The Ancient Art of Belly Dancing

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No matter where you grew up, chances are, you have seen the elegant and hypnotizing movements of belly dancers in beautiful, flowing costumes. Originally, belly dancing is known as Raqs Sharqi in Arabic countries, where it has always been a traditional art form. Although you may have seen a belly dancer performing, do you really know the background of this lovely dance and what it’s really all about? Read on and learn something new!

The History of Belly Dancing

Belly dancing is considered to be the oldest form of dance by many historical experts, and roots of the dance have been traced to the Middle East, Mediterranean, and Africa. Some anthropologists even argue that some of the pyramid builders in ancient Egypt were belly dancers. Something that many people don’t realize is that belly dancing was always performed by women, for other women. It was never a sexual display performed for men like many people believe. Traditionally, belly dancing was performed during fertility and pre-marriage ceremonies. Women would get together and celebrate each other’s beauty, femininity, and stage in their life, such as entering womanhood. It was during the early 20th century when belly dancing began being performed at fairs and carnivals for coed audiences.

Belly Dancing Music

The type of music most often used during belly dancing performances and traditional ceremonies is traditional Middle Eastern music. Although, because belly dancing has links to the Mediterranean and northeastern Africa, belly dancing music combines these three cultures to provide a unique sound. You may enjoy Egyptian and Middle Eastern pop songs, traditional Saidi music, and Hindi music when you watch a belly dance performance.

belly dancing costume

Belly Dancing Costumes

What is more beautiful than a belly dance costume? They are very colorful, incorporate different textures like coins, crystals, and other metals, and are known for their flowing skirts, scarves, and head veils. The primary types of belly dancing costumes include bedleh, which is a common cabaret-style of outfit that involves a beaded skirt, belt, and decorated bra. Another costume type is the beledi dress, which is designed with a long, floor-length dress made with natural materials. And the gallabiya belly dance costume is also full-length but is more of a robe than a dress and is made from cotton, and is worn by both men and women in the Middle East and Africa.

belly dancing instrument

Belly Dance Performance Instruments

You can’t have a belly dance performance without music, and the instruments typically used with this art form are the kanun which is a 4-string instrument; the harmonium which is a free-standing keyboard; the dumbek which is a goblet-shaped drum, and the ney flute, a wind instrument.

The Spirituality of Belly Dancing

For many dancers, belly dancing isn’t just a hobby or form of exercise. It is a spiritual experience and a form of meditation. Belly dancing can take your mind off of any previous stresses and concerns, and wraps you into the music and movements. In Morocco, the Guedra, a type of belly dance, is performed as a blessing ritual. This dance is performed by a dancer who tells a story of the four natural elements—earth, wind, fire, and water. The dancer blesses these elements and sends out good wishes to the audience with her finger motions. On the opposite end, in many cultures, belly dancing is a form of exercise rather than a ritual. The isolations of the hips target the abdominal muscles which help women strengthen their muscles to prepare for pregnancy and childbirth.

Belly Dancing Around the World

One part of belly dancing that can be seen almost everywhere is the bare feet. But the form of belly dancing differs between different regions. In Egypt, belly dancing is more dramatic, while in the Arabian Peninsula, this type of dance is softer and more delicate.

Modern Day Belly Dancing

When people see belly dancers perform today, they notice the dramatic movements of the hips that are exaggerated by the swish of the skirt. Unlike western dances that focus on the legs and feet, belly dancing focuses on the torso since it was always meant to celebrate the female body. The belly dancer isolates her hips from her rib cage to move independently and showcase this area that celebrates the natural form of the feminine body. While it still is performed in ceremonies, belly dancing has become a popular form of exercise for many women, providing a fun and sexy workout that promotes a loving and accepting body image.

If you’d love to witness the beauty of belly dancing and be transported to another part of the world and another time, check out the performances at Terrace Restaurant and prepare to be hypnotized by the dancing and tantalized by the delicious food.