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The Art of Belly Dance

Goddess Celebration and Fertility Dance

‘The Pearl Fishers’. Rene Milot. Oil on canvas. Click for larger image

Belly dance plays a number of functions within society and it has a rich history. Often referred to as Arabic dance, Oriental dancing or Exotic dancing, it's widely believed to be an Arab dance originating in Egypt. Know one knows the exact origins although it appears to have been centred between North India, The Black Sea and North Africa. Over the millennia it has evolved to take many different forms depending on the country and region between the Mediterranean to the Pacific.

It originated as a fertility dance within cultures inspired by the joy of life and it has been owned and shared for thousands of years by courtesans and temple dancers. Every culture has it's own interpretation yet it's always been an erotic dance designed to arouse sexual desire and passion for life. At one level, it's a celebration of the Divine Feminine for women to celebrate themselves as the dance moves involve all aspects of being a woman. The dance hints at a woman's desires, her availability, her sensuality and sexuality, her power to be with and support others, and her zest for life. In harmony these elements are divine and connect women to each other, those the love and to their communities.

Biologically the movements maintain the health and vitality of the body, and in this sense it's become another tool to get fit. The movements of the hips and torso tone the entire body but especially the reproductive system facilitating more enjoyable sexual congress, strength during pregnancy and easier childbirth. The movements of the breasts again maintain health (preventing cancer and support lactation) and help to prevent sagging.

Originally women's (belly) dance was performed naked and as it became an accepted art form. As perceptions and philosophies around sexuality changed, body paint was used (and sometimes still is) then with the advent of clothing, the costume of today evolved along with a great many interpretations and purposes. In some places the dance has become an athletic display of physical dexterity with teasing and suggestive sexual overtones.

Performed in the privacy of one's own company, this dance form can take performers to any place in their psyche for empowerment, health and fitness. Performed amongst women, it's a way for women to connect and bond, to develop their power and wisdom. There's always a risk of competitiveness and when this happens, the dance is invaded by a masculine power that is okay, but not divinely feminine. When done well, it's dance of seduction and awakening, erotic and opening insights into the heart of creation. In the modern world it has evolved into strip tease and Latin dancing although I suspect it is the root of all modern dance. I'd also say that the Russian Cossack dance is the male answer to the feminine belly dance.

As a public dance spectacle there are many styles and interpretations. This was a nude dance and then fine transparent skirts were used to allure and give glimpses of what's under. The breasts were left exposed, but social preferences came to dictate that a bra was essential to prevent the breasts sliding off the ribs when bending back making the art available to more women although there are also men who perform.

Traditionally breasts have been a vital part of belly dance and only women with boobs can be champions in a traditional sense. I'm not saying that girls with small boobs can't belly dance or advocating implants, but to be successful a nice bust is a requirement. The dance itself does wonders for breasts because all the underlying muscles are toned and despite being shaken about, the effect is positive preventing cancer and reducing sagging. For girls seriously contemplating belly dance as a means of income should try products like Total Curve and regular massage.

Belly Dance Moves and Displays

The video above is flashy, competitive and delightful, these are the the most seen performances with masses of videos on Youtube and other social media platforms. In this video above, Jasirah shows great athleticism and style yet this dance is delightfully sensual with sexual overtones.

This is how the dance is supposed to be yet the social setting has rules that dancers are supposed to adhere to. But there are always girls who are in the mood, in that time of their cycle who up the sexual anti and arouse the audience and sometimes the judges. The moves must be accompanied buy charm, grace and style, it's not just about shaking your bod. The Alia video is a little more conservative yet note how the audience loves the moves interpreted as more sexual.

Complemented and coordinated by the flow of veils and skirts to display the legs, buttocks and breasts, there are a range of specific traditional moves including several ways and speeds of rotating the pelvis, the camel - the forward up and back motion of the breasts and undulations of the belly. The movements include hip drops, vertical hip rocks, outwards hip hits, hip lifts and hip twists.  Flowing, sinuous movements in which the body is in continuous motion.  These movements require a great deal of abdominal muscle control. Typical movements include horizontal and vertical figures of 8 or infinity loops with the hips, horizontal or tilting hip circles, and undulations of the hips and abdomen. These basic shapes may be varied, combined and embellished to create an infinite variety of complex, textured movements.

