It is hard to say when this dance evolved from the primordial gyrations of ancient history. However the dance does have origins in pre Dynastic times, figurines and tomb paintings have been found of dancers in poses that we still use today, these are of women and date back as far as 5,000BC. Many things have influenced the dance throughout history. It wil continue to be influenced in the years to come, music and styles are always changing.
I like the idea that Arabic women used the belly rolls and abdominal movements to strengthen their bodies, ready for childbirth. (I wish I had known that earlier)
However it would be a myth to say women always danced to attract men. Women danced in the harems of the Ottoman Sultans. When there was only one complete man available to share round so many women, the women would look to themselves for amusement. They danced to entertain themselves and each other, unless it was their turn with himself…
The Gawazee (gypsies) who came from Rajastan moved throughout Egypt, Spain and many other countries becoming eventually the street singers and dancers who had their particular style of performing which was folk influenced. This street dancing was banned in 1844.
The Gawazee were said to have a secret language even though several tribes existed, the language was most likelyRajastan. The dance was seriously influenced by Turkey during the Ottoman Empire and the (modern) sword dance came from Saudi Arabia.
Many of the popular dancers were also skilled artists and very clever politically, men in high places became afraid of them and labelled them as prostitutes in an attempt at control.
One or two of these women may have deserved the label but most were quite respectable, saving their payments until they had enough for a dowry, never to dance again after marriage. The payments would have been in coin and as there were no banks were worn as jewellery and fastened into their hair, made into necklaces and belts. We dancers of today still have all the jewellery, however today it is not often gold or silver, just some cheap base metal.
Oddly nowadays most Western women who take up this wonderful art form don’t start until after marriage! Originally the dance was done with bare feet, yet many 19th and 20th century paintings show dancers wearing shoes, it was considered a step up from the gutter for them.
In 1893 a 21 year old entrepeneur named Sol Bloom became part of a large body of rich men involved in the Chicago World Fair. They brought people from other countries and built mock up streets and villages to show how they lived. (travel was somewhat limited in those days.) The Middle Eastern display turned out to be one of the most popular exhibits, with it’s dancing girls, who moved in ways that made well educated Western ladies just swoon, let alone what it did to the men…
Many night club and bar owners jumped on the bandwagon that developed from this and the strut and strip sleaze reputation that belly dance has had for many years was born.
The recent reputation of the dance has been due to the influence of Hollywood and it has been cheapened and over glamourised. Just watch most peoples faces when you mention Bellydancing, there is definitely an element of naughtiness in there. Yet a hundred year ago ballet dancing had a bad reputation and look at it today!
Many dancers nowadays are trying to bring the respectability to the dance that it deserves as a beautiful and historic art form that is still evolving, as is the music and the instruments used today. Remember you purists that throughout the dances history people have danced to the music of the day. Costumes also change with the times, should we cover up or not? I wonder what it will be like at the beginning of the next millennium. I hope it will still be as lovely and mean as much to so many women