Belly dance is one of the oldest known forms of dancing. The name suggests that it involves the movements of the abdomen only. However, the fact is that its moves emphasize on other parts of the body like the hips and the chest as well. This dance form is uniquely designed to suit the female body. Traditionally, it is performed with bare feet. The moves of this dance are characterized by sensuous movements of the torso accompanied by a lot of shaking of the body. There are several conflicting theories that are prevalent about its history. Here we are going to talk about the popular beliefs.
Origin and Early History
One of the most popular theories of belly dancing history suggest that the origin of the dance form is somewhere in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and Africa. An Egyptian tomb painting of 5000 BC provides us with evidence of dancers exhibiting belly dancing postures. Many historians believe that at that time it was performed as a religious rite. In those days, women were considered as goddesses who had the power to create the mystery of life from their bodies. So, people of certain tribes used to believe that conception is possible only if women perform this dance. Thus this form was associated with the mystery of fertility and procreation of life.
According to another theory, it was developed as a birthing ritual and was practiced to ease off the birth pangs. With passage of time, the so-called fertility dance transformed into a cultural folk art where men, women, and even children used to participate in it at weddings and other celebrations for fun and not for arousing the audience. In Saudi Arabia, the dance is known as "Raqs sharqi" which means oriental dance. Traditionally, Saudi women used to gather after their evening meals and perform. However, there was a strict rule that they were not supposed to perform it in the presence of men.
Evolution of Belly Dance
The Westerners experienced this dance for the first time when Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798 and his troops witnessed the gypsy dancers. Later, it gained popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries during the Romantic movement. During this period, dancers from Middle East countries started performing in the various World's fairs and people all over the world started enjoying this dance. It was during the Chicago World's Fair that Americans were introduced to belly dancing.
People of America were fascinated by the rhythmic music and the accompanying dance. Inspired by the interest of large number of Americans, Hollywood captured some of these dancers in films. They added further glamor quotient to this exotic dance by introducing colorful costumes, which made it more popular. Eventually, it was censored due to mounting pressure from a section of public. Then strippers and burlesque dancers learned this dance or imitated it and performed in burlesque theaters. As a result, for the next few decades, it got associated with stripping. It was assumed in America and Europe that the belly dancers were women with loose morals.
It was around 1930s belly dancers started performing in nightclubs and restaurants. In the early 1970s these dancers started teaching as more and more people were enthusiastic about learning this dance form. Even though the American variation has a lot of similarity with the Turkish and Egyptian style, yet it has developed a unique style of its own. Likewise, the dance is being performed in almost all the countries of the world, and each country has their own distinctive style.
One thing is really strange that it started as a social dance and have taken the glamorous context in its present form. Now, there are so many people who are interested to learn this art of self-expression not just for earning a modest income. Rather, they want to acquire the skills simply because they enjoy the moves of the dance form and they get a sense of self discovery.