This section will give you
some helpful hints and tips along your Bellydance path
Links to Good Articles:
What is Bellydance? from Gilded Serpent webzine
Yasmina's Very Informative Site
Morocco: the grande dame of American Bellydance incredible wealth of information from real life
What is Bellydance?
Here I will give my overview from an American Bellydancer's perspective - from years of study with reading, research, interviews, etc - with a Brief Description & a start at some history for you:
Bellydance is... called "Raqs Sharqi" (Arabic - dance of the east) in the countries of the Middle East
- Historically considered to have developed in the Near & Middle East, the "cradle of civilization"
- The area associated with Bellydance can be abbreviated as "MEHNAT" :
Middle East Hellenic North Africa Turkey
- As known today, stems from 20th century inception of a modernized, glamourized form of what was social dance in the countries of the Near & Middle East: Badia Masabni opens the "Casino Opera" Cairo, Egypt, 1926 - an entertainment venue with dance, music, theatrical presentations
- A modern term describing a family of dance movements using the torso as center of gravity
- Differs from European & American style dance - these forms primarily use the chest as center of gravity with emphasis on arm & leg movement; Eastern movement has a lower center of gravity with less limb emphasis
- "Nicknamed" Belly Dance by travelers to the East from the West: from torso movements, from French visitors to Egypt in the 19th century ("danse du ventre" = stomach dance)
- Characterized by muscular use of shoulders, torso, and hips; & "isolations" where one body part moves while others appear still
-Contains an emotional response to musical interpretation, use of quarter tones in music inspires soulful dancing
Development in the USA:
-Sol Bloom brought a type of Middle Eastern dancing to America in 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair with a contingent of Syrian and Algerian dances which then spread into the vaudeville areas of entertainment. He used the Bellydance to attract business.
-Burlesque borrowed movements of this traditional ethnic form, lending some stigma to the term Belly Dance
- Americans at the turn of the century were transfixed by this colorful and different dance style...& still are
- Western pioneers in Modern Dance such as Ruth St. Denis and Isadora Duncan adopted many Eastern style movements
-Widespread popularity in America started emerging in ethnic restaurant entertainment on East & West coasts; along with cities such as Chicago, Detroit... 1950's & 60's
- Bellydance fitness craze hits in the late 60's - can be found at Y's and schools all over US
- Ozel Turkbas (Turkey/US), Serena (NYC) offer Bellydance as classes in dance studios & schools
- Ibrahim "Bobby" Farrah (Philadelphia/NYC) begins producing shows in theaters in the 1960's
- Jamila Salimpour pioneers the dance on West Coast. [There are many, many others which you will find in the websites of scholarly research at top of this page.]
- the "Golden Age" of Egyptian dance, considered approx. 1930's -70's, captured in cinema, began to be available on video overseas in the 1980's; as well as movies & TV shows from 60-70s - see below
- Fundamentalists start quashing dance in the Middle East in the 1980's
- Disco, aerobics, solid gold dancers, jazzercize, et al, change the nature of dance & fitness in the US late 20th century
- Bellydance starts to wane as a fad in the US 1980's
- End of 20th century brings some sparks back/Many long term performers and instructors still plugging away; some new blood enters the scene as well
- the 21st century: an explosion of interest, an incredible upswing: Internet community, availability of goods - CDs, DVDs- and services - classes, workshops, demos, travel = new forms & fusion sprouting everywhere: exciting & confusing!
Many dancers take to research, and cultural appropriation becomes a concern: Lots to read: Belly Dance: Orientalism, Transnationalism and Harem Fantasy
Anthony Shay, Pomona CollegeFollow
Description For over a century, solo improvised dance, especially belly dance, has had enormous popularity, and by the 1970s and 1980s in the wake of the feminist movement, over a million women in the United States, and many more thousands in Western Europe became devotees of this choreographic form. This volume traces several strands of this phenomenon. Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young provide an overview of solo improvised dance in the Middle East and in the West.
