The origins of Middle Eastern Dance or 'bellydance'

Hollywood interpretation of what a belly dancer wore

The origins of belly dance are lost in the mists of time. It is a very ancient form of dance, thousands of years old; paintings of dancers have been found which are 6,000 years old. The dance was (and still is today) traditionally used to celebrate events of the life cycle, such as weddings, the birth of children, and crop harvest: events associated with fertility, cycles and growth. The dance is jubilant, rejoicing, spontaneous, passionate and fun.

Dancer accompanied by musicians

Actually the term 'belly dance' is a misnomer created by the West. Whilst the belly is involved, belly dance uses the whole body. Hollywood also invented the cabaret costume of the glittery bra, shimmy belt and bare belly, but the traditional dress is a fitted, full length dress called a Galibeya (like a kaftan). In Egypt you may see dancers wearing cabaret costumes in nightclubs, but not anywhere else .

Another invention of Hollywood is that bellydance was performed only for the delectation of men in the harem. Well, it may have been, at some time! But it was (and still is today) far more common as a form of social celebration and entertainment, and performed fully clothed! Little girls and boys learn to dance watching their families, and people dance at social gatherings just for the joy of dancing. Men dance in a masculine version of the dance, and also have their own specific dances.

We dance today for the same joy of dancing, although the style we use today is refined to a performance art rather than the folk style 'of the people'. There is something about belly dance which makes a person feel mysteriously powerful and mystical. It must be something to do with those ancient circular movements and rhythms!

Woman dancing in old times

There are many health benefits of bellydance, such as to:

  • renew your energy levels, reduce stress levels and give a sense of well-being
  • improve your fitness, flexibility and muscle tone
  • assist with digestive, reproductive, and lower back problems, as it works the deep muscles of the body and gently massages the internal organs
  • improve posture and develop control of and awareness of the body
  • increase confidence and self-esteem.

Bellydance is a fun way to stay in shape. It caters for people of all ages and fitness levels and can be adapted to suit all levels of ability.


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