Oriental dancing, better known as “belly dancing”, as it was called by western visitors in the 19th century, is deeply rooted in history – according to testimonies it existed back before the common era. Belly dancing is emotional dancing and is considered to be sensual, arousing and sexy, usually involving a single dancer moving her whole body in circular movements. The dancer wears minimalistic clothing accompanied by scarves, eye covers, many jewels and sometimes elements of swords or sticks. This type of dancing, despite all the definitions, is actually a folklore dance reflectingthe Mediterranean region, Arab countries and North African culture. The effect of the development of belly dancing has been two-way, ranging from belly dances for gypsy dancing, Spanish flamenco and even Indian dances. There are different belly dance styles too, such as the Baladi style, which is a folk dance, the Sharqi style, the classic style that involves the use of accessories, the Turkish style and the fusion style that has added African tribal movements to the dances.
While today, belly dances are common in mixed audiences, the beginning of the dance, back in the byzantine period, involved women who danced for female audiences at social events or meetings. The conquest of the east by the west led to a change in belly dance styles, turning belly dancing into a more artistic performance particularly in Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt. One of the most famous dancers was Egyptian dancer Tahiya Karioka, who became a role model and an inspiration for many dancers and was regarded as having no equals in her virtuoso dancing and body gestures. Karioka was successful where other belly dancers were not – she became a famous television and film actress appearing in many films beside contemporary actors such as Farid al Atrash and Muhammad Abdul Wahab, and her films appeared in most western countries.
The belly dancing trend has not skipped western girls in 2015, and in today’s Israel, many belly dancing classes and courses are offered. Belly dancing has become very popular as a means of self-expression and self-acceptance, as it is suitable for any woman of any build. One of the key places in Israel that teaches belly dances deals with training of teachers for teaching classic styles and folk dancing. It has also launched globally unique programs for belly dancing therapy, a professional program that lasts two years. The program was launched after a demand for professional dance teachers arose and oriental dance therapy was found to be effective for problems with body image, eating disorders, fertility disorders, preparation for childbirth and a wide range of other disorders.
In Israel there are a number of belly dancing festivals during the year: Desert Rose, Raks Tel Aviv and Habib Ya-Eini to name a few. The best known and most famous is the international belly dancing festival held in Eilat, which attracts dancers of both genders from around the world. The festival has about 900 people who enjoy the performances, and competitions. Workshops are available for Saidi, Sha’abi and Baladi Egyptian dance styles; the Raks Sharqi, identified with the Egyptian cinema and influenced by musicals and classic ballet; Turkish, Moroccan, Bollywood and Khalidi dancing that comes from the Gulf States. Besides dance performances and workshops, there are also workshops for using accessories such as sticks and scarves, coordination and movement separation.