Belly Dance



Belly dance is a Western name for an Arabic style of dance developed in the Middle East. In Europe, it is sometimes called oriental dance. Similarly, In Turkish it is referred to as oryantal dansı ("Dance of the East"). Some American devotees refer to it simply as "Middle Eastern Dance".

In the Arabic language it is known as raqs sharqi رقص شرقي ("eastern dance") or sometimes raqs baladi رقص بلدي ("national" or "folk" dance). The term "raqs sharqi" may have originated in Egypt.

The term belly-dance is a creation of Orientalism, and is first attested in English in 1899, translating French danse du ventre.

The performance dance form known in the West as the Belly Dance, is based on one of the social dances native to the Middle East. In Egyptian, this social dance is called Raks Baladi, and is performed by people of all ages and both sexes during festive occasions such as weddings and other social gatherings for fun and celebration. It is the theatricalized version, performed by male (such as Jim Boz and Tito) and female (such as Morroco and Belly Dance Superstars) professional dancers and called Raks Sharki in Arabic, that is most popular in America today.

In its native lands boys and girls learn the dance from an early age. As with all social dances, it is learned informally through observation and imitation of their elders during family and community celebrations, as well as during informal gatherings with friends. Today, Middle Eastern dance classes are offered throughout the world, and skilled dancers are able to share their knowledge of the dance during studio classes and workshops.

The exact origin of this dance form is actively debated among dance enthusiasts, especially given the limited academic research on the topic. Much of the research in this area has been done by dancers attempting to understand their dance's origins. However, the often overlooked fact that most dancing in the Middle East occurs in the social context rather than the more visible and glamorous context of the professional nightclub dancers, has led to an overall misunderstanding of the dance's true nature and has given rise to many conflicting theories about its origins. Because this dance is a fusion of many dance styles, it undoubtedly has many different origins -- many of them in ethnic folk dances.

Many dancers subscribe to one or another of a number of theories regarding the origins of the form. Some of these theories are that the dance form:

* descended from dances in early Egypt
* descended from a religious dance Temple Priestesses once practiced
* had been a part of traditional birthing practices in the regions of origin
* had spread from the migrations of the Roma people and related groups, with origins in India.

Of the theories, the first explanation is rarely invoked, even with such high-status proponents as the Egyptian Dancer Doctor Mo Geddawi promoting it. Much of the support for this theory stems from the similarities between poses in Egyptian artwork and the modern dance moves.

The most well-known theory is that it descended from a religious dance. This idea is usually the one referred to in mainstream articles on the topic, and has enjoyed a large amount of publicity. 1960s American Singer/Dancer Jamila Salimpour was one proponent. It was also popularized in works such as Earth Dancing and Grandmother's Secrets.

The "birthing practices" theory covers a sub-set of dance movements in modern Raqs Sharqi. Strongly publicized by the research of the dancer/layperson anthropologist Morocco (also known as Carolina Varga Dinicu), it involves the rework of movements traditionally utilized to demonstrate or ease childbirth. Although lacking an "origin point", this theory does have the advantage of numerous oral historical references, and is backed by a commentary in the work The Dancer of Shamahka.

Two points suggest Roma dance as its origin. The Roma , and other related groups, are seen as either having brought the form over as they traveled, or picked it up along the way and spread it around. Thanks to the conflation of Roma forms of dance into the Raqs Sharqi sphere in the West, these theories enjoy a vogue in the West that is not necessarily reflected in their origin countries -- although some of that may be due to strongly-held prejudices against the Roma.

Whatever the origin point, dance has a long history in the Middle East. Despite the restrictions in Islam regarding portraying humans in paintings, there are several depictions of dancers throughout the Islamic world. Books such as The Art and Architecture of Islam 650-1250 show images of dancers on palace walls, as do Persian miniature paintings from the 12th and 13th centuries.

