Belly dance or bellydance is a Western-coined name for "solo, improvised dances based on torso articulation".
Belly dance takes many different forms depending on the country and region; both in costume and dance style, and new styles have evolved in the West as its popularity has spread globally.
Origins and history of belly dance in the Middle East
Belly dancing is believed to have had a long history in the Middle East, but reliable evidence about its origins is scarce, and accounts of its history are often highly speculative. Several Greek and Roman sources including Juvenal and Martial describe dancers from Asia Minor and Spain using undulating movements, playing castanets, and sinking to the floor with 'quivering thighs', descriptions that are certainly suggestive of the movements that we today associate with belly dance. Later, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, European travellers in the Middle East such as Edward Lane and Flaubert wrote extensively of the dancers they saw there, including the Awalim and Ghawazee of Egypt. In the Ottoman Empire belly dancers used to perform for the harem in the Topkapı Palace.
Social context of belly dance in the Middle East
Belly dance in the Middle East has two distinct social contexts: As a folk or social dance, and as a performance art.
As a social dance, belly dance (also called Raqs Baladi or Raqs Shaabi in this context) is performed at celebrations and social gatherings by ordinary people who are not professional performers. Dancers wear their ordinary clothes rather than a special dance costume. Dances that could be described as belly dance are performed in this context by men and women of all ages in Egypt, often including young children. In more conservative or traditional societies, social occasions are often gender segregated, with separate parties for men and women - both women and men may take part in dancing at single-sex gatherings. Belly dance is not the only social dance in this region. Other notable social dances include the Levantine dabke and the hair-tossing women's dance of the Gulf states, Raqs al Nasha'al.
The version of belly dance that is performed on stage has its roots in the social dance, and is typically a more polished version of the same dance, with more emphasis on stagecraft and use of space, and special costumes designed to show off the movements to best effect. Professional performers (including dancers, singers and actors) are not considered to be respectable in the Middle East, and there is a strong social stigma attached to female performers in particular, since they display their bodies in public, which is considered haram. Historical groups of professional dance performers include the Awalim (primarily musicians and poets), Ghawazi and Köçekler.
Belly dance in Egypt
Historically, public dance performers in Egypt were known as Ghawazi. The Maazin sisters may be the last authentic performers of Ghawazi dance in Egypt. Khayreyya Maazin was the last of these dancers still teaching and performing as of 2009.
Belly dance in Turkey
Turkish oriental dance is referred to in Turkey as Oryantal Dans, or simply 'Oryantal'. The Turkish style of bellydance is lively and playful, with a greater outward projection of energy than the more contained Egyptian style. Turkish dancers are known for their energetic, athletic (even gymnastic) style, and their adept use of finger cymbals, also known as zils. Connoisseurs of Turkish dance often say a dancer who cannot play the zils is not an accomplished dancer. Floorwork, which has been banned in Egypt since the mid-20th century, is still an important part of Turkish bellydance.
Many professional dancers and musicians in Turkey continue to be of Romani heritage, and the Roma people of Turkey have had a strong influence on the Turkish style