What is Oriental Dance or Belly Dance?

 In Essays

“One might object that belly dancing originates in a culture which is foreign to the West and therefore unsuited to Western women, yet this is precisely what makes it an even more enriching experience, apart from the fact that it is perfectly suited to the female body. By experiencing unfamiliar movements, a woman can allow her body to break through cultural norms. Learning this type of dance means learning new body wisdom and rituals, so that the dancer becomes physically aware of her culturally acquired conditioning, repression, and blockages. New worlds of awareness become accessible, releasing memories stored in the body and a joyful physicality that in turn leads to a less rigid way of life. Amid the jungle of confusing women’s images, belly dancing can help women in the search for their own identity, as women and as human beings. It can pave the way for a process of self-awareness that helps them acknowledge and defend their own needs and wishes, regardless of sexual determination and the allocation of roles.”

Grandmother’s Secrets, by Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi

In the Middle East, the term for dance is “raqs sharqi” in Arabic and “Oriental tansi” in Turkish. The correct translation into English for both of these terms is “dance of the East” or “Oriental dance.” –Shira

The name “belly dancing” arose in the US, when the Columbia Exposition in Chicago first brought Middle Eastern dance artists to the attention of the American public(1890s).. A man named Sol Bloom advertised the scandalous “belly dancing” as a way of attracting more visitors to the entertainments of the world’s fair.–Shira

Dance has been a form of ritual celebration of fertility from the time the beginning of history. From around 4000 BC, early civilizations that originated in the Middle East, like Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian cultures, worshipped female deities. Mythology born of this era focused on the ‘birth dance’—a celebration dance that formed a direct relationship between the seasonal, cyclic fertility of women and the fertility of the earth. There were many pre-Christian and pre-Islamic religions that involved dance as a part of religious worship. –Keti Sharif

As agricultural societies turned into hunting societies, social structures shifted from matriarchal to patriarchal. Women became devalued and men rose into positions of power within cultures. Belief systems changed to reflect this shift with patriarchal religions developing at this time.

Styles of Western Oriental Dance (by Shira)

  1. American Restaurant- intended for show business venue like restaurant, nightclub, bellygram, birthday party, etc. Often glamorous look with bra/belt skirt made with glittery sequins and beading. Usually a combo of influences including Egyptian, Turkish, North African, Persian etc. Incorporates US innovations like veil work and sword as prop. Incorporate audience interaction. Often referred to as “cabaret” although most dancers reject the connotations inherent in this word (strippers, etc.)
  2. US Tribal- performers combine dance movements, musical selections and costuming from a variety of cultures and historical Aras and add their own modern day innovations. Includes American Tribal Style (TM) dance. Costumes are more ethnic with tassels, coins, natural fibers. Originated with Jamila Salimpour in CA in the 60s. Dance in groups so that focus isn’t on individual dancer, rather dance of the group together
  3. Egyptian Oriental- dancers attempting to emulate Egyptian dancers. Show business style also, but study Egyptian dancers


Copyright 2010 by Sadiya Belly Dance. Please do not re-print without permission of the author.

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