Contrary to what many Westerners believe, Oriental dance (the correct name for belly dancing) did not originate as a dance of seduction done by concubines to titillate the Sultan.

For centuries, the role of Oriental dance in Middle Eastern society has been that of a folk dance that people would do at joyous occasions such as weddings, the birth of a child, community festivals, and other events that bring people together to party. It was a dance that men, women, and children did for fun, not a "performance" done to entertain an audience. Just as Americans at a modern-day wedding reception might do waltzes, two-steps, or even the chicken dance, so people in the Middle East would get up with their friends to shimmy to their favorite music.

 

 

Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers

 

The Dance In Muslim Society

 

Following the rise of Islam, people lived in segregated households. The men lived on one side of the house, and the women lived with the children on the other side. The word "harem" does not refer to some exotic seduction chamber filled with naked women lolling on pillows awaiting their turn to seduce the Sultan. Instead, it simply refers to the section of the home where women carried about their everyday business of cooking, sewing, gossiping with friends, and minding the children. The word "harem" comes from the word "haram", which means "forbidden": men who were not part of the immediate family were forbidden to enter the women's quarters when they visited their friends. The intent was to protect the women of the household from strangers.

When festive occasions would arise, the women would celebrate with other women, and the men would have a separate party with other men. Historically, the two genders did not mix. In some Muslim countries, that is still true today.

In the afternoons, after feeding their men the big meal of the day at noon, women would sometimes gather at the homes of their sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, or grandmothers to enjoy some time together. In these informal get-togethers, they might take turns getting up and dancing for each other. This was one way that the mothers of marriageable young men could get to know the eligible young women of the community.

There was generally no special dance "costume" to wear--people simply danced in their party clothes, just as we might dress up a little for our own friends' weddings. Dance was not seen as something to be "performed" by a professional--it was just something people got up and spontaneously did.

 

 

Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers

 

The Twentieth Century

 

Times change, and people change with them. The twentieth century brought several changes that reshaped the role of the dance in Middle Eastern society:

  • Colonialists from Europe brought their Westernizing influence to the Middle East, which in some countries broke down the traditional barriers to men and women socializing in mixed company.
  • Nightclubs arose as a place where people could go for entertainment.
  • Composers like Mohammed Abdel Wahab created a new style of music heavily influenced by the Western orchestral sound.
  • Cairo and Beirut emerged as important cultural centers in the Arabic world.
  • The early days of the Egyptian film industry turned Samia Gamal, Tahia Carioca, and other dancers into international stars, and the Hollywood-inspired sequinned bra/belt costume made its first appearance.
  • An entire "entertainment industry" swept the world to take advantage of rapidly-advancing recording, film, radio, and television technology.

 

 

Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers

 

Today

 

  • Today, although there are still some exceptions, in most Middle Eastern countries men and women are no longer segregated. They no longer hold separate parties for men and women at wedding receptions and other special occasions. It's still likely that women will dance with other women, and men will dance with other men, but this now generally occurs with everyone in the same large room.
  • More conservative Muslim women still hesitate to dance in settings where men other than their husbands can see them, even at these social occasions. Such women may go to the mixed-company events, but do not take a turn at dancing.
  • Professional dancers still perform at nightclubs, and are often hired to perform at weddings and other special occasions.
  • Undoubtedly, there have probably been many individuals over the years who have used the dance in private as a tool for seduction. But that is not how Middle Eastern people think of Oriental dance, and that is not the role they see it having in their society. For them, the dance remains firmly in the realm of something that people of all ages do for fun when they get together with friends and family.

In January 1999, I went to Cairo for 2 weeks with my friend Morocco and 3 other women. Following her advice, we dressed in long, flowing dresses and wore head scarves the whole time to show our respect for the local culture. Late one night, we heard very loud drumming in the alley behind our hotel and went to investigate. A wedding party was in progress. Seeing us peering around the corner, they hospitably invited us to join them.

The professional dancers were a troupe of young men, dressed in traditional garb and performing folkloric men's dances.

After their show, the dancers retired and the musicians continued to play.  The mother of the bride  didn't dance, but smiled brightly and treated us to zaghareet as we danced. Even though I spoke no Arabic and they spoke no English, we had great fun together. I have very fond memories of the Egyptian people.


Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers

 

In Conclusion...

 

Dancers who writhe seductively on stage during their performances clearly either don't understand the cultural backdrop of the dance, or don't care. It's a social dance, created for families and friends to celebrate the joy of spending time together.

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Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries had its humble beginnings as an idea of a few artisans and craftsmen who enjoy performing with live steel fighting. As well as a patchwork quilt tent canvas. Most had prior military experience hence the name.

 

Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries.

 

Vendertainers that brought many things to a show and are know for helping out where ever they can.

As well as being a place where the older hand made items could be found made by them and enjoyed by all.

We expanded over the years to become well known at what we do. Now we represent over 100 artisans and craftsman that are well known in their venues and some just starting out. Some of their works have been premiered in TV, stage and movies on a regular basis.

Specializing in Medieval, Goth , Stage Film, BDFSM and Practitioner.

Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries a Dept of, Ask For IT was started by artists and former military veterans, and sword fighters, representing over 100 artisans, one who made his living traveling from fair to festival vending medieval wares. The majority of his customers are re-enactors, SCAdians and the like, looking to build their kit with period clothing, feast gear, adornments, etc.

Likewise, it is typical for these history-lovers to peruse the tent (aka mobile store front) and, upon finding something that pleases the eye, ask "Is this period?"

A deceitful query!! This is not a yes or no question. One must have a damn good understanding of European history (at least) from the fall of Rome to the mid-1600's to properly answer. Taking into account, also, the culture in which the querent is dressed is vitally important. You see, though it may be well within medieval period, it would be strange to see a Viking wearing a Caftan...or is it?

After a festival's time of answering weighty questions such as these, I'd sleep like a log! Only a mad man could possibly remember the place and time for each piece of kitchen ware, weaponry, cloth, and chain within a span of 1,000 years!! Surely there must be an easier way, a place where he could post all this knowledge...

Traveling Within The World is meant to be such a place. A place for all of these artists to keep in touch and directly interact with their fellow geeks and re-enactment hobbyists, their clientele.

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