There are several theories about the origins of belly dancing or “Eastern dance” due to the many similar types of dance in ancient cultures throughout the Mediterranean, India, North Africa, and the Middle East.
It is thought that belly dancing has evolved from folk or tribal dances that communities would enjoy at celebrations such as weddings. Belly dancing is still often performed at weddings to add to the joyful atmosphere, and as a fertility dance to bring good luck to the bride and groom.
Some of the dancing movements are also used in several countries to strengthen the abdomen and hips of women in preparation for child birth.
During the 18th – 19th century the Western world became aware of harems and Eastern Dancing in the Ottoman Empire, and eventually the dancers were to travel the world and perform at world fairs.
The art of belly dancing gained national attention in America at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago where authentic dancers from several Middle Eastern and North African countries performed. Among the dancers was Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, thought to be the original “Little Egypt”, a nickname given to her that was to become synonymous with the introduction of “dance du ventre” (belly dance) to America.
It was here that the term “belly dancing” was first introduced, and Americans became fascinated by the exotic dancing and music including the art in silent movies a few years later. The dance was becoming a world wide phenomena which in fact was considered shocking by many countries in the West. During this period, in the UK the Victorians frowned upon a lady for showing her ankle never mind her belly!
Immigration from the Middle East to New York in the 1930′s meant that dancers started to perform in nightclubs and restaurants, and by the end of the 1950′s Eastern dancing clubs were widespread within the US. In the 1960′s belly dancing was noticeable and acceptable in the UK mainly due to it’s appearance in movies. Although traditional Egyptian and Turkish belly dancing is still prominent in the US, in the 1980′s a uniquely American style, American Tribal Style Belly Dance (ATS), was developed. A modern style intermingled with ancient dance techniques, it is performed in groups (tribes) and well received at festivals and social gatherings.
In 2003 The Belly Dance Superstars and The Desert Roses was put together by music mogul Miles Copeland as a touring act featuring many top Eastern dancing performers, including Jillina, Rania, Sonia, Ansuya, Amara Gamal, Rachel Brice, and Tamalyn Dallal. They performed hundreds of shows in many countries popularizing belly dancing around the world.
Belly dancing has more recently enjoyed further popularity, with Latin American superstar Shakira’s 2006 hit song “The Hips Don’t Lie” reaching the no.1 spot in an amazing 55 different countries.
The wonderful, sensual art of belly dancing is now becoming more accessible and popular than ever, and is now practised by many people as a profession, for fun, and successfully as a healthy exercise routine … hey, the hips don’t lie!