According to Dental hygienist and belly dancer Llinas, (pictured above) from Stamford in the USA, “The term belly dancing was coined by an event promoter trying to attract attention to a World’s Fair exhibit in 1893,” she said. “The French have a dance called the Ouled Nail that utilizes abdominal control called le danse du ventre, which translates to belly dancing. This is how the promoter came up with the term.”
Others tell a different story. According to another "expert", the correct name for belly dancing is actually "Oriental Dance". The Arabic name for it is raqs sharqi, which means "dance of the East/Orient", and the Turkish name is Oryantal.
When belly dancing hit the news, our intrepid colleague, Derek Workman, applied for the assignment because, as he explains, when it comes to belly dancing, he has form.
As someone who won a belly dancing competition at a country fair in Pennsylvania almost twenty years ago against stiff opposition from two skinny individuals with not a shimmy or a shake to their soul, I’ve always been a bit inclined to the shimmery young gels with gyratory hips. When my bike ride in the High Atlas Mountains last year to raise funds for Education For All ended, we all went to the wondrous Comptoir in Marrakech to celebrate, and gawp at the floor show of sinuous belly dancers (although I have to admit that I was particularly taken with the ladies who balanced trays of lighted candles on their heads and danced between the young maids).
It had never occurred to me that this sensuous art might be the cause of political uproar, but the third annual International Belly Dance Festival in Marrakech, which takes place from 10-14 May, has stirred controversy in Morocco after it was announced that Israel will partake in the event. Nobody seems to object that the dance form is not actually a Moroccan one, but imported from places like Lebanon and Egypt.
Objections have been raised over the inclusion of two Israeli names in the list of participants of Mediterranean Delight Festival, belly dancer and belly dancing trainer Simona Guzman and the stylist and owner of an Israeli belly dancing school, Asi Haskal. The dancers form part of a group of experts who will train belly dancers as well as organise workshops and performances as part of the festival’s activities.
Some people objected to the festival altogether on the grounds that it violates the values of a conservative society like Morocco and encourages the ‘propagation of vice’. The pictures of belly dancers on the website, they say, offers insight into the ‘indecency’ the event is bound to promote.
Moroccans taking part in the festival have also had to put up with some harsh criticism. Hakima, a teacher of Moroccan belly dance and member of the festival’s jury, has had a campaign of accusations launched against her.
“Can people who say that belly dancing is not an art explain why belly dance festivals are organized in Europe and the United States and why people stand in long queues to take pictures with belly dancers that are given awards in those festivals?” Hakima wrote on her website. The dancer, who currently lives in Spain, added that she is planning to open a belly dancing school in Europe to teach belly dance in its authentic form. “No matter how Westerners try, they will never master belly dancing like we Easterners do.”
I may never be able make the tassled scarf around the waist tinkle like a professional, but at least I’ve got the photo to show that my belly can move with the best of them.