Do we know Belly dance history

goddessyasaman

New member
I know people will not agree on where belly dance (Raqs Sharqi) came from, but I think that it should be studied in a truthful way, not "I want it to come from my culture so there it is". I know a lot of people believe it came from Egypt, but I do not think this the case, before anyone bites my head off, really think about it I want to look at this from a adult point of view. I think if we as Raqs Sharqi dancers want it to ever be taken as a true art form then we should know our history completely, I'm not saying that I know for sure where this dance came from but let us all really talk about what we were told as students and what we know about this dance we all love to do.
 

Greek Bonfire

Well-known member
I've heard that it originated in India, travelled all through Europe, Asia and Africa, including Egypt. In which direction it went first, I don't think anybody knows for sure, but it is believed that traveling gypsies danced all over, thus bringing it to so many places.
 

Daimona

Moderator
We have a rather good clue of what has happened the last century, but pre-1900 things get more and more blurry and end up as myths and speculations as we actually don't have any clear evidence of how it has evolved. We might find indications of things that may have happened, but as long as we don't have any recordings we will never know what it actually looked like...

ETA: ..who danced it, how it was used and in what settings and how it developed.
 
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Imeera

New member
I agree with you. I don't think it came from Egypt. I have heard it was a fertility dance for pregnant women or a Goddess of some form. Dancing has been used to celebrate Deities but what kind of dancing is hard to tell because there are no records, dance is not something to take note of really, especially when its part of your culture. Someone invent time travel already ^.^
 

goddessyasaman

New member
I was hoping that others would have thought so as well, I have learned in my 14 years with the dance that it could have come from india and passed through Egypt, Africa and so on, I have also heard it was a fertility dance for pregnant women as Imeera has pointed out, but could it have been even further back in history, after all we would have to try and find out what it was called, after all it was not called "Belly dance" that name came later on, when I try and check I use the name (Raqs Sharqi) more then Belly dance or Folk dance, but it's still hard, on my website I have a page about Raqs Sharqi history, that I'm re-working I want to put more into it. Some may say does it matter, Yes and no, but if we as dancers of the art want it taken for more I think we should know as much as we can.
 

Aniseteph

New member
You have to be very clear about defining what you mean by "belly dance" before you even think about bringing ancient fertility dances into it.

I think that what matters about the history is not making stuff up to make it more acceptable or appealing to our particular target markets. How do we ever tell how ancient Indian Rom ancestors danced? I don't see why you'd need them to have spread an early "belly dance" throughout the ME (or beyond... evidence?) when trade routes would have allowed culture to spread anyway, I'm guessing way before there is any evidence for belly dancing.

We can't even be sure that 19th century reports from European travellers were talking about something we would recognise as belly dance. How far do you track back through the evolution before you realise you are looking at something that might be one of the ancestors but is really not the same thing at all? At some point it's all just dance, and IMO we should recognise that cultures had their own but we just don't know what it was like, not co-opt it into the history of "our" belly dance. Calling it the same thing becomes a political statement IMO, more about your own agenda than real history. It all gets so meaningless, but seems to be so much more what people are in to rather than looking at the more recent roots and developments that we CAN find out about about.

Imeera said:
I don't think it came from Egypt.

Why not?
 

Imeera

New member

Honestly I didn't mean it so strongly!! I am sorry it came over like that. It could have by any means. I was just thinking when I wrote it that Egypt had a very strong culture for a very long time with its dance depicted on walls of tombs and from what I have read it didn't sound like belly dance that we know or knew but looking at the paintings it honestly could be thinking about it. Whether it changed or not I don't know. There isn't much known but there wasn't much mention about hip moments but then again they are probably not belly dancers. I am researching it as a general interest at the moment but not finding much. I found a book which I think I will get to read more on the dancing, don't know if its any good or not but here it is- Ancient Egyptian Dances: Amazon.co.uk: I. Lexova: Books
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
What I have learned about the history of "bellydance" from primary and secondary reliable sources.

1. The Roma (gypsies).

The Roma came out of India in multiple waves of migration. These migrations out of India have been occurring for as long as recorded history due to wars and or famine. The wars of the Asiatic Steppes overflow to effect everyone and were constant. Losing sides, assuming they weren't wiped out altogether, would be forced to leave with family and friends. Opposing armies would go out and sweep up all of the people before them including women and children to increase their size before battle. Those who did not wish to join were forced to flee or die. This same sweep would include the razing of crops sometimes even salting the ground to prevent any more from being planted. Between the wholesale destruction of a food source and a climate that was often temperamental famine was often the result. Those fleeing from such things would go into Asia Minor or Eastern Europe to escape. There like any large migrant population they found themselves landless, friendless, and without an occupation or means of making a living. Often the only occupations available to them were the "lowest" of the low such as entertaining or the most menial of jobs and there was nothing more low or menial then entertaining.

