Belly dance or Bellydance is a Western-coined name for a traditional Middle Eastern dance, especially raqs sharqi (Arabic: رقص شرقي). It is sometimes also called Middle Eastern dance or Arabic dance in the West, or by the Greco-Turkish term çiftetelli (Greek: τσιφτετέλι).
The term "Belly dance" is a translation of the french "danse du ventre" which was applied to the dance in the Victorian period. It is something of a misnomer as every part of the body is involved in the dance; the most featured body part usually being the hips. Belly dance takes many different forms depending on country and region, both in costume and dance style;; and new styles have evolved in the West as its popularity has spread globally. Although contemporary forms of the dance have generally been performed by women, some of the dances, particularly the cane dance, have origins in male forms of performance.
* Raqs sharqi (Arabic: رقص شرقي; literally "oriental dance") is the style more familiar to Westerners, performed in restaurants and cabarets around the world. It is more commonly performed by female dancers but is also sometimes danced by men. It is a solo improvisational dance, although students often perform choreographed dances in a group.
* Raqs baladi, (Arabic: رقص بلدي; literally "dance of country", or "folk" dance) is the folkloric style, danced socially by men and women of all ages in some Middle Eastern countries, usually at festive occasions such as weddings.
Belly dancing arose from various dancing styles which were performed in the middle east and north african regions. One theory is that belly dance may have roots in the ancient Arab tribal religions as a dance to the goddess of fertility. Some claim that in pre-islamic Arabia, Ishmeali arab women were the first people to perform this type of dance as part of religious rites to Hubal the moon god. A third theory is that belly dance was always danced as entertainment. Some belly dance historians believe that the movements of dancing girls depicted in carvings in Pharaonic times are typical of belly dancing. As the term belly dance has come to refer to a wide variety of dance practices, predominantly performed by independent female dancers, it is very difficult for any single claim to be upheld.
Another theory is that belly dance was originally danced by women for women in the Levant, and North Africa. The book "Dancer of Shamahka" is widely cited, it is a romanticized memoir written by a modern author, Armen Ohanian, published in 1918. In Middle Eastern society two specific belly dance movements have been used in childbirth for generations.
Because Belly dance derives from individual performance, it has a diverse history of origin, and continues to evolve to this day. Some suggest that belly dance shares origins from migrating peoples from all around the borders of the Mediterranean, resulting in the similarities that can be seen between 'belly dance' in Egypt, India, Turkey, Greece, and North African and Spanish traditional dance forms.
Belly dance was popularized in the West during the Romantic movement of the 18th and 19th centuries, when Orientalist artists depicted romanticized images of harem life in the Ottoman Empire. Around this time, dancers from Middle Eastern countries began to perform at various World Fairs, often drawing crowds in numbers that rivaled those for the science and technology exhibits. It was during this period that the term oriental or eastern dancing is first used. Several dancers, including the French author Colette, engaged in "oriental" dancing, sometimes passing off their own interpretations as authentic. There was also the pseudo-Javanese dancer Mata Hari, convicted in 1917 by the French for being a German spy.
Egyptian forms of bellydance, alongside the development of Egyptian music, were heavily influenced by the presence of European colonial forces, and increasing urbanisation in Egypt. This resulted in variations in the dance brought in by influences as diverse as marching bands, and the visits the Russian ballet. Many of the aspects recognisable as belly dance today in fact derive from these cross cultural hybrids.
Any or all of these factors may have contributed to the development of belly dance as we know it today.
The Middle East (Near East, Southwest Asia) has a rich and varied tradition of dance, spanning the entire Arab world, Cyprus, Anatolia, the Caucasus, the Balkans, and also much of Central Asia and South Asia. "Belly dance," is sometimes used in the West as a blanket term for oriental dance in general, but is more correctly used to describe raqs sharqi, which is only one of the many styles encompassed within Middle Eastern dances performed by both men and women.