….that Middle Eastern Dance is not just a women’s dance? In its native cultures, men, women, children, grandma, your uncle, why pretty much everyone dances! Middle Eastern Dance is, at its root, in its original form, a social dance—an activity done for enjoyment and fun, not for performance. It’s one of the oldest dance forms there are, dating back thousands of years. On the stage, however, we have another story … it is Westerners (I.e. Europeans and Americans) who first put the dance on display in a distinct and deliberate performer-audience context, and that was only a little over 100 years ago, and from there it began to develop into the performance-oriented Raqs Sharqi (or “belly dance”) that we know today.
Much has been made of the ability of Middle Eastern dance forms to empower women and give them a greater connection to their bodies, and you hear the word “goddess” thrown around a lot. There is nothing wrong with this; in my opinion, any movement form that brings a person better health, a closer and more accepting relationship to the self, or joy in any way, is a plus. However, it’s worth noting that this position is utilizing Middle Eastern dance forms as a vehicle for its own agenda, and as far as I and the dance ethnologists I know are concerned, it’s not the original intention of the dance.
Here is a clip I found online of people dancing in a social setting; in these clips, many of them are men, and you’ll see quite a variety of styles. Take a look, and next time you see a professional Belly Dance performance, remember that this is one aspect of the root from which the stage show you are apt to springs. Enjoy!