All about the art and culture of bellydance.

Bellydance - flickr.com
Bellydance - flickr.com

What is it about belly dance that is so intriguing? Is it the mysterious nature of the dance's origins and fascination with middle eastern culture? Or is the fact that it's a fantastic workout for both the mind and body?It tones and firms your muscles, while your shimmying and shaking to ancient Middle Eastern rhythms.

Whatever it is, no one can doubt the growing popularity of belly dance through the world and North America in particular. From black and white old Hollywood films, to James Bond, to the tale of Arabian Nights, to the world-acclaimed American "Belly Dance Superstars", we are being drawn to the beautiful and exotic art of belly dance.

The History of Belly Dance

The term "Bellydance" is a North American term for a Middle Eastern dance which is actually called "Raqs Sharqi", meaning 'dance of the East" in Arabic. The exact origins of belly dance are not clearly defined. Through the different beliefs of middle eastern historians, you can hopefully get a sense of the roots of the beautiful dance.

 

Contrary to the modern stereotype of belly dance being a sexually exploitive dance for men, it's origins suggest otherwise. It was originally danced by women for women, as a way to make childbirth easier and to increase fertility. Men weren't allowed to see the dance. Some historians say it was also created to express female beauty to the goddess of fertility in ancient Arab tribal religions.

Archaeologists claim depictions of belly dance etched into ancient Egyptian tomb walls, can be traced back to the early centuries B.C.E. History suggests that belly dance spread across the middle east through travelers across India, Persia, the middle east, Africa, the Mediterranean and parts of modern day eastern Europe.

The first western world encounter with the art is said to be Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in the late 18th century. From then on throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, it grew in the western world through art movements like Romanticism and Orientalism, and the overall mystery and fascination associated with the middle east.

 

What Defines Belly Dance?

Belly dance was uniquely designed for the female body with an emphasis on abdominal muscles and hips. The dance, is characterized by flowing arm movements, shimmies and hip isolations. Belly dancers may make the movements seem graceful and easy, but a true bellydancer has been studying how to isolate their upper body and hips for years.

The Types of Belly Dance

As mentioned before, traveling allowed for belly dance to spread across the middle east and beyond. This resulted in several types of the art varying from region to region. There are many shared characteristics, particularily in costume. The standard attire is usually a long, flowing skirt, worn with a hip-scarf,which is a wide piece of fabric worn low on the hips adorned with coins. The midriff is usually exposed with a brassiere-like top being worn that usually matches the skirt. Sometimes a headpiece or headband will be worn as well. Veils can either be loose or attached to the headpiece depending on the particular style of belly dance.

Traditional Egyptian ("Raqs Sharqi",Baladi)

  • graceful
  • fairly stationary, usually using only a small area to move in
  • a nude-coloured lycra covering is worn over the midriff because since the 1950s, it's been illegal for Egyptian bellydancers to expose a bare midriff in public

Northern Egyptian (Saidi)

  • practiced in the northern areas of Egypt
  • usually a cane or stick is used as a prop, whether balanced on the head or incorporated into the dance

Rural Egyptian (Fellahi)

  • traditional folk dances of the Egyptian farming communities
  • graceful and gentle
  • usually performed in pairs or groups
  • often incorporates props such as water jugs or pots to represent rural life
  • costume is very peasant- like, rarely is the midriff exposed

Lebanese

  • glamourous
  • dancer 'plays to the audience' through facial expressions and hand gestures
  • a lot of movement around the whole dance space
  • exaggerated movements
  • vibrant,colourful costume, often high-heels are worn

Turkish/Greek

  • flowing 'snake-like' arm movements
  • graceful, incorporating spins and upside-down hair flipping

Persian

  • graceful, movements more reserved
  • often a headpiece is worn accompanied by a veil

American

  • a blend of traditional Egyptian, Lebanese and Turkish
  • glitzy and glamorous costumes
  • often colourful veils are incorporated in the dance

American Tribal/Fusion

  • edgy, modern
  • often traditional arabic rhythms are combined with modern trance music tracks
  • there are varying styles, but a few include gothic, fantasy and cyber
  • costumes are often more new-age and fantasy as opposed to traditional attire

The Music

Traditional Arabic music is generally used for most bellydancing.

The main instruments used in belly dance rhythms are the Oud, which is a guitar-like Arabic string instrument, the Doumbek, the Arab hand drum, and also the Arabic or Turkish flute.

Some of the most popular belly dance musicians include Hossam Ramzy,Amr Diab,Hassam Abou El Seoud and Mohamed Abdel Wahab.

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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.

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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...

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