Bellydance History


Oriental Dance was introduced in the United States in 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair where an exhibit called Streets of Cairo gave American's a glimpse of the Middle East. It was filled with replicas of mosques, temples, daily festivals, vendors and performers. One such performer was most popular and drew a lot of attention with her dance, which included hip drops, undulations, shoulder shimmies and belly rolls. Her name was Little Egypt.

Thanks to her, the term Belly Dance was born. To clarify, belly dance is an American term. Throughout the world it is known as Middle Eastern dance, Danse Du Ventra (which mean dance of the stomach in French) or Raks Sharqi (Arabic for dance of the east). Belly dance is purely an American term and will be deferred to for the rest of this website.


Belly dance has its roots in rituals focusing on goddess worship and/or fertility. The dance was often done in ancient times as a ritual in childbirth as the movements that are used in the dance strengthen and tone the muscles that are used in childbirth. It was believed that the dance was metamorphosed into entertainment by gypsy tribes that traveled around the world. Originally, gypsies hailed from India but due to oppression and a need for work they migrated through many parts of the world. The cultural influences from their travel influenced their dancing. Most believe that belly dance was performed by the women only harems of the Ottoman Empire which helped to mystify the dance, due to men not being allowed into the females quarters.

Throughout the history of belly dance the concept had been distorted and the women who performed it displayed a temptresses and women of ill repute. A perfect example was MataHari.

Mata Hari was a famous exotic, oriental style dancer during World War I. She was executed by the French for being a spy, though there was no real proof of such activities. She became a scapegoat for the French as means to boost morale and show the people that France was doing its part to win the war. In recent years women have reclaimed belly dance and transformed it back to its original meaning, an incredibly feminine and beautiful art form.

Belly dance comes in a wide variety of styles and forms, from a wide variety of cultures and traditions. The most commonly seen in America are Egyptian Cabaret, Turkish, Lebanese, American Tribal Style and Folkloric to name a few.

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Aziza: Cabaret Style
Rachel Brice: American Tribal Style

Many forms of belly dance, such as Raqs Sharqi (pronounced rocks shark-ee meaning Dance from the East) have their roots in Middle Eastern ritualistic ceremonies. These ceremonies, such as fertility dances, were performed by women for women. It was taught to girls from an early age in order to strengthen their abdominal muscles in preparation for childbirth. This is why the dance was born through abdominal movements like pelvic rocking and belly rolls.

There are many benefits to belly dance. Belly dance is low-impact, aerobic workout and increases flexibility, abdominal stability, stamina, and focuses on strengthening core muscles. The entire body is strengthened by using the hip movements, balance is improved by learning where one's center of gravity is and by keeping weight on one leg to do movements. Arms and torso are strengthened by doing arm undulations by holding the arms high. The biggest benefit is the strengthening of the abdominal and core muscles. That is, the core of human posture. Arthritic sufferers can also benefit by the gentle circular motions that are used in the dance and that can temporarily relieve pressure on aching joints. Belly dance can help to relive stress, it promotes grace, confidence, clarity, and positive energy. The concentration when isolating parts of your body promotes meditative properties, relaxation and focus.

Explore the sensuous side of yourself. Belly dance is an authentic, ancient dance art thats thrilling, challenging, and beautiful. Belly dance was designed for the female body and, unlike ballet, which demands certain physical feats, one can be any age, shape or size. You are expressing your true power and glory through dance and costuming. Revel in your body and feel good about yourself!

The most important benefit of belly dance? ITS FUN!!

Thanks to D.L. Bryant for this History of Bellydance article.


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