Shimmies, shivers and vibrations: Small, fast, continuous movements of the hips or ribcage, which create an impression of texture and depth of movement. Shimmies are commonly layered over other movements, and there are many types of shimmy, varying in size and method of generation. Some common shimmies include relaxed, up and down hip shimmies, straight-legged knee-driven shimmies, fast, tiny hip vibrations, twisting hip shimmies, bouncing 'earthquake' shimmies, and relaxed shoulder or ribcage shimmies.

In addition to these torso movements, dancers in many styles will use level changes, travelling steps, turns and spins. The arms are used to frame and accentuate movements of the hips, for dramatic gestures, and to create beautiful lines and shapes with the body, particularly in the more balletic, Westernised styles. Other movements may be used as occasional accents, such as low kicks and arabesques, back bends, and head tosses.

Social fun

As a social event, a belly dance themed party as the above video is a lot of fun. It's great to practise space before venturing on to public performances. Even here costume is important although personally a bra is a no no. As a social event, you will know many of the other women and it's a safe place when there's not too much booze. Incidentally, booze impairs judgement and performance so drink water.

Costume

This all depends on where you are going to perform. In any public venue, you must have a bra designed to prevent your boobs from spilling out yet leave as much cleavage and the tops of your boobs open so they can be seen. The sequins and flashyness distract the viewer's eyes yet the bride needs to be as open as possible without risk of your boobs spilling out. Many performers don't mind that in fact as in the Mujra dance, they will have a bra that allows their boobs to swing free when they lean forwards. Of course the larger your boobs, the stronger the bra needs to be.

For girls with smaller boobs, a sheer bra is better because it allows for creativity of movement. For any girl or woman involved in belly dance, the body is an object of beauty to be shown and celebrated in its entirety. Use of clothing is only a modern adaptation so whatever shape your body, and however you are adapted to the sexualisation of society, as a woman you have two only yourself and if you are going to perform belly dance, you have to do some growing up and realise the power is within you.

There are typically two layers of skirts, the long sheer split skirt that most often attach front and back leaving the sides of the legs exposed and the hip scarf. Even if the skirt covers all around, the panels should be cut to expose up to the hip on both sides. Traditionally the top hem of the skirt sits low on the hips and tapers as on this right image to just cover the pubic area.The body of the skirt is all about showing the legs and it should be as transparent as possible. If you are dancing for an audience that has strong moral views about not seeing too much of the body, the volume of the skirts can be increased.

The second part of the skirt is little more than a micro mini that ties at one hip. They are usually much more elaborate than the one shown in this outfit (left). How you select your costume depends entirely on your courage to stand up and be yourself and be proud. At its heart belly dance is an erotic performance and costumes should be worn without knickers. This might seem rather daring but it's very traditional as knickers are really a modern invention that have evolved over the past couple of hundred years. You are totally in control and can use your skirts to display as little or as much of your body as you wish but the waste should always be completely exposed although a little decoration is fine.

Performing

The above the videos are good examples of state performance and having fun at parties. As a dancer there are many places where one may perform and one of the most common is in Middle East and styled restaurants. Here the objective is to entertain and in the larger restaurant weather may be hundreds of people, performance may be similar to the representations in the top two videos and with a smaller audience, you will be personally interacting with some of them so that they can request different movements and give tips typically by folding money into the belt of your skirt or into your bra.

The real secret to performing is to engage with the audience and initially when you are in a confined space with people all around it can be a little bit daunting. But again you are in control and you are putting your body on show. The more intimate the performance space, the less you must wear. In a restaurant, the heavy bra is a requirement that the scouts should reveal or at least hint at the fact that you are naked underneath. The whole reason behind this performance is that people will relax, or do more food and go home with their beloveds to have a passionate ending to their evening.

This dance style like many others runs into the subject of objectification of women and misogyny, and social stresses.  Belly dance has nothing to do with this and in light of Mr Weinstein and all the men now being publicly disgraced for desiring women in a way that feminists decry, belly dance tries to stand aside from that. Belly dance is all about health, fitness, fertility, charm, seduction and eroticism. It is a prelude to sex and is still used by modern Courtisans to charm and seduce their dates.

