The "What is Belly Dance?" Handout
What is "Belly Dance"?Belly Dance is a term that is quite slippery. Even among people who have been studying it for many years it can have different meanings. And the same person can also use it to mean different things at different times!
However, most would agree that belly dance must contain most (or all) of the following:
- Primarily dances with the torso (hips, chest, shoulders) rather than the limbs (legs and arms)
- Uses (appropriate) Middle Eastern music
- Can use all or part of the music - rhythm, melody, voice, lyrics - and switches at will
- Music is interpreted in an appropriate manner - attitude, pauses, expression etc. (Learning this is large part of the study of belly dance)
- Uses isolation - so one part of the body can follow one part of the music while another does something different (which leads to layering in complex music)
- Dance is linked to music rather than a narrative or religious observance.
So when you see Hula - even though it uses hips, the lack of Middle Eastern music and its links to narrative mean it isn't belly dance. Ditto dances from India (Bollywood is a fusion style which sometimes contains similar movement vocabulary)
In addition, belly dance is:
- Traditionally a solo dance - both in the social form and for professional entertainers. However, troupe dancing is common in the West - especially with students.
- Traditionally improvised - again in the West it is often choreographed - and some professional performers in the Middle East also use choreography
Maybe "Belly Dance"?Many people limit the term to mean dances which have evolved from the professional entertainment dances from the Middle East and North Africa. However, it is also used, by some, to include and MENA dance style that is solo, improvised and used torso articulations (SITA). This brings in a range folkloric styles including sa`iidi, khaleegi, ghawazee, schikhatt. But most draw the line at group line and circle dances.
In addition, many belly dancers study Reda technique which was developed in Egypt in the 1960s as part of the creation of an Egyptian national identity. Initially their dances were purely folkloric but over time they included danse orientale (belly dance). Reda is clear he does not consider his folkloric tableaux "belly dance" - but you will often see them in belly dance shows.
ATS (and some of its offshoots) are considered belly dance by many. Dances labelled just "Tribal" or "Tribal Fusion" are usually not.
Not "Belly Dance"?Anything that is primarily a religious observance is not usually called "belly dance" - even though belly dancers may study and perform them. (Belly dancers may also be seen doing Ceroc, Ballroom and Ballet - this does not change these into "belly dance"!)
Belly Dance's history actually does not include it being:
- A dance only for women (or a dance of childbirth)
- A dance of Pharaonic priestesses (or an ancient ritual for the Great Goddess)
- A dance created to seduce fat sultans
- "Gypsy" dance (or an offshoot of Indian dance carried west by "Gypsies" - ie Rom or Sinti)
- Just anything that involves wiggling your butt and/or showing your belly
Other names for "Belly Dance"Many dancers prefer not to use the term "belly dance" as it is considered a misnomer (we don't dance with our bellies" and it is associated with sleaze (especially in the US). Here are some other terms you will hear:
|short for danse orientale (a translation of raqs sharqi - dance of the east)
used by professional dancers in Egypt to distinguish it from folk dances.
It is also used to distinguish a very elegant (sub)style to fully orchestrated music
|Oriental||used by many in place of Orientale (see some issues this raises)|
|"dance of the east" - post WWI professional nightclub belly dance|
|Belly Raqs®||my own blend of traditional and western elements|
|Beledi||usually used to refer to either social dance style or deliberately unpolished professional style ("beledi" means belonging to my community)|
|Arabic Dance||used like MED - ironically also often includes Turkish belly dance|
|AmCab||American Cabaret (this term is also controversial!)|
|MED||see Middle Eastern Dance|
|MENAD||Middle Eastern and North African Dance (as below)|
|Middle Eastern Dance||aka MED used in the 1990s to mean what we now call "belly dance"|
|SITA||Andrea Deagon's solo-improvised dance based on torso articulation.|
Belly Dance and MED/MENADSome interactions of names and styles. (In addition each region - Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, USA have their own distinct styles). The solid blue line is the wider definition of "belly dance" - many prefer to limit it to the the smaller dashed area. (And some add some bits of the larger definition but not all)
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for those with a general interest in the dance
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Updated by JEWEL