Oriental dance, Middle Eastern dance, or Arabic dance, are ethnic names given to an art form known commonly in America as Belly Dance. Belly dancing began 3,500 years ago in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Morocco, West Africa, Egypt, Greece & Northern India. The Arabs called it Beledi, which means, simply, native dance or native rhythm. The Arabs mingled with all the nations of the Near East & their musical life had an international, inter-oriental character we call Arabian. In these lands, the passions of birth & life & love are woven into every part of the culture with a special earthy quality. The music is very emotional & free rhythmically, therefore the dance, as a physical expression of that sensual, mystical music, is also highly emotional & free rhythmically. The music reflects thousands of regional customs, practices, & celebrations.
No one knows the exact origin of Middle Eastern dance, but each culture claims it for their own. The early Phoenicians did it, the ladies of the Pharaoh did it, the Turks claim it as theirs, the Egyptians point to their ancient wall paintings, sculpture, & artifacts to prove it was theirs. North African tribal women danced in market places in hopes of winning the favors of passers-by, sufficiently to get a few gold coins tossed at their feet. Then they would sew the coins on to their belts & wear them when they danced. This belt of coins would eventually become their dowry. It is also told that the Belly Dance was performed by helpful village woman as another sister was giving birth to a child. The dance served as a rhythmic, soothing reminder to the woman in labor to use her abdominal muscles to aid the birth process.
Oriental dance was introduced into America by Little Egypt at the Chicago Fair of 1893. She was not a true belly dancer. She was scantily dressed & was one of the 'unique' acts that the Fair was known for. However, she gave the dance a bad name by making it synonymous with striptease. Americans had no understanding of Eastern culture, which also added to the misunderstandings about the dance. It took more than half of a century for belly dancing to recover from the shock of its introduction to the West. The name of Arabic dance has been cleared & it is now performed with new pride as an authentic, reverent, ethnic art form.
What will belly dancing do for you? I have seen women's confidence blossom after having taken belly dancing classes, as well as enjoying the 'sisterhood' that occurs after dancing together each week. I have seen how men's hips, which are often very tight, become looser due to doing movements that isolate that area. Women also benefit in this area. Belly dancing will tone your muscles, improve your posture, develop more balance & grace in all your movements, increase your stamina, release tension in your lower & upper back & neck, allow for creative expression through music, improve your self-image, & it is a lot of fun, too!!!
Cindy Cote' was born in Trona, California & grew up in China Lake at the Naval Air Warfare Center-China Lake. She attended Bakersfield Community College & received an AA in Liberal Studies & transferred to San Jose State College, where she received a BS in Recreation & Leisure Studies. After graduating, she returned to Ridgecrest, California & began a job as Assistant Recreation Director, working for the City of Ridgecrest Recreation Department. She married & had a daughter & still lives in Ridgecrest.
She became interested in Arabic music when she was 16 years old, due to babysitting for a Lebanese family. This grew into an interest in Belly Dancing when she was a senior in college, where she took her first Belly Dancing class. She took more classes after moving to Ridgecrest & then began teaching classes for the Recreation Department. Later, she began teaching at the Hi Desert Dance Center & developed a performing troupe called Silk Road Caravan. During the past 24 years of teaching, she has attended many workshops & classes in many forms of Belly Dancing, as well as Polynesian, Spanish and International Folk Dancing.
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