The Gilded Serpent presents...
Welcome to "Belly Dance"!
by Najia Marlyz
September 6, 1999

You have expressed an interest in learning to belly dance, perhaps because you have seen it somewhere and decided it was appealing on some level and it appeared that it might not be too difficult to learn. We welcome you! Many begin lessons for many different reasons, but few continue to take lessons because of any desire to become professional belly dancers. Many people see this dance simply as an activity they can do instead of jogging or some other form of exercise and they, quite literally, pursue it for years! However, if you are looking for exercise or some aerobic movement "to get rid of a pot belly," I suggest that you will be best served by enrolling in a swimming class. Not that I want to discourage you if you really want to learn how to do a very old and varied dance form which many think of as an "art"! There is much more to Oriental Dance than may meet your eye initially. It can be an art or it can be downright silly depending upon who is dancing and for what reason she is dancing.

A Rose by Any Other Name
Belly dancing is also known by the names: Oriental dance, Danse du Ventre, Raks Orientale, and (we would most like to forget) the Hootchy- Kootchy! Dancers, who have spent many hours learning and practicing the art of belly dancing, are very sensitive about what it is called. They are not yet in total agreement on this subject.
Belly Dance takes various forms because it has been around a long time and has a somewhat checkered history. There is a great deal of information and misinformation on the form.


  • Belly Dance can be a performance art and as such, a dancer is an entertainer and performer.
  • In the Middle East almost everyone "belly dances" at parties as a social dance (both men and women).
  • In the distant past, Belly Dance was a fertility dance, a childbirth dance, a harem or courtesan dance, an exercise, a folkloric dance, a pastime, and a dance of seduction.

Only partly true:

  • Men can be professional belly dancers in the Middle East.
  • Belly Dance originated in India.
  • Belly Dance originated in Baghdad.
  • Belly Dance is gypsy dancing.
  • Belly Dance was used by bands of prostitutes to attract business.
  • Belly Dance was an ancient dance of the Pharaohs.


  • Belly Dancers need to be fat/thin.
  • Belly Dance will make you fat/thin.
  • Belly Dance will make your stomach flat/pooched.
  • Belly Dancers are all exhibitionists.
  • Belly Dancing is from Saudi Arabia.
  • Belly Dancing will patch up an ailing marriage.
  • You will "get confused" if you study with more than one instructor.

Wrong ideas:

  • Start with a teacher close to home then, after you become an intermediate level student, you can go to a better teacher.
  • All teachers teach the same information.
  • A teacher need not have been a professional dancer to teach all you need to know.
  • The length of the class determines the amount of information you will be taught.
  • All teachers share openly and freely whatever they know and share their resources.
  • It is not important that my teacher has never gone to the Middle East to research dance as long as her teacher went there.

If you have heard these ideas buzz about in your brain, dismiss them now; as they will lure you into disappointment and difficulty that will get you off to a false beginning.

Belly Dance may be studied on a hobby level.

Though belly dance can be a performance art, it has also been studied since the late sixties in the U.S.A., Europe, and Australia as a tool for women to enhance self-image. They also use it to reclaim their own natural, womanly bodies, feeling that women sometimes are forced to pretend the image of ersatz men in order to compete in the workaday world of business and commerce. Some people find a solace and healing power in the act of dancing and getting in touch with the inner self. Even at the hobby level of study, nothing will happen if you do not plan to practice!

Because Belly Dancing is sensual, it has often been confused with sexual alurement and has often been associated with the dark aspects of social interaction-even in the Middle East where it originated. However, any art can be used for many social and political statements. Poetry and the graphic arts would be a good example of art forms that are used to amuse, to make a political statement, to inspire, or to offend. As a new dance student, you need to think for a moment about what you want out of your lessons so that you can pick and choose from among the many teachers available to you. Some teachers are beautiful dancers, but not good teachers and vice versa. Some are experts at country style dance, some at theatrical performance, some are best at organizing performance troupes, some are able to coax the best out of your own creativity.

Chose a teacher who has studied or traveled in the Middle East
Though Belly Dance is "ethnic" because it arises in a foreign culture as based in that culture's folklore, yet it is not the same as learning to folk dance. It demands creative ingenuity and emotional personal response as it is done in its original cultures. Belly dance is performed in a very personal and individualistic style and invites the dancer to interpret the music with her own ability to personify and characterize the music. That music is as varied as the countries from which it originates. If you are an American, you will undoubtedly dance with an American accent, just as you would if you studied the Arabic or Turkish languages. After many, many years of study and experience performing in front of audiences, perhaps you may dance without an American accent. Being an American dancing for other Americans is no excuse for an instructor not to have cared enough about the dance to experience it in its home venue. You would most probably not choose a teacher of Hula dancing who had never even traveled to Hawaii! The Middle East is not on the moon-it is accessible and possible. The experience of Middle Eastern travel will change one's "dance accent" considerably and indelibly.

A Belly Dance artist is an actress.
Perfect technique is not as important to an audience as it is for the dancer to possess a full "vocabulary" of movements and to learn the grammar of stringing it all together in order to touch the hearts of those for whom she dances. Belly Dance, as other forms of dance, is a communications art and each movement should carry some content of meaning on a deep and humanistic level. We work with dance techniques that we hold in common with other forms of public entertainment such as singing, acting, and even clowning! Projection, intent, stagecraft, set-up, completion, musical interpretation, creation of an image, and portrayal of emotional character-acting, are just a few of these important concepts of technique.

Belly Dance is multi-faceted. You may find you want to study the following parts of belly dance.

  • Finger cymbal and drum rhythms
  • Veil dance movements
  • Raks Assaya (ethnic cane dance)
  • Snake dancing (doubtful authenticity but exciting and provocative)
  • Balancing objects while dancing (scimitar, candelabrum, water jugs or trays)
  • Special folk dances from parts of the Middle East (Depke, Hassaposerviko, Khaleegi Dance, Zaar, Zaffa, etc.)
  • Floor dance while prone
  • Comic and exuberant drum solo dancing

As a student of Belly Dance you will find yourself yearning to learn about:

  • Foreign history
  • Arabic and Turkish words
  • Specialized rhythms
  • Musical forms that are different from Western musical forms
  • Foreign cultural differences
  • Emotions and creative instincts you didn't realize you had.

Do not allow anyone to limit your possibilities.
Your study of dance should always remain fun (not work) even when challenging. Never let any person limit your exploration in any way. You are now forewarned that Belly Dance has many facets, and you have a right to pursue as many as you can absorb into the dancer you are beginning to create. Your teacher needs to keep you informed of the many events and resources available to you to enhance your total dance experience. Some of these resources are:

  • Workshops
  • Festivals
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Performances
  • Videos
  • Books
  • Internet
  • Vendors

Now, get ready to dance!

Najia El-Mouzayen


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