YouTube is one of my favourite places to research things like glassblowing and castles and dance. When I was researching bellydance, a video I came across was this one, featuring famous US bellydancer Sadie:
I mean, wow. How do you make your diaphragm vibrate like that? I showed Zapp this clip and he said bellydance had always made him uncomfortable as he thought of it as a purely for the entertainment of men and likened it to stripping. He was surprised that I, who bristles over pole dancing going mainstream, was interested in it. Hollywood has certainly depicted the dance in this way: slave girls and harem girls in classic films entertaining men, wearing very little. But I've done some research and the iconic bra and belt combination (know as a bedlah, Arabic for "suit" pictured below) is actually a Western invention that has been picked up by not only dancers in the west, but Middle Eastern dancers as well.
This is the sort of outfit that springs to mind when someone mentions belly dance. The bra and belt combination is actually a Western invention that has been popularised in the last hundred years or so by both Western and Middle Eastern dancers. The girl in the picture is Sadie again. Lord, but she's stunning!
I was curious as to the history of bellydance and couldn't find much about it that was comprehensive on the net. I borrowed two books from the library that were very helpful, Tina Hobin's Belly Dance: The dance of Mother Earth and Bellydance by Keti Sharif.
Both books are highly informative and give a history of bellydance. Hobin's is the most comprehensive, going back over thousands of years of history to discuss depictions of dance in rock paintings and in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Sharif's book is shorter but contained the best explanation of the the "cabaret" style of bellydance that Westerners are familiar with compared to the localised forms of Middle Eastern folk dance. She also has a very good description, and pictures, of traditional dress. To comply with Islamic law, the costumes are high necked and long sleeved, and always include a head scarf and a covered belly, but are often as glitzy as the bra and belt combinations.
Hobin discusses with great detail the origins of the dance. In Ancient Egypt, dance was performed at weddings, funerals, religious festivals and private feasts. Throughout antiquity and into modern times, the dance has been linked to prostitution, but also with birthing rights. The snakelike movements were meant to ease the baby into the world and were performed by the mother and the women close to her. Women were allowed to dance until they were married, but not afterward. During the Ottoman rule in Turkey, around 500 AD, women in the harem practised the dance to alleviate boredom. "Harem" is the name for the women-only part of the household, the room to which the wives, daughters, concubines and slaves of rich men were confined. It sounds like a very tedious, catty existence.
Many contemporary bellydancers reject the idea that the dance had anything to do, at any time in history, with prostitution or the entertainment of men. Rather they claim the dance evolved exclusively as a birthing ritual. Some of these dancers can be seen on YouTube in skimpy cabaret outfits dancing as men tuck money into their belts. The performances seem to have remarkably little to do with birth--the latter stages of, at least.
Bellydance's diverse history has allowed the evolution of many styles. I love Rachel Brice's fearsome take on the dance, and the many sword and candelabra dances that I have seen.
Rachel Brice performing a heavily stylised drum solo. I love how she manages to convey grace and beauty with a sense of touch-me-and-I'll-break-your-arm.
To complement my usual yoga and pilates, I've enrolled in bellydance classes at Azura's Oasis in Brunswick. I had my first class last week and it was so much fun! Yoga and pilates are all well and good, but conquering a particular pose was beginning to seem rather dull. Pilates is hardly a skill, whereas learning a new style of dance is. And bellydance is one of the very few styles of dance that grown women can learn. Also, you can do it by yourself, unlike partnered dances like salsa and flamenco. Having a new hobby is also helping to take my mind off Lharmell being on submission!
Does anybody else take dance lessons? What sort of dance do you enjoy? Also, has novel research flowed over into a new hobby for you before?