By: Rachel Morris
Belly dance is a term first used by a French man named Sol Bloom. He used the phrase “Danse du ventre” to describe dancers he witnessed at the Chicago World’s fair in 1893. Danse du ventre translates to dance of the stomach, a.k.a. belly dance. There have been many interpretations of this phrase. Does it mean to show your belly while dancing? Does it mean to make movements of the stomach? Or does it mean to use the stomach to make dance movements happen?
I suppose all of these can be considered correct. Join me on a journey exploring the history behind this ancient dance style so you can decide for yourself, what is belly dance?
Belly dance as we know it began in India. There are many movements in belly dance that suggest this beautiful art form may have begun in Egypt or Turkey. However, it is believed by many that the migration of Indian populations through the Middle East and into Africa brought much of this dance with them over centuries or even millennia, beginning with head slides in India and picking up along the way many dynamic movements found along their travels, such as chest shimmies and undulations. Of course, as each move is introduced to a new region these movements obtain stylization by the dancers, to create their own individual presentation.
Over time these movements became more specific to Egypt and Turkey and are what we now refer to as belly dance.
For hundreds of years throughout the Middle East social dancing has been a way for women to get together and enjoy each other’s company. The same is true for women of today. Some say this art form may have spiritual pagan roots dating back over 6,000 years with a deep connection to femininity and fertility.
What we know as belly dance these days is more of a source of entertainment, one that was enjoyed everywhere from dusty village streets to the World’s Fair in Chicago, IL. It was here where a dancer named Little Egypt debuted belly dance in America to mixed reviews. Some in the audience found her movements to be inappropriate, overly sexual, and even vulgar. Others found her to be lovely, and were enamored by her free torso movement. This love of the movements led to the beginning of what we now know as Burlesque.
Though some oppose the connection between these two dance forms, others have found solidarity within, and the confusion can be seamless.
In following articles, we will go deeper into the exploration of specific styles of belly dance and what each of these styles have added or taken away from this ancient, immortal, and ever-changing dance we all love.
Fatima Djemille, aka "Little Egypt"
For more information on belly dance: