Belly Dancing is among the oldest forms of dance and has been around for centuries. It’s origins can be traced to the Middle East, Mediterranean, and Africa. European countries usually refer to the dance as the oriental dance, Middle Easterners and Egyptians prefer Raqs Sharqi, while most of us here in America know it as Belly Dancing. Even in the Arabic language, the term belly dancing means Raqs Sharqi. The Turkish term Oryantal dansi can be roughly translated to mean “exotic oriental dance”.

The term ‘Belly Dance’ can be somewhat misleading as movement involves isolating different parts of the body, including stomach, shoulders, chest and the most featured part being the hips.This form of entertainment is danced and enjoyed by millions all around the world.

It’s history can be traced back to 6000 years ago. In early years, the dance was used for traditional or religious ceremonies, often performed for matriarchal deities or fertility rituals.  The dances spread from Mesopotamia to North Africa, Rome, Spain and India via traveling Gypsies. It became a form of entertaining dance when gypsies would dance the streets or perform in theatres to support themselves in their travels.

Belly Dancing is especially popular in Turkey and Egypt. In Turkey, chengis, which are a group of female-only dancers and musicians, entertained the communities of Istanbul and other parts of Turkey since the mid 1400’s.  Their dance style included complex hip work, shimmies and varied facial expressions, as well as veil dancing and finger cymbal playing.

In Egypt, the dance involved both men and women, which is more popular today than it had been in the past. Referred to as the ghawazee , their style involved a mixture of music and dancing, including improvised performances with veil, sticks, swords and candles. Religious complaints outlawed ghawanzee dancing in the city of Cairo in 1834. By1856, the ban was lifted and dancing was allowed in Cairo again, although the sanction against dancing in public remained. The dance moved inside to a music-hall type environment and Egyptian cabaret-style dancing was born.

Belly dance arrived in America when Serian belly dancer named Little Egypt took to the stage at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Known as “Little Egypt” for a few short years, Farida Mazar Spyropoulos was a influenced many women to imitate and exaggerate her traditional style dance.

The fantasized and often distorted version of belly dancing quickly took to the mainstream, becoming a popular subject in books, art and Hollywood movies. In recent years, more women have discovered the true elements of this incredibly feminine art form.

Some historical artwork i stumbled across shows that those with higher power or wealthiness enjoyed the entertainment and company of belly dancers. Check out a few i found below.

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