What is the belly dance?

The Belly Dance is identified by swaying hips, undulating torso, and articulated isolations employed in a range of dynamic and emotional expressions. Characteristic movements in the dance include curving patterns, undulations, thrusts, lifts, locks, and drops, and shaking or quaking body movements. The focus is on isolated movements of individual parts of the body with little notice given to the footsteps. Arms and hands move fluidly, like serpents or ribbons in the air. Unusual strength and control is demonstrated in the belly area.

Costumes typically consist of a bra and hip-belt set worn over a floor length skirt. The skirt may be circular or straight. Instead of the skirt and bra, a dancer may wear a gown called a baladi dress topped with a hip-belt or a hip-scarf. Dancers may also use a length of fabric (such as silk or chiffon) during one part of the dance sequence, and she may also play finger cymbals. Costuming changes from place to place and from time to time, but the one constant is that the designs intend to emphasize and amplify the grace, power and independent control of the feminine form.

Constant themes of bellydancing:

The Dance that Celebrates Life, Birth and Creativity!
The Dance that Celebrates Women!
The Dance that Celebrates Beauty!
The Dance that Celebrates the Body!

Belly dancing is also known as, or is associated with these terms:

• Middle Eastern Dance

This umbrella term includes belly dance, among other forms. Some people consider it a more prestigious title than belly dancing. While this term acknowledges the culture that historically has had the strongest association with belly dance, it fails to recognize the many other cultures which form and influence the world of belly dancing today.

• Balady or Raks Balady (also spelled Baladi or Beladi)

This Middle Eastern term means "dance from the country." The basic rhythm of the dance is often referred to by its Arabic term, balady (or maksoom). Some say that the name “belly dance” was coined when Westerners heard the word “balady” and mistook it for “belly” as they witnessed the dance's emphasis on belly and torso movements.

• Egyptian Raks Al-Sharqi

This Egyptian term means Dance of the Easterner — one preferred by some American belly dancers.

• Danse du Ventre

This is the French phrase for bellydance meaning dance of the solar plexus or vent (ventre referring to the belly area), where all the nerve endings come together in the diaphragm. When the dance was presented at the Chicago World's fair in 1893, the world was deep into a period of art history known as the Orientalist era. Traveling European painters and writers brought home fascinating descriptions and illustrations of the Orient, mesmerizing the west with human curiosity. Danse Du Ventre — or dance of the belly — was the name given to this dance, witnessed in a predominately Muslim world.

Interesting note: When Oscar Wilde’s play, "Salome," was originally written in French in 1892, it was accompanied by pen and ink illustrations by Audrey Beardsley. One illustration was titled "Danse Du Ventre." Lord Alfred Douglas translated the works into English, and the painting was labeled "Stomach Dance."

• Dance Oriental or Oryantal Dansi

This term often was used in Greek night clubs. The name arose from the traditional Turkish term Oryantal, which referred to the area now known as the Middle East, but once commonly called the orient. To the western ear this sounds a bit confusing because the orient is thought of as being Asia. Recall that in past ages these geographical boundaries and associations were drawn very differently from where they are now. For instance, more Roman ruins can be found in North Africa than in present day Rome.

Belly Dance Styles

• Modern Egyptian Dance

This is a contemporary Egyptian nightclub style of bellydancing. It is accompanied by European orchestral music imported by fashionable Cairo nightclubs to satisfy Western tastes. A new, modern Egyptian sound was cultivated by two of the most famous Egyptian singer/musician composers of from the 1930s to the 1970s: Mohammed AbdelWahab and Farid Al Atrash.

Costumes are customarily very glitzy and elaborately beaded. Various styles have been popular over the years. Madame Abla is legendary for her modern Egyptian costume designs. The late great dancer and choreographer, Ibrahim “Bobby” Farrah, of New York, was a male belly dancer of Lebanese heritage who perpetuated the cultivation of Modern Egyptian dance style in America.

