Shakira, Britney Spears and Beyoncé – many female artists enjoy swinging their hips as part of their performance, since belly dancing, an oriental dance, certainly appears to be mystical, seductive and very feminine.
Presenting a taboo about 100 years ago, over time, belly dancing has become increasingly popular around the world. The dance has moved well beyond its cliché of being practiced only during Arabian festivities or in table dance and strip tease clubs.
But let’s go back to the origins of the dance: Its history dates back to ancient Egypt, where priestesses enchanted their audience with their sensual movements. Formerly being of ritual significance, belly dancing soon was practiced more and more because of its entertainment value. However, this development changed with the increasing influence of Christianity and Islam. Both religions banned the dance and contributed to the formation of its infamous reputation. Ironically, even today belly dancers do not enjoy full societal acceptance, even though the dance itself is quite frequently presented at numerous events and celebrations, such as weddings.
By the end of the 19th century Europeans became increasingly interested in the oriental dance and, among others, the French writer Gustave Flaubertwho brought the dance into public attention. Along with the early attention of belly dancing came a misty-eyed perception of the orient. The artist “Little Egypt” contributed to this, when she performed a dance at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago. The prudish America at the end of the 19th century normally prohibited the scandalous presentation of bare hands, feet and hips. Thus this performance caught great attention.
It was not until the 1960ies when the oriental dance was established outside of the Arabian world, unfortunately, mainly in the context of presenting an aphrodisiac. Books titling “drive your husband to feel like a Sultan” or “sexy exercises” soon contributed once again to the infamous reputation of the dance. This was hard to overcome. However, nowadays about 60.000 German women consider belly dancing as their hobby and enjoy the sportive aspects of the dance. The basic idea of belly dancing is the isolated motion of single body parts. This can be done through soft, snail-like motions, in accordance with the melody, or harder rhythms.
Belly dancing can be roughly divided into two styles – the oriental style and the western style. Both differ in their movements. The oriental style dance puts greater emphasis on the pelvic muscles. The motion roots in the middle of the body from where it flows into the body, while in the western style of the dance the motion is rooted in the legs as its center. Furthermore, while arms and hands only play a diminished role in the oriental style of the dance, the western style dance accentuates both. Both styles have in common that the body is supposed to interpret the music while telling a story.
The training effect of belly dancing is enormous. The flowing and circling movements of the torso strengthen the musculature of the stomach, the back and the legs. The dance promotes flexibility and a healthy circulatory system. The smooth movements mobilize the spine in a gentle way and minimize the risk of joint injuries. Belly dancing does not only prove to be an effective workout, it also has a soothing effect on muscle tensions in the back/neck area.
Numerous gyms and dance studios discovered the benefits of belly dancing and offer dance classes to people of any age group. Children, for example, enjoy this dance, since it is a great device to improve coordinative and rhythms skills among children, while helping them develop a good sense of their own bodies. Senior citizens are also developing an increasing interest in this exotic hobby. Belly dancing enables them to preserve or enhance their mobility and while gently use their muscles. Furthermore, memorizing the different motion sequences trains the memory.
Unsurprisingly, different belly dancing exercises are also practiced with women attending prenatal classes, since until today belly dancing is part of childbirth in many North African cultures. The gentle movements are known to alleviate tensions in the pelvic area, thereby facilitating child birth.
This oriental dance is far more than an aphrodisiac. It presents a fun opportunity for people of all age groups to train their mobility, their memory, stimulate their cardiovascular system and relieve muscle tensions. Moreover, belly dancing helps women to accept their bodies, thereby enhancing their self esteem. We encourage all women to go ahead and start feeling like an oriental princess through this dance!