History of Bellydance
Excerpt taken from "Bellydance By Dolphina"
"Bellydance is perhaps the oldest form of dance.
Its origins can be traced back to ancient Oriental,
Indian, and Middle Eastern Cultures. Although many people
today think of it as a seductive dance intended to entertain
men, in fact men have only been permitted
to observe this unique art form in its more recent history.
Traditionally bellydance was performed by women for women as
part of ancient fertility rituals and goddess
In Arabic, bellydance is known as raks sharqi,
which literally translates as "dance from the East:" you
may also see it referred to as danse Orientale.
There are several different theories on how
it came to be known as bellydance in the West. it is similar
in sound to the Arabic name for "dance of the people,"or beledi,
but a more likely explanation is that
it came from the French "danse du ventre," or "dance
of the stomach,". The Origins
Because bellydance spans so many cultures, its exact origins are
difficult to pinpoint. What I find fascinating is its connection
with fertility rituals practiced in the Stone Age. many
ancient artifacts depicting as deities exist(far more than images of men),
which has led archaeologists to speculate that women were dominant
and considered sacred in Stone Age society.
Women would have danced together to honor Mother Earth in
spiritual ceremonies and were taught to dance as a way
to celebrate and worship their goddess, for sexual fertility,
and in preparation for childbirth.
it seems likely that this ritualistic dancing formed the foundations
of modern bellydance
as we know it today. The undulating movements and its focus
on the hips, abdominals, and chest suggest a connection to female
fertility, in both conception and labor.
The legacy of women bellydancing for women continued well into the more
recent history of bellydance. in the harems of Constantinople in
the mid-1400s, female gypsy bellydancers
were hired to entertain the women, not the Sultan. They danced the Turkish style
of bellydance, with finger cymbals and earthy movements performed on the floor.
Some gypsy tribes traveled to Egypt and developed the very popular,
ghawazee folk-style of dance that incorporated many showy props
such as veils, candles, and swords that are still used today.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century men were catching
their first glimpses of bellydance, since ghawazee
dancing was being performed outside in makeshift theaters where
the gypsies laid their carpets. in 1834, Cairo's religious restrictions forced
bellydance underground, although it re-emerged in the 1850s.
As Europeans began to travel more, their fascination with North Africa
and the Middle East began to grow. Arist such as Renior, Matisse, and Ingres all
painted harem women, and in 1893 Oscar Wilde staged Salome
in London, which featured the seductive
"Dance of the Seven Veils." A cultural phenomenon known as
"Salomania" began to spread through Europe. Solomania
reached America in 1893 when a dancer named Little Egypt
( thought to be Algerian) performed at the Chicago World's Fair.
her exotic movements were considered outrageous for
the times, but audiences were entranced, and bellydancers
made appearances in many of Hollywood's early silent films.
By the turn of the century nightclubs
were beginning to open in North Africa and the Middle East to
meet the demands of the colonial rulers and western tourists.
Audiences paid to watch glamorous bellydancers
dressed in ornate costumes. They danced on their toes,
performing subtle hip movemnets and graceful arm and hand gestures,
very like modern Egyptian-style bellydance.
Before being accused of being a German spy during world war One,
Mata Hari was renowned in Europe for
her exotic dance routines. Society's attitudes
were changing, and exotic dancing was becoming a form of
liberation and glamorous empowerment for women.
influences reached far and wide and even inspired the
greats of modern dance, Including Isadora Duncan,
Ruth St. Dnis, and Martha Graham. During the Women's Liberation
movement of the 1970's bellydance experienced
another revival. This was largely due to the release
of an album by a Turkish bellydancer, Ozel Turkbas,
which also included an instructional booklet on how to bellydance.
during the sexual revolution, bellydance was embraced by
a generation of women who were captivated by the
liberating movements, belly-exposing costumes,
and camaraderie with other women. Classes sprung up at
YWCA's across America, "hip-huggers" and "bikinis"
celebrated women's bare bellies for the first time in fashion
history, and bellydance was featured in
As the dance gained in popularity, it became a
way for women everywhere to affirm their individual
magnificence and power.
Today bellydance is more popular than ever
as women begin to realize its fitness potential. Many women now enjoy an
ancient dance as their regular form of exercise. Past and present,
bellydance encourages each woman to celebrate her personal inner beauty.
The most astonishing and beautiful aspect of
bellydance's colorful and rich history is that the dance not only endured
but also evolved and adapted to suit the current social and political
situation. To this day it continues its legacy as
a source of female empowerment.