Today's modern Egyptian belly dance incorporates sound mix, orchestra, and drum machine, seasoned with lively vocals.

• Turkish Style Belly Dance

The famous and charming Ozel Turkbas learned belly dancing from her mother and began dancing professionally as a child at age 11. She was invited to the United States to perform her belly dance in Baltimore, Maryland, around 1959 or 1960. She spoke not a word of English at the time, but was inspired to share the dance with woman everywhere and was very well received by the West. She produced an album of music with a short lesson book called “How to Make Your Husband a Sultan.” Later, in 1976, she wrote a frank and entertaining book about her experiences as a Turkish belly dancer who delivered a big dose of Oryantal Dansi to the West.

Turkish bellydance music is characterized by the sounds of the oboe, clarinet, oud, ney, kanoon, finger cymbals and hand drums. Turkish Dance costumes are among the more risque of the cabaret styles, baring plenty of leg and cleavage. They are usually beaded, but may use coins too. Turkish style dancers often play finger cymbals (aka zills ).

• Harem Dance

This term evokes Hollywood's depiction of exotic concubine dancers from the Sultan's harem. It reflects the western perceptions about the secrecy of the harem and carries political connotations and associations with erotic stereotypes.

• Shake Dance and Shimmy Dance

This is an old term sometimes used in America for dance that exhibits gyrating and shaking movements of hips and shoulders. The term was popularized after the 1893 Chicago’s world fair along with the legend of Little Egypt. The term was used for dances done in carnivals or strip clubs, often by women wearing pasties and lingerie. The Shimmy was a dance movement used by Haitian and the African-American community of the 1880s or earlier (and later recreated by Gilda Gray). The shimmy and it’s energetic and vibrating derivatives are a vital part of belly dance; such movements were not likely to die away in a culture embracing freedom and energy. It even influenced Elvis Presley!

• Bauch Tanz (Belly dance in Germany)

Bellydance in Germany experienced a surge in the 1970s via a German male belly dancer and instructor named Bert Baladine who was living in America at the time. American military housewives became interested in the dance. When they were later stationed in Germany, they called upon Bert to teach belly dance workshops. Interest developed quickly and the revival engendered a growing sophistication and an acceptance of the dance as both exercise and art form.

A fertile climate for the dance had been established through earlier decades by the popularity of Richard Strauss’s opera “Salome” written in 1903 (based on Oscar Wilde’s play of 1892) and the early modern dance movement that rose shortly after. Europeans have had a tradition of supporting innovative and exotic dance artists like Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, Loie Fuller, Maude Allen, and Mata Hari. Ripe with inspiration, German women began following the lead of their American counterparts to develop the art in as many sub-styles as America: Fantasy, el Raks Sharki, Modern Egyptian, American Classic, Turkish. . . Again interest in the dance spread to Austria, Holland, Britain, Sweden, Finland, Iceland,Spain, Italy. . . Unlike the common American belly dance venues of ethnic restaurants and hotel banquet stages, the Germans more often choose to present the dance in traditional theaters. Making things easier for them, a close knit network of venues for performing artists was well established. These women also set up performance venues inside the dance studio itself. Taking the dance art very seriously, the German women employ first-class business practices in response to the growing popularity of belly dance. They developed beautiful, commercial-quality trade magazines, schools, concerts, cabarets, and touring networks for teachers and performers. Many accomplished American belly dancers have toured in Germany.

