I love all kinds of dancing – ballet, ballroom, street, etc but the two types of dance that fascinate me most are belly dancing and tap dancing. Belly dancing because the dancers look so graceful, even when they are moving quite fast, and they can do things with their muscles that I think are amazing and I want to do. Tap dancing, I suppose because of watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in those old films, and it just looks amazing to watch a troop literally tapping in time.
I haven’t tried tap dancing yet, but I went to my first belly dancing class last week. It was great fun and I really enjoyed it, even though I wasn’t very good at it.
Our teacher, Sadiyya, was great. She has a fantastic sense of humour and was really helpful to all of us ladies. Only a few of the ladies had done it before, and most of us had two left hips as well as two left feet! Sadiyya explained that muscles on one side of the body can be stronger than on the other, depending on how we stand or habitually move. Makes sense. She came round to each of us in turn to help us with out techniques and explained that it would probably take a few months before we started to become proficient in the moves. Sadiyya also told us that we needed to start working on strengthening some muscles to make it easier for us to perfect our technique.
Regular readers will know that I like to research my subjects as well as writing how I feel about something, so I was surprised to find so little information about the history of belly dancing on the internet.
It seems that it started its life in the Middle East – Egypt and Turkey appear to be the countries in which it is most prolific. It was one of those things that women and girls did between themselves, when there were no men present. At least, when the women danced at their weddings, there would be no men present. Maybe that’s why, when I was researching this, the first article I found was “Why I can’t stand white belly dancers” by Randa Jarrar.
Ms Jarrar believes that white women who belly dance are continuing a long tradition of appropriation. I didn’t go to the class for anything like that, although there were actually only a few white women in the class, I went because it seemed like fun and besides, I really want to learn to do that thing with my head. If you’ve every seen Eastern dancing you’ll know what I mean. Anyway, apologies to Ms Jarrar and anyone else who is offended, but it won’t stop me going back. I don’t intend to perform in public; I just want a way to help keep fit where I can enjoy myself and have a bit of fun.
Traditionally, the dance is either a social dance or a performance art. The social dance is performed by men and women, as well as children, at celebratory events, and the dancers tend to wear their ordinary clothes. The performance art is less of social, folk type dance and may introduce other less traditional elements to it. Unsurprisingly, performers are not considered respectable in the Middle East. I don’t mean that disrespectfully either, but Islam is the main religion in these countries and is strict in its rules about women interacting with men outside of their family, let alone displaying flesh in public. Not dissimilar to Christianity a few hundred years ago. Those are the rules and I accept them for what they are.
Belly dancing in Egypt is distinct from belly dancing in Turkey. Egyptian dancers who performed in public were traditionally known as Ghawazi, from the Nawar people. Egyptian belly dance (called Raqs) is believed to have been a way to entertain the kings. Turkish belly dancing is known as Oryantal Dans or just Oryantal, and tends to be more gymnastic and energetic than Egyptian. These dancers usually use finger cymbals or zils. It’s considered poor show in Turkey if a dancer can’t use the zils as well.
I’m not sure whether Sadiyya’s dance is Egyptian or Turkish and I’m not sure that it really matters. You can’t do this dancing well without a lot of muscle control. All I know is that she is a great teacher and that t was fun. Her class is at the Soho Gym; see her face book page for more info.
© Susan Shirley 2015