Cultural and Social Context of Belly Dance

Cultural and Social Context of Belly Dance

There are a lot of misconceptions and wrong believes in terms of belly dance. One of the most common myths about this dance style is that belly dance originated in harems and was performed by women to entertain and seduce men. Another well-known myth is that belly dance is like stripping and can be performed as a way of adult entertainment only. These statements are very far away from the truth. Most of the similar sayings were created by male travelers from western countries who were not familiar with the cultural realities of the Middle East. Later, these misconceptions were taken by the Hollywood film industry, as a result, they became the mainstream believes in the end.

Many people want to try belly dance, but they are afraid of public opinion or even to get some insulting comments from friends, lovers, or families. In order to be sure, belly dance is a performance art that has nothing in common with stripping, so there is no shame to try this kind of dancing. It is important to fight against any wrong believes with the right knowledge.

Cultural Side

The majority of belly dancers are women. However, it does not mean that men are excluded from this art. This phenomenon came from the cultural peculiarities of the Middle East. In the past, men and women were living separate lives, and many activities of mixed genders were prohibited by that time. As women were surrounded by other women and kids of the same family, and they all together were working, cleaning, cooking, and entertaining also. Also, men tend to do physically more difficult tasks like hunting, doing construction-related works, or fighting. As a result, they had less time and energy for this kind of entertainment. This obvious cultural thing has created a strong misconception for western people.

Men were allowed to perform belly dances since the very beginning. Of course, they cannot do it with unknown women and follow other rules of Muslim culture. As belly dance is a social dance, there are many movements for men such as fluid arm movements and hip movements. However, the moves of this style look feminine to western audiences, and they do not fit with the general understanding of masculinity. Finally, men were rejected as belly dancers in the western countries, but it does not mean they cannot perform this dance professionally.

Social Side

Belly dance is considered folk, social dance, and performance art. As a social dance, it can be done by both sexes spontaneously, with ordinary clothes during any parties or celebrations. In more conservative countries or parts, a place of the celebration can be divided into areas for men and women, so they dance separately. Nowadays in countries without strict gender rules, both men and women can practice belly dance as a social activity together and freely. It is a common practice to hire a professional belly dancer for parties in the Middle East, so they show people the basic moves, as the young generation do not practice folk dances so much now. The spirit of the social form of Belly dance is one of celebration, socializing and informal entertainment.

Belly dance
Belly dance

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