One of the most remarkable dancers of Germany is Berlin's Beata Zadou. A stunning blonde and blue eyed dancer of technical ballet influence, Berlin's Beata Zadou took to belly dancing. She is not only beautiful, but hard working and industrious as well. She met Horecio Cifuentez, a handsome Brazilian-born professional ballerino that took up belly dance in America. They were a perfect match and are noted for their lovely belly dance duets. They married and now run a school of dance in Berlin.:

• Tribal / American Tribal Style of Belly Dance

A style developed by the great matriarch of the dance Jamila Salimpour ", was called "California Tribal"; laterto be called just"Tribal" was manifested through her dance troupe, Bal-Anat. Jamila is often called the mother of bellydance in America (just as Diete Linda is often called the mother of belly dance in Germany). While this form of the dance included elements of Middle Eastern and North African dance styles from Byzantium, the Renaissance, and Victorian era, it was leavened with a good deal of old-fashioned show biz theatrics. Introduced in the 1970s at California-style renaissance pleasure fairs, women who experienced Tribal belly dance became transfixed! It quickly defined itself as a wildly popular American style. American Tribal Belly Dance performances might include the balancing of swords and other props, snake dances, and folk line-dances. Costuming is distinctive with black and silver asuit, and facial drawings to simulate tribal tatoos.The tribal musical instruments used here include a variety of hand drums, zornas, miz mar, and saz. Many similar troupes started to spring up across the country. A later offshoot of the California Tribal troupe, was spearheaded by Carolena Nericcio. She and her troupe became known as “Fat Chance Belly Dance”. She fasioned a style built on a group impovosational technique that is known as "American Tribal Style". It has a distinctive and colorful, costumed character of its own by use of choli tops from India, tightly wrapped turbans, Afghan jewelry and camel tassels. . See Kajira's Tribal Bible for a historic look at this belly dance style.

• Folkloric Belly Dance

This style incorporates dance movements of the people. Popular ethnic folk dances such as the Fallahin (Egyptian farmers) and others are used as a framework for introducing the folkloric roots of eastern dance, from which belly dance emerged. Reed cane and stick dances are used by belly dancers in routines for a folkloric flair. Folkloric routines will be featured in belly dance stage shows in the Middle East and elsewhere. Some of today’s male performers create supporting folkloric dance roles along side the female belly dancer.

John Compton and Rebaba, early students of Jamila Salimpour and Patty Farber, currently direct and performs with a folksy group of supreme stage performers called Hahbi’Ru. Hahbi’Ru can frequently be seen at California Renaissance fairs.

• Night Club Bellydance/Cabaret Style

This dance was most often called Cabaret style in the U.S., until it was noted that in Europe, the term connotes an X-rated club or performance. Now, dancers usually default to the term “Night Club” belly dancing. In the U.S., the term “cabaret” meant an ethnic family restaurant and bar, largely and colorfully supported by ethnic clientele. Customers, both men and women, moved kerchiefs through the air as they danced folk dances: Lebanese debke, mizerloo, Greek sirto, or Zorbekiko between the floor shows of the featured bellydance stars. Today these belly dancers usually perform a multi-faceted routine, sometimes on a raised stage (to afford the audience a better view) and most often to live musical accompaniment. The musical instruments might include oud, bazooki, keyboards, drums, violin, kanoon and vocals. Costumes are flashy and sparkling, with beads and sequins rather than the heavy, woven, embroidered, coined look of tribal costuming. Often the establishment sports a large dance floor for public participation in folk dancing and free style dancing to traditional ethnic music, or to Middle Eastern pop disco

Famous belly dance night clubs of the past were: The Averoth in Boston featuringthe famous George Abdo, Ali Baba, the 7th veil,the Fez in Los Angeles featuring maroon Saba and George Kiyart, the Bagdad and the Casba, Pashas in San Fransisco, the Feenjon Cafe in New York, Haji Baba in New York and San Diego, the Sultans Lounge in San Diego, the Apadona in Newport Beach featuring John Belizikian and Var Daghdevirian, Ceders of Lebonon, Greek Village, Grecian Corner in Seattle, Parthonon Salt Lake City , Minara in San Jose, . . .

