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Belly dance - History and types

Updated on March 10, 2014

Belly dancer



Talking about belly dancing we can say that it is one of the most sexy and fascinating dances in the world. The origins of this type of dance it not yet known, but some say belly dancing originated from Greece, others say that originated from Egypt, the Romans or the ancient Indians.

One thing is certain: belly dancing clearly improves one's mood, also the self-esteem and self-image about one's body!

Belly dancing includes several basic movements: rotation of the hips, "shaking" of the hips, the shoulders, undulations of the head, the arms and abdomen. Each of these movements can be combined in various ways, and as a result, you get to see something incredible HOT and sexy!

What is belly dance ?

When you ask yourself what is belly dancing, you should know that it is a Western name invented for "soloists, improvised dance based on torso articulation" from the Middle East.

It's a known fact that belly dancing takes different forms, depending on region and country, and this differences apply both to the costumes and dancing style. Also, new styles have evolved in the West, the music of which a person can belly dancing was changed, as its popularity has spread globally.

The term "belly dance" is the translation of the French term "danse du ventre" which was applied to the dance in the Victorian age, and originally this referred to the Ouled Nail dancers from Algeria, whose dance moves used most abdominal dances, described today as "belly dance". Most of the people do not know that this dance is hard because it uses every part of the body, especially the hips which are the most used.

Group of belly dancers


Belly dance - short history

Belly dancing is believed to have had a long history in the Middle East, but reliable evidence about its origins is scarce, and accounts of its history are often highly speculative.

There are several Greek and Roman sources which describe the dancers from Asia Minor and Spain using undulating movements, playing castanets, and sinking to the floor with 'quivering thighs', descriptions that are certainly suggestive of the movements that we today associate with belly dance.

In Arabic, belly dancing is named raqs sharqi but actually this is the classical Egyptian style of belly dance that developed during the first half of the 20th century.

The dance is based on the traditional ghawazi and other folk styles and was formed by some western influences such as marching bands, the Russian ballet, Latin dance, and so on.

It is often considered that this style represents the classical style of belly dance, although that term historically referred to the ghawazi style, and today covers a much wider range of Middle Eastern dance as well as Western styles developed from them.

Belly dancing has other names which are sometimes used. In English speaking countries the belly dancing is named also Oriental dance, Egyptian dance, Arabic dance or Middle Eastern dance.

In the West, belly dance became popular during the Romantic movement of the 18th and 19th centuries, when Orientalist artists depicted romanticized images of harem life in the Ottoman Empire.On that period the term "oriental" or "eastern" dancing was first used.

Around that time, dancers from Middle Eastern countries began to perform their dances at various World's Fairs, often drawing crowds in numbers that rivaled those for the science and technology exhibits.

Belly dance techniques

Speaking about the techniques, belly dance is a torso-driven dance, with an emphasis on articulations of the hips. Unlike many of the Western forms of dance, the focus is on relaxed, natural moves of the torso muscles, rather than on movements of the limbs.

In belly dance it is important to have a correct posture and muscle control because this enables a dancer to move the hips freely whilst avoiding lower back injuries.

Different belly dance poses


Different belly dance styles

As I said before, there are different belly dance styles, but most of them have one or more elements in common.

I will try to present some of the styles, choosing only those that I believe important.Each style will be presented with a suggestive video that will help you understand and see the differences.

Egyptian belly dancers


Egyptian belly dance

Today, Egypt is often considered to be the home of belly dance. In Egypt there are three main styles of the traditional belly dance: Beledi/Baladi, Sha'abi, and Sharqi.There are also numerous folkloric dances that may be part of an Egyptian-style belly dancer's repertoire.

Speaking about the technique, Egyptian oriental dance typically has a contained feeling compared to other styles, and is usually relaxed, earthy and grounded.

Some representatives figures for Egyptian belly dance are: Badia Masabni, Tahia Carioka, Samia Gamal, Naima Akef, Beba Aiz-ed-Din, Katie, Sohair Zuki, Fifi Abdou, Nagwa Fouwad, Mona Said, Nelly Fouad.

Dina Talaat - Egyptian Belly dancer

Didem Kinali - Turkish belly dancer


Turkish belly dance

In Turkey, Oryantal Tansi, or simply Oryantal is the name for the Turkish oriental dance. This style, the Turkish style, is lively and very playful, having a greater outward projection of energy than the more relaxed and contained Egyptian style.

Turkish dancers are known for their energetic style, and for the using of a finger cymbal named zils. Floorwork, which has been banned in Egypt since the mid-20th century, is still an important part of Turkish bellydance.

Some notable turkish belly dancers are:Didem Kinali, Eva Cernik, Tulay Karaca and Birgul Berai.

Didem Kinali - one of the best turkish belly dancers in the world

Persian/Iran belly dance style

Persian belly dancing is quite different from the other dancing styles from most of the Middle Eastern countries because there are few abdominal movements and undulations. The graceful arm movements, shoulder shimmies, and twirls are similar.

This dance uses the pelvis-rolling R(right)-L(left)-R, L-R-L stepping pattern. Persian people perform this at parties, travelling around in a circle and sometimes stepping into the center for a solo dance with encouragement from their friends. The main variations are in the arm movements.

A representative for Persian dance is Robyn Friend.

Gipsy belly dance style

Another style of belly dance, popular in the United States is the gypsy dance.The Ghawazhees were the originally Egyptian Gypsy street dancers.

Representatives of gipsy belly dancing are Aisha Ali, Eva Cernik, Dalia Carella, Maria Shashkova.

Maria Shashkova - russian gipsy belly dancer

Mahafsoun - Heavy metal belly dancer


Belly dance on Heavy Metal

As I said before, belly dancing spread across the entire world, and it can be found in different forms and styles, being performed on other genre of music than arabic music.

One of my favourite belly dancing style is the one performed by a young persian bellly dancer with drops of Azerbaijani and Egyptian in her blood, that goes under the name Mahafsoun.

She uses dance moves from different styles of belly dance but this mix makes her style more interesting.

I like her dancing style because personally I love metal music and this combination of belly dancing moves and loud distorted guitars, emphatic rhythms, dense bass-and-drum sounds and vigorous vocals is perfect.

Some of you must think that this combination is a very bad one, but after you will watch some of the videos you will see that it is an absolutely fantastic idea.

Some of the bands used for this great and special kind of belly dancing are: Moonspell, Lacuna Coil, Gojira, Him, Epica, Nightwish, etc.

Mahafsoun - belly dancing on Moonspell


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    • Tricia Deed profile image

      Tricia Deed 4 months ago from Orlando, Florida

      You did an excellent job writing about the different types of belly dancing. It's a shame we have to use "belly dance" to get people's attention.