Oriental Dance: Myth and Reality

As such the Roma learned the dances that were being to used to entertain in the countries they found themselves in so that they could dance on the streets to earn much needed money. In this way they helped to keep these dances alive even when society changed around them and sentiment turned both toward and away from public performances of dance as being acceptable. Their position in society was so low that their dancing had no meaning where for someone else at those times historically would have been scandalous and shocking.

2. The development of what we recognize as "bellydance" in the 1800's.

During the "Golden Age" of Islamic civilization (700-1400AD) the arts were encouraged and developed throughout the Mediterranean area from Andalusia (Spain) to Northern Africa to Persia. In the 1800's France was creating a great deal of turmoil in many of these area's of the world as they fell to their control. One group of people effected greatly by this was the Ouled Nail of the Saharan Atlas mountains in Algeria. The Ouled Nail were a people who had built up a tradition of dancing as a way for their women to build up a fortune before settling down in marriage.

Earning Power, Ethnology, and Happily Ever After Part II: The Nailiyat

It is likely that at least some if not most of the Algerian and Tunasian dancers brought to the World Fair in 1893 were Ouled Nail, at the least the dancers came from the same area and their dance reflected it.

Kharmine tells of Sol Bloom for the Gilded Serpent

This appearance at the world fair set off a reaction in the USA of course but it was hardly their first appearance. Sol Bloom had discovered these dancers at the 1889 Paris International Exposition where they were performing. For all the damage the French government did to the tradition of the dance the people were fascinated by it. It is possible to find first hand accounts of people seeing this dance in it's native environment in North Africa in the 19th and early 20th century. One such account can be found in the book "The land of veiled women: some wanderings in Algeria, Tunisia & Morocco" by John Foster Fraser. Chapter 2 deals specifically with the Ouled Nail and the author describes a performance by two women. The first performance impressed him immensely and his description of the dancing is almost poetical, it is also recognizable as the dance we call Raqs Baladi as taught by Ranya Renee on her DVD (shameless plug). The second performer danced in "new style" that involved the use of stomach contortions and emphasized the use of the belly. He didn't like it as much but mentioned it as a new style that was growing in popularity and spreading. Perhaps this is why the French name for the dance they exported from Algeria was "danse du ventre" or "dance of the belly". It was from this name that Sol Bloom took the name he used in order to titillate the customers of the World Fair, "Bellydance".

3. The creation of modern "bellydance".

Algeria was not the only area that had a history of dancing even if it is one of the better documented right now. This tradition was found throughout the area's of the Mediterranean wherever the Ottoman Empire had an influence. Nor was Algeria the only area that had tourists coming to see this new dance that the French had publicized. Tourists came to all these area's expecting to see performances and local dancers were more then happy to fill the niche created. The popularity of the new version of the dance of the belly was also spreading and it influenced the development of many of the styles in other countries. In Turkey their dance is called Dans Oriental. In Greece it is called Tsifteteli.

History of the greek Tsifteteli

In Egypt where the tradition of the Baladi comes from there was a split in styles. They recognized this new dance to be sufficiently different that they gave it a new name, Raqs Sharqi, so there you have the Baladi and the Sharqi. They also had an entrepreneur by the name of Badia Mansabny’s who opened a nightclub in the 1930's where she incorporated both stylings from Ballet into the dance and costuming based off of the French Theater at that time such as the Moulin Rouge; thus influencing the development of the Egyptian style of Raqs Sharqi and stage costuming for all forms of bellydance. Egypt is also where the latest popular style of Sha'abi comes from so they continue to have an effect of the development of the future of bellydance.

The other thing that had a huge historical effect on the development of modern bellydance was the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the chaos that occurred in that area resulting in mass migrations to other countries especially the USA. Not only did this spread these dances to countries all over Europe large groups of immigrants from several countries where this style of music and dance originated found themselves working together in US nightclubs. There dancers were taught an amalgamation of styles and new techniques and props such as veil work were invented to (as before with European tourism to North Africa and the Middle East) fill a niche. The development of bellydance in the US however is another long and well documented story. The styles created in the US, just as the dances of Algeria before them, have now been exported to other countries and now you can find them just about everywhere as each country develops their own styles and history.



Pictures of the Ouled Nail:
 

Aniseteph

New member
Thanks Ariadne!

