Traditions of Belly Dancing

Growing up, I was always mesmerized by everything that my sister and her friends were doing because they were seven years older than me and constantly doing things I wanted to do. Occasionally, much to my delight, she would include me in the activities with her and her friends. One that I could never forget was when she took me to see her friend Ruth belly dance. At first, I was wondering what in the world a high school girl and her group of friends were doing watching belly dancing and more importantly why their friend was doing it. Pretty soon, all my friends started going to belly dancing after school and the fad spread throughout the entire county. I was never really the dancing type, but just about every single one of my friends joined a belly dancing class that year.

History of Belly Dancing

Belly dancing is thought to be one of the oldest dance traditions, dating back to some Egyptian pyramid builders and their wives being belly dancers. According to Sasha, belly dancing did not begin as being a dance to seduce people nor is it supposed to be one today. When it began, men, women, and children all danced together as a way to have fun and enjoy themselves, not to arouse one another. Women would also perform special dances known as fertility dances in which the women would dance before a birth and it was supposed to help in a safe delivery, because early civilizations thought of women to be responsible for procreation. These fertility dances were an old type of belly dancing.

Another tradition of belly dancing was to perform a dance called “Raks-sharki”. After a meal a group of women would get together and go somewhere private away from all men and children and dance. They did this because it helped develop muscles that were used during childbirth and enable mothers of eligible bachelors to meet young women for their sons to marry.

Belly dancing became westernized when a group of French explorers came to a festival and saw the women dancing. They commented on how the women were closer to nature and the fashion of their dress was so free opposed to the french men’s tight corsets and took with them the tradition of belly dancing to their homeland. The first time that Americans experienced belly dancing was at the Chicago World’s Fair where it was a total hit and spread quickly to other cities.

belly dance history

Costumes and Music

One thing that is most striking to people who have never seen belly dancers before is the outfits that are worn during the dance. According to an article on, the costumes are usually very bright and colorful and have many different pieces including scarves, coins, and veils. One type of costume is called the Bedleh, which is a type of suite that has a beaded skirt, bra, belt, and body stocking and is most commonly seen in the United States. Another costume is the gallabiya, which is a long cotton robe that is worn by men, women, and children.

The music that is heard is very diverse due to the fact that belly dancing is so wide spread throughout the Middle East. Each country adapts the music used during belly dancing to the traditional music that is used in their own country. The main types of music that is used is Egyptian,  traditional Saidi rhythms, and Middle Eastern pop. Also, people often people play instruments to accompany the music. Some of the instruments that are used are the dumbek, which is a drum, the kanun, a four string instrument, and the ney flute.

belly dance

Belly dancing has become very popular in the United States and it is not uncommon to see belly dancers performing at street festivals, fairs, or even schools such as mine. I think it is so fascinating how belly dancing has evolved and spread throughout the world into such diverse groups of people. Have you ever seen someone belly dance before? Where was it?



6 thoughts on “Traditions of Belly Dancing

  1. I was always so jealous of the way belly dancers could move and I remember watching some music video when I was little, maybe Brittney Spears, and trying to mimic the belly dancing. I did not know anything about the history of Belly Dancing and was surprised that it was a form of a fertility dance. I wonder if anyone still uses it as a fertility dance? I love the bright, fun colors that the costumes incorporate too! I have only seen Belly Dancing at a few fairs in Dayton but they always make me stop and watch for a little bit.

  2. I always wished I could belly dance but it actually is hard. I took a belly dancing class at LA Fitness this summer and it was a serious workout. You don’t think about how much effort it takes until you try to do it.

  3. I’ve always thought that belly dancing is a very exotic type of dance. It is always very beautiful and it takes a certain type of skill and discipline to move your body that way. Their outfits are also very beautiful and interesting.

  4. Very interesting read! I’ve always thought of belly dancing as a form of entertainment, which it definitely is, but I didn’t know of its long history. I never knew that belly dancing had roots in fertility rituals, but I guess it doesn’t surprise me! I would be interested to know more about how belly dancing has evolved over time. Is the belly dancing that we see in the US authentic and comparable to belly dancing in the Middle East, or has it undergone some change?

  5. The historical point of view is refreshing. so it is more than sex appeal…? How empowering is it that women used to gather alone and do it with and for each other! I see that in the belly dancing group on Ohio University’s ampus. If you look into Ohio University’s belly dancing group online there is an article for the purpose of their class, not for male arousal, but for female empowerment and self-esteem building.

    “It’s really helping you find your voice as a woman to be positive towards the world and towards ourselves,” said Marxen, a sophomore studying psychology. “Because if we push ourselves down, then it’s easy for society to beat us down too.”

  6. I took a demonstration belly dancing class at a health and wellness showcase in Washington, D.C. a couple of years ago and it is very difficult. Although I don’t think I could ever become proficient in it, I love to watch it. I love the pictures and the video you included! It really gives someone a great idea of what belly dancing is!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s