Belly dancing: an oriental stereotype or a source of rehabilitation for women?

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If you ask someone in Turkey about belly dancers, one of the first things they’ll remember are the TV shows on New Year’s Eve or the “gazinos”; a sort of nightclub where belly dancers appear before and after the musicians. Turkish celebrity magazines and TV stations show rich men throwing money on the floor or sticking money on a dancer’s body as she dances, which has even become a humorous tradition. It wasn’t until the 1980s that belly dancers started making frequent television appearances across Turkey. Nesrin Topkapı, dressed in a black costume, was a young belly dancer at the time and performed a dance performance on Turkish public television channel TRT, making a name for herself as the first belly dancer to appear at television. His name is still remembered today, but only a handful of his fellow performers have become famous since then. Even some aspiring dancers have changed careers and become famous singers.

Sadly, I may be setting the stage for belly dancers in favor of a stereotype that is also prevalent in other parts of the world. Either way, belly dancing in Turkey is all about entertaining people; especially men. Some oriental dancers have come into the limelight for their loves with famous celebrities. They can even come to terms with the swirling rumors that what they are doing is just a form of entertainment and seduction. Yet what the story tells us about belly dancing is far more different than one might imagine.

Belly dancing is a widely debated topic. Some people believe it originated in Turkey, while others believe it started in Egypt or India. Surprisingly, this unique dance comes from these three countries. As one of the oldest dance forms, one could say that belly dancing is Egyptian, ancient Eastern, Arab or Middle Eastern since it has been cultivated for centuries by different regions. Some historical accounts say that traditional belly dancing began in fertility rituals and goddess worship ceremonies, performed by women to improve fertility and agility during childbirth. This possibility is probably due to the fact that pregnant women today are sometimes advised to practice belly dancing to strengthen their pelvic muscles for childbirth. In some Egyptian weddings, the bride and groom take photos with their hands on the belly dancer’s stomach – a clear reference to fertility cults. In North Africa, young women perform belly dancing to collect coins in the market. These pieces are sewn onto their clothes as part of a dowry. Belly dancing was also widely practiced during the Ottoman Empire. In the imperial harems, women danced for both sultans and sultans.

America is said to have been introduced to belly dancing at the 1893 Colombian World’s Fair in Chicago. A dancer known by her stage name “Little Egypt” gave the first performance of Middle Eastern belly dancing to Americans. Before the exhibition, travelers from all over the country were already mesmerized by the performances of belly dancers at all-male gatherings.

An even more debated topic concerns the official term for belly dancing. It is said that the term “belly dance” comes from a French word “danse du belly”, which means “belly dance”. It is called “cifte telli” in Greece and “raks sharki” in Egypt. In Turkey, belly dancing is called “rakkas” or “göbek dansı”, the latter being the literal translation of belly dancing in English. In short, there is no correct term for belly dancing, which has evolved and changed over thousands of years. In addition, the music these artists dance to may vary. Audience members can hear Egyptian and Middle Eastern pop during a performance, as well as Saudi rhythms and Hindi music as a belly dancer appears in her “bedleh”, a costume comprising an ensemble. bra and skirt decorated in two pieces. Sometimes separate sleeves, gloves, veil and headdress accompany the costume. If you are looking for a place to buy a traditional belly dancer costume, Istanbul’s famous Grand Bazaar is the place to be to check out many sparkling varieties.

Each graceful wave is an expression of femininity and strength. This would be what you hear from a belly dance trainer. A study from Western Michigan University found that the United States is also known to have the largest number of belly dancers in the world, including those from the Middle and Near East. There are also other studies pointing out that middle-class white American women practice belly dancing as a source of female identity and empowerment.

Interestingly, belly dancing is also preferred for its therapeutic aspects and is performed in women who suffer from physical illnesses, injuries or psychological illnesses. Whatever purpose it serves, belly dancing seems to blur the lines between stereotyping and empowering women.


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