Steps and technique
Most of the movements in belly dancing involve isolating different parts of the body (hips, shoulders, chest, stomach etc.), which appear similar to the isolations used in jazz ballet, but are often driven differently. In most belly dance styles, the focus is on the hip and pelvic area.
Important moves are:
- Shimmy – a shimmering vibration of the hips. This vibration is usually created by moving the knees past each other at high speed, although some dancers use contractions of the glutes or thighs instead. The shoulder shimmy is also used.
- Hip punches – basic move. Helps alternate the weight on the legs and create impression of the swinging pelvis.
- Undulation – rotating movements of the chest forward, up, back and down create impression of riding a camel.
Egyptian Belly Dance
In Egypt, three main forms of the traditional dance are associated with belly dance: Baladi/Beledi, Sha’abi and Sharqi.
Baladi is a folk style of dance from the Arab tribes who settled in Upper Egypt.
Sharqi is based on the baladi style but was further developed by Samia Gamal, Tahiya Karioka, Naima Akef, and other dancers who rose to fame during the golden years of the Egyptian film industry. Later dancers who based their styles partially on the dances of these artists are Sohair Zaki, Fifi Abdou, and Nagwa Fouad. All rose to fame between 1960 and 1980, and are still popular today.
Though the basic movements of Raqs Sharqi are unchanged, the dance form continues to evolve. Nelly Mazloum and Mahmoud Reda are noted for incorporating elements of ballet into belly dance, and their influence can be seen in modern Egyptian dancers who stand on relevé as they turn or travel in a circle or figure eight.
Although Western dancers view Egypt as the Holy Grail of belly dance, belly dancers in Egypt are not well regarded. Egyptians do not consider it a respectable profession, and most belly dancers performing for tourists in Egypt today are foreigners.
Dancers are not allowed to perform certain movements or do any floor work.
State television in Egypt no longer broadcasts belly dancing. A plan to establish a state institute to train belly dancers in Egypt came under heavy fire as it “seriously challenges the Egyptian society’s traditions and glaringly violates the constitution,” said Farid Esmail, a member of parliament.
Greek and Turkish Belly Dance
Some mistakenly believe that Turkish oriental dancing is called Çiftetelli because this style of music has been incorporated into oriental dancing by Arabs and Greeks. In fact, Greek and Cypriot belly dance is called Tsifteteli. However, Turkish Çiftetelli is actually a form of lively wedding music and is not connected with oriental dancing.
Turkish, Greek, and Cypriot belly dance today may have been influenced by Arabs before the Ottoman Empire as much as by the Egyptian and Syrian/Lebanese forms.
Turkish law does not impose restrictions on dancers as they do in Egypt, where dancers must keep their midriffs covered and cannot perform floor work and certain pelvic movements. This has resulted in a marked difference in style – Egyptian bellydance is noted for its restraint and elegance, whereas Turkish bellydance is playful and uninhibited. Turkish belly dance costumes have been very revealing, although there is a move towards more modest, Egyptian-style costuming.
Many professional dancers and musicians in Turkey continue to be of Romani heritage, which is the great part of a varied fusion in this dance. (There is also a distinct Turkish Romani dance style which is different from Turkish Oriental.) Turkish dancers are known for their energetic, athletic (even gymnastic) style, and their adept use of finger cymbals, also known as zils. Connoisseurs of Turkish dance often say a dancer who cannot play the zills is not an accomplished dancer. Another distinguishing element of Turkish style is the use of the Karsilama rhythm in a 9/8 time signature, counted as 12-34-56-789. Famous Turkish belly dancers include Tulay Karaca, Nesrin Topkapi and Birgul Berai and Didem
Belly Dance in the West
Belly Dance in the USA
The term “belly dancing” is generally credited to Sol Bloom, entertainment director of the 1893 World’s Fair, the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, although he consistently referred to the dance as “danse du ventre,” of which “belly dance” is a literal translation. In his memoirs, Bloom states only that “when the public learned…danse du ventre…I had a gold mine.”
Although there were dancers of this type at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia, it was not until the Chicago World’s Fair that it gained national attention. There were authentic dancers from several Middle Eastern and North African countries, including Syria, Turkey and Algeria, but it was the dancers in the Egyptian Theater of The Street in the Cairo exhibit who gained the most notoriety. The fact that the dancers were uncorseted and gyrated their hips was shocking to Victorian sensibilities. There were no soloists, but it is claimed that a dancer nicknamed Little Egypt stole the show. Some claim the dancer was Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, but this fact is disputed.
The popularity of these dancers subsequently spawned dozens of imitators, many of whom claimed to be from the original troupe. Victorian society continued to be affronted by this “shocking” dance, and dancers were sometimes arrested and fined. The dance was nicknamed the “Hootchy-Kootchy” or “Hoochee-Coochie”, or the shimmy and shake. A short film, “Fatima’s Dance”, was widely distributed in the nickelodeon (movie theater)s. It drew criticism for its “immodest” dancing, and was eventually censored. Belly dance drew men in droves to burlesque theaters, and to carnival and circus lots.
Thomas Edison made several films of dancers in the 1890s. These included a Turkish dance, and Crissie Sheridan in 1897, and Princess Rajah from 1904, which features a dancer playing zills , doing “floor work”, and balancing a chair in her teeth.
Ruth St. Denis also used Middle Eastern-inspired dance in D.W. Griffith’s silent film Intolerance, her goal being to lift dance to a respectable art form at a time when dancers were considered to be women of loose morals. Hollywood began producing films such as The Sheik, Cleopatra, and Salomé, to capitalize on Western fantasies of the orient.
When immigrants from Arab States began to arrive in New York in the 1930s, dancers started to perform in nightclubs and restaurants. Some of today’s most accomplished performers are their descendants, e.g. Anahid Sofian, Aisha Ali, and Artemis Mourat.
In the late 1960s and early ’70s many dancers began teaching. Middle Eastern or Eastern bands took dancers with them on tour, which helped spark interest in the dance.
Although using traditional Turkish and Egyptian movements, American Cabaret or American Restaurant belly dancing has developed its own distinctive style, using props and encouraging audience interaction. Many modern practitioners make use of the music of Egyptian Sha’abi singers, including Ahmed Adaweya, Hakim, and Saad el Soghayar in their routines, which combines the percussion of modern Egyptian music with a traditional feeling for music and dance in the Raks Sha’abi (dance of the people) style.
In 1987, a uniquely American style, American Tribal Style Belly Dance, (ATS), was created. Although a wholly modern style, its steps are based on a fusion of ancient dance techniques from North India, the Middle East, and Africa.
Many forms of “Tribal Fusion” belly dance have also developed, incorporating elements from many other dance and music styles including flamenco, ballet, burlesque,hula hoop and even hip hop. “Gothic Belly Dance” is a style which incorporates elements from Goth subculture. Tribal style dance is characterized by muscle isolation to create smooth, undulating movements. Like other forms of belly dance, Tribal dance is more accessible than many other dance styles to people with a wider range of body types, ages, and health problems.
Information taken from Wikipedia