Belly dance is pretty mysterious to most folks. Despite the fact that it’s popularity has exploded over the past 10 years, it is still one of the most misunderstood dance forms out there.
Here are a few things that belly dancers would like you to know.
1. It’s Probably Not What You Think
In the history of the dancing world, there have been spiritually-based ritual dances, social and folk dancers, high-class educated bards and artists, good old fashioned tavern entertainment, and everything in between. Belly Dance has been, throughout history, all and none of these things, and remains all and none of these things today.
What we call “belly dance” is an amalgamation of commonly learned folk dance movements (generally focused on the torso, arms, and hips and often referred to as “baladi”) from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Levant that – due to various economic, social, and political reasons – became re-vamped for the stage at the turn of the 20th Century and is studied in various forms and incarnations worldwide today. The stage versions of belly dance are more correctly known as “Orientale” or “Raqs Sharqi”. Baladi is danced by women, men, children, communities, and families. It’s gone through many transformations and continues to do so, but it’s roots are solid. It is both old and new.
2. Belly Dance is Not a Form of Striptease
In the early 20th Century, both belly dance and burlesque underwent a boom in popular culture around the world just as the world was embracing mass communication and media. Some people link the two dances because of that, but they are not related in any other way than they were both performed in cabarets and casinos at around the same period of time in two different parts of the world. For one thing, belly dance does not involve the removal of clothing – though you may see a dancer unwrap a veil from her hips or shoulders, and of course both dances appear sensual in nature.
Belly dance has a complicated relationship with it’s cultures of origin. It’s history is full of ups and downs, and the current views towards music and dancing in some areas of the world have really transformed the external meaning of this deeply rooted cultural dance, and that can be hard to navigate.
The sexualization and romanticization of “The Orient” by the West over centuries has created another hurdle for modern day dancers to clear before “belly dance” can be fully understood and appreciated. Due to that misunderstood nature, belly dancers like to educate people about the dance rather than being confused with other art forms that have very different intents and backgrounds. Historically, “beledi” is a dance of common folks, done in homes or at parties with friends and family, not just in the seductive stage “belly dance” style we think of today, which is a much more recent version of a dance that has centuries of history behind it.
With no disrespect to the beauty of the nude arts, belly dancers really want to make this clear – it’s not a striptease.
3. “Belly Dance” Isn’t Always The Right Name
Some say the name “belly dance” comes from “dance du ventre” – dance of the middle/belly. Others say it comes from the Arabic word “beledi”, which means “of the country”, referring to the common dances of the people or region. The nickname doesn’t really tell the whole story, and many dancers actually dislike the name “belly dance” for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s a misnomer. Dancers do use their belly sometimes, but you’d be surprised as to how much of that “belly” dance is done with the legs, torso, hips & arms!
Belly Dance has a strong relationship with the music of it’s cultures of origin, and it can take years to fully understand the depth of the musicality and artistry that drive the dance – boiling the name down to trembling anatomy seems too simple for such an art form. There are also various styles and interpretations of the dance that makes “belly dance” a popular umbrella term for many different dances, aesthetics, and traditions – new and old.
In short, the nickname doesn’t fully describe the art form, but it’s commonly recognized and seems to have stuck, so you can use it without worry. If you want to know what belly dance really is, you’ve got to find a great teacher and work hard to understand this rich subject.
4. Belly Dance is Really Good For You
If you do it correctly and you have a knowledgeable teacher, this dance form is good for your body, mind, and soul. Belly Dance has the ability to strengthen your core, which in turn supports your spine. It’s great cardio so your heart will thank you, it builds coordination and dexterity, it massages the organs and improves circulation, and most importantly it makes you feel great, and feel beautiful.
People of all ages, genders, sizes, cultures, and levels of experience can enjoy the health benefits that belly dancing has to offer. Most community centres and dance studios offer belly dance classes these days, or you can look up your local belly dance superstars online and ask about classes.
5. Belly Dance is a Full Time Job
Belly Dance is a living for some people, and how they spend their work day depends on how each dancer chooses to make that living.
Some dance in restaurants for their primary income, which means they work evenings & weekends, probably using their day hours for rehearsal, choreography, costuming, accounting, marketing, etc. Some teach for their primary income, which means they might teach classes several days or nights each week and dedicate more hours to private coaching, lesson planning, recording lessons on DVD, giving Skype classes, or organizing student shows. Some dancers have very busy wedding seasons, or festivals and private events that hire them to come and entertain, some dancers also make costumes or run studios of their own, and many dancers balance a combination of all the above. It’s not a 9 to 5 job, that’s for sure.
Do you belly dance, or have you always wanted to try?