• American Classic Style Belly Dance

This style describes the bellydance performed and cultivated by American women, (and a few men) since about the early 1970s. It developed out of the rich collation of cultures in the American melting pot, especially in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Immigrants brought belly dancing from Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Central Asia, Lebanon, Israel, Armenia, The Balkans, Persia, Iraq, India, and Africa. All these cultures have their own unique customs, traditions, languages, foods, music, and dances, yet each recognized some form of the belly dance as a part of their heritage. Prior to the 1970s, in most cases, the dance was not well perpetuated and was performed at a fairly basic level. In the less conservative American environment, the dance began to flower into its full potential. Belly dance classes sprung up at community centers and colleges. In ethnic restaurants throughout the nation, American dancers with exotic names like Princess Sheharazade, Ellena the Persian Kitten, and Jodette, swirled on stages, flooded with colored lights, to the rhythms of live Middle Eastern music, amid the savory aromas of ethnic cuisine. The American style of belly dance incorporated cultures from around the globe and added its own liberating trademarks. One of these trademarks was the steady development of the gymnastic use of the veil within the dance. Another was a wider stance and bolder use of space than in the Middle East. The American Classic style began spreading all over the world, even circling back to influence dance in the Middle East. Egyptian dance businesses flourished to meet the enjoyment of the western woman’s love of this dance. Many Lebanese and Turkish women today study with Delilah's Belly Dance video series.

The American women of virtually any, and every, ethnic origin and heritage — Swedish, German, Greek, Syrian, Mexican — became fascinated with the belly dance as an artistic investment. Magazines dedicated to the art and catering to its ever-widening population of devotees sprouted up in America: Habibi, the Belly Dancer, and Arabesque were among the pioneer trade publications. As they undertook to seriously study and refine the depth of belly dance techniques, dancers also began to recognize and define an overview of the dance's commonality and structure. Belly dance was becoming as wholesome as apple pie in America and this could only help its reputation for women internationally. This synthesized belly dance evolved from many cultures and resonated within women as deeply as their very DNA. This dance intrinsically belongs to every woman, so it easily transcends all borders.

• Ancient Egyptian Pharaonic Style Belly Dance

These are dances that use stylistic costumes depicting a time in history and are inspired by the study of Ancient Egyptian art, ritual, symbols, Gods and Goddesses, hieroglyph, and the use of creative imagination. Laurel Victoria Gray and Delilah have done much with this style in a featured production of “Egypta” in 1997 and 2003. Delilah’s solo role as “Hathor” and “Cleopatra” in 1997, as well as her depiction of “Isis” in the video “Dance to the Great Mother” in 1981 also exemplify this belly dance style.

Music choices may be modern interpretations, such as that written by composer Steven Flynn for Gray’s productions, or in line with the instrumentation reveled to us through archeology, as composed by Professor Jihad Racy in “Tribute to Ancient Egypt.” Other examples include chantress Ani Williams’ use of voice and harp in recording “Songs of Isis” or Layne Redmond’s use of framed drums in various recordings.

• Goddess Belly Dance

Some American women focus on tracing the belly dance back through history to ancient times of goddess temples and to matriarchal cultures such as those of Sumerian Iraq and the Anatolia region of Turkey (known as Chatal Huyuck), and even to the caves of the most basic birthing rituals. This would also entail a Pharaonic style. The cave is analogous to the belly, or the womb. Goddess Belly Dance may use characters from ancient cultural mythology and religion as potent theme material for constructing dances. Some dancers perceive the archetypal elements in the dance and court personal psychic and spiritual connections. Other ancient movement practices such as Yoga, Tai Chi, and Zen practice the pursuit of the ancient wisdom embodied in the dance. Goddess Belly Dance may be shared through public performance or used as a private devotional exercise.

Examples of dancers’ work in this style: Delilah’s “Themis; Mother of Oracles,” “Mami Wata” and “Hepolitas” ; Z Helene’s “Gaia,” Laurel Victoria Gray's “Aphrodite”; Tahia Alebec’s “Artemis”; Katherin Balducci’s “Heketa”; Miraya Delamar’s “Divine Mother”; Mezmera the Serpent Goddess, and Dyanise’s annual “Goddess Show” in California.

