In the Middle East, dance is a way of life. It is not something reserved
only for parties or shows; it is an integral part of everyday activity.
Many in the Middle East dance from the time they can walk, or even
earlier since many mothers dance while their babies are in their wombs.
We don’t start dancing; we stop dancing to do other things!
In order to understand Belly Dance, one must first understand its
roots: Raqs Beledi and Raqs Sharqi (rahks BELL uh dee and rahks SHARK
Raqs or raks translates from Arabic to “dance” and is followed
by a descriptive such as beledi or sharqi. Beledi translates to “my
country” or “my hometown.” Sharqi translates to “of
Raqs Beledi refers to the solo folk dance of Egyptian women, with
variations native to many regions of the Middle East. It is a social
dance that begins slowly, rises to a frenzy focused on the hips, and
gradually slows down to end. It is done by women for women or in mixed
gender celebrations depending on the culture.
Raqs Sharqi refers to the performance art version of Raqs
Beledi and its variants. Sometimes seen as a “conversation without words” between
a dancer and musicians, it is typically improvised to live music as
the dancer interprets the music with her movements. It is very popular
in Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey both on stage and at nightclubs. Like
Raqs Beledi, Raqs Sharqi is an ancient art. It has its roots in religious
ceremony and birthing, and is a celebration of women and life in all
stages. It is a proud and powerful dance form also referred to as Danse
Orientale (French), Oryantal Tansi (Turkish), Middle Eastern Dance
and Belly Dance (US). Unfortunately, “belly dance” was
poorly introduced to the United States by westerners who did not understand
its rich traditions and so it was misrepresented as something irreverent
and tawdry. This misrepresentation was so disrespectful that some Middle
Eastern people dismissed the form altogether. Thankfully today, Raqs
Sharqi or Belly Dance is experiencing a resurgence of its truth — that
of an ancient, proud and joyful art.