Outside of the Middle East, raqs sharqi dancing was popularized during the Romantic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries as Orientalist artists depicted their interpretations of harem life in the Ottoman Empire. Around this time, dancers from different Middle Eastern countries began to exhibit such dances at various World's Fairs; they often drew crowds that rivaled the technological exhibits. Some dancers were captured on early film; the short film "Fatima's Dance", was widely distributed in the nickelodeon movie theaters. It drew criticism for its "immodest" dancing, and was eventually censored due to public pressure.

Some Western women began to learn from and imitate the dances of the Middle East, which at this time was subject to colonization by European countries. Mata Hari exemplifies the issues surrounding these activities; despite posing as a Javanese dancer, her mystique is linked not to Indonesian dance but to the Middle Eastern dance forms. The French author Colette and many other music hall performers engaged in "oriental" dances, sometimes passing off their own interpretations as authentic folkloric styles. The great dancer Ruth St. Denis also engaged in Middle Eastern-inspired dancing, but her approach was to put "oriental" dancing on the stage in the context of ballet, her goal being to lift all dance to a respectable art form. (In the early 1900s, it was a common social assumption in America and Europe that dancers were women of loose morals.)

Historically, most of the dances associated with belly dance were performed with the sexes separated; men with men and women with women. Few depictions of mixed dancing exist. This practice ensured that a "good" woman would not be seen dancing by anyone but her husband, her close family, or her female friends. Sometimes a professional dancer would go to a women's gathering with several musicians and get the women up and dancing. Today, sex segregation is not as stricty practiced in many urban areas, and sometimes both men and women would get up and dance socially among close friends in a mixed function. However, while social dancing during acceptable circumstances such as family functions is accepted and even encouraged, there are many people in Middle Eastern and North African societies who regard the performances of professional dancers in revealing costumes, for mixed audiences as morally objectionable. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that such performances should be banned.

Because the most popular venue for the dance remains night clubs, (as well as the proliferation of video and DVD recordings of popular Egyptian dance celebrities), it is this version, rather than the folk or social versions of the dance that is most popular. The costume now associated with this dance is called bedlah in Arabic (meaning "uniform") and was adopted by dancers in Egypt in the 1930s, from where it spread to other countries in the region. It owes its creation to the harem fantasy productions of Vaudville, Burlesque and Hollywood during the turn of the last century, rather than to actual authentic Middle Eastern dress. An enterprising night club owner in Cairo named Badia Masabni is credited with the adoption of this costume due to the fact that this was the image that Western tourists came to expect, rather than the native costumes which covered and concealed the contours of the body, with only a scarf or belt tied around the hips to highlight the movements.

The mainstays of costuming for these styles include a fitted top or bra (usually with fringe of beads or coins), a fitted hip belt (again with a fringe of beads or coins), and leg coverings that include harem pants and/or skirts (straight, layered, circular, or paneled). In the U.S. a "veil" may also be used; this is a three-and-a-half to four-yard piece of fabric that is used in part of the dance to move about and frame movements for the dancer. In the 1940s King Farouk of Egypt employed Russian ballet instructor Ivanova to teach his daughters, and it was she who first taught the great dancer Samia Gamal to use the veil to improve her arm carriage. Most Egyptian dancers use the veil as an opening prop which they discard within the first few minutes of their routines, while many Western dancers will use the veil for an entire song. In Egypt, night club dancers will also wear full beaded dresses, called baladi dresses, to do the folkloric routines. These types of outfits are also used by American and European dancers when performing folk dances such as the Cane Dance, or the Candelabra dance.

Most of the basic steps and techniques used in belly dance are circular motions isolated in one part of the body; for example, a circle parallel to the floor isolated in the hips or shoulders. Accents using "pop and lock" where a dancer either shimmies or makes a striking motion in her shoulders or hips are common, as are feats of flexibility, rolling one's belly muscles, balancing various props like baskets, swords or canes, and dancing with chiffon or silk veils.

Despite its western name (“belly dancing”), Raqs Sharqi uses movements in every muscle group of the body. It is, fundamentally, a solo improvisational dance with its own unique dance vocabulary that is fluidly integrated with the music’s rhythm.

