Belly Dance is a Western term for a type of dance that originated in North Africa and the Middle East, involving the forceful and sustained movement of the hips and other parts of the body. It may also be referred to as Middle Eastern or Arabic dance, or by the Greco-Turkish name ciftetelli .
Interestingly, the belly does not actually play a major part in the performance of the dance. It is the movement of the hips, the lower waist and the upper body that compels the belly to thrust violently, but the shape and size of the dancer's belly is generally not important.
Belly dance is most typically performed by a lone female as a form of entertainment in restaurants and at specific functions such as weddings and parties. Sometimes though it is performed as a group, and in some instances by men.
The dance has its origins in ancient Arab tribal cultures and made its way across Western Europe during the Romantic period of the 18th and 19th centuries. Its essentially spontaneous nature has led it to be hailed as a possible forerunner of modern dancing.
It was not however universally welcomed in Europe or in the USA, where it was viewed in some quarters as immodest and provocative. This was particularly so in the repressive environment of Victorian England. And yet in spite of this Middle Eastern and North African dancers entertained all the major World Trade Fairs during this period, fully dressed but still displaying the movements that remained so frowned upon in sections of society at that time.
Neverheless the essence of the Trade Fairs was for the Great Powers to parade the allure and exotica of their respect empires, and there was nothing which more epitomised the spirit and "feel" of North Africa and of the Arab world than the belly dancer.
In today's more relaxed environment the art of belly dancing is popular everywhere around the world. The style of dance is not identical from one place to the next and different variants have emerged. Today one might find a Russian belly dancer performing a local routine, or somebody else else performing conspicuously Arabic dance movements.
What unites them all is the wonderful exotic costumes that they invariably wear, and which brighten up any function at which they are in evidence.
Belly dancers are much in demand at weddings, corporate events, celebrations and parties and are usually regarded as a safe form of family-friendly entertainment. Westerners are themselves able to learn belly dancing at classes that operate from school halls and local community centers.