We have all seen the old movies where an exotic belly dancer encapsulates the mystical Middle East, and to many the graceful and erotic art identifies Egypt, Morocco, and the other famous Middle Eastern countries. However, the origins of the form of dancing are rather clouded. There are a few different theories of how and where belly dancing originated from, and in this blog, we hope to shine a little lighter upon the subject.
The most common suggestion that is put forward is that belly dancing started around 5,000 years ago in the Middle East. Supposedly it was the migration of gypsies throughout Europe, Egypt and India, and a European form of belly dancing can be seen today and is called Flamenco. A second theory is that belly dancing originated from a religious dance, that could be as early as 1000 BC. The evidence to support this idea are wall paintings found in Greece, Mesopotamia and Egypt depicting dancers. There is even one supposition that the dance came from the act of childbirth, young pregnant girls were taught the movements to prepare them for labour.
The Culture of Arabia
Dance in all forms has played a highly important part of Arabic culture, there is a famous dance/ritual called Raks Beledi which is essentially a folk dance or dance of the country that would be partaken by men and women of all ages.
The culture of the Middle East spread to Europe during conflicts such as the Crusades and the invasion of the Moors to Southern Spain. When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798 it set a ball rolling of the European interest of everything Arabic.
Napoleon wanted to know more about the culture of his enemy and on his expedition to Arabia he took 167 professional scientists. These included chemists, mathematicians, naturalists, and geologists. These scientists learned much, and brought back information that changed Europe dramatically forever.
Middle Eastern Dance
The first recorded display of Middle Eastern dancing was in America in 1893 at the World Fair in Chicago. There was an exhibit that featured dancers from North Africa and the Middle East including, Turkey, Syria and Algeria. But the stars of the show were the Egyptian dancers who displayed rapid hip movements, controversy was widespread about these dancers as they displayed their art not wearing corsets. This was a totally notorious thing to do in the Victorian era at the time. Many prominent dignitaries of the day tried to close the Egyptian Theatre display down, but the promoter of the World Fair saw his chance for publicity and named the show Belly Dancing which was taken from the French phrase danse du ventre or dance of the stomach.
The popularity of belly dancing grew from there and many artists could be seen in burlesque, vaudeville and carnivals displaying this new exotic dance. In the early days untrained dancers imitated belly dancing into something that was sexually explicit, this gave belly dancing a questionable reputation. So, although the origins of belly dancing are a little uncertain, it is without doubt a highly popular form of dancing today, and delights audiences all over the world.