Most people have heard of belly dance and even have a mental image of a girl scantily clad and enveloped in beads... but what really is belly dance?
The ancient art of belly dance can trace its roots to the dance & music arts which began to develop over 4,000 years ago in North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Asia. These diverse areas share a rich tradition of music and dance which were performed to celebrate harvests, weddings, circumcisions and seasonal changes, and to honor special guests and to mark significant civic occasions. There are different theories about how the dance spread from region to region, but many now believe that when the Roma from India migrated west through Afghanistan and Persia, characteristics of their dance mingled with the traditions of the indigenous communities where they eventually settled. Another theory traces the dance's development to religious rituals, which were performed in ancient, matriarchal societies.
The movements of modern Belly Dance draw from North African, Arabic, Persian, Greek, Balkan,Turkish, Roma & Indian folkloric traditions. Some therapeutic and ritualistic qualities of the dance are still practiced today in Morocco, Egypt, Algeria & Tunisia. Belly Dance was first seen in America in 1876, but did not draw public attention until 1893 when it was presented at the Chicago World's Fair, where it caused quite a stir. Fully clothed dancers from Tunisia, Eqypt and Turkey scandalized the Victorian crowds with their exposed ankles, "convolutions" and "suggestive" movements, resulting in a stigma the dance has only now begun to shed.
In the 1920s, in Cairo, Algiers and Beirut, the Cabaret style of Belly Dance began to develop. The Egyptian film industry began to flourish at this time, featuring many dancers in its films. Hollywood exerted a strong influence on the costumes of this time and rhinestones, glass beads and sequins covered bras and hip belts, replacing the figure-hugging baladi dresses that previously covered dancers from head to foot. Thus, Hollywood's fantasy of the Orient played a large role in creating the current Western image of Belly Dance.
Baladi dress (left)
Hollywood inspired costume (right)
Belly Dance has crossed many borders and spawned many hybrid forms over the centuries. For instance, in U.S. Tribal Style, Belly Dance combines with North African Dance, Flamenco, and Classical Indian influences to create a unique style. In any form, Belly Dance remains a dance of self-expression, capable of conveying a range of emotions, and empowering dancers—women and men, young and old--as they experience the joyous exuberance inherent in one of the oldest dance forms in the world.
Andrea Beeman's Belly Dance classes focus mainly on a classic Arabic technique, which in the last 40 years has been most influenced by the modern Egyptian style. To this strong foundation of Arabic isolations and body movements, Andrea adds Turkish, North African, Roma, Indian & Persian Gulf stylings, as well as some contemporary fusion combinations. Developing musicality & understanding the Middle Eastern rhythms which inspire the movements is an integral part of mastering this diverse and mesmerizing dance art form, so as dancers develop, Andrea also teaches the art of playing finger cymbals or zills.
Belly Dance comes from very old traditions of dance, do people need to wear anything in particular for class?
To better feel and see the movements of the hips, a hip scarf can be worn around the hips in class. A hip scarf can be a simple, triangular fringed shawl or a more elaborate fabric covered with coins, beads or sequins. Belly Dance is best done bare foot, so the dancer can feel the connection between the earth, feet and hips. Comfortable dance workout clothes complete the ensemble.
Why is it important to have a live drummer for class?
The unique rhythms played by the darbukah or dumbek--the goblet shaped drum heard in Middle Eastern music--are the heartbeat of the dance, directing the feeling & tempo of the movements. Having a live drummer in class helps students better understand the rhythms themselves as well as their intrinsic relationship to the movements. During live performances of Middle Eastern dance & music, the rapport between the drummer and dancer is very important; giving students the opportunity to experience this relationship in class helps prepare them for performances with live music. Every student may not aspire to perform, but a live drummer makes the class experience itself more exhilarating.
Andrea, why did you choose Belly Dance?
In 1988, I studied Japanese Butoh dance with Yokio Waguri of Nakajima. He compared my instinctual movement during improvisation to that of Salome, so I decided to try a Belly Dance class to see what he meant. I immediately became fascinated by Belly Dance: the sensuous serpentine movements & the incredible music inspired the self-expression I had been searching for in other dance art forms. Before I knew it, I was taking several Belly Dance classes each week, performing with different companies in New York, & eventually, teaching & sharing my passion for the dance with others. I don't think I chose Belly Dance, I think it chose me.
See Andrea in performance:
Andrea Beeman teaches at Peridance:
Thursday 8:30-9:45 and Sunday 5:30-6:45
For more information on her classes visit our website.