Where does belly dance come from?

Belly dance has its roots in Near/Middle Eastern women’s social dances. These traditional forms have been (and still are!) enjoyed by women throughout North Africa and the countries of the eastern Mediterranean.

It has also been performed by professional entertainers in the Near East for centuries. What we usually think of as “belly dance” was formalized for the stage beginning in the early 20th century, and adapted for the silver screen starting in the 1930s.

Many distinct regional styles have developed, but the Turkish, Lebanese, and Egyptian styles are the best-known.

Nadira performs primarily in the American traditional style (also known as “american cabaret” or “vintage orientale”). This “melting pot” style evolved in the middle eastern nightclubs of the 1950s and 60s United States. (The first club to offer public entertainment was Club Zahra right here in Boston.) Musicians, dancers, and patrons from many countries of the Near East and eastern Mediterranean, as well as Americans, gathered together in these clubs and restaurants. Between the need to please patrons from different countries, and the rich, diverse influences, it soon evolved into its own style, with its own conventions and aesthetics.

Like any art form, belly dance continues to evolve and change, both in the Near East, and worldwide. Some are natural evolutions, and some are fusion creations, like the American Tribal Style, created in the 1960s, and Tribal Fusion, created in the 1990s.

The dance is more correctly called “Oriental Dance” (Oryantal Dans in Turkish, and Raqs Sharqi in Arabic). But many of us use the familiar term “belly dance” to include these fusion styles.

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