What Are The Origins of Belly Dance?
From a historical perspective, there is no way to tell how belly dance originated. Belly Dance is a term that was created in the 1890s at the Columbian Trade Fair And Exposition (World’s Fair) in Chicago. An enterprising man named Sol Bloom coined the term to describe the dancers that he had performing who utilized their bellies in “scandalous” ways as a means of attracting more visitors to the world’s fair.
Historians can trace images of women performing solo improvised dances as early as 4000BC from civilizations that originated in the area we now call the Middle East. However, there is no way to discern from the early paintings, what types of movement these dancers were doing. There is some evidence that these solo improvised dances may have been performed at rites of passage (including child birth) and in the context of religious rituals.
We can hypothesize that the movements might have been similar to the current movements that we now see. However, the current movements that are taught in most belly dance classes are a complex combination of tribal and folk dances from many different regions over a long period of time. Then these original movements were learned by Westerners who attached their own styles and forms of expression to them.
For great further reading on the subject, see Andrea Deagon’s online article, “In Search of the Origins of Dance.”