Contrary to common Western perception Belly Dancing is not a titillating dance of seduction performed by women for men.
In the Arab world belly dance is primarily a dance by women for women, handed down from mother to daughter and danced for their own pleasure. Whenever there is a gathering of women (perhaps to celebrate a coming of age, birth of a new baby or just a coffee morning) dance is usually on the menu. The women and girls will dance informally together, maybe taking their solo turn in the centre of the circle, and the emphasis will not be on the technical skill of the dancer but on her enjoyment of the dance and a celebration of her sensuality.
We also have the oriental cabaret dancers who show their skills as an art form in the theatre, night-club or at weddings, dressed in a spectacular, sparkly, costume, sometimes with a full orchestra. In addition, there are folkloric and gypsy dancers who dress in traditional costume, illustrating regional and community dances of their country in groups, pairs or solo.
I must also say that this dance is not exclusively reserved for women there are many men who enjoy and perform the dance.
As far as exercise is concerned the dance is low impact and involves stretching, strengthening and developing the muscles, especially those in the abdomen and thorax and developing good posture (if you stand using the correct posture it can make you look instantly taller and slimmer). The dance can be as vigorous or gentle as you want to make it, so it is suitable for all age groups and physical abilities.
Middle Eastern dance is a ‘muscle dance’ as opposed to a Western style ‘step dance’. Muscle groups are often used in isolation, so you might be moving one part of your body while keeping the rest of your body as still as possible. Learning to control separate parts of the body like this requires a reasonable amount of concentration, so we are exercising the mind as well as the body.
In my classes I like to teach the technique of the movements, gradually adding new moves, week by week as well as teaching choreography so that students will understand how these movements can be joined together to form a dance. But of equal importance, I try to encourage students to feel the music and have fun. Middle Eastern music (and dance) has very different timing to that of the West and can seem ‘strange’ to the western ear. There is quite an art to interpreting and understanding the rhythms and phrasing, each phrase is like a sentence and to create an interesting story the sentences of the dance must fit together in a poetic order. Having said that, there is no right or wrong way to interpret the music, individuality and developing your own style is what is needed here.
My aim is to teach different Arabic styles, for instance: Oriental (raqs sharqi) – a balletic and flamboyant style suited to stage performance; Beledi (1) – more reserved and contained suited to informal performance; cabaret; folkloric; veil work; using props; as well as giving information about the history of the dance and music.
Belly Dancing can be practised by students of any size or shape, it celebrates sensuality, strength and power, and encourages people to have a positive body image and to gain self confidence in a supportive environment.
Above all Belly Dancing is fun.
(1) Beledi In Egypt, people use the word beledi to refer to “my country”, “my village” or “my home town”. The oldest form of the Egyptian solo is raqs al beledi (dance of the people), a dance of earthy sensuality with a proud, playful air. Modern beledi differs in subtle ways from village to village in Egypt, with individual dancers contributing their own style. Beledi has an air of melancholy which owes something to the loss of rural life (especially to those who may have been relocated to large towns) and also to the timeless concerns of love, loss and yearning.