:: Ya Habibi Malta ::

School of Middle Eastern Dance

© Copyright 2009 -2015 by Jane Camilleri. All Rights Reserved.


"rak"ing the rock, one shimmy at a time!

What is "Bellydance"?

The dance industry - it's not just a practice or things we did in closed homes society dancing together but as a performance something you would see in public. There are very few native performers of arab dance.

Arab Dance - 23 countires every region every village country has their style. From
debke leb gedra marrocco chobi iraq arab dance = dance coming from arab speaking country

default dance = raqs sharki, shark = oriental, style of dance has become popular worlwide dating back to colonialist times,like egypt when the dance was taken
from its village form and performed in community circumstances

cabarets were created featuring the raqs sharki dancer - a female soloist
That's the style of dance that everyone refers to or thinks about when we think of arab dance - maybe not by that name

Raqs Sharki - an egyptian style - popularized by egyptian films... esthetic value beautiful woman in a glam costume with grand music

default dance

1893 chicago worlds fair - dancer called little egypt - that is where this term was called - by looking at the women and observing her belly - or maybe from balady word similar belly
by not using an arabic term-dissassociated with its origin

Reascription of the dance - have it come from somewhere else
- fitness a dance to loose weight or tone your body
- godess worship - feeling that dance is an invocation to transdental power - new age
extension of orientalism or pharonicism mhytological use of dance to recreate mythological far eastern lands of sultansand gyneis and also mystification of is
queen hatchipsuit

Tangents in American representations of Arab dance

The term "belly dance" is often mistakenly used in a very broad sense to refer to a variety of dance forms either originating from or inspired by the cultures of the Middle East (including the Middle East proper and North Africa). However, belly dance is just one among many dance styles practiced throughout the Middle East.

Middle Eastern Dance

Middle Eastern dance encompasses a range of rich and vibrant traditions. Here are just a few examples of contemporary Middle Eastern dance styles:

'ardah - from Saudi Arabia, a warlike men's dance with origins in Bedouin culture

Banat Mazin ghawazee - from southern Egypt, the hip-focused dance style of the Banat Mazin ghawazee of Luxor.

debke - from the Levant, a lively folk dance performed in a line and characterized by its energetic style and rhythmic stomps

karsilama - from Turkey and the Balkans, a folk dance performed in couples (karsilama means "face-to-face")

nubi - from the border region of Egypt and Sudan, the folk style of the Nubian population (nubi means "Nubian")

raqs beledi - solo, improvisational, torso-focused dance with variants performed casually by men and women throughout the Arab world but most commonly associated with Egypt (raqs beledi can also be used as a general term meaning "folk dance" - cf. raqs sha'abi)

raqs na'ashat - from the Persian Gulf, a women's dance featuring a shuffling gait and tossing of the hair (often simply referred to as khaleegi dance - khaleegi means "from the Gulf")

raqs sharqi - see below

sa'idi - from southern Egypt, the folk style of Egypt's sa'idi people (often, but not always, featuring the stick dance, raqs assaya)

schikhatt - from Morocco, the exuberant dance style of professional female dancers who perform at weddings and other festivities

yolah - from the United Arab Emirates, a men's dance involving twirling and tossing of rifles

The history of this dance is rich, varied, and, well, murky. Ask four different people where Oriental dance comes from and what it's all about, and you'll get six different answers. Diving into the sea of information is (to me, anyway) fascinating and fun, but don't expect to come up with much of anything in black and white.

Let's start with the name "belly dance." I use this term for the sole reason that it's the one most people know in this part of the world. The name is, quite frankly, ridiculous. This dance is primarily about the hips, not the belly. And I'm unaware of any other dance that is named for a body part. The dance has been known by many names in the cultures to which it belongs, but none of them translates to anything even vaguely close to "belly dance."

The dance is best known in Arabic as "raqs sharqi," and in Turkish as "Oryantal dansi." Both of these translate to "Oriental dance." North Americans usually think of the Far East (Japan and China) when they think of Oriental, but the word "oriental" simply means "of the east" and in many other parts of the word it's the Near and Middle East that comes to mind when one says "oriental." "Middle Eastern dance" isn't a bad name, but it's not entirely accurate or precise, either - strictly speaking, Turkey is Near Eastern, not Middle Eastern, and there are many other dances in the Middle East that are not the dance to which we refer here.

