Belly dance is the fruits of a stunning synthesis of sensual and divine elements. In ancient times, fertility cults would inspire sacred dancing to appease the Mother Goddess and ensure a fruitful harvest.
In one Babylonian legend, the goddess of love and sensuality, Ishtar, bravely descended into the underworld in search of her lover Tammuz. At each of the seven gates to the underworld, Ishtar erotically removes a single piece of fabric, dancing her way into admission. With each discarded fabric, she slowly relinquishes her ties to the living world until she stood naked in the front of the seven judges of hell.
Meanwhile during her descent, the earth had transformed into a dry, barren land. The abundance of fruits and lush green had quietly withered away, desperately awaiting Ishtar’s return to the living. Graciously the gods allowed the couple to leave the underworld in order to restore the earth to its fertile splendor.
Today, the reincarnation of this fertility myth is believed to be revealed in Egyptian belly dance—a poetic sequence of gestures, characterized by soft hip movements and inherent feminine grace.
In this style of dance, dancers often sensually swirl on stage with a piece of fabric, performing soft movements with every breath until the fabric is abandoned. The audience is then taken on an emotional journey, as the dancer uses dramatic facial expressions and uncluttered movements to bring the essence of the music to life.
Performers of the 1920s and 1950s, including Samia Gamal Tahia Carioca, Naima Akef, Souhair Zaki, Nagwa Fouad, Fifi Abdu Mona said and Aza Sharif, still stand out as references for the classic dance. However, the new generation of dancers, including Dina, Randa Kamel, Tito Seif, Soraya Zaied, have incorporated stylistic elements from other traditions.
The expressive nature of Egyptian belly dance calls on us to explore our true nature and to see beyond the veils of restricting beliefs. With a special emphasis on the pelvis, dancers focus on the seat of emotional and physiological equilibrium. Many experts in the gynecological sphere believe that these pelvic movements are beneficial in preparations for childbirth without pain.
Furthermore, in contrast to many other styles of dance, belly dance embraces the many shapes and sizes of the female body, making it a gratifying practice for women of any age.
Photos provided by iStockPhoto and Ashley Nicole Sarikaya
Méditerranée : l’art de la beauté orientale by Isabelle Bruno