Imeera, sorry if my question sounded snarky - I didn't mean it strongly either (ah the joys of the written word :rolleyes:) - it was a genuine honest question.
 

Kashmir

New member
The first thing you need to decide is what do you mean by "belly dance". For instance many definitions would not include dances of the Ouled Nail - so links to Algeria are out.

Personally, having studied Lexova's "Ancient Egyptian Dances" I would not include the dance depicted on the Egyptian tombs as "belly dance" (sorry Dr Mo).

The Rom migrations are quite late in the piece and are unlikely to be the source because:
  • Native populations would not having been waiting thousands of years to start dancing - dance is inate
  • Rom dances in different areas are different (for instance no way could you call the dance of the Hungarian Rom "belly dance")
  • Cultural evolution tends to flow from the powerful down - dancers tend to ape the fashions of their employers rather than vice versa
  • I strongly suspect a political motive in the acceptability "Latcho Drom" et al as describing the origins of our dance - ie "this dance has nothing to do with Muslims and Arabs - it is the dance of the downtrodden and/or free spirited gypsies".

Fertility Goddesses et al - sorry - much of the "accepted" Feminist revision of history and archeology is bunk (much to my embarassment I really bought into it in the 70s and 80s) It's wish fulfilment stuff - "I dance therefore I am an incarnation of a powerful ancient Goddess - not a household drudge". There's no evidence that it ever existed - and if it did there is no link between it and dance - and no link between whatever dance there might have been and belly dance in any form. You think those shaabi guys in the coffeehouses in Cairo are inacting an ancient female fertility dance?????

Ditto dancing to excite the sultan. Mind you good ab control can lead to better sexual techique - but they weren't lying around (naked being massaged by dark skinned slaves) thinking about developing a fun way to increase pelvis control and blood flow and invented bellydance.

What we know is that in the last few hundred years people (men, women and children) in the Middle East and North Africa danced in an improvisational manner, using torso and hips with limited leg and less arm movement; making the music visible; increasing their own pleasure and entertaining friends and family; and from this mix groups develop the art and became professional entertainers.

From this matrix modern belly dance (with more stage use, more arms, "modern" posture, more distinct costuming etc) arose in the 1920s. In Egypt. Dancers trained in the Casino Opera travelled all over the Middle East (for instance Nadia Gamal grew up in the Casino Opera) With migration the dance moved with ordinary people into the West and mostly through restaurants was introduced to the non Middle Eastern population of countries like the States.
 

walladah

New member
I think i would agree with Kashmir

given that it is possible that the history of this dance is much more complicated that we might think.

First we cannot attribute it to any particular nation or ethnicity, although the oldest mentioning of something that could be bellydance is in the Babylonian era and area (Ishtar opening the gates of underworld by dancing and leaving her veils at the gates). It is not a coincidence that roma people do bellydance, do save bellydance, do transfer bellydance, but guess what? in many areas where bellydance is traditional the style of roma dancing is very different from other groups of different origin....

Second, we are not sure whether this dance was used to adore goddesses when humanity was not patriarchal, but this dance is for sure connected throughout history with women and women's history. Therefore, i suspect that in times or areas where women have a better social position, this dance is also danced and highly praised. What is sure: people in ancient times were dancing to praise dieties. I think that bellydance was also used if other dances were used... the ban on dancing prayers started several thousand years ago (f.ex. in the Bible, King David is reproached for dancing naked to thank his God, the reproach is for both dancing and nakedness -so we know he does something he considers natural and that customs had already started changing).

Third, the history of Greek tsifteteli in the link - well, as far as i know
a) çifteteli/ikiteli is generally translated like two strings, or dance with two strings, but actually, for anyone who knows Turkish (you can find online dictionaries) çift is the word and root for many other words, for two main notions: earth and mating (being double, being two together). So, the same word has meaning of "dance of villagers, dance of the earth, dance of mating, dance in couples". Of course, this has been forgotten as the meaning was transferred from the initial word root to the dance form. It is curious that the word for the dance is the same in Greek, as Greeks do consider this dance of lower status (therefore "this must be Turkish" !!!) and it is not even taught as traditional dance in dance schools. However, at least in my homeland, where we have several types of this dance, there is one version called "Turkish tsifteteli", while the other types have no specific names. Of course, the entire dance is not considered Turkish, e.g. a traditionally bellydancing woman is not considered to be dancing a Turkish dance, unless she dances that specific type of the dance.
b) moreover, this dance in Greece is much more ancient than 1922, and probably much more ancient than Greek tribes who invaded the country 4000 years ago... i believe this dance was common in the mediterranean world and if it existed [which is pretty sure if we combine vast information from myths, ancient relics, statues, paintings, etc] 5000 years ago, i do not know why this would not exist in Greece where minoans and other tribes were in contact with the other mediterranean through maritime travelling. It seems it is common dance form just like other forms of middle eastern dances of men have their counterparts/cousin-dances in Greece and other countries which are not considered middle eastern ...

