Why Western Women Should Belly Dance
What is Belly Dance?
Belly dance started in the east and is called raqs sharqi which means "dance of the east". Not traditionally a dance to be performed, belly dance came to America during the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 and was made famous and scandalous by Little Egypt, the first belly dancer to perform for Western audiences.
Belly dance is a dance of drums, passion, and elegance to us in the Western world. We have Belly Dance Superstars who perform and make how-to videos for a living. We have many musicians who are inspired by Middle Eastern compositions. But more than the scandal, belly dance is a great form of expression and exercise and has grown and transformed women dancers of the west for years. Sadly, we've been called as appropriating a culture through our inspiration.
Tradition Cabaret Belly Dance in a club
The Appropriation Argument
This argument went ablaze when Randa Jarrar wrote a piece called "Why I can't Stand White Belly Dancers". This simple article sparked thousands of replies including some humorous takes on other appropriations of culture. Jarrar even replied to some of these with another article saying that appropriation wasn't appreciation.
Now, appropriation means taking something that is owned without the owners permission and using it for yourself. I wasn't aware anyone owned a dance. Yes, it does mean "dance of the east" but no one owns it. The well-known costume of belly dance is not even an Eastern idea. The kind of belly dance we have in the US is so far from "traditional" Arabic dance, that we even gave it a new name. Because it didn't have one.
The belly dance of today was inspired by the Middle East and continues to pay homage to the romantic ideas dancers have of it. Professional dancers know that what they are doing is not "real, old, traditional" belly dance. They were inspired by the music and the romantic notion and created something new from it. They were being inventive and now are being condemned for that.
The Variations on Style
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, it's time to think about the variations and the benefits of belly dancing.
Fortunately, no one has started a fire over Zumba and the appropriation and maybe even parody of that dance/aerobic workout.
Because belly dance has come to American, there are dozens of new styles for women (and men) to study. Most of the professionals I've worked and even the casual belly dancers, all study a lot of the "original" forms.
- Arabic Folkloric
- Upper Egyptian
The styles that have been invented in the US and that are popular today are:
- American Tribal Style
- Fantasy Belly Dance
- Celtic Tribal
- American Cabaret
- Belly Dance Troupes
All of these styles are fun and ask that you be in pretty good shape. However, in belly dance, good shape does not mean skinny.
American Tribal Belly Dancers
- The angry idea of appropriation should not stop you from expressing yourself
- Belly Dance offers a great, healthy lifestyle and new community
- The invention of styles is from all over the world
- Anyone can do it, and any one should!
The Benefits of Belly Dance
As opposed to your normal cardio workout or even Zumba, belly dance incorporates many other beneficial practices. As a teacher of belly dance, and as is evident in the many class-style DVDs, the dance brings together Pilates, yoga, weight training, posture, and a healthy lifestyle.
The belly dance community brings together people who care about eating right. As a professional dancer, I am always watching what I'm waiting, but am not stingy about it either. Being a belly dancer brings out the fun in life and I know that eating clean and healthy is key. With that midriff showing, I make sure that my diet is not temporary--eating healthy is a lifestyle.
Exercise, sleep, and stress
Yoga was hard at first, but once I developed the right amount of strength, it quickly became a relaxing way to stretch, gain flexibility and de-stress my mind. Along with that comes mediations if I need it, which helps my sleeping habits when I'm feeling overwhelmed.
Belly dance is all about core muscles and posture. Practicing every day for shows or working choreographies tones you up in all the right places. You may not see it at first, but like most dance styles, belly dance will have you walking up right and balanced with great core strength. Practicing the shimmy helps your thigh muscles, veil work and arm carriage have strengthened my shoulders and arms, and every basic move starts in those abs!
All this comes together to create a better you. Once you start performing or have a show or two, you begin to watch yourself. You pay attention to your needs and soon you become a new person. You know what makes you happy, you are aware of your stress and how to deal with it, you have energy from working out, and you have created a life-long eating habit. Dance and music are a given--it's just like any other dance: you can't not smile while doing it.
Gothic/Steampunk Belly Dance
Svenja, a German Belly Dancer
Not just Americans
Belly Dancing is an international form of dance now. There are dancers from Japan, Korea, Turkey, Germany, Britain, India, and even Mexico. Each place belly dance travels to gifts it something new and exciting. It is not a static thing to fester and grow old, it is continually changing and becoming new. This is what keeps it alive.