Frequently Asked Questions
Here you will find some general information about the art form of bellydance. For example, did you know its real name is raks sharki in Arabic, and dans oryantal in Turkish?
Q. Where does bellydance come from?
A. Bellydance is a stage presentation of Middle Eastern social dance. Performed well it is a visual representation of the music as well as the emotions and personality of the dancer. Its roots particularly trace to Egypt and the Levantine region and the Awalim performers.
Q. How old is Bellydance?
A. There is no way of knowing for certain, since records are usually oral and there was no YouTube back then. The social dance has been around for centuries and professional dancers such as the Awalim performed for other women in early Islamic times. The modern staging and costuming came from this background at the turn of the 19th to 20th century. We do know that finger cymbals, strongly associated with bellydancers, have been around since pre-history, but have no way of knowing how or if they were danced with in ancient times.
Q. Where is it danced now?
A. Bellydance has spread over the years and is now performed all over the globe. You can find communities from Britain to Japan, and from Australia to Canada. Major stylistic centers include Turkey, Lebanon, and Egypt.
Frequently Heard Myths
M. Doesn't it come from harem girl's dances?
A. Bellydance is part of everyday people's social dancing, or it can be sparkled up and modified to fill a large stage, much the same way Salsa can be done socially or performed by professionals. The medieval Arabic world did trade dancing girls, who were highly educated in poetry, music, singing, and dancing, rather like geisha. However, who they entertained depends on what era one is looking at, in Egypt in the 1700s, for example, the Awalim (the professional decedents of the dancing girls) sang and recited poetry behind a screen when entertaining men, and danced for women only parties. In Turkey, the Ottoman court entertainment included many imported dances, but bellydance is not described as one of them until after the fall of the empire.
M. Isn't it a birthing/Goddess-worship ritual?
A. There were Goddesses worshiped in the pre-Christian/pre-Islamic Middle East, however due to the nature of documenting dance, we cannot know if their worship included any dance. What this dance is, is a dance about LIFE. By not limiting the dancer to portraying the mother or the seductress we can avoid typecasting, and become free to express all aspects of ourselves (assuming an appropriate venue).
M. Bellydancers can roll quarters and perform tricks with their stomachs, right?
A. Some can, however the focus of the dance is actually in the hips, the belly muscles are used to create these movements as well as the legs. As bellydance became popular entertainment tricks like sword balancing and quarter rolling were added.
M. Don't bellydancers have to be thin/fat/young/mature?
A. No. as a folk dance, raqs beledi can be done by any body type, and at any age. It is very safe for most people, and an excellent way to tone core muscles which are important for posture and balance. For a professional raqs sharki performance, the dancer must be strong, but no specific body type is required.
M. Isn't it only for women?
A. Although the styling differs, "bellydance" is done socially by men and women. Professionally, women tend to outnumber men, but some very skilled male professional performers are out there, Tito Seif of Egypt is an example. Turkey also has a long tradition of male dancers, sometimes called cochek, or zeine.
M. Bellydancers are a type of contortionists, right?
A. Actually the movements used in bellydance are totally natural to the human body. Many are used to a very stiff posture where the torso is thought of as one immobile block, however it is not only natural to move this way, but healthy. (see "physical benefits" under Class FAQs)
M. Can't you learn it in a few hours/from TV?
A. When done well, bellydance looks deceptively easy. Unlike more acrobatic dances, where the skill required is more apparent, the bellydancer is a picture of power under serene control.
For hobby and social dancing, the basics can be picked up relatively easy, depending on your level of body awareness and control. It's always a good idea to have an in-person teacher who can check your technique and help you prevent injury. Beyond learning the movements well, a professional must learn musicality and cultural nuances, as well as a higher level of technique and presentation. This takes years to accomplish. The misrepresentation of bellydancers as flailing women with no dance skills happens when some dancers present themselves as professionals without first taking this time, either because they don't know there is more to learn, or don't care.