Middle East to the Midwest: Belly Dancing Basics Stay the Same

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By Jill Swenby

As with many varieties of dance, belly dancing evolved from a ritual dance to become the form of cultural expression it is today. Stemming from the Middle East, it first appeared in the U.S. at the Columbia Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. Americans have been mesmerized by the beautiful dance form ever since.

Mona N’wal, a belly dancer and instructor of 30 years (madisonmultidance.com), breaks the movements of belly dancing into four main components: percussive movements on tempo, circular or figure eight movements, undulations, and shimmies. She says the “fun part is layering”these movements to create a visually appealing dance.

Besides the movement, what really hooked her to belly dance was the music. Middle Eastern music is very linear and light in comparison to the very compact and heavy American music. However, it is close in style to jazz, in that it takes a main melody and riffs on it. Mona stresses that the music and the dance are incredibly intertwined.

“The dancer tries to be a visual expression of the music,” she says, “Traditionally, certain instruments call for certain movements.”

Although not all belly dancers adhere strictly to which movements correspond to which instruments, there is a basic guideline to use. That is, drums call for hip and foot work; violins call for swaying; stringed instruments call for morevibration, and flutes call for breathy movements.

With these foundations of movement and music together, choreographers can begin to combine them in ways that tell a story. Belly dance can not only express great joy but also great sorrow. It is important to try to translate lyrics of a song to accurately create a dance for it, Mona notes.

“It’s about absorbing the music and the idea and reflecting it back in movement, “she says.

The idea that Middle Eastern dance is solely a seductive dance is an inaccurate stereotype. The costumes with the bra top, pants and veil only came about in the1920’s. The veil began as a flirt with the laws of reveal and conceal in Egypt. Therefore, it is important to remember that belly dance is first and foremost a folkdance.

Props used in belly dance are also reflections of Middle Eastern culture. The cane is the women’s way of poking fun at the Egyptian men using bamboo staffs for defense. (The sword is strictly an American addition.) The finger cymbals, often thought of as an accessory, are really an instrument. While the performer is
dancing, she is also playing a part in the orchestra with the cymbals. Thesesometimes go along with the movements and sometimes not. Finally, the Shamadan (candelabra) worn on the head started in the late 1800’s when a belly dancer put a candelabra on her head while leading a wedding procession.

Being a professional belly dancer in the Middle East made the woman a bit of an outsider. Everyone wanted the famous dancers to entertain at their weddings and celebrations, but no one wanted their daughter to become a belly dancer. Because of this mentality, many professional dancers often quit dancing when they got married.

As with theatre, decent women were not supposed to dance in public. So, originally young men were the professional dancers. Men also danced privately in homes and at parties. These were safe places for nonprofessional women to dance as well. The dance has since grown and modified. Even within the Middle East there are vast differences. Egyptian dance is very constricted by its modesty laws, whereas Turkey is influenced by Western culture, showing much more skin.

Although modern dancers now fuse belly dance, techno, and hip-hop, the foundational moves remain the same. Mona maintains that it is a very self-expressive dance form which takes time and patience to master.

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The Ouled Nail Tribe: Belly Dancers of Algeria

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By Debra Gilbert

Belly dance, an exotic, sensual art of body movement has made its mark all over the world. From the growing trends in America today, this art has blossomed in the Middle East and surrounding areas reaching far across the waters and into our own backyards.

This kind of dance has been coined as a tool of seduction and often mistaken for means of prostitution. As many would like to suggest otherwise, tucked in the mountains of Algeria, this dance was precisely that: a way for women to make money by dancing and then selling their bodies for a living, a tradition long past the ages.

The Ouled Nail (pronounced “ooh-led nile”), a dance term in the realm of folklore, is a tribe living in the mountains in Algeria. From an early age, the women were taught about dance movements and sexuality. They traveled from village to village, primarily in the Sahara, and some of these destinations still quite notorious to this day.

After caravanning throughout the Sahara, they closed out the season by returning to their village until the next season arose. When the women have raised enough dowry funds from their travels, they retired back to the village to marry a suitable husband. The husband did not take shame in her former profession, though the married woman would never dance publicly again.

The styles of dance of these women were heavily symbolic, draped in earthiness and sexuality, containing many snake arms and undulations. The women danced often in pairs, but only on special occasions.

When all lined up, the women would stand with their shoes placed in front of them and when one dancer tires, another would take her place in order to keep a pair always together in the dance space. As the performance progressed, the women would disappear behind a screen and emerge moments later in only their jewelry and headdresses, which obviously left little to the imagination.

