The Forbidden Belly

With all the current goings-on and unrest in Egypt these days, I find it somewhat appropriate, albeit it rather distant at best I must admit, to draw one’s attention to Belly Dancing since it is wide believe that it started in Ancient Egypt and pre-Aryan India; although, some speculate that it started over 6000 years ago.

Many of the movements characteristic of belly dance can be grouped into the following categories:

Percussive movements – are staccato movements, most commonly of the hips, which can be used to punctuate the music or accent a beat.

Fluid movements - Flowing, sinuous movements in which the body is in continuous motion, which may be used to interpret melodic lines and lyrical sections in the music, or modulated to express complex instrumental improvisations, as well as being performed in a rhythmic manner. These movements require a great deal of abdominal muscle control.

Shimmies, shivers and vibrations – Small, fast, continuous movements of the hips or ribcage, which create an impression of texture and depth of movement.

In Egypt, three main forms of the traditional dance are cabaret dance, folk dance, and classical dance. The terms often used are: Sha'abi, Baladi/Beledi, and Sharqi.

Historically, public dance performers in Egypt were known as Ghawazi. The Mazin sisters may be the last authentic performers of Ghawazi dance in Egypt. Khayreyya Mazin was the last of these dancers still teaching and performing as of 2009.

Egyptian-style belly dance is based on Baladi an later the work of belly dance legends Samia Gamal, Tahiya Karioka, Naima Akef, and other dancers who rose to fame during the golden years of the Egyptian film industry.

Later dancers who based their styles partially on the dances of these artists are Sohair Zaki, Fifi Abdou, and Nagwa Fouad.

All rose to fame between 1960 and 1980, are still popular today, and have nearly risen to the same level of stardom and influence on the style.

Though the basic movements of Raqs Sharqi have remained the same, the dance form continues to evolve.

Nelly Mazloum and Mahmoud Reda are noted for incorporating elements of ballet into Raqs Sharqi and their influence can be seen in modern Egyptian dancers who stand on relevé as they turn or travel through their dance space in a circle or figure eight.

Egyptian belly dance was among the first styles to be witnessed by Westerners. During Napoleon's invasion of Egypt (the campaign which yielded the Rosetta stone, leading to the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics), Napoleon's troops encountered the Ghawazee tribe. The Ghawazee made their living as professional entertainers and musicians. The women often engaged in prostitution on the side, and often had a street dedicated to their trade in the towns where they resided, though some were quasi-nomadic.

The Middle East Restrictions
Today many Middle Eastern countries forbid women to perform the dance. During the 1950's, belly dancing was declared illegal in Egypt. After a popular uprising ensued, the government repealed the ban with one condition -- that dancers no longer show their stomachs. (That law still remains in effect.)

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