What’s belly dance?

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Belly dance is not limited to women and is popular throughout the Middle East and Africa. The Turkish and Egyptian forms differ in costume and movements, and the dance celebrates the mature woman. Male belly dancing is also welcomed. The dance is becoming popular as a fitness regimen and is performed in Moroccan restaurants and special events. Famous dancers include Neena and Veena Bidasha and Jasmina. Some Islamic countries have banned or restricted the art form.

For the most part, belly dancing conjures up the image of an elaborately costumed Middle Eastern woman, with her midriff exposed, dancing a very sensual dance. While there is this form of belly dance, common misconceptions need to be dispelled. Belly dance is not limited to women and is not simply a form and type of dance. Belly dancing is popular throughout much of the Middle East and parts of Africa, and the costume and permitted moves vary greatly.

The moves in belly dance vary in different countries. However, virtually all belly dancing involves isolated movements of muscle groups. Of course, the movement of the abdomen is the most famous, however the isolation of the arms and legs can also be employed. The dances can be elaborated in choreography or freehand.

The most familiar belly dance is the Turkish form, which predates Islam. Women in harems were certainly taught to belly dance, but men could learn too. In Türkiye, the costume and movements are not restricted. The influence may come from Gypsy culture, as well as the Greek Tsifteteli dance. The dancer also uses finger cymbals, or zils, to keep time with the music. The shoes are often high heels and the costumes tend to be rather skimpy.

Turkish belly dance was received in the United States in the 1930s. Today it is often called belly dance cabaret by the dancers. Those who perform this dance might perform in nightclubs or restaurants.

In Egypt, belly dancing is an ancient art form, depicted in some hieroglyphics. Unlike the Turkish form, modern Egyptian bellydance requires more modest costumes. Some movements, such as rotations of the pelvis, are not allowed, as they are considered inappropriate.

Both Egyptian and Turkish belly dance celebrate the mature woman, one whose physique differs significantly from the Western style of beauty. A little extra size or a little belly is considered beneficial. It is also thought that maturity gives more expression to the dance. The complexity and ease of expression are thought to come from a woman who has experience.

Egyptian belly dancing generally separates the genders to promote decency. Women can perform for each other, alone or in groups. A professional belly dancer may perform for men, but most women don’t perform the dance except for immediate family.
The sensuality of the dance runs counter to Islamic interpretations of women’s role in society, especially among those who take a fundamentalist Islamic view. Some Islamic countries have banned or severely restricted the art form. In Palestine, there is some indication that belly dancing may be banned altogether.

Initially, male belly dancing may have been performed by eunuchs, dressed in feminine fashion, in Turkish harems. Often men’s dance was not considered as important or interesting as the dances performed by women. Modern views have changed this perspective and the male belly dancer is now almost as welcomed as the female.
Belly dancing in the United States is most likely seen in Moroccan restaurants, although a belly dancer can often be hired for special events. US belly dancing is becoming increasingly popular as a fitness regimen. Isolating your muscles can make belly dancing a particularly good exercise. Women often feel more comfortable pursuing a form of dance that welcomes few curves, versus forms of dance and exercise that favor the very slim.

To appreciate the art of belly dancing, there are several famous dancers worth watching. Neena and Veena Bidasha, the “belly twins”, have appeared on US television programs and created belly dance videos. Their work inspires some of the dance choreography of Britney Spears and Shakira. Jasmina, who works at the exclusive Le Meridien Heliopolis in Cairo, is considered one of the best practitioners of the modern form.

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