What is Belly Dance?
We do not regulate what belly dance looks like, we rather encourage ongoing discussion within our community on topics such as the various styles of belly dance, the pros and cons of labels, and ethical fusion in dance. Around the world, belly dance is practiced by people of all types- men, women, genderfluid, all ages and body types imaginable, alter-abled folks, and people from a huge spectrum of cultural backgrounds. It is a wonderfully inclusive dance form. Officially, in the Guild, if you define yourself as a Belly Dancer, you are one!
'Belly Dance' itself is an umbrella term coined in the US, to describe hundreds of separate dance styles. 'Belly Dance' comes from the french 'Danse du Ventre', which was the original term used by the showrunners of the Midway Plaisance at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair to describe the Middle Eastern and North African dances showcased there. For more info on the dancers, dealings, and sometimes culturally insensitive and exploitative practices at the 1893 Worlds Fair, please see Looking for Little Egypt by Donna Carlton.
In very general terms, the four basic styles are Folkloric/Traditional, Orientale/Cabaret (also called 'Classic'), Tribal Improv, and Theatrical/Fusion. Props that belly dancers of all styles might use include veil, sword, finger cymbals, fans, assaya or 'cane', baskets, shamadan, fire props, fan-veil, isis wings, scarves, etc.
Folkloric/Traditional includes dances from specific regions of the Middle East, Balkans, India and North Africa. These dances are region and culture-specific, were not necessarily developed for performance or public viewing, and often include folk-dances that are still danced today. Arabic Dabke, Egyptian Raqs Baladi, and Persian Khaleegy are all examples of folkloric dances. They have deep regional/cultural roots and histories, and are considered to be cultural dances as opposed to stage-performance dances (though they can of course be performed on a stage.)
Orientale, also called 'Classic' or 'Cabaret', is what most North Americans tend to think of when they hear the term 'belly dance.' It solidified as a style in the '50s and '60s, with the primary stylistic elements coming from Egypt, Turkey, and cinematic film from both the Middle East and America. A few styles that fall under the Orientale banner are Turkish, Raqs Sharqi, and American Cabaret. Performers typically wear either performance dresses or bedlah, the beaded bra-and-belt set worn with a light skirt or panels. There is a strong focus on the more Middle-Eastern ideals of becoming a conduit for the music, as opposed to creating a narrative or character onstage. In other words, a primary goal for performers tends to be to personify the feelings portrayed in the music being played. Props of choice include finger cymbals, veil, isis wings, shamadan, and assaya.
Tribal Improv is an American dance form, which originated in the CA Bay Area in the 1970s. It is a performance dance, typified by troupes or duos who share a set movement vocabulary, which is strung together in the moment using vocal and movement cues. The 'mother' form is called American Tribal Style®, and many other vocabularies have been developed from it. Costumes can vary considerably, but Indian choli-inspired tops, full skirts over pantaloons, and lots of chunky silver accents are typical costuming choices. With Tribal Improv, the focus in performance tends to be portraying strong personal/troupe presence and connection. Props of choice are generally finger cymbals, swords, and occasionally veils, baskets or fans.
Theatrical/Fusion belly dance is a relatively new, internationally developed style. It was developed for stages as opposed to as a community dance, and may include elements of any other type of dance or performance art imaginable--in technique as well as costuming. Theatrical/Fusion dance tends to lean more towards the Western concept of creating a narrative or character onstage, as opposed to becoming a conduit for the emotions of the music.
Theatrical/Fusion belly dance performers might fuse one or more different styles with belly dance including butoh, contemporary, jazz, opera, pop culture, vaudeville, samba, modern, hip-hop, and more.
Looking for Little Egypt
by Donna Carlton
Belly dance: orientalism, transnationalism, and harem fantasy
by Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young
Serpent of the Nile: Women and Dance in the Arab
The Tribal Bible, Exploring The Phenomenon That Is American Tribal Style Bellydance
Tribal Vision: A Celebration of Life Through Tribal Belly Dance
by Paulette Rees-Denis
by Edward Said