So where did the term "belly dance" come from? Sol Bloom, World's Fair 1893. Mr. Bloom brought dancers from North Africa to perform, but no one was buying tickets to see his ethnic dance show. This was the Victorian era, when "leg" was considered a vulgar word, never mind "belly." Brilliant Mr. Bloom coined the term "belly dance," and according to some reports, began refusing to sell tickets to women. This marketing tactic worked like a charm - willing audiences flocked to the show, and were happily scandalized. Not, mind you, by the moves, and not by the clothing the dancers wore; this was well before the two-piece outfits people associate with Oriental dance today. The dancers would have been covered from neck to toe. No, the scandal was that the dancers were clearly not wearing corsets.

Sol Bloom was quite a character, actually - you can lose many an hour on the internet reading about this and other tales of his career as a showman. I just wish he hadn't left this beautiful dance with the legacy of such a silly misnomer - it deserves better.

My last post talked about the name "belly dance" and something of what it isn't—so let's tackle what it is.

This might be tougher than what it isn't, honestly. I mentioned in Part 1 that there wasn't a lot that was black-and-white about this dance. At the simplest, I would say that Oriental dance is the performance version of the social dance done by nearly everyone in Turkey, Armenia, Egypt and most of the Arabian peninsula. Go to a club or a party full of families from these regions, and you'll see men, women, children, grannies and teenagers shimmying and hip-dropping. There's a misconception in the west, fueled by Hollywood, Orientalism, and Mr. Sol Bloom, that this dance is a dance of seduction. I often say this dance is sexy the way an evening gown is sexy—it's mostly beautiful, elegant and expressive. On a beautiful, confident woman, that can be a little sexy. But her personality should always shine through—the dance isn't meant to present the dancer as an object or be risque.
The western term "belly dance" has become sort of an umbrella term that encompasses a group of related dances. There's Oriental dance in its varied styles: Egyptian, Lebanese, Turkish. We refer to the social dance version as "belly dance," too. There are closely related folkdances, such as Tahtib and Raks Assaya—the somewhat martial stick dance of the male shepherds, and the wildly popular cane dance of the women, which is meant to poke fun at the tahtib dancers—, both from Egypt. Many "belly dancers" learn to perform Schikatt, a Moroccan dance with similar movements of the hips, or explore the Zar or the Guedra, ritual dances of North Africa. Those who, like myself, specialize in Turkish style often develop a strong interest in Turkish Roman dance, which has had a strong influence on Turkish Oriental dance. "Roman" in this case refers not to the city of Rome, but to the Roma people, commonly known as gypsies.

America, too, has spun off its own styles of this dance. They can't authentically be called "Oriental", as they originate in the west, but they do have their roots in Oriental dance. In the 50s and 60s in the U.S., Middle Eastern clubs were often mixed in both music and clientele, and as such, dancers from that era developed a style that was a blend of Turkish, Arabic and folk dance. It's now commonly known as "AmCab" short for "American Cabaret" style. Americans also created "tribal style" belly dance, which uses much earthier costuming, and is often danced in groups, as opposed to the traditional solo. The earthy costuming and music often lead westerners to believe that this is the "real, authentic" dance of the Middle East. Nope; completely American. The Regent here in Arlington is host every year to a "Gothic-style belly dance" event, Raks Spooki, held right around Halloween.

Traditionally speaking, Oriental dancers are primarily engaged to perform at celebratory events. You can't have a wedding in Egypt without an Oriental dancer. I danced at Turkish restaurant Pasha here in Arlington as part of their fantastic New Year's celebration. More recently I performed at a woman's 60th birthday party attended by her friends and family; my best audience, as always, were the little ones between the ages of two and seven. Children are fascinated by the whirling silks and sparkling costumes, and I think they are just drawn to a smiling, joyous dancer.

And I believe that's the simplest answer I can give you about what this dance is: It's a dance of celebration and joy.

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