Candles flickering almost in slow motion casting shadows upon the walls, the music is playing as all eyes are set on the center of the room. You see her from a distance, moving with a seductive grace, a vision of pure beauty. Her body sways in unison with her glorious hips.
There is something in the way she moves as her hips curve and weave a story of seduction. Each movement is fluid and precise. Tossing her hair, arching her back as her sultry pelvic swirls. Consumed in her earthly dance, completely absorbed by the music and the steps she chooses, the music seems to emanate from her body, as she emphasizes on the rhythm and melody of the song.
Belly dance is natural to a woman’s bone and muscle structure. The movements center on the torso rather than the legs and feet, as is common in Western dance. The belly dancer isolates parts of her body, to move each independently in a completely feminine interpretation of the music.
Considered the oldest known dance by some experts, belly dance traces it origins as far back as 6,000 years ago. In some pagan societies who worshiped a feminine deity, they used to dance something similar to celebrate women’s fertility as something magic, this type of dance is supposed to be indeed good for preparing women’s body to give birth.
The history of belly dance in Lebanon can be traced back to the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians worshipped the goddess Astarte (“She of the Womb”). She was the main Deity of the cities Sor (Tyre), Zidon (Sidon) and Gubla (Byblos), and is frequently shown as an archer either beside or standing on a lion, much like the Babylonian Ishtar, who is quite similar. Her cult involved a fertility dance similar to belly dance. The legend of the Seven Veils of Ishtar, her Babylonian version began in 4,500 BC, out of fear that winter might never end. It’s a tale found, with variations, in a number of different cultures. The essential idea of a ” belly dancing” woman, however, remains intact in all.
A Babylonian goddess of love and sensuality, Ishtar represented all women. She was chaste, yet fertile. She was a life-giver and a great nurturer, yet she was known as the mother of darkness and destruction. According to the story, Ishtar’s husband dies and descends into the land of darkness, (in some cases referred to as the ” womb of the Earth” ). Ishtar covers her body with seven veiled costumes, and sets off to retrieve her husband. Appropriately dressed, she deceives her way into the underworld, through forty-nine gates. To gain admission at each seventh gate, she dances in a way that emphasizes her abdomen, rolling it in circles. Each time she does so, she gives up a jewel and a veil. Meanwhile, in her absence, no crops grow, and no festivities take place. Ishtar makes her way through the gates, determined to reach the forty-ninth and determined to find her man. Despite the hardships, Ishtar triumphs. When she returns with her husband and her seven veils, the people celebrate and the crops flourish.
The term “belly dance” is a translation of the French term “danse du ventre”, which was applied to the dance in the Victorian era, , and probably originally referred to dancers from the Ouled Nail tribes of Algeria. It is something of a misnomer, as their dance used more abdominal movements than the dances described today as “belly dance”. In Arabic, the dance is known as Raqs Sharqi (Dance of the east )or Raqs Beledi(“Country Dance” or “Folk Dance”).
Belly dance is primarily a torso-driven dance, with an emphasis on articulations of the hips. The modern style of Lebanese belly dance is often attributed to the legacy of Nadia Gamal, the revered dancer who was known as “The Queen of Belly Dance”. Like all dance that has stylistically evolved over time, it is interpretive, but it is generally more energetic and directed at entertainment than Egyptian dance. It has a touch of oriental style in the moves, but could perhaps be seen as more modern and feisty.
Lebanese style belly dance is somewhere between the Egyptian and Turkish styles. Lebanese dance takes from the classic oriental dance, but still incorporates a fiesty, modern edge. There are large steps, backward leans to the torso, twisting hip rotatations, large and busy arms and lots of shimmies. The types of techniques that are used in Lebanese style dance are quick layered shimmies and subtle internal movements. Lebanese dancers sometimes include kicks, splits, deep back bends, and Turkish drops. The larger use of space and faster music is also characteristic of Lebanese Oriental.
A Lebanese singer, dancer, and actress, Badia Masabni, is credited with the adoption of a new costume, which in Arabic is called bedlah (meaning “uniform”). In 1930s Badia opened a night club in Cairo called Casino Opera. In collaboration with several western choreographers and a group of dancers, Badia began to transform a Middle Eastern folk dance, Raks Baladi, into performance art. The new, more theatrical version of Middle Eastern dance came to be called Raks Sharki.
Dani Boustros a lebanese belly dancer was a pioneer and was much celebrated as one of the most respected and best belly dancers of her time
In general, belly-dancing costumes are colorful and consist of various pieces of clothing, scarves, coins, and veils. Types of costumes include the bedleh, a common cabaret-style suite consisting of a beaded skirt, body stocking, belt, and bra. Another costume is the beledi dress, consisting of a long, floor length dress made of natural fibers.
Belly dance in Lebanon as in the Middle East has two distinct social contexts: as a folk or social dance, and as a performance art. As a social dance, belly dance is performed at celebrations and social gatherings by ordinary people (male and female, young and old), in their clothes.
And as the night draws its lairs on the last flicker of light, there would be sensual mesmerizing belly dancing, where the music entrances one to the soul of the night and everything in the room, even the lights, seems to follow the trance of that dance.
Dani Boustros dancing: https://thecarovan.com/category/dani-boustros-1959-1998/