The history of belly dance

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Thanks, Roshanna. I suspected they might be... of course, I always suspect the validity of dance histories. ;)
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
Interestingly, my partner is an ancient historian who wrote his doctoral thesis on the Roman Mediterranean (and specifically the Roman imperial fleets, including in Egypt), and actually what you say about the Mediterranean being one interconnected region seems to be a very mainstream view amongst professional historians, at least in the context of the ancient world.
Exactly, that's where I ran into the idea. Not the books you mention specifically but when I started diving into the more serious historical writings and thesis on ancient history. It's been fascinating comparing what I find of ancient history to modern history once I take migration patterns into account. It's actually possible to track cultural concepts and attitudes from then to now. It amazes me how these patterns just keep repeating. So when you take into account that the European concept of a desirable "Classical Education", based in part on Antiquity, emerged from the Renaissance to become the foundation of what we learn today (or at least what my parents learned) it's no surprise that some of the concepts from the ancient world are still floating around in the public consciousness.

On a complete aside I learned in the last few years that there was a similar community history centered around the North Sea. I'm sure that comes as no shock to anyone living around that area but for someone who has had a decidedly Norman slanted education of European history (myself) it was enlightening. Right now I'm trying to find any information I can that shows the similarities and differences culturally in the area from early medieval times up. I'm having difficulty though as most resources I've found deal almost exclusively with Ireland, Scotland, and Wales which is only a fraction of the bigger picture. I'm sure only being able to read English isn't helping.
 

Kashmir

New member
Speaking of dance history, one of my embroidery design students just sent me a book called "Grandmother's Secrets: The Ancient Rituals and Healing Power of Belly Dance" by Rosina-Faawzia Al-Rawi. Said she saw it at a book sale and thought I should have it. Such a sweetie and what good timing, hmm? Has anyone read it?
Interesting example of fake history and feminist myths - plus some suspect kinesiology. But maybe some of it is real - as in factual. Hard to know.
 

Greek Bonfire

Well-known member
It seems that in all histories of dance, there are many authors who have "hangups" with women and moreso with dancing when thrown into moral issues. This is a fascinating thread and I'm staying tuned.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
It's an old thread but one that deserves to be resurrected. Ariadne, were you able to pursue the studies you mentioned above? If so, what did you find out?
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
I found a really good book on Celtic Myths with a fascinating intro all about the language drift etc but it's body of work centers exclusively on the British Isles. I need to find a better source for myths from the Germanic tribes around the North and Baltic Sea but I haven't had much luck. Culturally I've found nadda. I probably just don't have the right connections or just don't know where to look. Information on the Mediterranean countries abound; I can get that all day. The North Sea though is another matter.
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
Don't apologize, I love the subject. The fact is the more I learn the more convinced I am that Bellydance originated out of the Ottoman Empire. I'm not a professional historian though so all I have to back me up is personal opinion. It's based on a scattering of thoughts and facts but nothing that could be called proof. We had some professional historians on the forum once that used to be active, one promised some big revelations if her research bore out, but we haven't heard from them in ages.

The original questions was:
If we look at the documented history of belly dance, middle eastern dances and North African dances, how far back in time do we get with the facts if we exclude wishtory, false assumptions and pure guesswork? Seeing the evolution of the dance the past app. 100 years (or as long as we've hade moving pictures), things may change drastically.

What are presumably the oldest dance forms of the folk dances?
What are the oldest written descriptions of dances from the Middle East and North Africa and how is the dance itself described?
I'm afraid my opinion falls firmly under "pure guesswork".

If I remember correctly when the first nightclub was opened by Badia Masabni She hired dancers from Turkey? And I've taken the time to listen to historical music from the Ottoman Empire and Egypt and it's the music from the Ottomans that most closely resembles the type found in the earliest music styles we have in videos. I read once an article where someone was trying to trace the elements of BD and found possible influences of individual parts of the dance from multiple different cultures that either traded with or were part of the Ottoman Empire (I couldn't tell you who wrote it or where to find it now though it's been ten or more years). Now obviously with the style evolving in night clubs in Egypt there is going to be influence from there, however the few videos we have of dancers in North Africa/Egypt from before Badia Masabni do NOT match the style that came out of her clubs which has lead to some claiming that Bellydance really originated with her; but while we obviously can trace costuming and the introduction of ballet poses/arms to that time I think it's ridiculous to think that equals a new completely invention. Rather I think that there was an infusion that occurred. I also think that is why there is a distinct style that has evolved that DOES reflect Egyptian music. I also love how bellydancers have taken the time to preserve the folk dances from North Africa, but again those dances are very distinctly different.

