About belly dance

There are many resources available that discuss the origins of belly dance. Most dancers agree that belly dance has been around for centuries in countries in the Middle-East. How belly dance got it’s current name is subject of speculation and backed up by research that points toward the Victorian Era, when a French reporter wrote about Algerian dancers on the World Fair in Paris and used the term danse du ventre.That got translated into belly dance and as the term is easy to use, it is now one of the most common terms.

In Arabic belly dance is called Raqs Sharqi, which translates to ‘dance of the East’. This can create confusion, as ‘the East’ could also be seen as the far East, like China and other Asian countries. In Arabic countries this is obviously not an issue, but Western audiences might have a hard time remembering and recognizing raqs sharqi.

What is bellydance and what should we really call it? – by Atea

History and origins of belly dance – World Belly Dance

Naming Bellydance – bellydancing.org

Movement vocabulary

There is no universal chart or scheme for belly dance movements. This can create confusion when names of moves vary from teacher to teacher. Some dancers and dance schools have developed their own methods and scheme’s, but none of these is universally recognized. I have developed my own movement vocabulary for my classes. It utilizes the English names for belly dance moves as I find the English terms easy to use and remember for my students.

Belly dance terms: a glossary – by Shira

Glossary of bellydance terms – Wikipedia

Belly dance is an isolation dance, the dancer being able to move one body part in relative isolation. For example by moving the hips while the rest of the body remains still. I have one issue with this definition: our bodies are not a random collection of body parts. Creating a movement with one body part will always impact other parts of the body and the more you advance in belly dance, the more fluid and connected the dancer will become. So for beginners, we break down the moves into seperated  isolated moves. For intermediate and advanced dancers we work on combining different moves (called layering), creating fluid transitions and letting energy flow through the body.

The subtle art: isolation, integration and layering – online class by Datura (only available to paid members)

Styles of belly dance

As belly dance originated as a folk dance, there are a lot of different flavors and styles that you can explore. I made an extensive style chart that I send to my students in the form of a mind map. Melilah has an excellent example of a belly dance mindmap on her website. I challenge you to make your own mind map and add to it as you grow as a dancer.

The problem with dividing belly dance into styles is that most dancers consciously or unconsciously combine elements from styles into their own dancing. It is rare to find a belly dancer that is a pure bred *insert style here* dancer. Even dancers born in Egypt incorporate moves and concepts from other dance forms and styles. It is good to recognize and know the variations and cultural background of different bellydance styles. Structuring belly dance this helps us understand the roots of belly dance and nurtures cultural sensitivity. It is when we start to chastice others for not being ‘true to a style’, that the strucutre becomes our cage.



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