The true meaning of belly dance

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Boobylicious – When someone goes from hiding under sweat tops to feeling more glamorous – that’s how belly dance teacher Lorraine Pendleton describes the confidence belly dance gives to women.

Belly dance is a dance style with so many variations, danced by men and woman from around the world. Today there are some negative stigmas attached to anyone who performs belly dance, but why and where from have these stigmas come?

Belly dance is an art form which has existed across the world for thousands of years. The origin of belly dance is debated, but there are several common theories:

  1. It may have begun as early as 1000 B.C as a fertility ritual performed by temple priestesses. Wall engravings depicting dancers have been found in temples in Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia.
  2. It was a dance for birth which prepared girls for childbirth.
  3. It came from a social dance in Egypt.
  4. It came from India over 5000 years ago by Gypsy tribes who travelled and spread the dance across the Middle East and then Europe.

Many people associate belly dance with women in very little clothing, shaking everything they can. But is this really the truth?

Most belly dancers have heard their dance style being referred to as some form of stripping,

Keziah Osborne 37 said ‘It makes me feel really angry…it’s as ancient as our heart beat… yes in some cultures it was used in prostitution, but that really has put a big tar on something that isn’t actually to do with that at all.’

None of the widely-believed origins of belly dance suggest it came from prostitution, however many people still believe that the purpose of the dance is to seduce men. Most people’s reasoning’s to believe this is because of the costume they see most performers in, a two-piece set which reveals the dancer’s chest, and sometimes skirts with high slits which show their legs.

The truth is, there are many different styles of belly dance:

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Egyptian: Originating from classical Egyptian dance, this style now has a modern twist and is known as ‘Dance of the East’. It is a style known for its grace and emotion, and what people expect when they see belly dance, women in two-piece sets often with lots of bling.

Turkish: This style is very energetic and exciting. With floor work and a wide range of props, Turkish belly dance is perfect for a performance to blow the audience away. Big hair, high skirts and lots of bracelets are to be expected.

Cabaret: Being no more than 80 years old, cabaret is a modern addition to belly dance. Originating in America, it contains movements of fluidity and control, whilst appearing effortless. Props are very common and floor work shows the flexibility and spirituality of the dancer.

Tribal fusion: Forget about sparkly costumes for this style. The main focus of tribal is on the moves, often large and exaggerated. As the name suggests, Tribal fusion contains a mixture of different dance style, from flamenco to burlesque.

There are examples of strip clubs having girls dressed in belly dance costumes, however the truth is these girls are very rarely trained dancers. The clubs dress the girls this way as it makes them more interesting.

Dancer Nicola Snow 51 said that she felt ‘sad’ for the people who associate belly dancers with stripping, she said ‘the whole point of the dance is to perform sensually not sexually… there is no reason to believe it is linked at all.’

Belly dance teacher Lorraine Pendleton 61 described how people laugh when she tells them she teaches belly dance because ‘it challenges that we come from a culture where that kind of playful dance is associated with sexuality… its always viewed here that we are doing it to perform for men, in fact the most appreciative audiences are always women’

Lorraine said 1472808_4559654364967_3411241837441720024_nhow ‘I used to try and ensure people were more covered and then I just thought people are going to think what they are going to think and then get on with it.’

Not all women dance to perform, many attend classes because of the friendship they receive from the other women, and of course belly dance isn’t just for women, many men also take part especially in places such as Morocco.

Teacher Lorraine said ‘as you get older you are kind of expected to be quiet, be grey and disappear and belly dance allows that fantasy, that playfulness that we can’t really express in our everyday life’ she said her favourite thing about belly dance was the friendship and the community that comes with classes.

Keziah said belly dance makes her feel ‘like a goddess… I love dancing with fellow women and feeling like I belong to a tribe once a week.’

Belly dance much like many other dance styles means more to the dancer than just moving their body to music.

Nicola said belly dance is ‘freeing, liberating and it makes me smile and my eyes light up.’ She also described dance as ‘a release of any pent-up emotions I can express through the form of dance.’

No one is completely sure where the idea that belly dancers are strippers came from, however all dancers agree that it should stop and that people should do their research in to where the dance comes from and what it represents before assuming it’s something it’s not.


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