The dance form we call "belly dancing" is derived from traditional women's dances of the Middle East and North Africa. Women have always belly danced, at parties, at family gatherings, and during rites of passage. A woman's social dancing eventually evolved into belly dancing as entertainment ("Dans Oryantal" in Turkish and "Raqs Sharqi" in Arabic). Although the history of belly dancing is murky prior to the late 1800s, many experts believe its roots go back to the temple rites of India. Probably the greatest misconception about belly dance is that it is intended to entertain men. Because segregation of the sexes was common in the part of the world that produced belly dancing, men often were not allowed to be present.
That belly dance developed from social dancing helps explain its long lasting popularity. Belly dancing offers women a community of friends that share and celebrate joy in music, and creates self-confidence through artistic self-expression, in an art form that embraces all body types.
Belly dance is natural to a woman's bone and muscle structure. The movements center on the torso rather than the legs and feet, as is common in Western dance. The belly dancer isolates parts of her body, to move each independently in a completely feminine interpretation of the music. The music seems to emanate from her body, as sometimes she emphasizes the rhythm, sometimes the melody of the song. Bellydance is often performed barefoot, now thought by many to signify the intimate and ancient physical connection between the dancer, the music, and Mother Earth, although historically, most dancers were barefoot because they could not afford shoes.
Belly dance was introduced to America when a dancer known as Little Egypt performed at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. Americans were fascinated (and scandalized!) by the freedom and rhythms of the dance and the music, and thus began a fascination with the "exotic Orient." Early Hollywood fell in love with the dancing girls and created glamorous flowing costumes based as much on Leon Bakst's fantasies as on garments of the Middle East. Dancers in the Middle East, who were developing belly dance in its native lands, adopted these colorful interpretations.
Veils are a popular part of the belly dance performance, as are finger cymbals - known as "zills" in Turkish and "sagat" in Arabic. Many belly dancers are also skilled at belly dancing while balancing swords, brass trays, or even candelabrum, complete with flaming candles (also known as "shamandan").
Belly dancing continues to grow in popularity. Belly dance concerts, festivals, and workshops are now held throughout the world, attracting large audiences of women and men alike. Many belly dancers now travel to the Middle East and North Africa to study the art form where it originated. Organizations and Producers such as IAMED and Suzy Evans who are dedicated to the dance, will continue to seek out and encourage new generations of belly dancers to continue to study and perform this wonderful ancient tradition.
To learn more about belly dance see our “About Belly Dance” page, or visit our online store for videos, music, and more!
We find that many of the visitors to this site are brand new to Bellydance. If you are interested in becoming a dancer yourself, we have the perfect solution to get you started! The Art of Belly Dance for Beginners video series is full of easy-to-follow, comprehensive instruction on the basic moves of this beautiful art form. Or try our "Learn to Belly Dance" package that covers the basics and beyond. Once you have completed this series, you can choose from any of our other wonderful instructional videos to begin your journey into the world of Bellydance, such as Veil with Aziza or Finger Cymbals with Ansuya. You can also visit our Belly Dance Links section to find an instructor in your area.
If you don't want to learn to dance yourself, but would like to see some great Bellydancers in action, pick up one of the outstanding performance videos in our online store... such as Rockin' the Casbah, Belly Dance Live, or Belly Dance Spectacular!
Suzy Evans has been involved in the Bellydance industry since 1975, starting out as a dancer herself, then as a producer of world-class bellydance concerts and videos . With over 30 years of experience in the field, Suzy has established herself as one of the leading authorities on The Art of Belly Dance.
Learn more in the article "Suzy Evans - A Dancer With a Vision."