Belly dance buys very nature is sexual, all the movements of the hips are the movements for having sex and if you believe that it's all about non-sexual expression, you need your head seen to. Therefore as a belly dancer performing in any public or private space where you have intimate contact between yourself and a member of the audience, is your job to apologetically say no more follow-through and enjoy sex with that particular person. I know belly dances around the world may be horrified at the thought but I know that a good percentage of them will use these moves to charm men of interest but is totally wrong to lead them on and then abandon them.

Note:

As my ramble continues and we look at other aspects of belly dance, playing any of the videos below may initiate a popup window and expose you to some adult content. Scroll down for a pregnancy video.

Learning

Like yoga, you will find belly dance schools in most medium to large cities in the world and there is a great deal of varying interpretation and opinion. In this video, there is a wonderful acceptance of bodies and this beginners lesson itself is mostly about hip movements and of course voyeurism. But there is not much in the way of upper body movement.

If you are attending one class per week, you should pick up some of the basic steps and movements within a couple of months but if your ambition is performance that may take a couple of lessons a week over several months along with a lot of home practice and dance parties with your friends to become sufficiently adept.

Stripping

In the right video these two lovely ladies perform a nice belly dance routine and slowly remove their costume. Although the videos filmed in private, this performance style is not uncommon and it is from this that the modern striptease evolved.

Striptease of course is an erotic or exotic dance in which the performer gradually undresses, either partly or completely, in a seductive and sexually suggestive manner.  It was reported as an Arabic custom reported by French other colonialists. Belly dance when performed well is a sensual and erotic dance so seems reasonable to presume that the modern striptease act is a derivation of this because it is a matter of presenting the charms of a woman.  There are more Sophie Mei (the blond in the right video) belly dance strip clips on the web.

If you're interested in belly dance as a strip tease act, here's a more explicit video.

A Middle Eastern Deviation 

The Mujra (wedding) dance is common across the middle east from Arabia to Pakistan, this dance is designed to titillate the audience and inspire the new husband to perform well in the marriage bed. Breaking the strict Islamic taboos in countries where sex education is non existent, it's also an act of social defiance so that a touch of humanity is returned to the people. This variation on dance is commonplace at weddings and other social gatherings away from the eyes of the moral observers.

It must be remembered that music and dance was a part of Arabic culture through into the 20th century when modern politics came into play and the battle between Islam and Christianity intensified. The personalised venues of princes where they entertained their guests with lavish parties where belly dance and time afterwards with the dancers was part of the structural structure.

The Mugra dance is a legacy and if you like and a poor communities alternative to belly dance because there is no training and practice structure within the broader society. It's gone underground and is subject to many perversions and many of the dancers may be prostitutes.

Bollywood take

Romanticising and moving into the sensual mystery of women.

In the city where the woman performs for the camera she is projecting an air of sensual and erotic mystery which is more hinting at tantra. Why she is seductive, she is much more covert and if this stance was performed for any one man, he would be expected to go to great lengths to follow and seduce her yet she would remain in control.

In contrast where a traditional belly dance is performed for a particular man, once she has enticed him, the woman may simply have herself to him to be used and pleasured although afterwards there is generally a reward.

For pregnancy and childbirth

All those muscles that are used in belly dance have been found over the generations to increase the chances of conception, ease of carrying the developing fetus to maturity and giving birth with ease.

The exercising and relaxing of the abdomen, hips and pelvis also promote deep internal relaxation and a sense of ease or well-being which translates into a shorter labour and ease of childbirth.

For the modern woman who identifies herself as being her body and a politically correct feminist may see belly dance as a non-sexual activity yet she will use it to tease and lead men on which other self is another form of assault because it assaults his sensibility.

I encourage everyone to learn belly dance and to use it as it was intended to seduce men and put a smile on people's faces. And whether woman dances well, her body is energised and ready for sex and saying no on political grounds is injurious to oneself. There was a time when pregnancy was a risk but now we have the technology to avoid pregnancy and disease. And for those women who are rather frigid, belly dance can open new doors of pleasure.

Belly dance is all about pleasure and owning one's body, owning one's mind and being ultimately responsible for one's self and one's actions. It's about letting go of societies rules and judgemental attitudes. It's a place of freedom within your own heart and soul where you can move and be moved so dance my lovely.

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