What is Bellydance?

From Bellydance by Dolphina; DK Publishing, 2005

If you have ever watched a bellydancer, you have probably been held mesmerized by her hypnotic movements. Each shimmy and graceful undulation is an expression of strength and femininity. This book will introduce you to all the essential elements of bellydance. It shows you how this ancient art form can not only provide an exhilarating workout that increases flexibility and tones your entire body, but how it can also boost your confidence and empower you.

Defining Bellydance

Bellydance is perhaps the oldest form of dance. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Oriental, Indian, and Middle Eastern cultures. Although many people today think of it as a seductive dance intended to entertain men, in fact men have only been permitted to observe this unique art form in its more recent history. Traditionally bellydance was performed by women for women as part of ancient fertility rituals and goddess worship ceremonies. In Arabic, bellydance is known as raks sharqi, which literally translates as "dance from the East;" you may also see it referred to as danse Orientale. There are several different theories on how it came to be known as bellydance in the West. It is similar in sound to the Arabic name for "dance of the people," or beledi, but a more likely explanation is that it came from the French "danse du ventre," or "dance of the stomach."

The Origins

Because bellydance spans so many cultures, its exact origins are difficult to pinpoint. What I find fascinating is its connection with fertility rituals practiced in the Stone Age. Many ancient artifacts depicting women as deities exist [far more than images of men], which has led archaeologists to speculate that women were dominant and considered sacred in Stone Age society. Women would have danced together to honor Mother Earth in spiritual ceremonies and were taught to dance as a way to celebrate and worship their goddess, for sexual fertility, and in preparation for childbirth. It seems likely that this ritualistic dancing formed the foundations of modern bellydance as we know it today. The undulating movements and its focus on the hips, abdominals, and chest suggest a connection to female fertility, in both conception and labor.