Belly Dancing

Belly dance is a Western name for an Arabic style of dance developed in the Middle East. Otherwise known in many incarnations as oriental dance in Europe, oryantal dansı ("Dance of the East") in Turkey, or simply as "Middle Eastern Dance" by Some American devotees. The term belly-dance is a creation of Orientalism, and is first attested in English in 1899. it is popular in North Africa, throughout the Middle and Near East, and in the West.

Oriental Dance or "Raks Sharqi" in its most classical form, translated from Arabic means "The Dance Of The Orient", or sometimes raqs baladi ("national" or "folk" dance). The term "raqs sharqi" may have originated in Egypt.. The term "Belly Dance” was first used by the French when they saw the undulations and the body isolations, "The Dance of The Stomach". Also, it was called "Danse Du Venture", or the dance of adventure. In the ancient Middle East/Mediterranean, the belly dance was first performed as sort of a birthing aid. Basically, the sisters of the women giving birth, would aid the new mother by undulating and rolling their bodies in natural, curvy snake -like movements to help with the delivery of the baby. It is a dance as second nature as breathing, and it got its start not as Entertainment, but for childbirth..

The dance does have mysterious and mystical roots. During pagan times, women danced in the absence of men—a sort of goddess worship. And as most goddesses were mothers and reproduction was an enigma, it is understandable that the dance focused on the belly.

Throughout history, the dance was performed by women for women, a tradition that continues in Saudi Arabia and other conservative Muslim countries. However, there was a period in the old days when the dance became performance art (entertainment) and was then performed in the presence of men and women.

Belly dance or what was long ago called the dance of the waist, does have a documented history. The dance is traced back to India through a group of gypsies who left the region many years ago and whose current generation, known in the world of dance as the ghawazee, now called Egypt their home.

During the migration from India, the dance evolved and spread throughout Asia and the Middle and Near East. Cultural exchange, whether through war or in peace, made belly dance what it is today.

Slowly Middle Eastern dance became more of an entertainment related art form. This dance was first brought to America just over 100 years ago at the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893 by "Little Egypt". "Little Egypt" was the first, and more people then ever are collecting memorabilia of her famous belly dance.

Most of the basic steps and techniques used in belly dance are circular motions isolated in one part of the body; for example, a circle parallel to the floor isolated in the hips or shoulders. Accents using "pop and lock" where a dancer either shimmies or makes a striking motion in her shoulders or hips are common, as are feats of flexibility, rolling one's belly muscles, balancing various props like baskets, swords or canes, and dancing with chiffon or silk veils.

The movement vocabulary of belly dance is a conglomeration of styles from many regions-Lebanon, North Africa, Egypt, the Arabian Gulf, Turkey--as a result of cultural exchange historically through trade and shifting national boundaries. While Middle Easterners make the distinction between "city dance" (stage, cabaret) and "country dance" (regional folk dances), Westerners use the umbrella term of "belly dance" to refer to a broad range of styles united in the use of certain isolation movements, the most prominent and pervasive of which are the isolations of the hips. In addition, isolations of the chest, shoulders, head, and hands as well as serpentine and undulating movements of the torso are often found. Another common trademark is a varying degree of flirtation and coquetry. The rhythms and instrumentation used from area to area often have some commonalties despite great regional variations but in all there is an emphasis on percussion.

Now, the elements that make up Oriental Dance is a combination of agility, fluidity of movement, grace, creativity, physical aerobic strength and proper Egyptian technique. Class and elegance should be the top priority, coupled with talent.
Middle Eastern dance form is as esthetic and holistic as it is misunderstood. The Belly Dance is a spiritual connection between mind and body. Belly Dancing is as majestic and regal as classical Ballet but, differs because it offers it's practitioner's a total experience, a sense of well-being, joy, freedom and most importantly, is a celebration of the feminine soul and inner spirit through movement.

Something as beautiful as the Belly Dance cannot be exploited, unless it is taken out of it's intended context and it is placed into the wrong hands. Also, with some closed-minded audiences, sometimes the belly dance itself can be misunderstood. It can be viewed as sleazy and "something a nice girl does not do". That depends on who the belly dancer is. If the individual is trashy, than so will her performance of this art, and it will be cheapened. Also, there is nothing funnier that when a dancer hides lack of true talent by constantly using ridiculous props in her shows, and never really dances. Belly Dancing is not at all a strip tease. It is just so ignorant of people who refer to stripping as "EXOTIC" dancing. Exotic means "from a far away land". The belly dancer does not remove her costume, the costume is very much a part of the dance routine. A belly dancer is proud of her costume, and it is crucial to wear the most elaborate and elegant dress to convey class and professionalism.

Middle Eastern dance is a reflection of the performer, and it can be misrepresented and in turn kills the value for other performer's who are pure artists, PERIOD! Belly Dance is a dance of the heritage of Middle Eastern culture that transcends a wide variety of nations reflecting a common art with different variations and styles. Since this is a dance of another culture, a lot of Americans fail to realize this. It is important to understand the customs, religions, ideologies, and the Arabic mind set of the people. It is also important to understand the language, in order to properly interpret the feelings, emotions and meanings of the songs. It is too easy to say you are a teacher when the instructor herself does not understand 100% the cultural dance that they are improperly conveying it impressionable students. This dance is different than tap, modern or jazz dancing. One can learn steps, but may not be able to perform it, for this art emanates from the heart and soul. It can appear mechanical and choppy if not felt on a personal, internal level. For example, Hawaiian dancing, The Hula, is more of a cultural interpretation of that region and the movements all mean something.

Most Americans believe that all belly dancers are female. Traditional belly dance is preformed by both sexes. In the Middle East, men perform more of the folkloric dances, like the men's stick dance. Some male performer's include: Yousry Shariff (NY and Egypt), Mahmoud Reda (Egypt), Ibrahim"Bobby" Farrah (NYC), etc.

Health and belly dancing
The benefits of belly dance are both mental and physical. Dancing provides a good cardio-vascular workout and helps increase both flexibility and strength, focusing on the torso or "core muscles", although it also builds leg strength. Many belly dance styles emphasize muscular "isolations", teaching the ability to move various muscles or muscle groups independently. Veil work can also build arm, shoulder, and general upper-body strength, and playing the zils can build strength and independence of the fingers. Belly dance is suitable for all ages and body types, and can be as physical as the participant chooses. As with starting any new exercise routine, people would be wise to consult their doctor before starting a belly dance regimen. It's also important to talk with the belly dance instructor to find out the level of difficulty in the classes. The practice offers mental health benefits including an improved sense of well-being, better body image and self-esteem, and the generally positive outlook that comes with regular, enjoyable exercise.

Aside from the joy inherent in learning a beautiful dance art, enthusiasts report a wide variety of benefits gained from the practice of Middle Eastern dance:
· Satisfaction from achieving new levels of physical mastery
· A feeling of camaraderie, community, making new friends
· Strengthening, reshaping and renewed acceptance of one's body
· Greater freedom and range of self expression
· Relief from back pain
· Familiarity with different musical styles and cultures
· Spending time for yourself
· Bringing joy to others
· Girl time
· Fun Fun Fun!

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