Want to spice up your workout? We've got nine good reasons why you should give belly dancing a try
Want to spice up your workout? Try belly dancing – the erotic dance with daring hip movements – that has its origins in the Middle East. This ancient art form – known as raqi sharqi in Arabic – is a form of self expression for women of all ages and can be slow or fast, soft or sensual, controlled or commanding and passive or powerful. Belly dancing is great for improving flexibility and toning legs, waist, hips, thighs and bums. Translation? Curves in all the right places! For details of places offering tuition see listings.
• Traditionally the sensual dance is executed with bare feet. Techniques are incorporated from different parts of the Middle East including Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Morocco, with each country having its own specific style.
• Egypt is believed to be the source of belly dancing, but despite much research there is no concrete evidence.
• While there are different variations and styles of the dance, music and costume, the basic movements have remained unchanged throughout the centuries – one of the biggest changes to belly dancing was during the 20th century, which helped to re-shape the role of the dance in Middle Eastern society.
• It was made popular in the US by Mr Sol Bloom when he brought Middle Eastern dancers to the 1893 Chicago World Fair.
• Colonialists from Europe are partly responsible for helping to break down the traditional barriers to men and women socialising in mixed company.
• Composers like Mohammed Abdel Wahan produced a new style of music influenced profoundly by the Western orchestral sound.
• The jewel in the navel is an American invention that Hollywood costume designers started in the ’50s because of the strict morality code – exposing the naval on television was banned so costumers put a jewel in the belly to cover it up from the censors.
• Today, it is still technically considered illegal in some Middle Eastern countries for the abdomen to be exposed in public. Most professional dancers cover their stomachs by wearing body stockings or a cholis – a fitted midriff length blouse.
• In Egypt, it is still the custom to hire a belly dancer for a wedding – the bride and groom often take a picture with their hands on the belly dancer’s stomach, which is a reference to the dance’s relation to ancient fertility cults.