The dance when clothed was more refined, though conversely, movements grew more suggestive when they danced nude. Uncommonly, the dancers were unveiled, against social convention, providing further scandal.

The garb of the Ouled Nail dancer has heavily influenced American Tribal costuming to this day. Costumes were elaborate with heavy make up, especially heavy black kohl around their eyes and big, flashy jewelry.

They wore ruffled dresses or loose garments called “meliah,” belted at the waist using fibula pins at the collarbone on each side of the dress. For added protection from aggressive men, they also wore bracelets with sharp spikes and studs.

The money earned, mostly in the form of gold or silver coins, were woven into their costumes, displaying their success and importance. Dancers tattooed their faces and oiled their hair, which they wore in large braids looped into earrings. Headdresses decorated with ostrich tips and feathers, were also very common.

Although this art form has grown more conservative throughout the years, this dance remains suggestive and erotic. However, as many believe, the dance allows women to connect to the Earth and the Goddesses– and can also provide a greater understanding of the self.

Though the Ouled Nail Tribe dancers have unveiled what many have already speculated, this dance has evolved into an art form that continues to be refined through the ages.

Edited by Zaher Karp

Dance Studios and Companies

Noudjoum Eddiwan
Bt.C.No 15 Cite Adim Fatiha Sidi Bel Abbes DZ-22000 Algeria
(48)549.905 Fax (48)549.159

Lahouari Baraka
07, Cite 300logts bt 12″A” beb daya DZ-22000 Sidi-bel abbes Algeria
(213)720.720.08; Fax(213)724.855.8404

Mohammed Kazouz
La Rue Des Freres Haffaf DZ-22000 Sidi Bel Abbes Algeria
(213)727.954.31;Fax. (213)48 5.426.47;
Choregrapher and teacher

Mazouzi Youcef
t.C.No 15 Cite Adim Fatiha Sidi Bel Abbes DZ-22000 Algeria
(48)549.905 Fax(48)549.159

Krim Zohir
Chez Mme Benamar Fatima 31 rue Arrar Adda DZ-22000 Gambetta Sidi Bel Abbes Algeria
Tel. (213)076.122.497Fax(213)485.407.10

Mohamed Ziadi Banuhilal
45 rue du 8 Mai 1945, La coupole DZ-22000 Sidi Bel Abbes Algeria
Tel. (213), (213); Fax (213)

el ibtissama
42 mohamed aouameur street bologhine AL-16069 Algeirs, Algeria
Tel. 0021370495620 Fax. 0021321969191
traditionel dance teaching with childrens and young people.

El Salam
3 rue Pascal DZ-22000 Sidi bel Abbes Algeria
00.213.485.581.77; 00.213.48558653
Folklore anatolian group

09 rue lakhmes Ahmed 22000 sidi bel abbes Algeria
Tel 00+213554315; Fax 00+213556151
Dance Group

Ifaid Abdelkader
09 Rue Lakhmes Ahmed Sidi-Bel-Abbe 22000 Algeria
00+21348554315 ; 00+21348556151
Algerian folk dances

Benchohra Attou
03, Rue Pascal 22000 Sidi Bel Abbes Algeria
(+213), FAX (+213)

benchohra attou
03 rue pascal DZ 22000 sidi bel abbes Algeria
te/fax :0021.348.558.653

Benouis Bachir
03, Rue pascal DZ-22000 Sidi Bel Abbes Algeria
Tel. +, FAX +

Harmel Bekhaled
00213 74 62 41 64 fax 00 213 48 54 80 00

Djamel Benkhaouda
15, Street Baghdadi Zine Abbidine DZ-22000 Sidi bel abbes Algeria
Tel. 0021390012469, FAX 0021348556552
group the dance populair

Miloud Derouich-Nedjadi-Bousseta
24 rue aspirant saadane sidi bel abbes 22000 Algeria
SOLEIL D’OR D’ALGERIE” is a cultural association of folkloric dance

Chaar Djamel
yes , Sidi bel abbes 22000 Sidi bel abbes Algeria
Tel. 00 213 73 37 01 52, FAX 00 213 48 55 81 77
dance tradittionelle folklor

Benkarri Fares
33, Cite mezaache, 80 logts Bt: C DZ-19000 SETIF Algeria
Tel. +213 70 358 402/ +213 36 832 485, FAX +213 36 834 778
Teacher, choreographer and president of modern and folkdance ballet in Setif