Raqs Sharqi dancers internalize and express the emotions evoked by the music. Appropriately, the music is integral to the dance. The most admired Raqs Sharqi dancers are those who can best project their emotions through dance, even if their dance is made up of simple movements. The dancer’s goal is to visually communicate to the audience the emotion and rhythm of the music. This especially apparent during the drum solo portion of a performance.

Many see Raqs Sharqi as a woman's dance, celebrating the sensuality and power of being a mature woman. A common school of thought believes that young dancers have limited life experience to use as a catalyst for dance. Sohair Zaki, Fifi Abdou, Lucy, and Dina are all popular Egyptian dancers in Egypt above the age of forty.

Despite the fame of female dancers, men often perform Raqs Sharqi as well.

Egyptian-style belly dance is based on the work of belly dance legends Samia Gamal, Tahiya Karioka, Naima Akef, and other dancers who rose to fame during the golden years of the Egyptian film industry. Later dancers who based their styles partially on the dances of these artists are Sohair Zaki, Fifi Abdou, and Nagwa Fouad. All rose to fame between 1960 and 1980, are still popular today, and have nearly risen to the same level of stardom and influence on the style.

Though the basic movements of Raqs Sharqi have remained the same, the dance form continues to evolve. Mahmoud Reda is noted for incorporating elements of ballet into Raqs Sharqi and his influence can be seen in modern Egyptian dancers who stand on relevé as they turn or travel through their dance space in a circle or figure eight.

In Egypt, three main forms of the traditional dance are associated with belly dance: Baladi/Beledi, Sha'abi and Sharqi.

Egyptian belly dance was among the first styles to be witnessed by Westerners. During Napoleon's invasion of Egypt (the campaign which yielded the Rosetta stone, leading to the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics), Napoleon's troops encountered the Ghawazee tribe. The Ghawazee made their living as professional entertainers and musicians. The women often engaged in prostitution on the side, and often had a street dedicated to their trade in the towns where they resided, though some were quasi-nomadic. At first the French were repelled by their heavy jewelry and hair, and found their dancing "barbaric", but were soon lured by the hypnotic nature of their movements.

The most important non-Egyptian forms of belly dance are the Syrian/Lebanese and the Turkish. The Raqs Sharqi was used to help strengthen a woman's body for childbirth.

Some mistakenly believe that Turkish oriental dancing is known as Çiftetelli due to the fact that this style of music has been incorporated into oriental dancing by Greeks and Roma, illustrated by the fact that the Greek belly dance is called Tsifteteli. However, Turkish Çiftetelli is more correctly a form of wedding folk music, the part that makes up the lively part of the dance at the wedding and is not connected with oriental dancing.

Turkish belly dance today may have been influenced by Roma people as much as by the Egyptian and Syrian/Lebanese forms, having developed from the Ottoman rakkas to the oriental dance known worldwide today. As Turkish law does not impose restrictions on Turkish dancers' movements and costuming as in Egypt, where dancers are prevented from performing floor work and certain pelvic movements, Turkish dancers are often more outwardly expressive than their Egyptian sisters. Many professional dancers and musicians in Turkey continue to be of Romany heritage, as well. However it should be noted that people of Turkish Romany heritage also have a distinct dance style which is uniquely different from the Turkish Oriental style. Turkish dancers are known for their energetic, athletic (even gymnastic) style, and particularly, until the past few years, their adept use of finger cymbals, also known as zils. Connoisseurs of Turkish dance often say that a dancer who cannot play the zils is not an accomplished dancer. Another distinguishing element of the Turkish style is the use of the Karsilama rhythm in a 9/8 time signature, counted as 12-34-56-789. Turkish belly dance costumes can be very revealing, with the belt sometimes worn high up on the waist and split skirts which expose the entire leg, although dancers today are costuming themselves more like Egyptian dancers and wearing more modest "mermaid"-style skirts. The Turkish style is emphasized further by the dancer wearing high heels and often platform shoes. Famous Turkish belly dancers include Tulay Karaca and Birgul Berai.

