Belly Dancing “Westernized”

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The Influence of Western Culture on Belly Dancing

Belly dance was not always seen as a “sensual dance,” however shortly after belly dance styles were introduced to America, many new forms of belly dance developed that were immediately considered to be scandalous. As with cultural music, food, and other cultural ideas, some cultural concepts do not translate well across international borders without changing. The same is true for belly dancing. The original meaning behind belly dance was quickly forgotten, and the primary reason for belly dance in America became entertainment. The original idea behind belly dance was to support expecting mothers and was performed as a fertility dance to bless the mother and child in the mother’s womb.

The History of Westernization of Belly Dance

The ideas for belly dance in America dates back to the 1800’s and 1900’s when Vaudeville theater was popular among the people. Vaudeville dancing displayed similar elements to belly dance including costumes, music, and “sensual” moves and dance steps. Some state that inspiration for American belly dance stemmed from the Vaudeville theater movement.

Belly dancing in America increased in popularity after the 1893 Chicago World Fair, when belly dance was performed in one act called “The Streets of Cairo.” Dancers performed belly dance routines the Middle East and North Africa. Reactions to the performances were both positive and negative as some members of the audience loved it and others were horrified. Some considered the dance highly inappropriate due to the expressive movements of women’s hips and torso. During this time period, corsets were commonly worn by women, and thus seeing a woman’s exposed belly was likely considered highly sensual.  As the 1900’s progressed Hollywood enhanced and encouraged the idea of belly dancing as a sexual dance. This further contributed to the taboo that belly dancing still has in some areas today, and especially in the west.

More recently, belly dance has been seen again in a more positive light and is not seen exclusively as a sensual dance. The feminist movement in the US in the 70s and 80s saw belly dancing for what it truly was, the idea that dancing can empower women. Belly dance still, however, is primarily seen as a woman’s dance in the west, and many still hold negative views about what belly dance is all about due to their lack of accurate resources about belly dancing!

Western Belly Dance Styles Today

Today belly dancing is seen in a better light, than when it first gained attention at the Chicago World Fair. Although belly dancing is still commonly misunderstood, it is beginning to become popular in the US among women. Women who enjoy belly dancing are interested in the original culture behind the dance and are interested in belly dance as fitness. Belly dance is not seen only as a dance for fun, for entertainment and for socialization. It is also being valued for its heritage and for its fitness benefits, much like Zumba, the now-popular Latino-style dance. Learn more about belly dancing, styles, moves, and its benefits by following our blog at You can also register for belly dance classes by clicking on the “classes” tab on the website and finding a belly dance class that is suitable for you! You can come by yourself and make new friends, or you can bring a friend. Belly dancing is great fun and exercise for women from all over the globe!

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