What Is Bellydance?

What is Belly Dance?

Well, quite simply it’s a misnomer. French Legionnaires who saw Algerian women dancing coined the term Danse du Ventre (belly dance). The Legionnaires must have noticed one particular movement as the dance involves the whole body. It’s not just a dance of the belly.

An American entrepreneur named Sol Bloom also used the name to attract visitors to his Egyptian Street Scene tableau at the Chicago Great Exhibition of 1893. It was a shocking prospect at a time when a woman was considered cheap if she showed her ankle! His scandalous marketing ploy worked and the name stuck.

British cinema of the 1960’s and 70’s did this dance genre a great disservice and it suffers from the reputation that Flamenco endured for many years. Who can forget the wild, savage gypsy dancer in From Russia With Love? Or Anita Harris’s stiff, awkward gyrations in Carry On Up The Khyber? These are the misrepresentations of this beautiful art form that have led to prejudice and misunderstanding of whole cultures.

Middle Eastern Dance (MED) has been practised throughout the world since the dawn of civilisation. In pre-Christian societies it was sacred dance offered to moon goddesses. Men and women danced together to mark all significant events in their life and the lives of their family and tribe. These might include the birth of a child, death, the start of a new season or the hope of a good harvest.

Under the influence of Christianity by about 300 ad dance started to become very formalised and restricted. It was no longer to be used in worship and women especially were expected to behave in a “courtly” way. Throughout the centuries that followed, Western women’s dress also became more and more restrictive.

Later, in Islamic societies, women’s enjoyment of dance was recognised but religious men feared their power over men’s desires and so women were to socialise apart from men. They were to worship at the mosque in a separate area and to live apart from men. The word harem means protection. This idea has been greatly misunderstood and misrepresented.

Belly dance should not be seen as a dance of seduction for men but as a dance of celebration and unity. Mothers passed on their dance to their daughters and still do.

In the Muslim world, the dance flourished and each village/tribe developed their own dances. The dance evolved as populations migrated and this style of dance spread from India, throughout the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and Southern Spain. The Moor invaders from North Africa brought many new ideas to Europe, including gardens, irrigation, music and dance. Gypsies fused Arabic styles with the traditional sounds and rhythms of the host country and Flamenco was born.

In the early 20th century the influence was seen moving the other way. Egyptian dancers began to incorporate Ballet moves, some dancing in shoes and European instruments were played.

With the advent of cinema Egypt experienced a Golden Age of dance and hundreds of films were made. A small number of dancers, Samia Gamal one of the best known, achieved cult status. Their Western counterparts emulated them in movies like Salome and Rudolf Valentino’s famous sultry exotic look had women swooning!
Various styles of belly dance are seen all over the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

Unfortunately during the latter half of the 20th century this dance form has become marginalised and even banned in public, in the very countries we associate with it.

The dance is honoured and is evolving in the West, through the likes of Jamilla Salimpour (Egyptian traditional), Carolena Nericcio,(American Tribal Style) Rachel Brice (Tribal Fusion)and Gill Parker (Tribal Fusion/Burlesque) in the USA and Hossam &Serena Ramzy (Egyptian traditional) Hannah Mi (Gypsy Rom Fusion) and Pedralta in the UK (World Dance Fusion).

Women all over the world are rediscovering this beautiful art form. The moves are gentle and deep, exercising the whole body.

Pedralta perform and teach World Fusion dance, borrowing heavily from Flamenco, North African folkloric and Balkan gypsy traditions and using a vocabulary of moves, dancers create improvised and dynamic dance together.

The music can be lugubrious and soulful or rich, fast and dramatic. We use everything form obscure Central Asian 9/8 rhythms to Pump It by the Black Eyes Peas!
For More Information visit www.pedralta.com


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