When immigrants from Turkey, Iran, and the Arab states began to immigrate to New York in the 1930s and 1940s, dancers started to perform a mixture of these styles in the nightclubs and restaurants. Often called "Classic Cabaret" or "American Cabaret" belly dance, these dancers are the grandmothers and great-grandmothers of some of today's most accomplished performers, such as Anahid Sofian and Artemis Mourat.

The term "belly dancing" (believed by some to be a mis-transliteration of the term for the dance style Beledi or Baladi) is generally credited to Sol Bloom, entertainment director of the 1893 World's Fair, the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Although there were dancers of this type present at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia, it was not until the 1893 fair that it gained national attention. There were authentic dancers from several Middle Eastern and North African countries, including Syria, Turkey and Algeria, but it was the dancers in the Egyptian Theater of The Street in Cairo exhibit who gained the most notoriety. The rapid hip movements and the fact that the dancers were uncorseted, was considered shocking to the Victorian sensibilities of the day. In fact, there were attempts by many, most notably Anthony Comstock, head of Society for the Suppression of Vice, to have the Egyptian theater closed.

Although it is popularly believed that a dancer named "Fatima", also known as Little Egypt,stole the show, and continued to popularize this form of dancing, there is in fact no evidence to support this claim, (Donna Carlton: Looking for Little Egypt). Neither photographs, nor reviews of the Egyptian Theater mention any such person. The truth is that photographs as well as accounts of the entertainments, show that there was not one solo dancer, but an entire troupe who performed in the Egyptian Theater. The popularity of these dancers spawned dozens of imitators after the Fair, many of whom claimed to have been dancers at the Chicago Fair. The most well known being Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, who it was said stayed in the States after the Fair and married a Greek man named Spyropoulos. Oddly enough she was neither Egyptian nor Algerian, but Syrian. Although she was Middle Eastern, there is no evidence that she was one of the dancers in the Egyptian theater.

The dance performed by the many dancers calling themselves "Little Egypt" was nicknamed the "Hootchy-Kootchy" or "Hoochee-Coochee", or the shimmy and shake. Due to cultural misunderstanding about the nature of the dance and misrepresentations by the many imitators in Burlesque halls and carnival sideshows, the western world considered it risqué, leading to the stereotype of an erotic suggestive dance. Another name for the dance is "danse du ventre", which in French literally means "dance of the stomach."

Because this dance style created such a craze, Thomas Edison made several films of dancers in the 1890s. Included in these are the Turkish dance, Ella Lola, 1898 and Crissie Sheridan in 1897 both available for on-line viewing through the Library of Congress. Another in this collection is Princess Rajah dance from 1904 which features a dancer playing Zils (finger cymbals), doing "floor work", and balancing a chair in her teeth.

In addition, the sensational stories about the pseudo-Javanese dancer Mata Hari, who was convicted in 1917 by the French for being a German spy during World War I, and the fact that belly dancing could be seen only at vaudeville and in burlesque shows gave belly dancing a questionable reputation in polite society. Hollywood did not help the reputation by only having three roles for a belly dancer (those of slave to be saved, a background dancer while the main characters talk, or a deceitful woman who uses her wiles to trick the main character), which created stereotypes of belly dancers that many dancers and instructors today are working hard to overcome. It is due to these stereotypes that many practitioners refer to the art as "Middle Eastern Dance".

While the beautiful classical Raqs Sharqi is still popular in the West, many dancers have created fusion forms such as Tribal Style and American Tribal Style inspired by the folkloric dance styles of India, the Middle East and North Africa and even flamenco. Dancers in the United States, while respecting the origins of belly dance, are also exploring and creating within the dance form to address their own needs. Many women today in the U.S. and Europe approach belly dance as a tool for empowerment and strengthening of the body, mind, and spirit. Issues of body-image, self-esteem, healing from sexual violation, sisterhood, and self-authentication are regularly addressed in belly dance classes everywhere.

