Bellydance is a traditional art form from the Middle East region; with artistic representations of dancers dating back as early as 1000 BC. It was originally performed during celebrations centered on women, such as engagement parties or fertility ceremonies. As time progressed, bellydance spread to many new areas, with each region adding their own variation to the traditional movements. This led to very distinct styles of bellydancing, some include:
Egyptian- These performers were both male and female, with the tradition of performing in the streets outside of shops. They would use props such as swords and canes, and could often make a fine living off of the tips they were given.
Turkish- Traditionally the performers were mostly women dancing for women at social gatherings. They are known for their intricate hip movements and use of props such as finger cymbals and veils.
Oriental- Designed for female dancers, oriental dancing is unique in that it involves more of the muscle of the body. It is rooted in the abdominals to create smooth and flowing movements, in contrast to the step style of dance seen in Egypt or Turkey.
Tribal- Rooted more in nature, this style of dance focuses heavily on the bond between a troupe of dancers and their ability to play off of one another. There are many variations of this style of dance including one developed in America, one to combine more with traditional style movements, and another to fuse bellydance with flamenco, Indian, African or even cabaret dancing.
All of these forms of bellydance are beautiful and rich in cultural heritage, but were not always appreciated. What is most commonly thought of bellydancing today was developed in Western Europe- especially France. It was here that the name- Danse du Ventre- or bellydance was coined by Sol Bloom, a promoter for the Egyptian Theater. Bellydance began in sideshows at carnivals and burlesque venues as it was considered scandalous by the upper class of society. Eventually bellydance made its way to America, debuting at the Chicago World’s Fair. The public was mesmerized, and the style of bellydance was soon incorporated into Hollywood.
Bellydance is still seen as risqué by some, but has generally been accepted. It can be found in pop culture, among the general public with dance troupes and studios, and even at Chamizal National Park in Texas. Most men and women who participate in bellydance see it as a way to better connect with the body, teaching it to move in new ways. Bellydance places a heavy focus on isolating movements which helps to strengthen muscles, while learning to dance helps to boost confidence in oneself.
Traditional costuming was nearly non-existent. The women would wear whatever clothing they had- usually a long skirt, shirt and waist coat. Any decoration was usually in the form of coins- tips thrown to the women while dancing- that they would later sew to their skirts. It was not until Hollywood began incorporating bellydance into film that we saw the emergence of today’s traditional bedlah costuming: a bra, skirt, hipscarf, and veil all covered in glitter and beads.
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