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Arts on the Plateau: Is Belly Dancing Really An Art?

Talking to a professional belly dancer about artistic aspects of this ancient dance form.

The artistic element of belly dancing can not be doubted, but not all people think of belly dancing as a performance art equal to ballet, or even ballroom dancing. That’s what I thought years ago until I took some belly dancing classes. Once a struggling student of this dance form, I realized it was much harder to perfect than I supposed and that it would take a lot of dedication and instruction to get even a little good at it. I never got that far. (Not yet at least.)

But blogging about the arts made me think twice. Should I write about this kind of dance at all?  Is belly dancing an art form?

I realized the Plateau is fortunate to have a respected and well known belly dance teacher and dance performer, Claire Wesley. I began my research on this topic with her. So I asked Claire. “Is belly dancing an art form?” and “What qualifies you to teach belly dancing?”

Mother, wife and library assistant at the Enumclaw King County Library, Claire is known by many who have taken her classes, currently being held weekly at the Danish Hall on Wednesday evenings from 7:00- 8:30 p.m. beginning January 23rd.  

A Dance Form Open to Improvisation

In answer to my first question Claire replied: “Belly dance in modern day is an art form in that the performer is using an established technique and dance vocabulary to express  his (yes, men do belly dance) or herself. Constantly evolving, it is a form of dance that is open to improvisation, often giving a visual interpretation to the music. Belly dance is best performed to live music, an experience in which the dance informs the music, and the music inspires the dancer”

In my research I discovered that BellRaks Sharqi, or belly dance, as it is more popularly known in the Western world, has been around for centuries and many researchers believe it may be one of the earliest of all dance art forms. The term "belly dancing" is generally credited to Sol Blook, entertainment director of the 1893 World's Fair, at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He “americanized” the name to make it easier to pronounce at the fair where Americans first got a look at Raks dancers, when Bloom presented "The Algerian Dancers of Morocco." The dancer who stole the show, and who continued to popularize this form of dancing in the USA was "Fatima," also known as Little Egypt.

Claire’s deep appreciation for the dance began at age 16 and she has been studying ever since. She started formal lessons in Seattle when she was 20, from many nationally acclaimed instructors, who came from all over the country and abroad to the Northwest. “I learned from as many different sources as possible, traveling when necessary,” said Claire.

In her wishing to share what she knew and the benefits that dance offers, Claire offered to teach. “Even though belly dance is a performing art, one need not have to perform to reap the benefits and joy of this dance form,” said Claire. “There is a deep sense of community and involvement from dancing together, that is shared in classes and workshops.”

A Variety of Dance Styles

Within its folk roots tradition, belly dance offers a notable difference in it variety of dance styles. Egyptian dance movements are very small and precise, whereas Turkish dancing is more flamboyant, often using more gymnastic movements and floor work. American cabaret is a combination of many countries with its own history of jazz and modern dance moves added. 

“I've been teaching and performing in the area for over 20 years. And my performance group is called "Troupe Ziyahdah," said Claire. “It was formed five years ago, and it is a great source of pride that we've been able to perform at festivals, shows and parties. The emotional and reflective aspects of belly dance provide endless satisfaction, just as the exuberance of the dance reinforces a love for life and fun”

Origins of Bellydance

Although the origins of this dance form are unclear, many believing that the dance originated in Egypt and was started to help prepare women for childbirth. The muscle control needed for belly dancing is useful in child birth, allowing the mother to give birth with less pain and more ease. Probably the greatest misconception about belly dance is that it is intended to entertain men. Because segregation of the sexes was common in the Middle East, men were often not allowed to be present, according to Wikipedia.com.  The dancing was for groups of woman only to practice, for love of music, dance and self expression.

In conclusion I am convinced belly dancing is a true art form. Like all arts, the creator or practitioner of the art may or may not be the greatest there is but one step at a time perfection is ultimately achieved.

For more information about belly dancing with Claire call 360-886-2053 or email- bellydancingwithclaire@gmail.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

dexterjibs January 17, 2013 at 06:36 AM
I would say it qualifies as an art. Plus, it is a good work out. Back in the early 80's, my high school art teacher called a new form of dance (break dancing) an art.

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