With its emergence at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial, the last four decades of the 20th century moved belly dance in the U.S. more into the mainstream. The current interest in the dance can be traced back to the 1950s and '60s. It was in the ethnic nightclubs in major cities like New York, that most Americans first became acquainted with the dance. These clubs were owned, operated and patronized by members of the ethnic communities of Mediterranean countries like Greece,Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. At the time, most of the dancers were Greek or Turkish, but in time their ranks would grow to include Americans as well. One example of this is The dancer "Morocco" of New York, who started her career in the night clubs of Greek Town on 8th Avenue. These American dancers learned the dance by watching and imitating their Greek and Turkish sisters, as well as the patrons.

In the late 1960s and early '70s many of these dancers began offering dance classes. With increasing exploration of the East in the late 1960s, many people became interested in everything Eastern, including dance. Many touring Middle Eastern or Eastern bands took dancers with them as they toured to provide a visual representation of their music, which helped to spark interest in the dance. This had the effect of creating many beautiful dancers who have generated greater interest in belly dancing. The increased interest in belly dancing created diverse names for the same simple movements and the need to have a "style" as each teacher tried to distinguish differences in their way of teaching from other teachers. This has hampered belly dance from acceptance with the more established dance forms because there is no nationally recognized choreography terminology that can be used to create repeatable dances.

A recent movement in the U.S. called American Tribal Style Belly Dance, or ATS, represents everything from folklore-inspired dances to the fusion of ancient dance techniques from North India, the Middle East, and Africa. Created in the early 1990s by Carolena Nericcio, founder of FatChanceBellydance in San Francisco, ATS has a format consisting of a vocabulary of steps that are designed to be performed improvisationally in a lead-follow manner. Pure ATS is performed in a group, typically with a chorus of dancers using zills, or finger cymbals, as accompaniment. The music can be folkloric or modern, and the costume is heavily layered, evoking traditions of any or all of its fusion of cultural influences.

Multicultural trends that have shaped Western and U.S. belly dance are still at work. Ever evolving, this versatile dance keeps absorbing a blend of influences; modern fashion, film and television imagery, the world of rock and hip hop, underground subcultures, and many other contemporary influences. The umbrella term used to describe these hybrid forms of belly dance is "belly dance fusion", including "tribal fusion". One of the newest belly dance fusion trends is Gothic bellydance that incorporates many belly dance styles and motifs and seeks to express the darkness of the unknown that has inspired the music, philosophies, and lifestyles of the Goth subculture.

With its growing popularity in the western world, bellydance classes are thriving throughout the UK, though the bellydance culture has been evidenced since the early 1960s, with many styles being taught including traditional, modern, tribal, Persian, Oriental, Turkish, Egyptian, American Tribal and Gypsy.

Many festivals and workshops are held over the various regions, with two of the most popular being the Annual Glastonbury Majma.

September 2007 sees the first Annual International Bellydance Congress being held in the UK.

The first wave of interest for bellydancing in Australia was during the late 70s to 80s with the influx of migrants and refugees escaping troubles in the middle east, particularly the war in Lebanon. This was also the period that marked the increase in middle eastern musicians escaping the tensions in the region.

There were notable performers during this period. These included Amera Eid who started the first bellydance boutique in Australia, Amera’s Palace, and Terezka Drnzik who established the first full time bellydance school in Sydney, The Akademi of Danse Orientale. Both of these experienced dancers and teachers have pedigrees linked back to Rozeta Ahalyea whose career spanned four decades.

The biggest bellydancing event is the annual Sydney Middle Eastern Dance Festival which started out in 1990 as a Bellydance-a-thon to raise money for charity.

