For a beginner in the art of belly dance, the hype (or, more often, stereotype) associated with the art can be hard to overcome. Mention belly dancing to most people, and the reaction you will get is something rather sleazy. The actual thing is not in any way sleazy, an ancient art form developed specifically for women that has continued through time.
The earliest evidence we have of belly dance is somewhere in 5000 B.C. when figurines were created in poses that are still performed in belly dance today. Moving forward, the dance was greatly affected by the Ghawazee (gypsies) coming from Rajistan and traveling through Egypt and Spain. The dance was later expanded by Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, while the sword and stick dances known in belly dance today came from Saudi Arabia.
Belly dance, as a term, was not created by accident. This ancient art form was first created to aid women during pregnancy and child birth; this dance comes “from the belly”, the source of life. To this day, many Arabic women learn to dance from childhood, to condition their bodies for child birth. Studies have given vast amounts of evidence that these woman have fewer pregnancy-related problems and that they tend to suffer less during labor. It is believed to connect women to nature, harnessing energy and dispelling problems in the same manner that many people associate with martial arts.
Our misguided, stereotypical view of belly dance came from the early 1900’s, when entrepreneur Sol Bloom created a jaw-dropping “Little Egypt” in Chicago. The biggest hit in this “night club” was the Arabesque Dancers, drawing massive crowds. What should have been a great cultural experience actually gave birth to the seedy view of belly dance; the strip tease.
Tradition still holds in the hearts of the most dedicated Belly Dancers. As in times past, when belly dancers were paid in coin (there were no banks, after all), belly dancers still weave coins into their hair and costumes, wearing them as jewelry. Traditionally, these coins were gold and silver, a public display of wealth that could be used as a dowry once the dancer had found a suitable husband. Today, the coins are just imitation.
Due to the changes in tradition and the centuries-long spread of it throughout the world, there are many forms of belly dance for you to look into. Many women become interested in belly dance because it helps keep them fit; it really will, too, accentuating the natural curves of a woman. As you travel through the world of belly dance, you will come across the “classical” form, Raqs Sharqi, as well as modern, stylized forms of belly dance like Tribal.
Regardless of the form you decide to start with, the one essential that you must invest in is a suitable practice costume.The idea of belly dance costuming is to enhance the hips; hiding your tummy under a baggy t-shirt isn’t going to help you learn. Instead, go for a hip-hugging, long skirt or wide-legged trousers. It helps to wear some sort of scarf around the hips, to help yourself “see” what you are doing. While you are first starting out, just look for something that will give you a flowing feel; you can invest in the traditional belly dance outfits later on, when you’re more sure of yourself. I definitely recommend visiting an online auction or two and searching for “bellydance” to help find your outfit.
Another tip for beginners that I highly recommend is to start out with an instructional video or two. See the resources section of this article for ideas. I have several reasons for this, the largest one being personal comfort. It is much easier to learn something new in the comfort of your own home, than it is to struggle through the lessons with people who might be much more experienced. Many women who begin belly dance also have self-confidence issues with the way they view their bodies; until you have come to the realization that you are woman, and beautiful because of that, you might feel more relaxed showing off your belly to your tv.
Stories about how much happier women are after they begin belly dance are endless. Energy is heightened, awareness of your body and how it moves is improved, and the knowledge that all women have an innate beauty is something that improves everyone’s outlook. Take your time to find something that you are comfortable with, both the outfit and the dance style, and open up a side of you that you might not have known ever existed before.