THE ORIGIN OF THE DANCE
Oriental dance comes from the Middle East, Turkey and North of Africa, and is one of the oldest dance forms in the world. There are many theories to how the dance occurred. Some say it started in Egypt, while others say it came with the gypsies from India. The dance form is thousands of years old and is performed in religious ceremonies, fertility rituals and as entertainment at weddings and other celebrations.
The term “belly dance” is actually a bit misguiding, as the dancer uses her hips, pelvis and arms as well as her belly. The term is created in the West, while the Arabs call it Raqs sharqi – dance from the East.
The dance as we know it today was developed in the Cairo cabarets of the 1920’s and are often called “cabarets” or “oriental”. The first performance in a two-piece costume with a bare belly was on the cabaret stage. The two-piece costume was inspired from Indian clothing, costumes from the contemporary cabarets and from colorful, exotic Hollywood movies. A two-piece costume with sequin covered top and belt is still called a cabaret costume or badla. The cabaret style is still very popular in restaurants and clubs in the Middle East, and has spread to large parts of the Western world. In Norway, you can experience oriental dance at various Arabic and Turkish restaurants.
The cabaret style has elements from folklore and ballet and is sensual and flirtatious in its expression. It is usually danced by a professional dancer, performed before an audience, as opposed to the social dance where everyone participates.
THE SOCIAL DANCE
Oriental dance is not only stage art. In the Arab countries, it is a part of the culture, and men, women and children dance together at weddings and at circumcision ceremonies – or at discotheques. The dance technique is passed from mother to daughter.
VARIOUS DANCE FORMS
Oriental dance is more than just the cabaret style that is normally the first thing associated with belly dance. There are numerous styles and variations, and even though the basic elements and movements often are the same, the character of the movements may differ. Some classify “Classical Arabic” as an independent style. This style is elegant, distinguished and less commercial than cabaret. It is performed with classical Arabic music, usually in a tight-fitting dress with a wide skirt.
Baladi is a style that occurred around the last centennial, where country and city styles were influenced by each other in the immigrant quarters of Cairo. Baladi is performed in a folkloric tunic, galabia, or in a more sophisticated party dress, tab.
Every country and many villages have their special variant of folk dances. Examples of folklore are Ghawazee (Egyptian gypsy dance), Ouled-nail from Algerie, Tahtib/Saidi (“stick-dance” from Egypt), Khaligi (hairdance from Saudi-Arabia) and Tunisian dances.
Usually, the folk dances have simpler, yet more powerful movements than cabaret. They often express celebration or describe situations from everyday life. The costumes may vary in shape and color, but they always cover the whole body. Folk dance may be performed by men as well as women, and often in groups.
Folklore and the entertainment form of the dance has inspired and lead to dance forms where the performer focus on her skill in isolating movements while for example balancing something on her head; a sword, a candlestick, a stick or an Arabic tea tray. A dancer can also play finger cymbals while dancing.
Oriental dance also includes religious and spiritual dance forms, such as Guedra (blessing dance from Marocco), Sufi (trance dance with whirling dervishes) and Zaar (exorcism).
THE EXPRESSION OF ORIENTAL DANCE
The dance reflects the mood of the music; joy, sorrow, pride, sensuality and is a celebration of life. Therefore, it is important that the dancer not only knows how to move gracefully, she also needs to understand the nuances of the music. She will give her personal interpretation of the music either through improvising or choreography.
WHY NORWEGIAN WOMEN DANCE
There are many aspects to Oriental dance, and Norwegian women pick and choose the parts they find most positive and rewarding. Some want to express and develop their femininity, some use the dance to expand their personal and spiritual horizon while others use it as a fun and exciting way to work out. The dance is also used for medical purposes for neck, back and pelvis problems, and for preparation for childbirth.
Oriental dance has a broad acceptance of the female body, and is suitable for everyone regardless of shape, size and age. Some women are attracted to the female fellowship that occurs, and the dance may be an introduction to an exciting and exotic culture.
Oriental dance is an expression of happiness and joy, it also makes you happy!
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Al Farah was founded in 1996 and is an independent association for anyone with an interest for oriental dance (belly dance). The objective is to spread knowledge about and understanding for oriental dance, music and culture. The association publishes the membership magazine “Al Farah Magasinet” and organizes dance shows and workshops featuring guest instructors from other countries. “Farah” means joy, celebration and wedding in Arabic.
PUBLISHED BY AL FARAH - THE ASSOCIATION FOR ORIENTAL DANCE IN NORWAY