• Gothic Fantasy Belly Dance

This recently developed style of belly dance is distinguished by its urban tribal femme fatale look. Gothic Belly Dance costuming involves dark fabrics, black, vinyl, leather, silver studs, piercing, pale skin, strong eye shadow, and vampire-like looks. It’s very popular among extremely artistic young people in America and Germany. It is currently evolving. Music might be fusion, techno, trance or ethnic.

• Male Belly Dancing.

There has always been a tradition of men cross-dressing to emulate women and dance with a feminine flair. They are called Cengi (Syria), Kojak (Turkey), Batcha (Persia), Qawaal (Arabia), and Hawaal (Egypt). Since the Middle East is a segregated society, at certain times and places in history, it has been seen as improper for women to dance in the presence of men. Female impersonators traditionally have taken their place. Today, Turkey seems to be the most tolerant of these dancers. Many people report experiencing these performances. Some audiences see them without knowing it because the dancers have achieved their goal to pass as females.

Not all male dancers in the belly dance world, however, are female impersonators. Some men may develop provocative stage personalities, perform isolated body movements, and demonstrate physical feats of abdominal strength, agility, and flexibility that astound audiences of men and women alike. Sometimes they employ swords, sticks, and capes as props. Such is the fun of show business. Among the most famous 20th century males in the profession are John Compton and Bert Baladine of San Francisco, Ibrahim Farrah and Yussari Sharif of New York, Amir of Boston, Aziz and Jason of Salt Lake City, Jim Boz and Alfredo of the Northwest, Said el Amir and Horecio of Germany, Prince ArKhan of Turkey, and Mousbah Baalbaki of Lebanon.

• Fantasy Belly Dance

This could involve many other titles of belly dance as a motif: Gothic, Goddess, Space Age, Animals and mythic cretures, Fairy tales or myth. . . whatever is fantastic, outside of reality or tradition, and evolving from imagination. The movements are recognizably connected to the vocabulary of belly dance. Extravagant costuming and props and back drops figure heavily into the act as does thematic content. Sheharazade, who is based in Germany, is of this style. As is the San Francisco dance troupe called “Ultra Gypsy.”

• Fusion Belly Dance

This dance style mixes two or more recognizable traditions, themes, costuming, or music used to construct the dance performance. In today’s modern world, we are more globally influenced. The veiled boundaries between people and ideas are quickly falling away.

• American Gypsy Style (not to be confused with Romany Gypsy Dances)

The Romany people (Rom) migrated from north India’s province of Rajistan in 1000 AD. Generation after generation, they traveled all over the world with their crafts, music and dance trades, picking up a little of this and that from the cultures they encountered. This dance is reflective of what many call “gypsy style.” However, in America this style of dance is very eclectic.The Turkish Gypsies belly dance topless in the famous Sulukele district of Istanbul (which offends the sensibilities of dancers who are struggling to overcome sexist images of the dance and gain wholesome acceptability).

The American version of Gypsy style belly dance fuses many dance flavors together. The Spanish/Moorish influence manifests as “Zambra,” a form of flamenco employed by belly dancers, along with Indian Katak, Turkish Gypsy, folk dance, American spunk, vamp, and imagination. Typical costume characteristics include large, full, colorful skirts, fringe scarves on hips, flowing sleeves and Moorish art accents.

Nikki Conti teams up for the barefoot Zambra with her husband Sulyman el Coyote, an acomplished Middle Easter musician of the well known band called Sirocco, as well as an acoomplished Flamenco guitarist.They maybe seen performing together on video and DVD "Fire at the Iao" produced by Visionary Belly Dancing. Dalia Carella of New York created her own fusion brand of Gypsy dance called “Dunyavi” in the 1990s.Artemis Mourat has danced and written extensivly about Turkish Gypsy style while Laurel Victoria Gray has researched Russian Gypsy style.