Tribal style bellydance in Australia is gaining popularity as well. The most notable figure in this scene is Devi Mamak, the first Australian to have been accepted as a certified Fat Chance Bellydance teacher under the guidance of Carolena Nerricio. New Fat Chance moves developed in Australia by Devi Mamak and her troupe, Ghawazi Caravan, will be added to the official list of repertoire in the 8th video. The new moves are Arabic with a turn, triangle and the crazy camel.

There is much debate over where and when men became part of the belly dance world. Many believe that men have no place in this art form, which is frequently and erroneously believed to be historically female. However, dancers such as Morocco (Carolina Varga-Dinicu), Tariq Sultan, and Jasmin Jahal have produced ample evidence to the contrary.

Although most people outside of the Middle East are only familiar with professional night club dancers, these types of performances account for only a small portion of dance activity in its native regions. Most dancing is, in fact, done in a social context by both men and women. It is learned in childhood through informal observation and imitation of adults. Though professional dancers today are almost exclusively female, there is ample evidence that shows that this was not always the case.

Pictorial evidence in the form of Turkish miniatures made during the Ottoman Empire show public performances being done by young men and boys called Kochecks. These dancers were widely popular; in fact, the Sultan employed a troupe of these male dancers in addition to a troupe of female dancers, (Metin And: A pictorial history of Turkish Dance). It has long been assumed that these dancers were female impersonators, due to the fact that they performed in wide flamboyant skirts. A comparison with the female dancers however, shows that this was merely a costume worn for the dramatic effect caused by the swirling fabric. The female dancers did not wear specialized costumes at this time, but the ordinary dress of all women, which consisted of a pair of "harem pants", a long shirt, tight fitting vest covered by a flowing robe tied at the waist by a belt or shawl. Nevertheless, some of these male dancers did at times impersonate women. This was because they were not simply dancers but musicians and actors as well. As was the case in Shakespearean times, all dramatic roles were played by males since women were not allowed to entertain in public.

These dancers were so popular that fights often broke out over which troupe was considered the best. These upheavals were so frequent that they resulted in such performances being banned for a period of time during the 1830s. Eventually the band was lifted, but the decline of the Ottoman Empire, together with a push for modernization and the adoption of western tastes led to the eventual decline of such performances in Istanbul as well as other countries of the Empire such as Egypt. Eventually, due to tourist demand, their place was taken by female entertainers. Kocheck dancers can still be found in the rural communities of Turkey, most notably in the region of Kastamanu. They have even begun appearing on television variety shows and on DVDs throughout Turkey.

The current professional version of the dance, called Raks Sharki in Arabic, was developed in Egypt in the 1930s. It was deliberately designed to display an idealized notion of feminine grace beauty and glamor. Even so men continued to play a behind the scenes role in its development. Many of the most renowned choreographers and coaches are in fact men, such as Ibrahim Akef (cousin of the dance star Naima Akef) and Mahmoud Reda (founder of the renowned 'Reda theater dance troupe of Egypt).

The current trend of male performers of this dance form started in the '60s and 70s in the United States by such performers and teachers as Ibrahim Farrah (an American of Lebanese descent from Pennsylvania), Bert Baladine and John Compton to name a few. Today male belly dancers are becoming more visible, not only in the United States, but around the world. These modern performers have even began to resurface in the Middle East in Greece, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt. Most male dancers face artistic as well as social challenges. Such issues as whether there are or should be differences in costuming, attitude, and the dynamics of choreography between male and female belly dancing is a subject of debate among both male and female dancers.

Given the recent boom in interest regarding belly dance, a new generation of male dancers has embraced the form. Although still small in number compared to their female counterparts, their numbers have grown dramatically in the past 20 years. Most of these modern day performers and enthusiasts are unaware that there is historical and cultural precedent to support male dancing. Most are simply attracted to the dance either because their wives or girl friends are dancers or dance students, because they see it as a fun way of expressing their creativity or because they are convinced that it is a legitimate art form and as such, belongs to everyone. As with female performers, many of these "next-generation" male dancers go by a single stage name.

