.
When  it is time to get up on the glasses, make the moment as dramatic as possible. This is achieved in several ways. For example, by looking at the audience, not down at the glasses; by deliberately taking your time; by pointing the toes of the left foot, extending the left leg to the side, and raising the left knee parallel to the floor before lowering the foot onto the goblets. Take a moment to be sure that your left heel and ball are properly and securely placed on the goblets, then slowly shift your weight forward and up so that your weight is resting on the left goblets. Then point the toes of the right foot, extend the right leg, bring the knee up a bit, and lower the right foot onto the glass.
Important: If you lower your right foot onto the single goblet, you have less chance of knocking it over. If you bring your foot up at an angle, your toe may brush the goblet and knock it down. (Been there, done that!) If this happens, use your showmanship skills! Keep your face composed. Gently sink to the floor and return the goblet to its proper place. "Scolding" the naughty goblet by shaking a finger at it can provide a humorous relief of tension. Then try again, taking your time as you point your toes, lift your knee, use graceful arms, etc. The audience will be with you when you successfully get up there--they want you to succeed, and they want to feel that they are in the hands of a skilled performer. So take your time and keep up your stage persona.
The dance can easily be stylized for tribal style or for cabaret style. Keep in mind, though, that if your skirt is too long it may hang over your feet and obscure the goblets, lessening the impact of the dance. So choose a shorter skirt than usual, or practice tucking the skirt securely into the hip belt before beginning the goblet routine

Goblet Selection

Choose the thickest, sturdiest goblets you can find. Restaurant supply stores are the best source. A certain type of footed ice cream sundae dish is goblet-shaped and very sturdy. You can sometimes find them at flea markets or thrift stores. Inspect them carefully and reject any with chips or cracks. Purchase four of them if you can. Then if you want to incorporate a toast to the audience, you will have a clean glass to use!
In Conclusion
However you choose to stylize your goblet dance, whether it be Egyptian or American Tribal Style Belly Dance, have fun. Play with the idea of the goblets and the visual impact they have on an audience. What is the symbolism of the goblet in your mind? The goblet can represent mystical femininity, which could work well with sword symbolism in a yin and yang of feminine and masculine imagery. The goblets could also represent the Cups of the tarot deck, where Swords or Wands are also found.
Perhaps for you the goblet represents convivial drinking and having a good time. In a spirit of fun and showing off, the saucy dancer dances on top of glasses.
Exploring some of these ideas and their personal meaning for you adds depth to the performance, whether or not you incorporate the ideas in the actual choreography.
Whatever you do, invest your dance with your unique personal stamp. Make the goblet dance an expression of your uniqueness. Have fun with it.
Goblet Dancing Links
Article by Shelly Muzzy on the Gilded Serpent website
Aziza Sa'id's FAQ - Dancing on Glasses. Discussion on glass dancing from the MED Dance List. Several dancers mention learning glass dancing from their grandmothers who emigrated from Middle Eastern countries to the U.S.
Article "The Slow Part--How to Make it Interesting," by Miramar. Originally published in Zaghareet Magazine 2001. Tips on sword, basket, snake, candle and glass dancing.
Video Clip of Salome dancing on goblets. Nice standing taxim with sword. The "ice cream sundae" type of goblet is clearly visible.
Video Clip of Meissoun dancing on goblets as part of a tableau called "In the Coffee House" that also includes Melaya dancing and shisha smoking.
Article by Karol Harding, aka Joyful Dancer. "The World's Oldest Dance - A History of Bellydance (Revised)." Extensive, well-written article. The section on Use of Props mentions glass dancing.
*New* Video Clip Adriana performs a very nice goblet routine, plus Arabic dance by Zari at the beginning of this clip.

Tarik Sultan

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