What is Belly Dance?

What is Belly Dance?

Belly dance is the western word for Oriental or Middle Eastern dance. There is a debate about where belly dance started, but it has been depicted in temple engravings as early as 1,000 B.C. It is also most commonly thought to have formed from either early Egyptian social dances or fertility dances. There is also a theory that Nomads or Gypsy from India spread belly dance through their migrations.

Later in the 18th and 19th century European travels started to report of belly dance being seen in Middle Eastern countries and in harems. The age of Orientalism became popular, and was represented in the art of the time. It was around this time that belly dance came to the United States through the 1893 World Fair in Chicago. Sol Bloom, the director of the World Fair, brought dancers Middle Eastern and North African countries, but the Egyptian dancers gained the most popularity and attention. Shortly after films started being produced with belly dance in them, restaurants and clubs had belly dancers, and classes on belly dance started. In 1987, American Tribal Style (ATS) was formed. Today there are many style of belly dance in the United States.

Belly Dance Movement

Belly dance is a dance form known for its torso and hip movements. However, belly dance is a dance form that uses the whole body with footwork and arm placement being of great importance. Another aspect of focus is the use of isolations and moving different parts of body at the same time. There is no universal coding system for the many belly dance moves that exist. Belly dance is also a dance form well suited to the female body, but there are many male bellydancers.

There are some key moves that accentuate and define the form:
- Hip drops and lifts
- Chest and shoulder movements
- Shimmies
- Fluid movements
- Arm and hand fluidity
- Torso movements including undulations and twists

Additionally there often are props used with belly dance. Each style has different props they perform with, but it is often preformed by higher-level dancers that are proficient in the basics of belly dance. The most common prop is zills, but some others include canes, swords, baskets, veils, isis wings, and fire fans.

Belly Dance Costumes

Belly dance costuming varies on each style, but traditionally it is a “bedlah” costume. It usually involves a fitted top or bra, with a skirt and coin belt. Costumes often involve sequins, beads, coins, crystals, fringe, and designs. Depending on your style there is different costuming, but usually cabaret is bright colors, sequins, and beading, and tribal is darker earthy colors, layers of fabric, metal pieces, and tassels. Also belly dance is often danced bare foot, but there are dance shoes that some use and high heels by Turkish dancers.

Get Started

Interested in getting started belly dancing? We offer a beginner belly dance guide to get you started. Also you can see what there are, or you can search for teachers and classes in your area.