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About Belly Dance by Thia

Belly dance has intrigued and fascinated people since the dawn of time. This is the stuff exotic dreams are made of. It's flashes of gold glitter and coins, tassels that fly, big dangly earrings, bare feet sliding across wooden floors, undulating midriffs, translucent skirts swaying sensuously, staccato hips moving to haunting Arabic music, and loose hair sashaying softly. This is belly dancing!

The belly dance of today is a direct descendant of an ancient dance. It still reflects the respect people once had for the body as a creation of nature, and the temple of the soul. It relies on natural movements which gently and thoroughly exercise every part of the body. It stresses spontaneity, allowing each individual to dance freely, and express their own unique personality and creativity. The basis of the dance incorporates rolling, undulating, vibrating and pelvic movements, all natural to the body.

Most people think belly dancing is entertainment for men only. Hollywood's image of a scantily clad woman dancing in a smoky cafe filled with leering men is a grave misconception. Belly dance is performed at schools, churches, parks, libraries, restaurants and theaters. It is danced by mothers, nurses, lawyers, computer engineers, housewives and teachers. Some sponsors are Pepsi Cola, major insurance companies, and arts councils. It is recognized as an art form with a rich cultural heritage.

Belly dance was originated and performed by women in honor of the Great Mother, giver of life. Her worship is supported by numerous anthropological studies. The earliest recorded example of the Mother dancing is the Venus of Laussel. This is a bas-relief sculpture from a cave in the Dordogne Valley, France, dated approximately 19,000 B.C. Throughout Europe and Africa, women dancing with upraised arms are pictured in Stone Age caves and on and on cliff paintings. These dances imitated animals, especially birds and snakes. The dancing was believed to be a magical linking of physical and symbolic . The swaying and gyrations of the hip were an important part of worship to the Great Mother. It was believed to insure future generations via the birth process.

The Egyptians were probably the first people to organize the dance into a holistic art form. Belly dance was used in preparation for childbirth. The deep contractions of the movements strengthen the abdominal muscles, allowing for easy delivery. The dance was also enjoyed as a form of entertainment, as well as for religious celebrations. We know this to be true by evidence of hieroglyphs on walls and tombs.

Both the Greeks and the Romans used belly dance to express themselves. Greek and Roman women performed what have been described as erotic, ecstatic dances to the accompaniment of wild singing and drumming. They celebrated the joy of life.

As the Golden Age civilizations faded, cultures and races migrated and mixed around the globe. Because of this, belly dance underwent a fascinating evolution. From India came sinuous arms and side to side sliding of the head on the neck. The Egyptians gave the dance its articulate hip movements, while the Persians contributed delicate and graceful hand gestures. In addition, beautiful melodic music was created for the dance.

As male-oriented religions developed, belly dance was discouraged as a means of worship. Prayer rather than dance became the expression. Women lost many of their freedoms. With the onset of the Dark Ages, the higher understanding and meaning of the dance was lost in many parts of the world. In Europe the dance was all but forgotten. It survived for the most part in the Mid-East, India, and North Africa. However, what was once danced for religious celebrations, healing technique, child birth preparations, physical education and courtship became strictly communal entertainment.

It wasn't until the 19th century that the West was reawakened to the dance form. Orientalist painters and writers were beguiling Europe with their rich and exotic paintings and stories of the dancing girls of the East. But it wasn't until 1893 that the American public had its first introduction, in the form of Little Egypt and her Middle East dancers, who shocked Victorian audiences at the Chicago World Fair. "She moves every muscle of her body," sang Eugene Field. Remember, these were the days when women were heavily tied up in pinching steel corsets.

Americans lacked the trained eye to appreciate the beauty and subtleties of the dance. Because of this, most people considered the dance to be nothing more than "Hoochie Koochie." Fortunately, motion pictures were taken of Little Egypt. Unfortunately, her midsection was obliterated by the black stripes of the censor. What shows is a woman heavily draped, doing a few harmless pelvic movements and traditional folk steps.

Later, Ruth St. Dennis and Isadora Duncan stood out as women who revolutionized American dance with inspirations from the East. It was Isadora Duncan who said, "The dancer of the future will dance the freedom of women...the highest intelligence in the freest body."

This is why I love belly dance. It is total artistic expression. The dancer chooses her own music, choreography, and costume. She sets the tone and mood of the performance. This ancient dance still reflects the sensuality and femininity of all women. Unlike other forms of dance that require mutilations of the muscles and bones, belly dance allows the body to express itself in the freest natural motion. To dance with the highest intelligence is to be aware of self and its beauty. It is the combination of mind and spirit that sets one free.

This is belly dance!

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