Belly Dancing History
It is often assumed that belly dancing history is rooted in Egypt, but the truth is never so simple. Anthropologists believe that this dance originated in the Indian province of Rajasthan – the home of the Roma (gypsy) people. Migrating north-westward from Rajasthan through Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and beyond, the Roma combined local dance forms with their own. In turn, these new dances were performed by both Roma and non-Roma dancers in their adopted countries, becoming what we now call belly dance. In each place where belly dance is practiced, it has its own style. For example, Egyptian cabaret style is highly refined with small, precise isolations while Turkish style is known for its gymnastic movements and the dancers’ flexibilities.
Belly dance gained mass popularity in North America following performances by Middle Eastern dancers at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1876. Though criticized for being “immodest”, belly dance thrived in the Burlesque theaters in the United States. Even Thomas Edison was said to be have been a fan, making several films of belly dancers between 1897 and 1904 — some of which showed a dancer playing zills (finger symbols), doing floor work, and even balancing a chair in her teeth! More recently, North America has developed its own style of belly dance, often referred to as “tribal” which combines moves from hip-hop and break-dancing with traditional Middle Eastern movements.
Belly Dance Today
Belly Dance is still practiced as both a social and performance art throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Women of all ages dance together (and sometimes with men) at engagements, baby showers, and simply when out at the clubs on a Saturday night. Hiring a professional belly dancer for a wedding is still a very common event in much of the Middle East. Big cities such as Dubai, Cairo and Istanbul even have a host of clubs where locals and tourists can see dancers perform and join in the fun themselves!