Belly dance

Belly dancer
Belly dancer

Belly dance is a Western name coined for a style of dance developed in the Middle East and other Arabic-influenced areas. In Arabic language it is known as Raqs Sharqi or in Turkish as Oryantal dansı, translated as "Dance of the East". For Europeans, this translation sounded perfectly fit, hence it was also known as "Oriental dance", "Exotic oriental dance", "Oriental belly dance" and the likes. The term "Raqs Sharqi" is claimed to be originated in Egypt. The name suggested an exotic dance originated elsewhere - and so a higher status than the local dance.

It is thought that the dance has been known through the oral tradition in Egypt since the pre-Islamic times. There have been many theories about the origin of belly dancing, but most evidence links it to the Middle East and Africa. Some say it was originated by the Phoenicians; others claim that it was introduced into Egypt by the Ottoman Turks. Egyptian tomb paintings dating from as far back as the fourteenth century BC depict partially clad dancers whose callisthenic positions appear to be very similar to those used in belly dancing. Modern feminist revisionists like to say it became famous in Ottoman times when the dance was a frequent pastime for the women of the harem for each other. In fact both men and women danced - but in separate spaces. A "good" woman would not be seen dancing by any but her husband. This extended to separating the male musicians from female dancers.


Raqs sharqi

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Raqs Sharqi dancer

Raqs sharqi is performed by women - and men - usually solo, for entertainment of spectators in public or private settings. Despite its alias, "belly dance", Raqs Sharqi dancing involves motion of the whole body, from head to feet. Basically, it is an improvisational dance (although based on a certain vocabulary), rhythmic and fluid at the same time.

The dance has a strong focus on an internalization and reflection of the music and the emotion therein. The music is as important as a vocabulary of movements from which to draw, and therefore the most revered of dancers will generally be those who are either the most charismatic or the most emotionally projective (even if their movement vocabulary is limited). The dancer becomes the vehicle of communication to make sound and emotion visible to her audience.

Many see it as a woman's dance, celebrating sensuality and power of being a woman. Sohair Zaki, Fifi Abdou, Lucy, Dina, who are all popular dancers in Egypt, are above the age of 40. Many feel that you have limited life experiences to use as a catalyst for dance until you reach "a certain age".

In Egypt, three different forms of the dance: Baladi, Sha'abi, and Sharqi are known.

Non-Egyptian forms

The most important non-Egyptian forms of belly dance are: the Lebanese belly dance and the Turkish belly dance. Some mistakenly believe that this is known as Chifteteli due to the fact that this style of music has been incorporated into oriental dancing by Greeks and gypsies, illustrated by the fact that the Greek belly dance is called Tsifteteli. However, ciftetelli is a form of upbeat folk music and makes up the lively part of the dance. Çiftetelli is actually a form of folk wedding music.

Besides those there is an Egyptian-Lebanese-Turkish-Greek mixture, which is mainly spread in North America, known as American-Arabian belly dance.

Belly dancing in the Western world

The term "belly dancing" is generally credited to Sol Bloom, entertainment director of the 1893 World's Fair, the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was here in the Egyptian Theater, where the USA first got a look at raqs dancers, when Bloom presented "The Algerian dancers of Morocco". The dancer who stole the show, and who continued to popularize this form of dancing was "Fatima", also known as Little Egypt. Her real name was Farida Mazar Spyropoulos.

The dance performed by Little Egypt had also been called "Hootchy-Kootchy" or "Hoochee-Coochee", or the shimmy and shake, the origin of the name is unknown, and "danse du ventre", which is French for "belly dance".

Today the word "hootchy-kootchy" means simply an erotic suggestive dance.

Belly dance today still retains much of the Hollywood stigma and many dancers and instructors are working hard to overcome this image. Considering belly dance started out as a dance by women for women, as teaching aid to learn about bodies and prepare for child birth, the images of women dancing for a sultan are undeserved. While Raqs Sharqi is still popular in the west, dancers here have also embraced other forms such as tribal or tribal fusion which borrows from gypsy and Spanish traditions as well as Egyptian and Indian styles.

Belly Dance in the U.S.A

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Tribal-style belly dancers

A few of the contemporary (1985-present) outstanding dancers are: Suhaila Salimpour ( (who is a 2nd generation belly dancer), Ansuya (, Alexandra King (, Delilah (, Cassandra (, Dalia Carella (, Suzanna Del Vecchio (, Morocco (, Aisha Ali (, Rachel Brice (, Latifa ( and Helena Vlahos ( (who popularized rolling quarters on her stomach on television in the 1970's).

There is a recent movement in the U.S.A. entitled "Tribal", an example of which is portrayed on this site. A modern fusion of ancient dance techniques from North India, the Middle East and Africa, tribal is characterized largely by improvisational group choreography and a building of rhythm. Dancers often use finger cymbals, in solo within the group, call-and-answer performance with another dancer, or as a whole group.

Costuming for tribal derives from many "authentic" sources and is often composed of large tiered skirts or 10 meter/yard skirts, a short choli often with a plunging neckline, a visible bra decorated with ancient Middle Eastern coins and textiles, turbaned head, hip scarf with yarn tassles or fringe, and a heavy layering of oxidized silver jewelry. The jewelry commonly originates from Central Asia, from any number of nomadic tribes or empires (e.g. Kuchi, Turkoman, Rajasthan) and is often large and set with semi-precious stones or, when mass-produced, with glass. Dancers frequently "tattoo" their faces with henna or kajal. Make-up is usually eye focused with heavy kajal.

For prime examples of tribal techniques and costuming, see the progenitors of the American Tribal Style (ATS), FatChanceBellyDance (

Male belly dancing

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Male Belly Dancer

There is much debate over where and when men became part of the belly dance world. Many believe that men have no right getting involved in this incorrectly assumed historically female art form. However, it is becoming clear that men did indeed bellydance in the Middle East (i.e. Ottoman Empire's rakkas ( Also, they were not eunuchs as some would imply. Male bellydancers today are becoming, if not completely commonplace, at least more visible. They are no longer the "set pieces" or props for the women. In fact, some Arabic countries have banned female belly dancers, calling those who do prostitutes. There are also differences between male and female belly dancing, differences in attitude, posture, choreography, etc. (Masculine belly dance (

Health and belly dancing

The benefits of belly dance are both mental and physical. Dancing is a good cardio-vascular work out and helps increase flexibility. It is suitable for all ages and body types and can be as physical as the dancer chooses to make it. Less fit individuals would be wise to consult a doctor before starting bellydance as well as talking with the instructor to see what level his or her classes operate at. Mental health benefits, for many bellydancers, include an improved sense of wellbeing, elevated body image and self-esteem as well as a generally positive outlook that comes with regular, enjoyable exercise.


  • Donna Carlton (1995). Looking for Little Egypt. Bloomington, Indiana: International Dance Discovery Books. ISBN 0962399817.
  • Belly dancing (

See also

External links

nl:Buikdans pl:Taniec brzucha


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