History of the Oriental Dance

Classical Oriental Dances – Raqs Sharki

Oriental dance is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, dance form known to man, along with Indian classical and other trance dance forms that date back to ancient times. They are also known as contemporary dance, and has acquired the name “Belly Dance” in the West and less often Oriental dances, as they are more correctly called. The history of this dance and its specific movements originate from the birth process. For as long as women have existed and given birth, this dance has existed and we all have commonalities with particular movements because they are natural to a woman’s body and describe a woman’s energy. Since ancient times, people have revered the Mother Goddess, giver and sustainer of life, and women have danced to celebrate, worship and express, through rituals and festivals, the various aspects of life, the Divine, the seasons, the animals, the crops. As an embryo, we grow inside our mothers and the primordial sound is the beating of her heart. Birth is one of the greatest mysteries that is celebrated with dances and rituals to this day. People have always recognized and respected the cycles, the movement of the planets, the changing of the seasons, new life, growing up, aging and dying.

The ancients respected all the things around them in life: the cosmological rhythm, the beating of the heart, the breathing, the changing of the seasons, the steps of the feet, the movements of animals, and they reflected in their dances. In a woman, these rhythmic movements and breathing are manifested by the call of nature. During childbirth, the specific breathing and rhythmic movements of the stomach muscles that push the fetus out naturally occur. Music, on the other hand, inspires the body to move rhythmically for healing, ceremony and enjoyment. Music wants to be seen as well as heard, and this is how oriental dances are born.

The earliest paintings of these dances are found in sacred places such as temples and tombs of Egypt, Greece and India, performed on spiritual occasions and have religious roots. So the history of oriental dance can be viewed in the light of the spiritual existence and majesty of nature that inspire an expanded state of ours. Through the rhythm of music and repetitive movements, dance is born out of us humans observing and interacting in our world, gaining awareness, expansion and expression.

The origin of the name “belly dance” comes from the French “Danse du ventre,” which translates as “belly dance.” Sol Bloom is said to have been the first to use the term in English, during the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. The term “belly dance” originally had racist connotations, so it’s debated whether it’s still appropriate to use it today, but either way bellydance has taken hold as a term. Belly dancing is also not correct to be called “Köçek” because “The köçek” in Turkish means a very handsome young man rakkas or dancer who is dressed in women’s clothes and works as an entertainer. The Turkish word is derived from the Persian word kuchak, meaning “little”, “small”, or “young”. Andrea Deagon calls oriental dance – SITA – a solo improvised dance based on torso articulation. But perhaps this term is not quite accurate either, as in modern oriental dances, there are often choreographies instead of improvisation, or it can be danced in a group. Oriental dances or Raks Sharqi (Raks Sharqi), which means “Eastern dances” in Arabic, are used in the plural, as they are a collection of various eastern dances such as Raks Sharqi, Baladi, Shaabi, Saidi, Kaliji, Hagala, Gawaze, Melaya (melaya leff), candlestick dance (Raks Al Shamadan), sword dance and other genres with common roots in Egypt. According to some, traces of oriental dances can be found as early as 6000 years ago, in various temples of ancient societies that worshiped the Mother Goddess or Gaia, but under the influence of populations migrating over the centuries from India, Africa to the Middle East, in today’s dance we observe common movements that we also see in Indian, African and South American dances.

Originally, oriental dances were passed down from mother to daughter and were danced during the birthing process, and later carried over into social life for entertainment. In Egypt, dancing has always been a part of wedding celebrations and social gatherings, where the urban Baladi style and the rural Shaabi style were mainly performed. The Ghavazi style, on the other hand, originated from the traveling Roma who came from India and then migrated through modern Afghanistan and Iran, some heading north to Turkey and Europe, and some heading south to North Africa, including Egypt. One of the ways they made a living was to entertain tourists with music and dance. They sang and danced in the streets, in front of cafes and outdoors during public processions and also used various accessories such as canes and swords. Publicly, oriental dances were accepted as part of the tradition, but in 1834, the political situation changed and the authorities in Egypt banned dancing in Cairo in public places. However, between 1849 and 1856, the ban was lifted, and at the beginning of the 20th century, around the 1920s, this dance flourished in various night clubs, where the audience was mostly Europeans. In the Arab world, dancing in public and in front of men is considered indecent and being a dancer there is considered quite a liberated behavior. That is why the dancers in Egypt nowadays are mostly foreigners.

In the West, oriental dances reached, through the travelers, who in the nineteenth century were captivated by the East and began to nurture the cult of difference and especially of exotic Eastern countries, sensuality and eroticism. This is how the stories about the exotic “Orient” were born. Under the influence of the West and Hollywood, oriental dances began to spread no longer as traditional or with ancient cultural roots, but in the sphere of entertainment, in clubs and theaters. Unlike the sacred ritual and rite born from the East, the resulting concept of oriental dance is towards a more erotic image and the idea of “exotic” dances. Belly dance was also influenced by American cabaret dancing, as it was performed in the West, mainly by female cabaret dancers.

The evolution of Oriental dance in the West also affects the Dance of the East and so today we witness how in modern styles there are many influences from Western dance forms, namely ballet, which contributes to traveling movements and floating hands, twirls, half fingers , arabesque, etc. The costume used nowadays is also a product of Western influence, very lavish, covered with beads, crystals, sequins, jewels and other elements, often the abdomen is exposed to better see the movements, long slits appear, to expose the thighs, etc. And so Rax Sharkey, today, represents this glamorous “cabaret” version of the original earthbound dance, a combination of Egyptian, Persian, Mesopotamian and Indian/Roma gypsy folk and sacred dances. Dance, various fusion styles appear, combining tango, flamenco, jazz, ballet. Tribal fusion is a modern, western form of oriental dance, created by merging American tribal style Belly dance and American cabaret. Performers often incorporate elements of Popping, Hip-Hop, “Egyptian Style,” “Cabaret,” as well as movement principles from traditional forms such as Flamenco, Kathak, Odissi, and other folk and classical dance styles. The music is modern and often includes jazz elements.

Belly dancing is primarily torso-driven movements with an emphasis on the hip joints. Unlike many Western dance forms, the focus of the dance is on torso muscle isolations rather than limb movements through space. Although some of these isolations look similar to the isolations used in jazz ballet, sometimes they are driven differently and have a different feel or emphasis. If you look at the movements of a graceful lady, you will notice that they are slow and fluid. Oriental dances slow down the movements, calm the mind and are a form of meditation.

Dance changes a woman’s radiance because she connects on a deeper level with herself and begins to like and accept herself more. In addition to a different appearance, practitioners gain grace, flexibility and a toned figure – the abdomen is tightened and the hips are shaped. During the practices, all muscle groups (neck, shoulder girdle, back, chest, abdominal, thighs, lower legs) are exercised very intensively. Regular practice shapes the figure in a very harmonious way (especially the waist), increases the tone of the chest, shoulders, thighs. During the movement of the abdominal muscles, conditions are created to improve the blood supply to the abdominal organs, which leads to the corresponding positive effects on them (digestive system, reproductive system). Training of the paravertebral muscles can relieve problems with the spine, helps with upright posture. The coordination of the limbs with the torso and the head, as well as balance, is improved.

Materials from: Wikkipaedia