Although the origins of belly dance have not been recorded properly, its history dates back thousands of years. Belly dance has roots in several Eastern and Middle Eastern cultures and is known by several names – including danse orientale, rakkase, and raqs sharki. Belly dance has been practiced for many reasons over the millenia, including childbirth preparation, bonding, and celebration.
Belly dance consists of many movements that distinguish it from other dance forms. The dance is best known for the isolated abdominal movements. However, belly dance also involves isolation of many other parts of the body – chest, arms, shoulders, hands, head, and hips. Another feature of the dance is layering – rhythmic, simultaneous movement of several parts of the body. Belly dance movements can be quite complex, and a dancer must be skilled in order to execute the movements gracefully.
Belly dance was introduced in the United States in 1893 during the Chicago World’s Fair. Unfortunately, after that time, many exploited the dance in order to make a quick profit. Many of today’s misconceptions about the dance stem from this time period – where Hollywood glitz, harem fantasies, and sleazy behavior overshadowed the true history of this timeless dance.
American belly dancers work hard today to preserve the dance and present it with integrity. In the U.S., there are women and men who perform traditional dances specific to one of the dance’s countries of origin. Other dancers adopt a combined style or even incorporate other forms of dance into their movements, creating new interpretations of one of the oldest forms of dance. While there are many variations, all serious dancers maintain a respect for the dance and for the cultures from which it came.