A Very Brief History of Bellydance
In Egypt, they call it “Raks Sharqi” = dance of the East or “Raks Baladi” = dance of the country (folk dance).
Original movements of this dance are found in folk dances of Africa, Turkey, and throughout Middle East. They may have also been influenced by traveling Rroma (Gypsies) from India.
In cultures that enjoy “bellydance”, it is a very social dance, a way for women to entertain each other. Usually women dance only for other women or only for their own families. The Awalim were the "educated performers" who sang, played music, and danced for the upper class. Among the Ghawazee – a family of entertainers – the women danced for people outside their own family.
Read this article by Nisaa of St. Louis for information about the evolution of the dancers as awalim and ghawazee to stage performers in Cairo.
1893 – World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago – Sol Bloom brought entertainers from all over the world, including Ghawazee dancers and musicians. This is when the term “bellydance” was first used. As the world became “smaller” with more travel of Westerners to far-away lands, demand for stage performances grew. The dance often borrowed from Western dances (ballet, Hollywood style) to appeal to the new audience.
In the late 1920’s Badia Masabni opened her “Opera Casino” in Cairo and launched “bellydance” as we know it today. She took it from a folkloric, simpler style to a stage show that would appeal to Western tourists as well as locals. While Hollywood produced grand musicals in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s that featured tap, ballet, and jazz styles, film makers in Egypt incorporated the famous Arabic singers and Raks Sharki performers in their movies.
In the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s immigrants from the Middle East moved to Europe and the U.S., opened restaurants and clubs, and brought their music and dance styles. Westerners became interested, wanted to learn, and developed their own style by incorporating other dance forms. (Much of the bellydance that you see today in the USA isn’t “authentic”, but is derived from Raks Sharki.)
Today, due to international travel, video availability (internet and DVD), bellydance is all over the planet and there are many, many styles.