The captivating art of belly dance

Oriental dance; a perfoming art in the west
Writer: Ann "Roxann" Sabin

The captivating art of belly dance, also known as Oriental dance, came to the West during the height of what was called Orientalism (ca late 1800s), when artists, writers and travelers were fascinated with the culture of what was then called the Orient. Flaubert's paintings, Fitzgerald's translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and the tale "The Arabian Nights" are just a few of the expressions of this fascination that are still popular today.

In the Middle East, people have always danced to entertain themselves, and there is a class of professional dancers who have traditionally been hired to perform at weddings and other celebrations. In the West, dance is taught formally in classes; in the Middle East, children learn to dance as early as they learn to walk, from relatives and friends at social gatherings.

Belly dance itself came to the United States at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, with the appearance of the dancer Little Egypt. Much of the audience was entranced, and consequently, many of the dance moves were picked up by various venues such as vaudeville and burlesque shows.

It also found enough true students that it has evolved into a performing art in the West, and of course, it was in constant refinement in its homeland, the Middle East, where it is known by the name Raks Sharki. Authentic teachers were brought from Egypt and elsewhere to teach. Dedicated artists in the West set about researching and documenting Oriental dance, as well as teaching classes.

The last two decades have seen a revival in the interest in belly dance. With the advent of the Information Age, people are again becoming interested in belly dance. Oriental dance artists are suddenly in demand for their knowledge and expertise, and new scholars and instructors are emerging. Today Oriental dance artists and practitioners can be found worldwide, from Australia to Japan, and from Europe to the


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