B. Harmel
4 Street Sahraoui Kaddour DZ-22000 Sidi bel Abbis Algeria
213.485.47838; 213.485.42000; Fax 213.485.48000

Belmiloud Hichem
03, Rue pascal DZ-22000 Sidi Bel Abbes Algeria
Tel. +, FAX +
work consists on the search traditional for movement of the dances is choreography each area is the environment of the tribes primarily at the time of the celebrations of the festivals. example dance

Dehane Morad
n2 rue guermouche Mohamed DZ-22000 Sidi bel abbes Algeria
tel: + ; fax: + ; +
African dances

Benselama Nasreddine
Cite 60 logts No A1 SIDI, Djellali DZ-22000 Sidi Bel Abbes Algeria
(213)732.451.09; (213)715.571.80;Fax: +213 48 578 017

Bouzidi Noureddine
Algeria Tel / Fax: + 213 48 54 73 14 (Office) Bouzidi Noureddine-
N?16-112 logts, Cite Bremer DZ-22000 – Sidi bel abbes Algeria
Tel/Fax: 00213., Mobile: 00213.

Belabbes Sedjerari
BP 172/08 Sidi Bel Abb?s AL-22008 Algeria
Tel. +21348591640 fax +21348541231
Folk danse+popular danse

Mohamed Tifest
06,rue Abdellah Benamar 22000 Sidi-Bel-Abbes Algeria
Tel. (213) 48 (0) 48 55 32 07;

Hand of Fatima Dance Tribe
1097 Toni Ave. #20 89119 Las Vegas, Nevada, USA U.S.A.
Tel. 702-733-1456

Janine Ryle
1555 Oak Street #10 CA-94117 San Francisco, California U.S.A.
Tel. 415-864-5368

Algerian National Commission for UNESCO (Commission Nationale Algerienne pour l’UNESCO)
BP 65K El Mouradia; 14 rue Mahmoud Boudjatit Kouba DZ- Alger Algeria
(213-21) 23.28.62;
National organization

Andaloussiats Ramadane
20 avenue de la macta DZ-2200 Didi bel Abbes Algeria
Tel. 213.755.0430; Fax 213.756.4883, 213.756.7512
Folk dance festival

Benali Bekhaled
25, rue Yacine Mohammed AL-220004 Sidi Bel Abbes Algeria

Zouaouia Bendouma
Cite mimoun DZ-22000 Sidi bel abbes Algeria
Tel. 0021371924221, FAX 0021348544683
folk dance group

Abdel Majid Bouaita
Ministere Jeunesse et Sports, Direction de la Promotion DZ-Algiers Algeria
Tel. 213.21.68 33 50; 213.1.55 2282; 213.21.66 22 63
Organizer, festivals

Mohamed Chouat
57 rue Mohamed Drider DZ-22000 Sidi Bel Abbes Algeria
Fax (213)756.6372;
Tel:; Fax:; Mobile:
Folk, Algerian dance, group

Laid Djelloul
Citee des 632 logt Bt 43 No?6 DZ-El Harrach Mohamadia Algeria
Tel. (213)1970.1979
Ballet, teacher, choreographer

Tacherift Med-Amine
cite 48 logts btDn05 Languer rue des abattoires Setif 19000 Algeria
fax: 63; mob: 24

Mohammed Karim Mehtougui
57 rue Mohamed Drider DZ-22000 Sidi Bel Abbes Algeria
Fax (213)756.6372
Folk, Algerian dance, group

Mohammed-Karim Methougui
57, rue Dider Mohamed, Cite Bad d’Haya DZ-22000 Sidi bel Abbes Algeria

Z. Mohammed
Rue 8 mai 1945 no 45 DZ-340 RP Sidi Bel Abbes Algeria
Tel. (213)754.9834, Fax (213)756.3616
Festival, folk

Samir Riah
Algeria 0021371938692

iddukla Danses Berberes
37 bis rue des Maronites FR-75020 Paris France
Tel. (33)01 43 58 23 25
School, danse traditionnelle, Algeria

Amin Sebaha
1 avenue Rembrandt FR-72100 Le Mans France
Dancer, Algerian dances

3993 Maple Hill Road NV 89115 Las Vegas, Nevada U.S.A.
Tel. (1.702)499-0649
Teacher, Performer, Choreographer, Orientale and Chabbe style Bellydance, Folkloric Dances of the Maghreb: Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria

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