The Origins of Belly Dance

By Vintagemode - October 07, 2019

Belly dance has become very popular. Almost everyone knows how a belly dancer looks and the classical movements, but have you ever wondered about how it originated?

In Arabic, oriental dance is called “Raqs al-Sharqi” and in Turkish “Oryantal Dansi”, which originated the term of oriental dance. It is recognized as one of the oldest dances in the world, especially in the Middle East and North Africa (Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria ...). Although its precise origins are uncertain, there are documents that prove that its primary origins are in Egypt between 1200-1300 BC. It is believed that the origin of this dance dates back to the ancient fertility rites associated with both religion (Egypt) and the esoteric, used by the priestesses on the banks of the Nile River. 

In the 19th century there were two types of dancers in Egypt: the ghawazee, who had returned to Cairo after their exile to Upper Egypt, ordered in 1834 by Mohammed Ali, the ruler who took power after Napoleon, and the away (almées in French), who were more respected because in addition to dancing, they sang and recited poetry in the homes of rich families. The away were highly respected and influential in the palaces; they performed in the houses of the rich accompanied by nay, oud, and kanoon, while they interacted with Zagat's (finger cymbals) and with the swords of some spectators. Sometimes their shows were complemented by wizards or snake charmers.

The ghawazee or Egyptian gypsies, danced outdoors for lower social class audiences, accompanied by nay and oud. They were characterized by preserving the spiritual and aesthetic essence of dance. The origin was Phoenician, Carthaginian. They loved to travel long distances and read the coffee cups. Also, they shared the stage with minstrels, fortune tellers, magicians and other characters from the medieval era. The dress of these dancers, wore many ornaments, bracelets, pendants, coins, bright colors and very cheerful. This is where the tradition of giving money to the dancers was born. 
Belly Dance as a dance genre was released in the early 20th century in the west, thanks to the popularity gained in the Middle East and Europe of this dance, before and after the world wars. In 1926 the Lebanese Badia Masabni opened Casino Badia (also known as Casino Opera) which became very popular. It had an East-based program that included dancers, singers, musicians, comedians, and some European numbers. She began to professionalize the dance (which was performed in palaces and small places) by adapting it to the great stage of the Casino Badia.

During those times, many films were produced in Egypt and it was usual to include dance scenes. The image of the femme fatale was disseminated due to the production and dissemination of romanticized musical films, where the stars of the show were the seductive dancers who snatched the heart of the protagonist. These artists were, for a time, actresses and belly dancers.

Currently, Belly Dance is a big part of the culture in most Arab countries, and a celebration without a belly dance show is not complete. 

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