What is Bellydance? Why Bellydance?

What is Bellydance?

Why Bellydance?

I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself. Mikhail Baryshnikov

What is Bellydance? Why Bellydance?

Rephrased excerpt from thesis „Performance skills in contemporary Raqs Sharqi”

Author Yallar

Bellydance, also known as Raqs Sharqi has become very well known and easily recognised dance style around the world. Various competitions, festivals, workshops, dance parties promote this dance style which is mostly performed by women emphasising sensitivity, self-awareness and inclusion. Raqs Sharqi is an art form, which is especially loved for its adaptiveness to any level of ability in professional and community contexts. Multiculturalism brings new technique and interpretation ways to the Raqs Sharqi, mixing it with other dance styles like ballet, contemporary dance, Brazilian samba, salsa, bollywood, flamenco and others. This possibility of Raqs Sharqi to mix many various dance styles on different levels and ages attracts many followers.


(Shakira performing bellydance moves)

Name confusion

Raqs Sharqi is known under many different names such as ”Bellydance”, “Oriental dance,” “Classical Egyptian dance” and “Middle Eastern dance” but there is no certain definition, which could describe all kinds and styles of this dance. Many professional teachers and performers prefer to avoid the most popular name “Bellydance”, which is created by western society to underline the exotic nature of the style. There is a belief, that the word “Belly” is an interpretation of Arabic word “Balady” or “Beledi” (the country), which for an English speaker sounds like “Bellydance”. However, this particular part of the body is used as much as any other body part and there is no need to emphasise it by creating a new fashionable name.

How it all started

Western society retransformed the basic movements and steps of Raqs Sharqi and revealed the closed costume to attract more interest for the exotic Middle Eastern world. Being influenced by Hollywood movies of the twentieth century and foreign traditions the dance made its step to the big stage. The first big event, where the dance of Middle East was seen, was in Philadelphia Exhibition in 1876, followed by the international exhibition in Paris in 1889 and Chicago Great Columbia Exposition in 1893. The reaction of the audience was not homogenous, but nevertheless at that point the westernisation of Raqs Sharqi has started.

London- (23)

Yallar photo shoot in London

Raks Sharki today

Raqs Sharqi has gone through many changes under the visible influence of other dance styles and now looks different from the dance it originated from. Raqs Sharqi is performed mostly by women around the world and despite the geographical location, women created a community, which gives social support to “sisterhood” of the dancers. Raks Sharki now can be described as “ameliorative” community dance, clearly popular active hobby for women regardless of age, gender, race, religion, physical or mental health. Besides the positive influence on the appearance, expression and femininity, Raqs Sharqi has a noticeable impact on the treatment of depression. There are several main forms of this dance style: pure entertainment for self-enjoyment, hobby for health, fitness purposes and professional development.


 Yallar studio members after mid-term school performance (from age 5 to undefined:))

There is a tendency to believe that Egypt is the homeland of Raqs Sharqi, but it is hard to deny the influence of other Middle Eastern countries such as Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and North Africa. Raqs Sharqi embodied the basic movements of traditional dance styles such as Baladi and Ghawazee and came out on the stage, which encouraged the dancers to use the stage space and enrich the movements vocabulary.


Ghawazee in lithograph from 1848, “Prisse d-Avennes,” Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Literature used

Adra,2005; Amans,2008; Brinson,1992; Buonaventura,1989; Cowan,2014; Dox,2006; Jahal,1999; Jarmakani,2005; Johnstone,2009; Jonas,1992; Leon,2007; Mackenzie,2007; Nearing,1996; Nieuwkerk,1995; Spencer,2005; Thomson,1994; Wood, 1976 .