In the midst of a serene summer afternoon a gentle Nile breeze enfolds you. At a distance, drums beat a hypnotic rhythm. Intrigued by the spontaneous zaghareet, festive cry, of a party of women, you investigate. A celebration is taking place. Generations of women dance together, uniquely moving their bodies in time to the music. It is a visual expression of joy. This is the essence of Egyptian Raqs Sharqi...the dance also known as Belly Dance.
Raqs Sharqi, translated in English as Oriental Dance, is a misunderstood art that has had as many names as origin myths.
Folklore has veiled the true source of the Dance. Nomadic travelers, Pyramid wall paintings, ancient childbirth ritual, dances of seduction in the Harem, the Dance of the Seven Veils, and Goddess worship are some of the theories ascribed to its' birth. Most dancers accept as true an ancient blending of elements from Turkey, India, Persia, North Africa, and the Middle East.
The Turks are said by some to be the originators of the Dance and instrumental in the introduction of playing the sagat. The extensively traveled Phoenicians are also claimed to be responsible. Another widely held belief is that the Dance most likely originated in Persia and Afghanistan with the development of the oud and made its way South to Egypt and North Africa, then spreading North to Turkey.
Professional entertainers hired for weddings and celebrations of every type are not the only performers of Raqs Sharqi. It is a social dance enjoyed by women, young and old, the movements passed down from one generation to the next.
Ancient as the Pyramids, today Raqs Sharqi continues the age old tradition of women meeting together to celebrate dance and community.
Fundamental Raqs Sharqi includes the Shimmy, Figure of Eight, Hip Drops and Lifts, Circles, Spirals, Undulations, Manipulation of the Rib Cage, Head Glides, and Graceful Arms.
The steps are common to all of the countries of origin. The style; however, is seasoned with the flavours of the cultures in which it is found. From the glitz and flash of Mohammed Ali Street cabaret to the traditional baladi dancer, all are valid representations of Raqs Sharqi.
Most contemporary dancers blend many influences into a subtle, intricate pattern as colourful, unique, and varied as a Persian carpet, and as graceful as the movements of Bastet.
The antithesis of Ballet, but equally skilled, the Rakkasah, dancer, works within gravity, planting her movements to the earth, as opposed to Ballet's focus on the ethereal
Dance is an ever evolving language drawing influences from a myriad of cultures. Raqs Sharqi is no exception. As the Nile flows, so does the Dance, gathering influences and making them her own.
The Dance has been labeled with a variety of names including: Raqs al Sharqi (Dance of the East), Raqs Beledi (Country Dance), Oriental Dance, Danse Orientale, Arabic Dance, Middle Eastern Dance, Egyptian Dance, Mideastern Oriental, Egyptian Oriental, Raqs Arabi, and Danse du Ventre.
The term Belly Dance originated with Sol Bloom, amusement concessions manager of the Midway Plaisance at the 1893 Columbian Trade Fair and Exposition, also known as the Chicago World's Fair. Presenting the Dance to Victorian audiences, Bloom's corruption of the French Danse du Ventre (Dance of the Stomach) has had a lingering existence, the term still in use today.