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What Bellydance Is
What Bellydance Is
The objective of World Belly Dance Day is to celebrate and educate oriental music and dance. The following is a very basic information to begin your bellydance journey. Enjoy!
The Western part of the world was not truly introduced vastly to the music until the French invasions of Africa/Middle East. The expression "bellydance" or "danse du ventre" first appears in the western lexicon and is accredited to the Napoleonic invasions of Egypt and Syria from 1798–1801, mainly to protect French trade and to undermine the British. But the journey of this art form is as ancient as the sands of time.
There are conflicting reports about the dancer known as "Little Egypt" who performed at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. The best read and well-researched book on this topic is called, "Looking For Little Egypt" by Donna Carlton. Click the photo to see the silent clip taken by Thomas Edison in 1896.
As sensual as it appears, belly dance does not carry a sexual connotation. It is not true that belly dancers are strippers. There are burlesque artists who happen to know how to belly dance. The bellydancer costume is secured so that is doesn't come off and is required to wear a cover up when not performing as a show of proper etiquette. The 'genie bikini' that is commonly associated in belly dance traditionally carried a tummy drape and a torso netting so the mid-drift was not exposed. It is still illegal to expose the belly in public in Egypt.
It is not true that these dances were used to solely entertain a sultan. It was a form of entertainment for the women of a harem. It is legend that many of the movements were used to condition the body for child-birth. Its most recent hallmark is to celebrate its music and femininity. Many 'props' used in bellydance are also a western invention which adds an additional flair and skill set for the dancer.
Much of what the Western world assumes bellydance to be is false or contorted to a Hollywood illusion. Many are quick to forget that the music and the dance comes from a very conservative place in world. It reaches from both sides of the Mediterranean Sea of Europe and Northern Africa and down the Middle Eastern Peninsula. Every village will have it's own interpretation, it's own celebratory folk dances, even it's own dialect of the Arabic language. What is equally true wherever the origins lie, the driving force of the dancer is to emote the music.
Interestingly and unlike other dance forms which follow a more formal and standardized course of study, like ballet - bellydance does not always conform to those rules. There are some instructors which have taken the initiative to standardize for their students and for courses of in-depth study.
One of those pioneers who did to try to standardize Egyptian dancers is Mahmoud Reda, founder of the famous Reda Troupe of Cairo by integrating Russian ballet techinque in training his dancers in the late 1950s. His partnership with dance legend Farida Fahmy is the most accredited for giving Egyptian dance and the folkloric style, a true foundation of study and level of performance which is still practiced today with many choreographers and principal dancers.
As you begin your journey into Middle Eastern dance, you will find out very quickly that there are movements that have a ton of names and those that don't have any. It may also be difficult to find the rhythm as a lot of Middle Eastern music is not a 'common' time signature of 4/4 and sounds like a cacophony of noise because the instruments too, are not readily familiar. No dancer will interpret the same piece of music in the same way which makes this art form very individual and somewhat openly personal. It is why it is so captivating to watch. Enjoy your journey and make it your own.