Belly Dancing: The Art of Female Empowerment

Belly Dancing: The Art of Female Empowerment

Have you ever come across a belly dancer? The first time a dancer snaked her way through a shisha bar I was chilling at, I was utterly enamored and told myself, “I need to start doing this.”

I started belly dance classes around a year ago and it has given me so much since. On top of an elevated appreciation for it’s music and culture, I’ve been liberated – I can embrace and appreciate the body I’m living in and there’s no greater feeling. 

Belly dancing emanates a divine feminine energy and all the belly dancers I’ve spoken to feel a tremendous sense of power when engaging in the evocative dance.

 Drumbeats and Belly Flutters

Press play before reading this next bit for a fully immersive experience: 

A belly dancer is nothing without her music. And the darbuka drum is her most typical companion. The compelling rhythms silence a room as people watch in admiration while a dancer is unionised with the drumbeat’s frenzy.  

A good belly dancer’s vigour is what reels people in as the sway of her hips and flow of the arms evokes the song’s emotion. 

Here’s what one of the girls from my belly dance class had to say about this: 

“I have chosen dance as a form of language that can transcribe or interpret music through body moves. I find it fascinating how you can be so expressive without using any words at all. Your body is your voice, the moves are the words, the combinations form dance phrases and by using all those you can write a whole poem just with your body.”

And it’s the same for me; as the percussion flutters in my core it just guides me. Most of the time, I don’t even think about the movements, I just feel it. Apparently, I’m creating some evocative dance moves that all come from within – an expression of myself and my divine femininity. 

What is this mystical dance and where did it come from? 

The Raks Sharqi (Oriental Dance in Arabic) is an earthy dance that engages the core –incorporating movements of the hips, torso and belly mostly. It was later translated to Belly Dancing from the French ‘Danse du Ventre’ (stomach dance) in reference to the ritualistic tribal dancers that the matriarchal Berbers in Algeria would engage in, as the painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme conveys: 

The dance is the last remnant of goddess worship to grace the Middle East before Islam and Christianity took over. In the days of the Mother Goddess sex and childbearing were sacred acts emphasised by the dominated matriarchal figures in society. Belly dancing was a ritual rite that embraced the divine feminine – a dance for women and by women.  

The fluid motions tapped into fertility rituals back in the day too. A commonly held superstition talked of the belly dance’s power to encourage rich and fertile crop growth.  So belly dancers would enhance growth with the sway of their hips and roll of the belly. 

The feminine movements would also be used to aid in birthing rituals and are still still used to help move along the labour process even today. 

Belly Dancing Takes Off

It only became popularized once gypsies took belly dancing to the public eye, making it less of a ritual and more of an art form. The coins found on their intricate costumes were creatively embedded tips they would receive while performing on the streets they travelled, kind of like buskers. Instead of carrying their cash in their pockets, they dangled it from their feet, hips, chests and heads. 

These gypsies developed their art form wherever they set foot, incorporating dance moves from all over as they shimmied along from one place to the next. Touching with Spain brought salsa to the mix for example. The more places they traveled, the more people witnessed the dance and the greater the fascination grew. Soon enough westerners started to incorporate it in the entertainment industry and it became the whole new kind of phenomenon we know today. 

Fusing Cultures Together

Each country that adopted the dance adapted it to fit their culture stylistically and aesthetically with costumes that complement the variety of moves created. But despite these differences they all carry that same ethereal divinity, be it through the traditional rhymes accentuated by the graceful classical Egyptian Style (as seen below):

Or through more contemporary counterparts taking elements of the traditional dance and making it their own, like the infamous tribal fusion – a fusion of a different dances  be it hip hop, dubstep, jazz, folk or even metal. 

Greta Green,  a fellow belly dancer from my weekly class, put her own spin on the dance bringing metal and dark tribal fusion together to create a truly enamouring experience:

 “If I can summarize it in one idea, that’s harmony though combining opposites, through variety, through diversity.”– Greta

The Ultimate Feminist Power Move

Getting further into the conversation with Greta who has been experimenting with belly dancing for quite a few years now – touching on a number of styles of belly dancing like Tribal Fusion, Classical Oriental and Fat Chance, had lots to say about how truly empowering belly dancing is: 

“Finally, a dance where your body type or size doesn’t matter. You don’t have to have the perfect body in order to belly dance. You don’t even have to be at a certain age. I’ve seen little girls and old ladies belly dancing with just as much elegance. You just celebrate the fact that you’re a woman and that’s enough by itself. How empowering is that in a world that makes us believe that beauty is defined only by certain proportions, weight, skin colour etc. and so many women develop insecurities just because they don’t look like models or porn stars!”

Just have a look at the energy this dancer is passing forth

“This dance makes the message clear: you’re a woman and that makes you enough! If you’re willing to learn a dance that has empowered so many women who have tried it as they see themselves developing their skills as belly dancers. That’s why belly dance has been so much connected to feminism especially during the last decades- because the highest form of feminism is to feel confident and comfortable in your own skin as a woman and celebrate your feminine nature!”

So, for all you ladies out there, get your butts on over to a belly dance class. We’ve actually got quite a few teachers here in Malta, so feel free to experiment with whatever style calls to you. Not to mention it’s also a really good way to stay in shape and strengthen your core. A win-win situation if you ask me!

Reach out to some local instructors on the links below:

Alessandra

Mares

Durella Tribu