What is Belly Dance?

Belly dance is both old and new. Around the Mediterranean, there have been dances based on moving the torso rather than the legs for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Yet much of what we recognize as bellydance today has its origins in the early twentieth century especially in Egypt but also the Levant and Turkey.


Belly dance changed again as it was embraced by the West in the 1960s and it has continued to change both in its born countries in the Middle East and in its adopted countries (not only the "West" now – belly dance is very popular in China and India).


Belly dance fusion is also popular blending different styles of dance into a new dance form. Popular fusions include Jazz, Indian dance, yoga, Latin, Flamenco, Hip Hop, a range of Western music forms, and life style choices.


Movements
Belly dance does not have to involve displaying or manipulating the belly (although this is popular in many American styles). Most of the work is in the hips.


The hips can make sharp accented moves – or trace smooth shapes through space. They can be slow, gooey moves or fast shimmies. Circles and figure eights are common – in all three dimensions but movements are not limited to this.


Much of what you do with the hips you can do with the ribs. Then there are the shoulders.


Filling out the movement vocabulary are undulations (wave like motions through several joints). These are common through the spine but are also can be applied to the arms.


Modern belly dance also adds a large range of travelling steps.


What sets belly dance apart from many other hip focused dances is the music (traditionally Middle Eastern with its traditional instruments, quarter tones and complex rhythms) and the use of layering and isolation to express that music.


Styles of Belly Dance
There are many ways of looking at belly dance. One way is Orientale, Folkloric, Tribal or Fusion.


Orientale (also known as raqs sharqi and cabaret) are the nightclub styles performed by professional belly dancers that was created in Cairo in the 1920s. This is what most people think of when they think of a "belly dancer". The dancer often (but not always) has a bared belly and a glittery costume.


Folkloric is the both the social down-home style danced by people in the Middle East at parties as well as styles from specific regions (such as sa'idi, ghawazee, debke). Some of these look a lot like orientale which is its offspring but some are very different.


Tribal is an American offshoot that emphasises group work and many styles also have their own codification movements and approach to the music.


Fusion can be of two (or more) dance styles or cultures (music, movements, costumes, approach). To qualify as "belly dance fusion" the main dance form should be belly dance