Friday, September 28, 2007
Kathy Fontaine, Jordan Mitchell teach belly dance
Belly dance is a Western name for an Arabic style of dance
developed in the Middle East. In Europe, it is sometimes called oriental dance. Similarly, In Turkish it is referred to as oryantal dansı ("Dance of the East"). Some American devotees refer to it simply as "Middle Eastern Dance".
In the Arabic language it is known as raqs sharqi. The term belly-dance is a creation of Orientalism, and is first attested in English in 1899, translating French danse du ventre, says Wikipedia.org.
It is one of the oldest social dances in world history, native to North Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Much of the support for this theory stems from the similarities between poses in Egyptian artwork and the modern dance.
In Palestine and Iraq, this social dance is called Raks Baladi, and is performed by people of all ages and both sexes during festive occasions, such as weddings, and other social gatherings for fun and celebration. It is the theatricalized version, performed by both male and female professional dancers and called Raks Sharki in Arabic, that is most popular in America today.
In its native lands boys and girls learn the dance from an early age. As with many social dances, it is learned informally through observation and imitation of their elders during family and community celebrations, as well as during informal gatherings with friends. Today, these ancient dances are taught in classes offered throughout the world, and skilled dancers are able to share their knowledge that has been passed down from the indigenous peoples who created them.
Many dancers subscribe to one or another of a number of theories regarding the origins of the form. Some of these theories are that the dance form:
* descended from Greece, spreading with Alexander the Great
* descended from indigenous dances of ancient Upper Egypt
* descended from a religious dance Temple Priestesses once practiced
* had been a part of traditional birthing practices in the region(s) of origin
* had spread from the migrations of the Romani people (also called 'Gypsies') and related groups, with origins in India.
Whatever the origin point, dance has a long history in African and the Middle East. Despite the restrictions in Islam regarding portraying humans in paintings, there are several depictions of dancers throughout the Pre-Islamic and Islamic world. Books such as The Art and Architecture of Islam 650-1250 show images of dancers on palace walls, as do Persian miniature paintings from the 12th and 13th centuries.
Outside of the Middle East, raqs sharqi dancing was popularized during the Romantic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries as Orientalist artists depicted their interpretations of harem life in the Ottoman Empire.
Egyptian belly dance was among the first styles to be witnessed by Westerners. During Napoleon's invasion of Egypt (the campaign which yielded the Rosetta stone, leading to the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics), Napoleon's troops encountered the Ghawazee tribe. The Ghawazee made their living as professional entertainers and musicians. At first the French were repelled by their heavy jewelry and hair, and found their dancing "barbaric", but were soon lured by the hypnotic nature of their movements.