The History Of Belly Dancing
Belly dancing has a thousands years of history,
below is a short review of its long story.
The dances... are among the most marvellous things one can see. They alone are worth the trip to Egypt. Gustave Flaubert. Letter to his mother (1850).
Belly Dancing originated in the East, but no one knows its true mother country. It could have been Egypt, India, Turkey, Spain, Asia, Italy or Greece. Statuettes of belly dancing women have been found in Spain, India and Greece. This kind of dancing was reported among Maori women in New Zealand. It has been performed for centuries in the Hawaiian Islands, where it is known as the hula. It is still common throughout Africa.
May be belly dancers did not belong to one country, but wandered the world. These people could be gypsies, who came from India and migrated west to Europe. Some gypsiologists believe the world 'Rom' or 'Romany' is from the Sanskrit 'Dom', a caste that earned its livelihood from singing and dancing. After leaving India they made they way to Afghanistan, Middle East, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Egypt. They went as far as Africa and Spain (think flamenco with veils, hips and stamping). Some of them continued even further into France (Victor Hugo's Esmeralda in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame'?)
They were known by many names, but by the beginning of the fifteenth century some of them were known as Egyptians or gypsies.
As they continued to West, the dance changed, influenced by each culture, and became hybrid.
The belly or tummy is the centre of human life, and it is the female who carries this life. She is mother, earth, and motherland. Belly dancing is her dance. It is the dance of the Goddess of Maternity and femininity. Different cultures had different names for this life-giving energy - Aphrodite, Venus, Ishtar, Anahita, Isida.
Mythological references to the male God were associated with the sky, and the female Goddess was associated with the earth.
The male and female principals are also seen in Feng Shui and Yin/Yang. The union of the two energies gives birth to life.
Music and dance have always accompanies religious ceremonies and reflect the moods and actions of Gods. Dance is the art that mostly directly expresses the actions of the Gods, and belly dancing reflects the 'turning on' or arousal stage of the creative urge that leads to pregnancy and subsequent birth. Belly dancing can only be seen as erotic and sexy. There was in those old days an understanding creativity of sexual energy, which we later lost through the process of civilisation. Dancers were turned into sexual Goddesses as a response to fears about the fertility. In ancient times love and sex were one. If a couple experienced infertility, they went to the temple to surrender to the beauty of belly dancing as preparation for their own lovemaking, there were no in vitro fertilisation clinics so belly dancing had an important role in connecting a couple to the reproductive energy of The Mother Earth.
In Turkey and Arab countries belly dancers were invited to weddings as a good omen for marital happiness, fertility and prosperity.
A woman learnt belly dancing to build harmony with her partner and as a form of exercise to prepare for the rigos of childbirth.
The power of belly dancing is demonstrated in the story of Salome. Her dancing won the King's love.
In The Thousand And One Nights Scheherazade's dancing was as amazing as her story telling.
There is also an old tradition of tipping the dancer. For some women it provided their wedding portion. In classical Greece, a woman from a poor family went to dance in the marketplace. The audience threw small gold coins at her, money which she then sewed into her hip belt as decoration, having nowhere quite as safe to keep it. Some of the women bought bracelets with the money, or anklets and necklaces, and as they moved the jongling coins added charm to their performance. Tips nowadays come in the form of banknotes, but the tradition of buying jewellery with them still popular and today's belly dancer continues wear a lot of gold and silver on her costume.
Today belly dancing popular throughout the West. It spread largely at the beginning of the twentieth century due to the great interest in the romantic adventures of Mata Hari who described her dancing as 'religious and Indian'. It became known as 'belly dancing' at an exhibition in Chicago.
On a popular level the oriental dance proved an inspiration and had a far reaching effect on the female and male population of the West. The low waist trousers, gypsy skirts, big jewellery... The imagination is caught by the freedom of the belly dance as well as by its loose dress.
Belly Dancing is a living art...