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Belly Dance is an adaptable dance form. It can incorporate high energy movements – or it can provide a low impact dance style for those who want a more sedate activity.
Belly dance is based on the folkloric and performance dance styles of the Middle East. Unlike many Western dance styles it is torso rather than leg based. The movements include shimmies, circles and undulations of the hips, with occasional additions from the abdominals, ribs, shoulders and arms. That is not to say you don’t use your feet and legs but it tends to be to add interest for performance rather than being a necessary part of the dance.
No-one really knows how old “belly dance” is. Depending on the definition, some people consider dance in Pharaonic Egypt to be “belly dance”. At the other extreme, some people consider it can only be traced back to 1926 when Badîa`a Masabni opened her nightclub in Cairo and presented a mix of traditional dance with a Western aesthetic.
The origins too, are shrouded in mystery. Most reputable dance ethnologists see it as primarily a folk form – danced by men and women, young and old, at social occasions and celebrations. Rumours of it originating from wandering Gypsies, the worship of the Goddess, a way to seduce sultans, or a means to prepare for childbirth have little factual basis.
So, if you go to a belly dance show what can you expect to see? On the whole, most performances in New Zealand cater to the public’s pre-conceptions and many dancers’ desire to be part of that fantasy. So, you will see mostly women dressed in two piece costumes with lots of glitz. The music will usually be upbeat and often Arabic or Turkish. Many shows will include choreographed troupe dances often with veils. However, you may also see men dancing, women in dresses rather than two piece costumes, and many shows will include some regional folk styles - such as the sa`iidi cane dance.
What if you want to learn? There are belly dance classes in most major New Zealand cities – a sample listing can be found on MEDANZ website - www.medanz.org.nz. Teachers vary in experience and approach. Sometimes you may have to shop around to find one that suits in terms of style, approach, and class times.
A good class should include a safe warm up and a gradual introduction of the movement vocabulary. For most beginners it takes 10-20 hours of introduction before being able to consider putting it together in a dance. Most New Zealand teachers use choreography to bed in the movements and teach transitions and styling. A few use a “follow me” style of teaching or improvisation.
Benefits of belly dance can include increasing fitness, better physical control, improved self confidence, an increased understanding of another culture and an outlet for creative sewing. Best of all, you can dance without the need of a partner.