Reality or Fantasy?

Mata Hari   Salome   Shemadan   Sword   The Bee   The Qur'an   Troupe Dancing  

Was Mata Hari a Belly Dancer?

No. She said she was from Bali or Java (she was actually born in the north of the Netherlands) and advertised her dances as "Temple" dances. What she did was more of a strip tease. (This worked in well with her main profession as a prostitute – there is serious doubt that she was actually an intelligence operative.)

Morocco, MED List;

Is troupe belly dance "traditional"?

No. Badia Masbni was the first to choreograph numbers for the Oriental chorus line for her Opera Casino in the 1920s. This was also reflected in the early Egyptian films.

However, there are a number of Middle Eastern folkdances which are done in a group.

Morocco, MED List;

Is Raqs al Shemadan traditional?

Yes and no. It was created in living memory. It is usually credited to Zouba al Klobbatiya. (1920s?) but evidence exists of dancers balancing candelabra in 1901.

Andrea Deagon, MED List 27 Jan 2003; Morocco, MED List

Is Sword Dancing traditional?

No (at least not in Egyptian dance – strong statement from Aida). However, William Charles Young documents a woman doing dancing with a sword among the Bedouin people. An extract can be found on Weddings Of The Rashaayda People Of Sudan. But basically, the men dance swishing swords and jumping. Then the women come out and dance and a man balances his sword on one woman's forehead. It is not clear whether this is a standard part of the wedding, whether any other women also balanced swords or whether this was one woman's party trick.

Aida Nour, lecture 2004; Aziza Sa'id, MED List 2001; Young, "The Rashaayda Bedouin: Arab Pastoralists of Eastern Sudan"

Is "The Bee" a traditional dance?

No. This was an invention for European men - basically a striptease with lots of shimmy - performed by prostitutes (not dancers)

Morocco, MED List 21/12/01

Does the Qur'an forbid Dancing?

The Qur’an does not specifically mention dance (or music) or the permissibility of watching or performing dance.

However, some scholars interpret Sura 31:6 against frivolous discourse leading men from Allah’s path as including dance. Further, the hadith include both positive and negative reactions of the Prophet Muhammad to dance.

Anthony Shay, Habibi Vol19, No 2

What is the story with Salomé?

First the Bible (Matthew 14:6-11 & Mark 6:21-28) never names the dancer. Salomé is mentioned as one of the daughters of Herodias by the first century CE historian Josephus – but it is not clear that Salomé was the one that "did the dance".

Second, Salomé was unlikely to have been a "belly dancer" and she would have certainly not danced with veils (this is not part of the dance vocabulary of the Levant)

The connection between "Salomé" and "the Seven Veils" can be linked back only as far as Oscar Wilde’s Salomé (first performed in Paris in 1896). Then, the essence was the head – not the veils. The head was male, the dancer female.

Richard Strauss then used Wilde’s Salomé for the libretto of his 1905 opera of the same name.

In the 1980s it was reinvented and projected into the past linked to the descent of Ishtar (Ishtar neither danced nor stripped in the modern sense in the original myths)

Shira has reprinted an extract of Elizabeth Artemis Mourat’s "The Veil and Oriental Dance" on her site.

Andrea Deagon, Habibi Vol 19, No 2

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