HISTORY OF BELLY DANCE
Why belly dance?
There is no other dance that exists in as many variations and interpretations as oriental dance in every part of the world. It is from this almost limitless diversity that Oriental dance is important not only in terms of genre but also in terms of its name: the original ‘Raqs Sharki’, or ‘Eastern Dance’.
The denomitation was first used in Western civilization in the 19th century. Thanks to French travelers of the 20th century who dubbed this “Danse du ventre”, simply known as “belly dance”, a dance form they met in the Middle East for the first time, (mainly in Egypt),in wich a part of the female belly was found striking. As a mirror translation of this term, the term “Bellydance” became widespread in the English language, and as a result, for the Hungarian audience became “hastánc”.
Some say the belly is used in this name as an expression of maternity, femininity and worldly belief, but others believe that the term is sexist because of the associations it associates and disruptively simplifies oriental dance, which, although energized by femininity and fertility most of its focus is really on the abdomen, not based solely on the movement of the abdomen – here the role of the female body is unrivaled in other dances, based on the isolated and harmonious movement of the whole and its parts.
As a result, the name Oriental Dance or Oriental Dance is gaining popularity in English and Hungarian, and thanks to the increasing international presence of Egyptian dancers and masters, the original Arabic name, raqs sharki, has become widely known.
The ancient dance
It would be difficult to say which dance form we know today, which dates back to the oldest past, since dance has probably always been present in human history, just as dancing as an instinctive form of movement from the early years of human life.
It is certain, however, that the oldest sources of oriental dance can be found, and according to the drawings and records, this type of dance is the 21st century. century form is most strongly associated with its ancient roots. Each of the Middle East countries has a specific variety, and all of them faithfully reflect the authentic movement that has characterized this particular Oriental dance for thousands of years.
And of course, oriental dance styles, such as the Egyptian cabaret line that developed in the 1920s, have evolved over time, evolving primarily around the entertainment needs of the modern age and the demands of the stage, and later partly from this, combining powerful ballet influences into what is today called the classic Raqs Sharki genre.
The origins of oriental dance are rooted in ancient Eastern cultures. In Egypt and in the land of the ancient Sumerians, tools and objects depicting dancers have been found. In ancient civilizations, dance was performed primarily in sacred ceremonies, so this then ritual expression played the role of sacred dance. The dances were addressed to the gods as prayers or thanksgiving, asking for blessing or healing, but they also imitated the sowing and harvesting of the crop.
One of his most important functions was to prepare the woman for childbirth, so that dance was not only sacred, but also linked to fertility in everyday life. However, it had many other features, often used in ancient times for secular entertainment and for dancing their daily activities (a good example of this is Persian dance, which still preserves this character). However, it has always been a characteristic of this dance that women’s communities were the most important scene, whether in the everyday or in the temple environment. Priestess’s ritual fertility ceremonies were not open to men, as certain events in religious Islamic communities are not celebrated together by men and women. This also illustrates the misconception of the modern attitude towards belly dancing, according to which this dance is originated in the harem world and is therefore intended to entertain men. Of course, no scene in the Islamic world can be excluded from the “locality” of oriental dance, but its origin must be distinguished from the functions that have developed or become later.
The history of modern belly dance dates back to 1893. This year, at the Chicago World Exhibition, Western audiences accustomed to ballet and the unnaturally transformed figure for the first time encountered oriental dance that promoted the freedom and inherent beauty of the female body. The first messengers were Syrian dancers, and one of them became the “Little Egypt” dancer.
“The United States began to become interested in Egypt at the time of the 1893 Chicago World Exhibition, mainly because of a belly dancers. Belly dancing was first performed in America in 1876 in Philadelphia. Failed. Seventeen years later, the Chicago World Expo seemed just as unsuccessful.
“But when a young lady, Little Egypt, appeared and started performing belly dancing in the show “On the streets of Cairo”, the audience suddenly became very interested in the fair. (Not even a year has passed, and hundreds of imitators of Little Egypt have appeared, dancing for ten cents in museums and country shows.) ” Joseph H. Mazo: The History of Modern American Dance.
After the first shock, oriental dance, which at first was only a curiosity, began to attract larger crowds. This is partly due to the turn of the century to the East and, in America, not least to the legendary pioneer of modern dance, Ruth St. Denis, who for the first time was inspired by Egyptian art in a stage dance scene. In its original setting, the first modern stage of oriental dance was the Casino Opera in Cairo, opened in 1927. This is where the aforementioned cabaret style came into play, performed by the glittering star dancers of the century. In the 1940s and ’50s, Cairo was the entertainment hub of Middle Eastern culture, and the most famous Oriental dancers, now legendary, appeared on the scene, and their fate was intertwined at the Casino Opera: Tahya Karioka, Samya Gamal, Naima Akef.
These artists also featured on the movie screen, influencing dancers all over the world. The golden age of modern oriental dance began. In the second half of the 1900s, Islamic religious groups were constantly trying to suppress it, as a result of which legendary entertainment venues and dance theaters closed, and unfortunately, in many places, dance was reduced to a tourist attraction. However, this process seems to be taking off at the moment, thanks to the incredible Western interest in the 21st century. In the 20th century, it was oriented towards oriental dance. In the Americas and Western Europe, dance exists primarily in the form of professional solo dances and amateur hobby and group dances, but dance genre is becoming more and more popular in the genre and is definitely getting closer to its place as an art form.
“I praise the dance,
for it frees people from the heaviness of matter
and binds the isolated to community.
I praise the dance, which demands everything:
health and a clear spirit and a buoyant soul.”
I Praise The Dance by Saint Augustine
The stars of belly dance
Egyptian dancers are associated with the revival of Oriental dance are: Nagwa Fouad, Suhair Zaki, Fifi Abdou, or later Mona Said, Dina, Aida Nour, Lucy, Dandash, and lately Camelia, Randa Kamel, Nour and Soraya, and one could follow with the list of emerging egyptian dancers.
But obviously it cannot be generalized, because in this genre diversity is one of the most beautiful things and the artistic freedom of subjective possibilities. Contributing significantly to the international spread of oriental dance, several prominent choreographers have settled abroad and, through their work, have enhanced the reputation and importance of oriental dance internationally: Dr. Mo Geddawi, Momo Kadous in Germany, Dr. Hassan Khalil in Belgium, Yousry Sharif in America, etc., and most well-known artists regularly tour around the world.
This is how the Hungarian audience gets to know more and more dancers, genres and styles, which makes the Hungarian oriental dance scene richer and more diverse.