Well-known male dancers in the U.S. and Latin America from the 1970s onward include Bert Balladine, John Compton, Sergio, Horacio Cifuentes, Amir of Boston, Adam Basma, Ibrahim Farrah, Yousry Sharif, Aziz, Kamaal, Amir Thalib, Jim Boz, and Tarik Sultan. Some of these dancers are American-born, others were immigrants from the Middle East and Europe. Basma was born in Lebanon. Sharif (who comes from Egypt and relocated to the U.S. in the early 1990s) was a member of the Reda Ensemble, the first national dance troupe in Egypt. Directed by Mahmoud Reda, a former gymnast who represented Egypt in the Olympics, the Reda Ensemble has existed continuously for over four decades. Other male belly dancers across the globe have made an impact on this dance form, most notably Horacio Cifuentes, who now resides in Germany and who has infused his ballet background with various types of Middle Eastern dance to create an impact on both male and female belly-dance styles. Tarik Sultan of New York has made a great contribution in the documentation of the history of the male role in the dance. His article "Oriental Dance, it isn't just for women any more", is one of the most historically and culturally accurate article on the subject. Also, Dr Anthony Shay, the author of Choreophobia, in his article "The Male Dancer", tackles the myths that the dance is a strictly female form and that men who did perform it were only imitating women. He offers historical and cultural sources to show that men have always been present in Middle Eastern dance, not only on the social level, but in the professional arena as well. Egyptian male dancer Tito Seif, who performs in the Red Sea resort of Sharm il Sheikh, is fast gaining recognition around the world as a dancer of exceptional skill.

Regardless of occasional opposition both within the dance community by those who see the dance as an expression of female power, or those who view professional performances of this dance as "a woman's job", the number of male dancers around the world is growing and enjoying more acceptance.

The benefits of belly dance are both mental and physical. Dancing provides a good cardio-vascular workout and helps increase both flexibility and strength, focusing on the torso or "core muscles", although it also builds leg strength. Many belly dance styles emphasize muscular "isolations", teaching the ability to move various muscles or muscle groups independently. Veil work can also build arm, shoulder, and general upper-body strength, and playing the zils can build strength and independence of the fingers. Belly dance is suitable for all ages and body types, and can be as physical as the participant chooses. As with starting any new exercise routine, people would be wise to consult their doctor before starting a belly dance regimen and to talk with the belly dance instructor to find out the level of difficulty in the classes. The practice offers mental health benefits including an improved sense of well-being, better body image and self-esteem, and the generally positive outlook that comes with regular, enjoyable exercise.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the practice of belly dancing may benefit women preparing for childbirth, as the movements strengthen and tone the pelvic floor muscles and the woman becomes more familiar with the way her muscles work. The hip-circling movements used in the dance may relieve some of the common discomforts of labor.

Besides being an art form, belly dancing has been adapted as a health program. Since it gives a complete cardiovascular workout and strengthens the abdominal muscles, it is gaining popularity among men and women who want to lose weight. An intense sixty-minute session may burn around 330 calories. Since one focus of belly dancing is to gain strength and flexibility in the abdomen, the dance form is said to be one of the quickest ways to achieve firmness and reduce the paunch.

Belly dancing has been banned or restricted in some jurisdictions. In Egypt, there was a ban on foreign belly dancers for a year, until it was overturned in September 2004. Palestinian National Authority culture minister Attallah Abu al-Sibbah has indicated that he plans to ban belly dancing.

Music videos that include dancers who are called "belly dancers" often upset professional dancers who do not consider these "jiggle-shows" proper dance, considering their often poor technique and overtly sexy moves. Professional bellydancers often prefer to call these pieces "bellydance inspired".

R&B singer Aaliyah used the belly dance as her signature move, which she called the belly roll, and it was featured in many of her music videos. Belly dancing has recently been made widely popular by Shakira, whose dancing combines belly dance, Latino and modern dance styles. Her part-Lebanese ethnic background highly influences her bellydance style. Other singers who have performed belly dance in their music videos include Beyoncé, Rihanna, Nelly Furtado, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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