Several essays address the dance tradition in the Middle East: Najwa Adra describes and analyzes the performance of solo improvised dance in domestic circles in the Arab world, Anthony Shay analyzes the issue of how Islam and individuals among the Moslem clergy perceive and react to dance, Stavros Stavrou deconstructs the famous encounter between Gustave Flaubert and the Egyptian dancer Kuchek Hanum in terms of colonialism, Roberta Dougherty analyzes the popular images of the belly dancer in the Egyptian cinema, Shay addresses the question of male dancers and their performances, and Linda Swanson adds a whimsical interpretation of the famous twentieth century Egyptian belly dancer Tahia Carioca. The dance was frequently seen in the West by millions of visitors to world fairs and exhibitions that were popular in the 19th century and Sol Bloom, the entrepreneur of the Chicago World Fair of 1893 coined the term “belly dance.” From that period, belly dance became a popular entertainment in the United States. American women found the dance to be a liberating vehicle and a means of adopting new and exotic persona. They developed several new genres of the dance. Barbara Sellers-Young describes and analyzes tribal belly dance, a genre that was invented in San Francisco, Anne Rasmussen provides an overview of the music used in Arab nightclubs in the United States and a description of the musicians and the club milieu, Donnalee Dox analyzes the spiritual belly dance movement, Andrea Deagon addresses the enduring trope of oriental dance: Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils through performances both from the turn of the century and contemporary versions, Nancy Lee Ruyter gives a historical perspective of La Meri’s, one of the earlier interpreters of belly dance, Jennifer Fisher looks at the orientalist implications of the Arabian dance from the Nutcracker, often inspired by oriental dancing and seen by millions of audience members across America. An epilogue by the editors provides an overview of the topic and integrates the scholarly material for the reader. ISBN1568591837 Publication Date 2005 Publisher Mazda Publishers
*The "Golden Age" of Egyptian cinema approx. 1930s - 1970s produced many musicals complete with the famous dancers of the time, such as Tahia Carioca, Naima Akef, the Gamal Twins, Samia Gamal, and 1960-70s later stars Nagwa Fouad, Fifi Abdo, Sohar Zaki, Nelly, & Mona Said.
When videos became available, these movies began to make it across to the US (1980's) and became prized jewels in a Bellydancer's study collection. Grainy, terrible quality, poor reproductions - no matter, we soaked up these samples of real Egyptian dancing available to watch over & over at home and at dance study parties!
Why do I use the term Bellydance?
Why wouldn't I? Well,
Bellydance is considered a derogatory term by many. It is a term invented as anecdote - imagine if Ballet was referred to solely as the "Tippy-toe" Dance .
It is a dance with a rich, colorful, and at time checkered, or risque, past.
It first spread across America in the 1890's after being presented at a World's Fair and then appropriated by vaudeville where it acquired some of its hoochie-koochie reputation.
The contrived images of Bellydancer as harem girl, odalisque, tantalizing temptress mainly derive from the overblown fantasies from the 19th century European Orientalist movement in art. Yet who is not drawn to those beautiful and luscious images... Today we know more about the myths and "fakelore" that added fantasy elements not accurate in reality. (*See Cultural Appropriation and reading above*)
Cultural Appropriation is something of which we need to be aware and educate ourselves.
Yet - Who among the pool of wonderful and talented American Bellydancers did not dive in from thoughts of exotic-fun-dance-shake-it-snake-it, and then went on to serious study of a land and culture whose dance and music called to our hearts and spirits? We try to keep learning about the countries of the MEHNAT :
the Middle East, Hellenic countries, North Africa, & Turkey; and their dance and music that we love.
This dance is as full of contradictions, confusion, and conundrum as is the human race!
Today "Bellydance" can be seen anywhere from full out glamour theatrical productions, to bohemian dark cafes, to healthcare facility festivals, to bellygrams at Uncle Joe's 75th birthday, to cousins ( boys and girls both) showing off at a wedding...and more.
The dancer is a beloved and necessary part of celebrations in many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, yet the person of the dancer is looked upon by much of society as disrespectable.
All over the world, many cultures and religions frown upon making too much of a show of the body in public, even if discreetly covered, and some outright ban it. The joyous movement is somehow considered shameful.
Great source material: the book A Trade Like Any Other by Karin Van Nieuwkerk, University of Texas Press (1995) see link:
I love Bellydance. It is my passion and my creative outlet.
I love how the dancer "gets the party going" and lights up the eyes of people from countries of origin & from all over the world.
I love creating choreographies, designing costumes, producing outlets for performance. I love watching my students grow and find their dance expression. I love sharing the joy of dance with my friends and mentors. I love how no one can resist the infectious rhythms and sweet melodies. I love learning about different countries & cultures than my own.
As a child, I first saw the wonderful Bellydance-style celebration dancing at weddings, festivals, parties. Later I experienced the amazing professional Bellydancers in the New York City clubs and restaurants.
As with any other profession or hobby, there are great, good, mediocre and bad Belly Dancers. Many people have gotten the wrong impression that it is like stripping or "tacky" from seeing poorly trained dancers perform that way and misinterpret the flowing movements. Despite this stigma, the basic elements of "Raks Sharki" (Dance of the East) dancing style lend themselves to the graceful, expressive, and mesmerizing power of the body set to music.
Today there are Bellydancers - students, professionals, & fans - all over the world of all different nationalities .
I consider myself an American of Mediterranean descent who studies Middle Eastern and Mediterranean style dance. Since the first demonstrations - approximately 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair - of this dance style, commonly called Bellydance, in North America, it has grown a history all its own complete with a wonderful cast of characters. I love researching the evolution of the art form in the West, coupled with studies of the roots in the East, and the modern form all over the world.
And though I do use the terms Middle East Dancer and Raks Sharki, I usually call myself a Belly Dancer, and embrace it despite the flaws of using that term.