Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Art of Belly Dance

I am a belly dancer.  Surprise!  I have taken and still taking lessons in the art of the belly dance.  I find this one of the most sensual and seductive dances a woman could possibly learn.  I have enjoyed every minute of learning and practicing this dance.

Did you know the correct name for belly dancing is actually "Oriental Dance"? The Arabic name for it is raqs sharqi, which means "dance of the East/Orient", and the Turkish name is Oryantal.

The term "Belly dance" is a misnomer as every part of the body is involved in the dance; the most featured body part in raqs sharqi being the hips. Belly dance takes many different forms depending on country and region, both in costume and dance style;; and new styles have been invented in the West as its popularity has spread globally.

As with any dance of folkloric origin, the roots of belly dance are uncertain. The authenticity of even "traditional" or "classical" forms of belly dance is open to question and often hotly disputed. It is believed that the 'raqs sharqi' shares cultural roots with the courtroom dance style of Kathak

 One theory is that belly dance was originally danced by women for women in the Levant, and North Africa. This theory is very popular in Western dance schools because it helps counteract negative sexual stereotyping, but there is no written evidence to support it. The book "Dancer of Shamahka" is widely cited, but it is in fact, a romanticized memoir written by a modern author, Armen Ohanian, published in 1918. In Middle Eastern society two specific belly dance movements have been used in childbirth for generations, but this is not sufficient evidence to prove that belly dancing arose from birthing rituals – the birthing rituals could equally have arisen from belly dancing.

Another theory is that belly dance may have roots in the ancient Arab tribal religions as a dance to the goddess of fertility. A third theory is that belly dance was always danced as entertainment. Some belly dance historians believe that the movements of dancing girls depicted in carvings in Pharaonic times are typical of belly dancing.

While these theories may have some foundation, none of them can be proved to be the origin of belly dance. Any or all of these factors may have contributed to the development of belly dance as we know it today. The first recorded Western encounter with belly dance is during Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798, when his troops encountered the gypsy dancers of the Ghawazee, and the more refined dancing of the Almeh.

Belly dance was later popularized during the Romantic movement of the 18th and 19th centuries, when Orientalist artists depicted romanticized images of harem life in the Ottoman Empire. Around this time, dancers from Middle Eastern countries began to perform at various World Fairs, often drawing crowds in numbers that rivaled those for the science and technology exhibits. Several dancers, including the French author Colette, engaged in "oriental" dancing, sometimes passing off their own interpretations as authentic. There was also the pseudo-Javanese dancer Mata Hari, convicted in 1917 by the French for being a German spy.

Most of the movements in belly dancing involve isolating different parts of the body (hips, shoulders, chest, stomach etc.), which appear similar to the isolations used in jazz ballet, but are often driven differently. In most belly dance styles, the focus is on the hip and pelvic area.

Important moves are:

Shimmy – a shimmering vibration of the hips. This vibration is usually created by moving the knees past each other at high speed, although some dancers use contractions of the glutes or thighs instead. The shoulder shimmy is also used.

Hip punches – basic move. Helps alternate the weight on the legs and create impression of the swinging pelvis.

Undulation – rotating movements of the chest forward, up, back and down create impression of riding a camel.
Belly dance is a non-impact, weight-bearing exercise and is thus suitable for all ages, and is a good exercise for the prevention of osteoporosis in older people. Many of the moves involve isolations, which improves flexibility of the torso. Dancing with the veil can help build strength in the upper-body, arm and shoulders. Playing the zills trains fingers to work independently and builds strength. The legs and long muscles of the back are strengthened by hip movements
Come on girls, get out there and learn to belly dance.  The rewards you reap from it will be many, trust me!

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