Fourth, sultan's harems were pools of artists but not initial source of art. The art was not invented in harems, but was promoted in harems, as they were art groups who were presenting their art in the sultan's feasts. It is obvious that empire leaders would support/create artgroups as this is a sign of status and of creating glamour for the empire. However, we have no historical incident that any leader in any era or country ever created any art from scratch (e.g. that it did not existed first in society and then it was transferred to the high class spaces). Even ballet (an idea Louis XIV copied from his friend, the ottoman sultan) was created using old medieval and renaissance, even oriental, dance themes. The imperial/royal influence of course is still obvious as human body in classical ballet is used to an extreme that would never exist for everyday people.

Therefore, i believe that this multi-faceted issue on oriental dance's history, needs a lot of research to reach any verifiable conclusions.
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
That was fascinating, Ariadne. Thanks for the research & the links back to your sources.

You're welcome. I am sorry I can't give you more sources since so much of the studies in history I do is not done online and for some reason I didn't bookmark my sources on Romani dance... that was an argh moment. For the more recent information on Roma dancing I stuck to Romani sources as much as possible when learning about it. The history of the Asian steppes and their cultures fascinates me immensely too. It overlaps with the history of Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece, and Eastern Europe to a degree I never suspected before.

Of course there is much more depth to the subject but I hope I summarized it clearly. The more I learn the less I believe in the Egypt-centric view as the be all and end all of "bellydancing" but I will give them full credit for their impact on the dance in the 20th century. Mind you an Egypt-centric view is a very common phenomenon in the history of Asia Minor but I will refrain from gushing about their impact on society in the first Millennia BC.
 

Farasha Hanem

New member
The first thing you need to decide is what do you mean by "belly dance". For instance many definitions would not include dances of the Ouled Nail - so links to Algeria are out.

Personally, having studied Lexova's "Ancient Egyptian Dances" I would not include the dance depicted on the Egyptian tombs as "belly dance" (sorry Dr Mo).

The Rom migrations are quite late in the piece and are unlikely to be the source because:
  • Native populations would not having been waiting thousands of years to start dancing - dance is inate
  • Rom dances in different areas are different (for instance no way could you call the dance of the Hungarian Rom "belly dance")
  • Cultural evolution tends to flow from the powerful down - dancers tend to ape the fashions of their employers rather than vice versa
  • I strongly suspect a political motive in the acceptability "Latcho Drom" et al as describing the origins of our dance - ie "this dance has nothing to do with Muslims and Arabs - it is the dance of the downtrodden and/or free spirited gypsies".

Fertility Goddesses et al - sorry - much of the "accepted" Feminist revision of history and archeology is bunk (much to my embarassment I really bought into it in the 70s and 80s) It's wish fulfilment stuff - "I dance therefore I am an incarnation of a powerful ancient Goddess - not a household drudge". There's no evidence that it ever existed - and if it did there is no link between it and dance - and no link between whatever dance there might have been and belly dance in any form. You think those shaabi guys in the coffeehouses in Cairo are inacting an ancient female fertility dance?????

Ditto dancing to excite the sultan. Mind you good ab control can lead to better sexual techique - but they weren't lying around (naked being massaged by dark skinned slaves) thinking about developing a fun way to increase pelvis control and blood flow and invented bellydance.

What we know is that in the last few hundred years people (men, women and children) in the Middle East and North Africa danced in an improvisational manner, using torso and hips with limited leg and less arm movement; making the music visible; increasing their own pleasure and entertaining friends and family; and from this mix groups develop the art and became professional entertainers.

From this matrix modern belly dance (with more stage use, more arms, "modern" posture, more distinct costuming etc) arose in the 1920s. In Egypt. Dancers trained in the Casino Opera travelled all over the Middle East (for instance Nadia Gamal grew up in the Casino Opera) With migration the dance moved with ordinary people into the West and mostly through restaurants was introduced to the non Middle Eastern population of countries like the States.

:clap: Well said, Kashmir.

When I first started studying bellydance on my own, I bought about half a dozen books on the subject, and most of them "taught" the pseudo-Rom "history," and sad to say, I bought into it, at first. It was only after I joined this forum that I learned different from members who have actually went to the Middle East, and who have studied for years on the subject. Someday, I'd love to travel to the Middle East myself and get to know the people and the culture from which the dance comes from.

