Newest Review: ... and practice. The most popular form of Belly dance is called Raks Sharqi, which is a workout routine that stretches, tones and strengthe... more
Member Name: Epiphany
Advantages: Great form of exercise, fun, social
When I tell people that I do belly dancing (OK, make that men) they get quite excited. Most people see belly dancing as a provocative and sexual dance that is performed to entertain men. (Or if you believe the story one of my workmates told me, he said it was a dance that originated because the sultans were too obese to perform sexually so it was all down to the woman… I think that he was getting carried away by the idea!)
~~~ History ~~~
According to the websites I’ve looked at, belly dancing is thought to have originated in the Middle East and is one of the earliest dances known to man (and woman), dating back to at least 4,000 BC. It was performed for other women during fertility rites or parties preparing a young woman for marriage. In most cases, the presence of men was not permitted. Many countries in the Middle East are considered the founders of belly dancing - Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt being just a few.
In 1893 a Syrian belly dancer called “Little Egypt” (also known as “Fatima” but whose real name was actually Farida Mazar Spyropoulos) performed at the Chicago’s World Fair in America, an event that is said to have brought about the name “belly dance”. It is believed to be an incorrect translation of the term for the dance style Beledi or Baladi, a mistake made by Sol Bloom who was the entertainment director at the time. The Arabic for the dance is actually "raks sharki" or oriental dance.
~~~ Clothing & Accessories ~~~
As belly dancing spread geographically over time, new costumes, instruments, movements and props were introduced into the dance. Each culture added to and transformed elements to the dance to suit their cultural styles and beliefs. The costumes are usually colourful and flowing. Many dancers wear coin belts (belts made up of coins) and/or hips scarves (scarves worn on the hips that may or may not be beaded and have coins attached). Coin belts and scarves are thought to have incorporated the family's wealth so that it might be portable in the event the woman needed to move quickly or flee. (It doesn’t make for a very subtle escape though!)
Lots of dancers wear tops called cholis. It is the short fitted blouse worn under saris by women in India. This is normally coupled with a circular skirt made from several full circles of material (the seamstresses amongst you will know what I mean, but for those of us who don’t know one end of a needle from the other, it uses A LOT of material!).
In our class, we either dance barefoot, or wearing leather soled pumps. Apparently, dancing barefoot is a symbol of connection to mother earth, but the other theory is that the women who danced in public were unable to afford shoes.
Props used include snakes, swords, candles, canes ("asaya"), finger cymbals (“zills”) and veils. Zills are traditionally made of brass and date back to 200 BC.
I once saw a man perform with a sword and several large pots. He balanced them on his head as he danced. Very impressive stuff.
~~~ The Dance ~~~
“Belly dancing is as complex and colourful in its origin as it is in its movement.”
The dance focuses upon isolating different parts of the body, moving them independently and weaving the individual movements together. There are several common movements in belly dancing. Below I have tried to mention some of the ones I have been learning since I started dancing a year ago.
Most people will be familiar with what a shimmy looks like (think of rapid shaking in the style of Shakira). Shimmies can originate form the torso (chest shimmy), the hips or the legs.
Arm movements are generally described as “snake arms”. The movement is thought to represent the snakes that were used in fertility rituals by women wanting to become pregnant.
The camel, or undulations, is the wave like movement of the belly/torso that moves up and down the body. This pelvic and abdominal movement is thought to date back to the use of belly dance as a natural child birthing process. Women used this and breathing exercises to ease the pain of labour.
Circular movements can originate from the waist or the chest and can be made horizontally or vertically. Similarly the “figure of 8” movement (imagine making a figure of eight with the movement of your body) can be made in both plains and also using both areas of the body.
Neck, chest and hip slides, hip lifts and hip drops are all other movements dancers can incorporate in their dances, along with turning and travelling across the dancing space.
~~~ Belly Dance Culture in the UK ~~~
Haflas are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. A hafla is basically a party involving Middle Eastern music (sometimes live musicians jamming, sometimes just taped music), dancers taking turns performing for each other, and some open-floor dancing for everyone to get up and enjoy the music. Commonly, there are also vendors selling their wares and a more formalized stage show.
There are also an increasing number of websites dedicated to belly dancing, its history and promoting classes. It’s possible to buy all sorts of belly dancing gear on e-bay and various other websites on the Internet. Most large towns in the UK provide classes, and if there isn’t a class near you there are CD’s, videos and DVD’s you can use to learn with instead.
Belly dancing is a great form of exercise. It’s pretty low intensity but it’s surprising how effective it can be in toning your muscles. It’s very social and a great laugh.
Summary: Belly dancing is great!