[Northkeep] Belly Dancers

Shirley Roper vivatthedream at home.com
Mon Dec 3 23:15:59 PST 2001

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Thought you might find this article enlightening.  I found it at http://www.angeliqueandfriends.com/bellydance.html .  I also highly recommend Wendy Buonaventura's book, "Serpent of the Nile."


Belly-Dance: What it is, what it isn't
by Angelique
There are many myths and misconceptions about the women's dances of the Middle East. Here are the ones I hear most often:

1. Belly-Dance is some sort of sex dance performed by "harem girls" for some sort of "sheik" or "sultan."

2. Belly-Dance is the same as Hula Dance, Gypsy Dance or East Indian Dance.

3. Belly-Dance is performed in "Arabian" countries by women who must have large bellies. If a slender woman performs this dance, she will develop a large belly.

4. Belly-Dance is performed in Greek nightclubs by young women with flat tummies and silicone-enhanced chests. It is inappropriate for heavy women to try this dance, especially because it must always be performed in a skimpy costume.

If you have ever believed any of the above statements, don't feel silly; you probably learned about the dances of the Middle East from Hollywood, or you have personally seen just one aspect of the dance. No one ever told you that there is more to it than what you saw! Here is the complete picture:

1. Belly-Dance was not invented to arouse men. Millions of women in dozens of countries enjoy belly-dance at gatherings that are entirely or predominantly female. The women talk, eat and dance in the same way that Western women talk, eat and play cards. The dance predates both Islam and the development of the culture that now dominates the Arabian peninsula. Traditionally, women danced during labor, and their friends danced along with them. This practice has dwindled in the Middle East due to the new dominance of Western medicine. However, it is now becoming more popular on obstetric wards in America! I have friends who danced during labor, and they found dancing to be more helpful than walking, showering or massage. In many countries, belly-dance is the predominant form of exercise for girls and women.

Throughout history, powerful men have enjoyed seeing young women dance, sing, or just stand around. Just because these men enslaved women and forced them to dance doesn't mean the dance was invented for that purpose. In fact, although the wives and slaves of wealthy men danced among themselves, when there was an important event to be celebrated, traveling dancers were hired. These dancers wore many layers of traditional cloaks, skirts and pants, and they were just as popular with the women of the house as the men.

2. People who show their tummies and shimmy are not necessarily belly-dancing. Belly-Dance has a few elements that are similar to Hula, Gypsy and Indian dances, but these dances are all different. Hula and Indian dancers use their hands (and in Indian dance, their eyes and feet) to tell a story. Polynesian dancers do a lot of shimmying, but they do not perform many other moves that are essential to Middle-Eastern dance. The dances performed by Gypsy tribes have much more in common with the folk dances of Eastern Europe than with dances of the modern Middle East. The European dance that is probably best related to belly-dance is flamenco, which developed from Middle-Eastern dance when the Muslims ruled Spain.

3 & 4. There are no "belly-dance laws" requiring dancers to have a certain body type. For some strange reason, Westerners conclude that a women needs to have a certain body type to learn Middle-Eastern dance, but they do not place such restrictions on their own dances. At a typical nightclub, wedding or New Year's Eve bash, people of all ages and sizes dance. If there is a dance craze, all sorts of people flock to dancing schools. No one has ever said, "You have to have a large butt to do the Macarena" or "I have to lose ten pounds before I can learn the Electric Slide."

It is true that nightclubs prefer to hire belly-dancers who look like fashion models, but nightclub performers make up a tiny percentage of the women who enjoy belly-dance. The largest audience you will see for a Middle-Eastern dance event will be at a show by dancers for dancers. The audience will be overwhelmingly female, and in the audience and on stage you will see-- and I'm not exaggerating-- women from the ages of seven to seventy. You will see every conceivable body type and a variety of attitudes about revealing or concealing them. You will see girls who began to dance at their mothers' knees, and women who took their first class at age fifty. You will see women who began to dance professionally after just one year of training, and women who have taken the same intermediate-level class for fifteen years just for fun and fitness. Basically, the women have four things in common: they love to dance, they love costumes, they love Middle-Eastern music, and they love Middle-Eastern food.

The laws of exercise physiology are not suspended by the presence of Middle-Eastern music. Have you ever heard anyone say, "aerobics will give you a big tush," "stretch-and-tone class will give you a big tummy," or "swimming will make you grow gills"? Of course not! When you raise your heart rate, you burn calories. When you use a muscle, it becomes stronger and tighter. Look at aerobic instructors! The result of abdominal workouts is not a gigantic round pregnant-looking belly! That is the result of chocolate ice cream workouts! Belly-Dance is a fun, non-impact form of exercise. Like any other form of exercise, it will burn calories, tighten and build muscles and increase flexibility.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: brownjl at utulsa.edu
  To: northkeep at ansteorra.org
  Sent: Monday, 03 December, 2001 4:39 PM
  Subject: [Northkeep] Belly Dancers

  Actually the belly dancers in the Middle Ages covered everything but their hands, feet and eyes.  It was only after the advent of cinemography that the cabaret style came into fashion.  Technically, showing that much skin was grounds for execution, rape, or worse.

  The purpose of the dance was erotica, not just simple lust or sex.  The harem women used the dance as a way of enticing the sultan (or pharoah, or whomever) into her bed.  The best dancers were usually the favorite of the harem, both as a cultural and entertaining companion.  Those women had to know more than  the dance, they had to be able to, I don't know how to put it, support the men in any way they could, primarily, by being able to talk to him about anything and entertain him and his men.

  Today, men see belly dancers as objects of desire, but they miss the skill and grace in the dance itself.

  I'll save the rest of the lecture for another time.

  Just thought I'd add my two cents worth.....


  who has taken lessons and done some research, but is nowhere near even pretending to be a know anything type person!


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