Belly dance is a captivating form of dance that originated in the Middle East and has its roots in Ancient Egypt. It is characterized by graceful movements of the hips and torso, creating a mesmerizing and expressive performance.
Over time, belly dance has evolved and diversified, taking on various forms depending on the country and region. Both the dance style and costumes have undergone unique adaptations in different cultural contexts. However, it is the belly dance Egyptian style that has gained significant recognition worldwide, largely due to its portrayal in Egyptian cinema.
The Egyptian style, characterized by its traditional Egyptian rhythms and distinctive costumes, has become immensely popular across the globe, leading to the establishment of numerous belly dance schools and enthusiasts practicing this art form in diverse locations.
The Name of “Belly Dance”
The term “belly dance” finds its origins in the French phrase “danse du ventre,” which translates to “dance of the stomach.” This name was first documented in 1864 in a review of the Orientalist painting titled “The Dance of the Almeh” by Jean-Léon Gérôme. In English, the term “belly dance” was first used to describe the performances of Middle Eastern dancers at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1893. Within the realm of professional dance forms. There is a broad category known as raqs sharqi, which translates to “Eastern Dance” or “Dance of the Orient.”
This category encompasses various styles of belly dance that are popular today, including Raqs Baladi, Sa’idi, Ghawazee, and Awalim. In Egyptian Arabic, the informal and social form of the dance is referred to as Raqs Baladi, meaning “Dance of the Country” or “Folk Dance,” and it is considered an indigenous dance form. Belly dance primarily focuses on movements of the torso, with a special emphasis on articulating the hips.
Unlike many Western dance styles, the dance’s core lies in isolating the muscles of the torso, rather than emphasizing movements of the limbs through space. While some of these isolations may appear similar to those used in jazz ballet, they are often executed differently and evoke a distinct feeling or emphasis.
Movements in Belly Dance
Like many folk dances, belly dance lacks a universal naming scheme for its movements. Different dancers and dance schools have developed their own systems, but none of them are universally recognized. However, the following categorization attempts to reflect the most commonly used naming conventions.
These are quick, staccato movements, often involving the hips, that punctuate the music or emphasize a specific beat. Examples include hip lifts or drops, chest or rib cage pops, shoulder accents, hip rocks, hits, and twists.
These are smooth and continuous motions that create a flowing and sinuous effect. They are used to interpret melodic lines, lyrical sections, or complex instrumental improvisations in the music. These movements require precise control of the abdominal muscles. There are various instances where these figures exhibit horizontal and vertical loops resembling the number 8 or the symbol for infinity, with the hips being positioned horizontally.. Plus tilting hip circles too. Besides that undulations of the hips and abdomen including too. These basic shapes can also be varied. Plu sit can combined, embellished for making a wide range of both complex and textured movements.
Shimmies, Shivers, and Vibrations
These are small, rapid, and continuous movements of the hips or ribcage that add texture and depth to the dance. Often, Shimmies layered over other movements. One can see that they are commonly used to interpret drum rolls or fast strumming on instruments. There are various types of shimmies, differing in size and method of generation. Some of its examples include relaxed, up and down hip shimmies, knee-driven shimmies with straight legs. Besides these, fast and tiny hip vibrations, twisting hip shimmies, bouncing “earthquake” shimmies too. And lastly relaxed shoulder or rib cage shimmies also has.
These categories provide a general framework for understanding and describing the movements in belly dance, but it’s important to note that there is a wide range of variation and individual interpretation within the dance form.
Belly Dance in Egypt
Belly dance in Egypt encompasses two distinct social contexts: folk dance and social dance. As a social dance, it is commonly performed at celebrations and social gatherings by everyday people, wearing their regular attire. In the past, professional dance performers known as Awalim and Ghawazi were prominent in the belly dance scene.
As of 2020, Khayreyya Maazin, one of the Maazin sisters, continues to teach and perform Ghawazi dance, upholding their legacy as esteemed and authentic practitioners in Egypt. Belly dancing holds a significant place in Egyptian culture and has greatly influenced Arabic culture as a whole. It is closely associated with Arabic music, particularly modern classical music, and is celebrated throughout the Middle East and the Arab diaspora.
19th Century and Today
In 1871, Shafiqa al-Qibtiyya gained immense fame as the most renowned belly dancer in all of Egypt’s theaters and casinos. She was adored by the nation and celebrated widely. If you wonder where modern Egyptian belly dance style and costumes come from, in 19th century were popularized by the dancers of Awalim. Many of the dancers from Badia’s Casinos went on to make appearances in Egyptian films, exerting a significant influence on the development of the Egyptian style and gaining worldwide recognition. Notable names like Samia Gamal and Taheyya Kariokka played a pivotal role in drawing global attention to the Egyptian style
Professional belly dance in Cairo has not been limited to native Egyptians. Although the country once restricted licenses for solo work by foreign-born dancers in 2004 to preserve its cultural authenticity, the ban was lifted in September of the same year. However, a sense of exclusivity and selectivity continued to exist. Besides Egypt, even a few non-native Egyptian dancers revitalized the dance scene too. Layla Taj, an American-born belly dancer, is an example of a non-native Egyptian who has extensively performed in Cairo and the resorts of Sinai. Egyptian belly dance is renowned for its precise and controlled movements, which contribute to its unique appeal.