No one really knows. Perhaps the mystic image of this art form is one of its attracting forces. All we know is that its roots go back to ancestral times as it is evident in tomb paintings, written descriptions, and dance movements passed down to the present, from generation to generation.


Belly Dance is known by several names: Raks Sharqi, and Raks Beledi (since in the West the two styles are often lumped together, as are most dances that move the hips and come from the Mediterranean region), Tsifitelli, Danse Orientale, Oriental Dance, and others. Belly Dance is a common translation of Danse du Ventre, a French description, due of the sinuous movements of the torso and the abdomen area.


What we generally call Belly Dance is a gradual evolution of ancient and folkloric dances from North Africa, Central Asia, Asia Minor, the Indian Peninsula , and other civilizations that have merged with others. Through trade, wars, and cultural exchanges, these regions influenced each other in many areas, including music and dance. The dance vocabulary that evolved connects the movements, and links the dances of many cultures, resulting in Belly Dance being so unique, yet so diverse. It continues to evolve and expand as we now can experience the healing beauty of Belly Dance in practically all countries and corners of the world, even in the least expected places. As it spreads around the world it also metamorphoses to accept cultural and artistic contributions of various cultures or subcultures. Also, various religious or cult movements have began to create its own style of belly dance in order to express their philosophical or religious beliefs. In summary, Belly Dance has become a generic name for many dance forms that uses undulations and hip movements. If one is seeking to study Belly Dance or book dancers for a performance, it should be clarified which form of Belly Dance is being considered.


When we think of Belly Dancers, we might think of an exotic shapely young woman wearing a two piece costume, with a jewel on her navel, her long dark hair cascading down her back, as she shimmies down to floor into a backbend. The music, like the one used by snake charmers guide her body into sinuous movements. This is the stereotype of a belly dancer.


But belly dancers can be a blonde child wearing a “Baladi dress”, a gray haired grandmother showing off her new veil choreography, or a gentleman showing a more masculine style of the dance. In summary, everyone can be a belly dancer. It is not restricted to anyone by age, body size, physical condition, level of skill, or even by gender. Although belly dance in our society is more popular among women, in the Middle Eastern countries, a social version of belly dance is as popular among men who dance for fun among friends and family. It is very logical since they dance to Middle Eastern music, which by its nature call for a certain vocabulary similar to professional belly dance, or “Oriental Dance.” Therefore, “Raks” in Arabic means “dance”, which is for everyone who likes to dance. Different names are then added to Raks to specific the style and place of origin.


Belly Dance is currently very popular all over the world and its popularity is increasing daily. But few people actually become professional Belly Dancers or Oriental Dancers. This dance form can be enjoyed at various levels and its benefits are available to everyone. Classes are now available nearly everywhere. Choose a course that takes you to the path of your choice.


Belly Dance for Exercise: Courses and DVDs of Belly dance alone or in conjunction with other movements exist for all interests. Belly Yoga, Belly Sculpt, Belly Tai-Chi, Bellyrobics etc. These classes place more emphasis on working the muscles and exercising than actually learning the technique. I always recommend that a person begin study under the supervision of a qualified instructor, as bad habits can be formed, or worse yet, lifelong injuries can be caused by unsafe repetitive movements.


Belly Dance for Casual Hobby: These dancers take it to another level, by learning the technique to be at a beginner to intermediate level. They acquire costumes, and learn choreographies to perform at free events in the community like hospitals, parties for friends, and at dancer's informal recitals and parties (Hafla).


Serious Hobbyists: These dancers do not wish become professional, but take the dance technique seriously and often attend workshops in addition to regular classes, practice regularly, and give considerable importance to learning about the cultural aspects of the dance. For these dancers it is important to continue to progress and they consider the dance an art form.


Semi- Professional: These dancers take a step further than the hobbyists and go into more depth in their studies. They also acquire professional quality costumes and have an extensive library of music, videos and also have knowledge of props, choreography skills, etc. These dancers are usually compensated for performing or teaching, but their main income is generated by another career.


Professional: Dancers whose income depends from dance teaching and performances, or dancers who have achieved the skill level expected of a professional, even if they choose to remain hobbyists.


It is very important for the dancer to be truthful to herself in her goals, work for those goals and be satisfied to get as far as she wishes. Also it is important to represent the chosen level well. For example, it is not good for the art form if dancers present themselves as professional when they have not reached that level. Also, if dancers choose to remain at the exercise level solely because Belly Dance helps them feel good, they should not feel pressured to move to another level or to perform.


It is my belief that almost any dancer can reach any level they wish with patience, practice and adequate training. Don't forget that on top of all this, the true dance artist is the one who can interpret the music with his/her body and reach into the heart and soul of the viewer!