What is Belly Dance ?

The word "Belly Dance" is made-up in the western world to represent the traditional West Asian dance called ‘Raqa Sharqi’ in Arabic. ‘Raqa Sharqi’ translates into eastern/oriental dancing. This dance involves every part of body, not only the belly. To make it more attractive, the most featured body part is usually the hips. Belly dance is usually performed by women but there are some varieties like cane dance that are performed by male dancers.


These days belly dance performed in restaurants and cabarets around the world. It is more commonly performed by female dancers but is also sometimes danced by men. It is a solo improvisational dance, although students often perform choreographed dances in a group.

Another form of belly dance, known in Arabic as ‘Raqs baladi’ literally means "local dancing", or "folk" dance. This type of dance is danced socially by men and women during festive occasion like weddings. In some parts of Arabic world, especially in Egypt, Raqs sharqi generally means belly dancing.

In the western world, belly dance was made popularized during the romantic movement of 18th and 19th century.  At that time dancers from Middle Eastern countries used to be invited to perform at various World’s Fairs and the dances were used as a tool to draw huge crowds.

Belly Dance steps and techniques

Belly dance is more about isolating different body parts by correct posture and muscle control. Although movement of shoulders, chest, stomach and other body parts are equally important, in most belly dance styles more focus is given in the hip and pevlic area. Some styles also include kicks and arm movements. Some important moves of belly dance include:

Shiver (Shimmy) – Shiver involves shimmering vibration of the hips. A simplest shimmy is created by moving the knees past each other at high speed. Shimmy can be performed in any directions like up and down, side-to-side, or in a forward and back swinging motion. Shimmy performed using chest and shoulders are sometimes called shoulder shimmy.

Hip hits – Hip hits is a staccato movement of the hips out from the body. Hip hits is usually done by isolating the hip area and contracting the glute muscles to move the hips up or down.

Undulations – Undulations are fluid movements of hips or chest and abdominal muscles in a circular or rotating motions. One example of undulation is the rotating movements of the chest forward, up, back and down – a motion to create the impression of riding a camel.

Belly Dancing around the world

Belly dancing is a very popular form of dance all over the world. Apart from being a very attractive form of dance, belly dance is helpful in tuning up one’s body. Because of health and entertainment benefit, belly dancing is much more popular in western world.

Belly dance was introduced in the United States in the late 18th century. It was in 1930s belly dancers started to perform in nightclubs and restaurants. Belly dance became increasingly popular in the 1970s when Middle Eastern or Eastern bands took belly dancers with them on tours. In late 1980s American tribal style Belly Dance (ATS) was created by the fusion of North Indian, Middle Eastern and African dances.  Belly dance is also popular in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and other western and Asian countries. Various belly dance events and competitions are also held in various parts of the world.


Belly dance performer Fritzi Schaffer as Salome (1910) – from LOC

Health benefit of belly dancing

Belly dance is a non-impact, weight-bearing exercise and is thus suitable for all ages. Hip movements are very helpful in toning the leg and the back muscle. The dance helps in building strength in the upper body, arm and shoulders too. A study had also found various positive effects of belly dancing including helping solving menstruation and sexuality problems.

These days, belly dancing can be learnt out of internet (YouTube and other video hosts), DVDs and Books. Various belly dancing fitness classes are also run in various parts of the world.

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