Belly dance is a Western name coined for a style of dance developed in the Middle East and other Arabic-influenced areas. Performed only by women, this form of dance involves rhythmic undulations of the body, with special emphasis on the belly and the torso. Throughout the history of the belly dance, veils have been worn to conceal the body, which symbolizes both sexuality and worldliness. In the Arabic language it is known as Raqs Sharqi and in Turkish as Oryantal Dansı (dance of the East).
All about belly dancing
No one really knows when or where it originated, only that it has been around for centuries. It was popularised in the West in the late 1890s. The term belly dance was coined by the American event promoter Sol Bloom, when he was trying to stir public interest in seeing the Streets of Cairo exhibit at the Chicago world's fair in 1893. The name proved catchy, and the dance form titillated the masses, since it was the era when most high-society women were laced up tightly in their corsets. Since then, belly dancing began to be used to spice up Hollywood films and became an integral item in sleazy bars and nightclubs.
However, the popular perception of belly dance as a dance of seduction, of beautiful veiled ladies in a harem vying for a sultan’s attention by belly dancing with jewels in their navels, is a myth.
Traditionally, women in the Middle East have always performed belly dance for themselves, never for others (especially not for men) to see. Today, in the Middle East, women belly dance to amuse themselves during the day when the men are not home, they dance to celebrate happy family occasions such as weddings—but they do so only in segregated gatherings.
Belly dancing and health
According to the oral tradition handed down through generations of Middle Eastern women, belly dance originated as an exercise during pregnancy, which helped women prepare their abdominal muscles for labour. Even today, movements similar to those of belly dance are used as birth rituals in some Middle Eastern and North African communities. Women gather around a friend or family member undergoing labour, and perform the undulating movements as she prepares to give birth.
Many Arabic women learn belly dance when they are young. There is much evidence to show this helps condition their bodies and they do not suffer as much as western women through pregnancy and childbirth.
Belly dancing is excellent exercise. It strengthens the abdominals, thighs, calves, arms, back, buttocks and hips. It can correct poor posture, tone muscles not easily tackled by other exercise and can be performed by women of practically all fitness levels and age groups. Not surprisingly, it can even be performed during pregnancy — through the third trimester — to ready the stomach muscles for childbirth.
Belly dancing also has a spiritual aspect. Many Middle Eastern and North African dance forms (including the dance of the whirling dervish and belly dance) have been traditionally seen as forms of meditation. The focus in belly dance is on proper breathing, and its vocabulary of movements helps in awakening the dancer’s spirituality and her connectedness with her inner self.
What can I do?
Wear a suitable practice costume—either wide-legged trousers or a leotard with a scarf (belly dancers use a coin belt) around the hip. Wear flat, comfortable shoes.
How to Get Started
- Warm ups for most muscle groups in the body are imperative before a belly dance session. First, plant your feet firmly on the floor, with toes pointing forward. Stand on one leg and make some small circles with your feet, then travel up to do circles from your knee and then the whole leg. Repeat with other leg.
- Make some small circles with your hips, as you are doing this, imagine a cord attached to the top of your head holding you upright. Do the circles each way.
- Standing with your feet hip width apart, arms out to either side, lift your rib cage and slide it to the right and then the left. Do several of these.
- Lift and lower your shoulders, do not let them drop, do this several times.
- Let your head fall forwards onto your chest, then take it to the left over the left shoulder, then back to the front, then to the right over the right shoulder. Do this several times.
- Standing with your feet hip width apart, go onto the ball of one foot and raise the same arm in the air close to your head, hold the wrist of that hand with the other and stretch, you should feel a good stretch down that side round the waist area. Do one more on that side, then do two at the other side, repeat two more times each side.
Common belly dance moves include belly rolls and belly flutters; hip shimmies and hip figure eights; rib circles, lifts and drops; head slides, circles and eyebrow raises. To learn more, go to How to Get Started and Belly Dance Knowhow.
- Belly Dance is a wonderful exercise for women of all ages!
- It is not an erotic performance as it has been made out to be by the West -- instead, it is a form of meditation that honours the Divine Feminine in the dancer.
- For more information and links related to Belly Dancing
- The art of Belly Dancing
- Info resource on Belly Dancing
- Getting started on Belly Dancing