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The Origin of Oriental Dance and its Vision by Westerners

posted on: May 20, 2020

The Origin of Oriental Dance and its Vision by Westerners
By: Yasmina Hage/Arab America Contributing Writer

Oriental dance is not just a dancer in a sequined costume asking for money while dancing. When people talk about oriental dance, they automatically refer to sensuality, hip-dancing, and undulations.

It’s a feminine dance of Egyptian origin. It was developed in the Maghreb and the Near East, which includes many styles such as “Raqs sharqi” which is the most popular. Oriental dance is also known as “belly dance.” However, this term is very restrictive because oriental dance is much more than just belly dancing.

It’s indeed called ” Oriental dance,” but it should be noted that there is not one but several. In fact, each Arab country has its oriental dance with its specificities. That is to say, different cultures and practices.

The Origin of Oriental Dance and its Vision by Westerners
Oriental dance for men

Often unknown, there are also oriental dances specific to men. It is not practiced in the same way because men do not dance like women. It can be said that oriental dance practiced by dancers is somewhat synonymous with partying and martial arts. In fact, the dancers would use items, for example, while they dance.

The origins of oriental dance:

Oriental dance is one of the least understood and oldest dances. It comes mainly from Egypt, but researchers have not yet found the appearance of the first oriental dancer. It may, therefore, be older than we think.

The oriental dance was practiced by women who danced to celebrate the flooding of the Nile and to thank the god who instigated it. It is a dance that represents the rite of fertility. In fact, the dancers reproduce the movements of childbirth to pay homage to fertility. Moreover, it allows the dancers to express art their femininity, their vitality, but also their feelings of joy and pain.

Men’s oriental dance, unlike women’s, must represent the physical condition, strength, and skill.

The benefits of women’s oriental dance:

In addition to being graceful, sensual, and elegant, oriental dance also helps to build body strength. It improves posture and tones muscles, strengthens bones, prepares for childbirth, reduces stress, allows women to take charge of their body, and feel more feminine.

The vision that Westerners had of Oriental dance:

The Origin of Oriental Dance and its Vision by Westerners
The western vision of oriental dance

Oriental dance has influenced westerners in many fields such as paintings, songs… There is, for example, Flaubert and Chateaubriand (French writers of the 19th century) who wrote about these oriental dancers. However, it should be noted that all these western artists have represented this tradition in the way they decided to interpret it. In fact, the westerners had not understood the real culture that there was around this dance. They were used to the women of the bourgeoisie, who are the opposite of these denuded dancers. Therefore, when they arrived in Egypt, for example, they assimilated these dancers to prostitutes because, in Europe, it was the church that was in charge. They had a different approach to the body than the Arab culture. It should be pointed out that some prostitutes improvised themselves as dancers, causing severe damage to this art.

Growing popularity :

This style of dance is going to be more and more popular in the West. They are going to make these women dance in cabarets, more and more naked, representing them in works according to their fantasies. All this is going to lead to a distortion of this dance, which, from the beginning, was intended to pay homage. As a result, this style of dance will be wholly taken out of context because westerners had a different approach to the body and modesty.

These women enchanted and inspired the western world during those years.

An exchange of vision over time:

The Origin of Oriental Dance and its Vision by Westerners
Badia Masabni

In 1934, these dancers were banned from Egypt because they were also accused of provocation in what was now a religious context. So, the approach to the body was different from that of the Egyptians of the time.

It should be noted that while their situation in Egypt was getting worse, it was getting better and better in Western countries, inspiring Hollywood cinema, for example. It created Egyptian stars like the famous Badia Masabni who was seen as the Marilyn Monroe of the Arab world.

In Western countries, women are becoming more and more assertive and, therefore, no longer see oriental dancers as prostitutes. They see them as artists who are out there not for men but to affirm their talent.

Nonetheless, as time goes by, Arab countries are changing their vision of the dance to a more positive one, and nowadays, oriental dancers have become very famous again in Arab countries and the West and are mainly mostly seen as a part of their cultures!





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