A brief history of bellydance.

What most people know of “Bellydance” is all too often misconception. Generally, they are unaware of its depth and antiquity. It is believed to be a form of the oldest known documented dance with purposes ranging from childbirth preparation to pure entertainment. This was a dance created by women for women and was passed from mother to daughter with pride.

It’s migration is thought to have started around the 11th century when the Rom (more commonly known as Gypsies) left India and traveled through the continent. In doing so, they left traces of their music and dance that would meld with the already present styles of that region.

It was first recognized in the United States in 1893 at the Chicago’s World Fair. Though there were many dancing girls, one named “Little Egypt” became the famed highlight. It was the first time for many Americans to see such “exotic” moves and costuming. With exposed bellies and snake like movements, it’s understandable why “Danse du Ventre” (French for Bellydance) became the coined term.

The term “Bellydance” itself is a European misnomer that disturbs many professionals. Several prefer “Raks Sharki” (Raqs Sharqi) which is Arabic for “Dance of the East” and is an authentic way of defining what most Americans typically think of as Bellydance. The controversy continues between professionals as to what is acceptable when entitling this art form. Many traditionalists feel it’s important to stay true to the authentic names as well as being authentic in style, such as dancing pure Egyptian or pure Turkish. However, many dancers prefer not to be purists in form and therefore favor the term “American Bellydance” when making a general description of their style. This, because A) it’s a more widely recognizable term in their countries and B) because many artists feel restrained when they are required to stay within a certain guideline, and this term allows for more freedom to fuse characteristics from other forms of dance.

For instance, ATS (American Tribal Style) is known for incorporating costuming and movements that represent a fusion of many different countries. Similarly, American Cabaret while, for the most part, resembles traditional Raks Sharki, may have a subtle (or not so subtle) differences like using pop music rather than a more classical piece, or also fusing characteristics from other dance forms.

These same artists are as equally passionate as the traditionalists of Middle Eastern dance when it comes to truthfully defining what it is they do. For that reason, rather than misrepresent themselves or their dance, they choose the term “American Bellydance” over “Raks Sharki”. Lurainya is one such dancer.

Lurainya is still very adamant about teaching the history of Middle Eastern dance to her students, but also explains that her particular style of this art form is not always pure to authentic styles, but rather expresses her perception of the ancient as a modern American.

Everyone has their own perspective on how to interpret and represent this dance. Whether they use it solely for entertainment in a purely traditional style, or like Lurainya, see it as a source of greater good and also focus on its healing abilities, one commonality between professionals is that it be presented with respect and dignity.