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Oriental Dance

Oriental Dance

Ritchyed McUath


The dance form that can be seen around many camping events is called Middle Eastern folk dance. It is also known here in America as Belly Dance. The peoples of the Middle East call this kind of dance Oriental Dance. It is suggested by historians that we got the name of belly dance as a corrupted form of beledi. Others however believe it is a translation of what the French called “danse du ventre” a move we often call stomach flutters. Beledi is a type of dace as well as a music style. Beledi has a fast rhythm and to go with that fast rhythm you have fast body movements. Some of the body movements that many people would see and recognize are the hip bounce as well as the oasis twist. (4) There are two more groups of movements and their corresponding rhythms that go with them. The first one of these two is the medium beat called Taxim. Examples of these movements that people in the society would know are hip circles and the figure eight. The last one is called Tcheftelli, it of course is the slowest beat and one of the hardest to dance to. The set of body movements that go to Tcheftelli would be stomach work (4).
            Some historians say that belly dance can be traced back to ancient Egypt 6000 years ago and from there to the rest of the Middle East. (2) The pictures that I have provided show dancers from places like Persia, Turkey and Iraq starting around 1300 c.e. up to 1600c.e. During that time period both men and women did belly dance. (2,4) Oriental dance was and continues to be done as a celebration at weddings, births and victory celebrations. Because of the religious purists’ harsh laws against woman restricted their movements and behavior in public, including public dancing. As we get closer to 1600 c.e. it becomes illegal for woman to perform outside of her home. (2,5) This is the period when male dancers became more popular in the Middle East. (5) In Turkey the male belly dancer was and still is called rakkas, in Persia they were called batcha and in Egypt they were called khawals. (5) The styles that male dancers did can ranged from being very masculine all the way to the movements that female dancer did and everything in between. (2,3,5) In the picture of Humay is that of a male dancer while the musicians are those of women, which shows that the roles of who did what were not set in stone.
            Muscle isolations are basic in all the dance movements of Oriental Dance. The dancer contract a part of a body, making it move while the rest of the body has little or no movement at all. An example of this is a move called a Maya; were you using the muscles of one hip (the right one) moves that hip up, while you move the left hip down making a slant with the pelvic bones. You can move each hip independent of the other. Now the left hip is moved out from the body and then up making a half circle. From there your weight shift down the slant to the right hip and you repeat those movements. (1,4) By combining the different movements of the body, the dancer creates a dance. Depending on the beat and rhythm of the music being played the dancer makes a dance out of the movements that go with that rhythm (1,4) An example is the picture of Husayn which shows a group of men with their hands up as a dancer does in a spin. The spinning movement is done during a fast rhythm.

            There are no detailed written records yet that describes Middle Eastern dance in the way that European dancing manuals do. So dancers must try and reconstruct period dance by combining the “traditional” movements taught by present day dancers with movements suggested by descriptions and pictures that are found in period manuscripts as well as with the music itself. The rhythms, if not the melodies, of contemporary music are documental to the period pre 1600 c.e.  Some of the melodies and rhythms can be found in the writings of al-Kindi (801-873 c.e.) (6). Another writer on period music of the Middle East is al- Ghazali (1059- 1111 c.e.). By the 11th century music from Al-Andalus (Spain) spread thought the Middle East and giving us names for many music interments like the oud, rabab and the qitara, which are still used today (3).



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