Oh, moral of this story (and one that took me awhile to learn): not everything you read in books is correct! xD
 

Imeera

New member
Thanks Ariadne!

Imeera, sorry if my question sounded snarky - I didn't mean it strongly either (ah the joys of the written word :rolleyes:) - it was a genuine honest question.

Its quite alright! I didn't think you did, I was just worried if it sounded it or not so I said it to make sure =] Haha, yes the written word can be read in a million different ways.
 

SidraK

New member
It's also a bit misleading to assume that any cultural expression can be mapped in terms of "originated at place A, travelled through place B, and arrived in place C". It's an attractive model for pop-archaeology/sociology because it's nice and linear and easy to understand, but it's also perfectly reasonable to believe that many cultures may have developed dance vocabularies with overlapping patterns and styles. Sometimes they fall by the wayside, sometimes another culture migrates into the area and says "Hey we do that too! But we do it like this!" and a blended style is born.

Going back to prehistory to attempt to figure out who invented belly dance is kind of like trying to figure out who invented the ladder.
 

Amanda (was Aziyade)

Well-known member
[*]I strongly suspect a political motive in the acceptability "Latcho Drom" et al as describing the origins of our dance - ie "this dance has nothing to do with Muslims and Arabs - it is the dance of the downtrodden and/or free spirited gypsies".
.

Kashmir, in the US, the "Gypsy" origins of various forms of music and dance are EXTREMELY controversial and political, to the point where I have encountered two accusations that certain papers were denied publication and argued censored for political reasons.

In many academic circles in the US it is considered, let's say "highly not cool" to argue "Gypsy" origins for anything, and in other circles you are accused of being a racist when you question those origins. Obviously, it's a highly emotional and divided subject, and it's increasingly hard to sort through the political rhetoric and find a researcher or author WITHOUT an extremely obvious social/political axe to grind.

Based on my limited research, I agree with your assessment of Latcho Drom.
 

Amanda (was Aziyade)

Well-known member
The more I learn the less I believe in the Egypt-centric view as the be all and end all of "bellydancing" but I will give them full credit for their impact on the dance in the 20th century. Mind you an Egypt-centric view is a very common phenomenon in the history of Asia Minor but I will refrain from gushing about their impact on society in the first Millennia BC.


I don't think the impact of Egyptian cinema and the Casino Opera on modern bellydance can be hotly debated.

Something I wonder is that we sort of assume
Ancient Egypt = Modern Egypt

and it's really more like
Ancient Egypt + African expeditions + series of conquests by other cultures + long series of occupations + final independence = Modern Egypt


Love the ladder analogy.
 

seona

New member
It's also a bit misleading to assume that any cultural expression can be mapped in terms of "originated at place A, travelled through place B, and arrived in place C". It's an attractive model for pop-archaeology/sociology because it's nice and linear and easy to understand, but it's also perfectly reasonable to believe that many cultures may have developed dance vocabularies with overlapping patterns and styles. Sometimes they fall by the wayside, sometimes another culture migrates into the area and says "Hey we do that too! But we do it like this!" and a blended style is born.

Going back to prehistory to attempt to figure out who invented belly dance is kind of like trying to figure out who invented the ladder.




As much as I enjoy history and have been interested in the origins of this dance, I couldnt agree more with your above post. :clap:

I find music history interesting and you are so right about cultures migrating, this has happened throughout history so therefore cultures, music and dance have blended with migration/empires for sure!.... lol at inventing the ladder!
I still find it very interesting all the same. And I enjoy reading the threads on this subject.
For me, who knows how people danced in past history, but I guess if the musics been there then so has the dance.
 
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goddessyasaman

New member
It's also a bit misleading to assume that any cultural expression can be mapped in terms of "originated at place A, travelled through place B, and arrived in place C". It's an attractive model for pop-archaeology/sociology because it's nice and linear and easy to understand, but it's also perfectly reasonable to believe that many cultures may have developed dance vocabularies with overlapping patterns and styles. Sometimes they fall by the wayside, sometimes another culture migrates into the area and says "Hey we do that too! But we do it like this!" and a blended style is born.

Going back to prehistory to attempt to figure out who invented belly dance is kind of like trying to figure out who invented the ladder.

You have a point, yet it does matter to a point to know if we want to be taken serious in the art world, knowing as much as you can about an art style is very important I think, Dance is a hard area to locate who started what style when, but thats not where we are what I think should be known is where it came from, if this is not located people will never stop saying it came from here and here. In the end if that is what will be then thats fine But should we not try? I do wish for this dance to become a true art.
 
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