The second part of our blog in trying to understand if belly dancing was purely invented for the pleasure of men continues in attempt to find the roots of the costumes worn by belly dancers and why they wear the exotic clothing they do.
We studied the clothing worn by the famous Mata Hari and saw that her costumes had very little to do with belly dancing tradition and more her interpretation of what the costumes should look like to entertain her French audiences.
If you delve back further in time to the late 1800’s and study famous belly dancers such as Fatima you can see that her more traditional costumes are much different than those of Mata Hari. Her entire body is covered similar to Ghawazee dancers. Other images do exist of Middle Eastern dancers of the period dressed in multiple layers of clothing and a blouse that came down to the knees and the midriff fully covered.
So, if any of these dancers were professional belly dancers of the late 1800’s, then they danced in clothing that covered their bodies and so were modestly attired. The bare midriff costumes that we all commonly associate with belly dancing did not appear until the later Centuries.
Belly Dancing in the Middle East Today
In the Middle East, belly dancing has long been associated with social occasions. Women and men perform the dance either in pairs or as a group dance similar to a wedding reception or family occasion in the West. In more traditional households’ men and women would dance separately, in fact they would have their own designated parties, where men would dance with men and women with women.
If you attend such a gathering in the Middle East today, it is often that you can actually see men belly dancing on one side of the room and the women on the other. Often the moves are identical and there is no hint of any titillation or seduction going on whatsoever.
Professional Belly Dancing
The early 1800’s saw the start of the tourist industry, and tourists visiting the exotic Middle East were mesmerized by the strange form of dancing they witnessed. The dancing involved the torso and was very different to the arms and legs sort of dancing that was popular back in Europe. Word soon spread and Europeans wanted to hire these exotic dancers to appear in different types of functions back in Europe.
You must not confuse these professional dancers with the prostitutes that were also hired from the Middle East at this time who would also perform a similar type of dance as part of their service. This is where the confusion lies over the fact that belly dancing is highly erotic and for the pleasure of men. Many of these European travelers were little more than sex tourists of the day.
There is no doubt that belly dancing can be highly sensual and very intimate, but it does not mean that it originated and developed purely for the gratification of horny men. This is far from the truth, belly dancing is an art form that uses movement, costume and allure to bring it to life.