Belly dancing is considered in some circles purely a dance of seduction or just another form of aerobics. But it’s only when you start looking deeper that you’ll find that belly dancing is in fact a remarkably creative and very artistic expression by highly skilled individuals.
The Belly Dancer
“Beautiful woman, daughter of grace and of joy, from where comes your art?
How do you master the earth and the air in your steps
And the water and the fire in your cadence?”
The dancer knelt before the prince and replied:
“Your highness, I’m not certain how to answer you, but I know that
The soul of the philosopher lies wake in their head,
The soul of the poet soars in their heart,
The soul of the singer vibrates in their throat.
But the soul of the dancer lives in all of their body.”
Gibran Khalil Gibran
The Origin of Bellydancing
There are many theories regarding the origin of this Exquisite Middle Eastern dance form. One school of thought proclaims that it is rooted in fertility ceremonies. According to them, young girls were taught to belly dance from an early age to strengthen their abdominal muscles in preparation for childbirth – Middle Eastern women clearly knew the benefit of exercise in pain prevention! Belly dancing was then performed by women, for women, and was never intended for men’s curious eyes. After all, what could be more beautiful than a dance form to celebrate and prepare a young girl on becoming a woman? Maybe this explains why Charlotte’s performances and fun workshops at hen parties, kitchen teas, bachelorette parties and pamper parties are so successful?
Another school of thought asserts that it originated in goddess worship, evolving to form part of a ritual for this worship. Whatever its history, the art of belly dancing with its wonderfully rich heritage, has seen an evolution of interest in the western world since the mid 1900’s. And Charlotte offers training and all the various belly dancing styles – from traditional folkloric to modern cabaret.
Belly Dancing Technique
Although the movements might appear rather simple, they shouldn’t be judged on face value. To become a proficient dancer takes time, dedication and a lot of practice. Attention to detail is what distinguishes your average dancer from a captivating artist that will have her audience riveted at her feet. To think you can learn to shimmy, do hip circles or the Egyptian walk from just anyone who calls themselves a belly dancing teacher, is like thinking you can perform open heart surgery after reading up on it on the net. You need someone who’s mastered the art form over many years if you want to get optimum results.
As a teacher and a dancer, Charlotte believes you can never know all there is to bout the art, especially as the dance is constantly evolving evolves into belly fantasy, fusion styles etc. But she also believes that you can study its heritage and use the standards set by the many renowned Middle Eastern dancers, to grow.
Once she’s learnt all the basics, each belly dancer should really create her own unique signature or style without compromising the authentic expression of the dance. Only then will she become known and asked for by name. This will only be acquired through years of experience, based on the uniqueness and high standard of training she has received from beginner to performer level. To be known as or booked as just another “belly dancer” is simply mediocre. Charlotte, unsurpassed as a performer in SA as revealed by her peers and advanced students, certainly knows how to grow and nurture a dancer to that level of proficiency – but only if you have the courage to stick it out and finish the training. Many students have great difficulty in committing to “me time”, and do not always enjoy the complete value of the weekly classes and home practise required.
Because Arabian Dancing, as it’s sometimes referred to, originated in places as varied as Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia, there are many different styles. The styles that we have researched to be the most acknowledged internationally are the following:
- American Cabaret
- Belly Fantasy / Fusion
- Egyptian Folkloric / Ethnic
- Egyptian Modern Cabaret
- Gulf (Khaleegy)
- Tribal Fusion
You’ll learn about the differences and similarities between all these styles when you join a class with Charlotte.
Working with Props
Charlotte encourages and has trained professional dancers to firstly develop an individual unique expression of the various styles in the art form before introducing the use of belly dance props. And then only to enhance the dance they choose to express. A proficient dancer does not need props to sensationalise her ability as an individual performer. The use of most props is purely to create a variety, especially for a Western audience. Many dancers who are not proficient enough in the art form, will often turn to the use of props for sensationalism and audience impact and then fail to keep the attention of the audience throughout her performance. Ultimately, the dancer should use the prop to echo and enhance her / the troupes’ routine, not rule the full routine. Her personality and professional expression of the routine should be what the audience remembers.
Here is a list of the traditional belly dancing props and related dances that are currently used, which we teach at intermediate, advanced and master class levels:
- Sword (Raks Al Sayef)
This spectacular prop is a symbolic weapon of power. It imitates men at war, and makes light of the real implications of using it. Taught at advanced levels.
- Candelabra (Raqsat Shemadan)
This Egyptian wedding dance (Zaffir) is performed with elaborate candelabra (Shemedan) worn on the head, and taught at advanced levels.
- Cane / Stick (Raks Al Assaya)
Saaidi (Upper Egypt) folk dance done either as solo or group. Intermediate levels.
- Finger cymbals (Zills or zagat, sagat)
Finger cymbals are used in folk and modern cabaret styles. Intermediate and advanced levels.
Though fan dancing is not considered traditional in raqs sharqi (belly dancing), many dancers are exploring fusing the many styles of fan dancing and Belly dance as a “belly fantasy” All levels.
This highly stylized Pharaonic dance is performed with lighted “globes” in hands and inspired by Egyptian paintings. All levels.
- Fires sticks
A western sensationalism! This can be done by advanced dancers who’ve already mastered the dance so they will have the ability to improvise and dance more freely. Also read up on poi dancing for other fire dancing work (belly fantasy).
Single or double veils, usually rectangular or half circle (also used in the controversial dance of the 7 veils), are creatively used to expand dance space and improve arm and posture carriage. Soft, sensual dreamy feminine expression in the art. All levels.
- ISIS Wings
Read up on the legend and look for photos or paintings of Isis for history about the goddess Isis. You can’t help but feel like a goddess when you spread these glorious wings. These props are show stoppers. You will need a HUGE space to practice in. Advanced levels.
© Belly Dancing by Charlotte