So basically after all that rambling it comes down to I think Bellydance was an infusion dance to begin with and the Ottoman Empire was such that it would have nurtured it both with it's music style (movement follows music) and the way it nurtured the arts in general. That that infusion may be one of the reasons it's so hard to nail down a single origin. And finally that due to the tourists and influence from the French Opera houses and the opening of the nightclubs in Egypt we had an additional infusion that created what we recognize now as Bellydance.

And that's my "pure guesswork" opinion... But at least it's based in some actual facts.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Sorta like the evolution of Eohippus into the modern horse: long, twisty, and rife with characteristics resulting from the intervention of various human cultures throughout the ages.

Great "pure guesswork." You've obviously spent a lot of time thinking about it and I really enjoyed reading your essay.
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
Thanks.

I'm also convinced that while the dance came from the Ottoman Empire it wasn't unknown in North Africa; hence why Badia Masabni went that direction for entertainment. I read an excerpt from a book written by one of these travelers there in the late 1800's. Some friends he had made invited him to a private dinner and performance on the rooftop of the family home. They brought in professional performers; probably Ouled Naïl from the location and description. After the regular performances a dancer did a solo of a (paraphrased) "new dance that was moving through the area and increasingly popular". He referred to it as stomach dancing, I think (again it's been years), and the descriptions of the new dance sounds an awful lot like early BD. Ironically he didn't like it. He felt the isolated movement of the stomach muscles was unattractive.
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
:lol:

Eh, different cultures. I actually really enjoyed reading his discriptions and perspective. The traditional group performances were interesting. Another solo that sounded similar to a taxim was mesmerizing and graceful. The stomach dance with its staccato movements? Nah, didn’t like it. :lol:

Considering that they were still waltzing in England at the time, well... At least his descriptions were respectful of the dancers. Some of the descriptions I’ve run into from that time decidedly weren’t.
 

Greek Bonfire

Well-known member
That's awesome guesswork. I've also been to lectures where some stated it began in India but I think that's more of the "gypsy" style (sorry to use that slur). I think you've got a good handle on the Ottoman theory in that the style we see today was pretty much assembled in the Ottoman time.
 

Greek Bonfire

Well-known member
I've also heard that the time in Spain between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, where Jews, Spaniards, Moroccans and Berbers lived together was the precursor to the later Ottoman form of bellydance. That's more of where flamenco came about but with many of the Spanish forms of dancing, I can see the "embryos" of bellydance.
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
Can you give me some examples? I only have a passing familiarity with flamenco and none with the other Spanish dances.

Ooo, a closet Victorian! :D Do you recall the name of the book?
Maybe just a little? I have some real beefs with Victorian societies classism and the late 19th century scientific community in general- I will spare you my rants however. I love history though and am a big believer in understanding people in the context of their own society and culture. On the other hand I am a huge fan of Jules Verne, Nikola Tesla, and Steampunk re-imagining. Steampunk Victorianna clothes are the bomb.

I don't know the name of the book; I could drag it up from an archived conversation here if you want to know badly enough? I wasn't able to read the entire thing. It was a digital scan on googlebooks (maybe?). I read a good chunk of the book on my first viewing and was able to refer people to it to begin with but after a few months it wouldn't let me access that part of the book any more and only showed some sample pages. I guess they changed how access worked or something? It was around the time they started charging in order to access their books on file.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
I love history though and am a big believer in understanding people in the context of their own society and culture.


This absolutely. I'm joking about the Victorians... more or less. :) Most of the characters I reenact are Victorians or Edwardians. They got around and invented a bunch of stuff.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
PS I'll tool around and see if I can find the title of the book; Just wondered if you recalled off the top of your head.
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
ohhhh You reenact Victorian and Edwardian characters? How? Where? I would LOVE that! Well I prefer steampunk over accurate reenactments of that time period but still that is SO cool.

:redface: (Am I getting to far off topic?)


PS. No, sorry. Last time it took me a couple of hours to track it down.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
I started doing it in the elementary schools about ten years ago for something called the Discover Program. Joined a local theater group for a year or two and ended up doing reenactments for historical organizations and museums. Went to Germany and Belgium with the children's theater group and did a reenactment for some of the older kids in international schools who were learning English. Came home, left the group, and began doing programs for OLLI, which stands for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. It's tons of fun, and pays pretty well once the initial non-billable research time and writing are done. Highly recommend it. Also have taught belly dance though OLLI and in fact will be teaching a debke class tomorrow night... which brings us back on topic, right?
 
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