Ancient History thru Modern Times
style of dancing we now called belly dance (Raqs Sharki)
can trace its
the Egyptians, Turks, and Phoenicians. These dances originated as
fertility dances, temple dances, birthing and celebratory dances;
most festive occasions were not complete without dancing.
spread to North Africa, Rome, Spain, and India. As the dance
spread, each region had an influence, captivating and adopting
In Egypt, women
did not dance for a man’s entertainment but strictly for other women
during family and social gatherings. Young girls were brought up
with the music and style of dance as part of their culture. The
women would gather in a circle (Hafla), taking turns dancing solo or
with others showing off their skill, grace and beauty interpreting
the mood of the music. The ladies would Zaghareet
(ululation) to show their approval and encouragement.
When a girl
danced for the first time, it was a rite of passage into the world
of womanhood. Therefore, belly dancing is NOT stripping or exotic
dancing, but rather an ethnic dance form that has history and
first encountered belly dance at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893,
in the performance of an Egyptian dancer nicknamed “Little Egypt.”
Americans were enthralled by the dance. Some were even shocked by
the way Little Egypt moved her body, even though her body was
completely covered. This was the birth of belly dance in America.
Over the years,
Raqs Sharki has been through many changes. Since dance flourishes
in a liberal environment, there have been times where certain
movements have been forbidden in Egypt. Even here in America, when
belly dance was new, many people saw it as a “hootchy cootchy”
dance, or a type of lower class dance. However, in America,
because of our freedom of expression through the arts, etc. we have
been able to stylize belly dance and have taken it to a
sophisticated and classy style of dance since it was first
introduced here. A lady who can dance Raqs Sharki is now admired
and looked up to for the skill she expresses in her dance, whether
she is performing choreography or improvising (interpreting the
music with her movement).
The most common costume style seen today in restaurants and Arabic
clubs are “cabaret” where the costumes are made of glass beads and
sequins and are usually hand-made in Egypt or Turkey. They are
usually bright and will show the dancer’s isolations, shimmies, and
joy as she dances. Her moves are internal, strong, and expressive
and she uses her abdominal muscles and hips to the beat of the tabla
(drum). She may have soft arm movements and joyful facial
expressions, while undulating her torso to the sound of the violin
or nay (flute).
also incorporate other specialties in their dance that have
meaning. For example, Raqs Asaya, the cane dance, which is
most commonly performed with the Saaidi rhythm, which was
taken from upper Egypt and has an earthy, powerful element. This
was influenced by the Tahteeb (men’s martial arts dance). Of
course, the female dancers have stylized and softened Raqs Asaya but
yet the strength and skill is still apparent.
or “Shamadan” dancing is used during the wedding procession or the
“Zeffa” in Egypt. The dancer balances this on her head while
leading the bride and groom, winding their way through the streets
of the neighborhood, and in today’s times, to the hotel, into the
reception room, circling the room and ending with the bride and
groom seated in special thrones.
As you watch an Egyptian belly dance performance, you will be
mesmerized and captivated by her skill as
well as the joy she brings to the occasion. Remember as she dances,
your smile, clapping and encouragement will cause her to dance more
joyfully bringing life and celebration to her audience.
Most belly dance costumes and accessories are made in the
Middle East, Egypt, Turkey and India.
Here in California we are blessed to have a vast amount of
resources to learn about the Middle Eastern culture
and vendors to obtain the paraphernalia needed for our
hobby, passion or profession.
Below are links that are helpful in educating one self or to
music and/or costumes for Middle Eastern dance:
Information / links for
Belly Dance Costumes, Music, supplies:
Information / links for
Belly Dance networks, organizations, etc: