Monday, June 20, 2011

Belly Dancing

I think I have witnessed one of the best belly dancers ever!  I feel fairly confident with my ability to say this, but I was not always a fan.

The first time I witnessed a “real” belly dancer was when I joined my husband at a company meeting about 12 or so years ago.  He was working for a company based in Ankara.  At that time and they had a meeting at a popular ski resort in Turkey.  At the end of the dinner, much to my surprise, the music began and out came a belly dancer!  Flesh and all.  I have no issues with flesh, I have no issues with belly dancing, but at the time I did not think it was appropriate for the workplace.  I was appalled.
Belly dancing, or “Oriental Dance” the more historically correct term, is likely to have originated in Egypt.  There are even belly dancer images that have been found in pyramids.  However, it is very common in Persian and Turkish history, and other cultures throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East.  

Rumor has it that belly dancing made its way to the US for the first time in Chicago at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.  Even though there were no mid-drifts showing, it was so scandalous that there were many objections and politicians tried to shut the show down.  This eventually became a burlesque-type thing, which is where stripping evolved from.  So having grown up with the very idea that belly dancing and stripping are one in the same, I was quite shocked.

The thing that surprised me most about my first exposure to belly dancing was the number of women who jumped up to dance as well.  No one took their clothes off to match the belly dancer, but while the men enjoyed it, the women were enjoying it more.  I totally did not get it.

Over time I saw more belly dancers and was shocked when organizing a medical congress that the highlight of the Bosphorus boat cruise would be a belly dancer.   But hey, “When in Rome”.  I became used to this important cultural experience and somewhere along the way I was won over by the whole concept.  I do not recall my exact turning point, but I think it had something to do with watching an extremely good belly dancer and understanding the difference.  By that time, I watched many belly dancers at meetings, parties, and even once at a wedding.  In retrospect, I think the wedding thing was a great idea and wish I had had one at my wedding as the guests had so much fun.

I came to love it so much, in fact, I am now one of those women who are out there with all the rest enjoying the music and not thinking twice about it.  I even had one come to my house once for a going away party for a friend.  That usually doesn’t happen, but my husband convinced me that my American accent would win them over – and he was right.  Much to my surprise, the restaurant where this woman worked kindly let me hire her for an hour.  She was fabulous.  I think she thought she would show up, dance a song and then go home.  Much to her surprise and mine, no one wanted her to leave.

Since moving to Dubai, I can say that in general, I usually do not find the belly dancing that great here.   Particularly in tourist places it is usually quite bad, which is unfortunate for tourists.  There are many Russians who are talented dancers who work here, often as belly dancers, but they do not really have the same cultural background and movement to feel the dance.  They can dance well, but there is something about belly dancing that comes from the inside.  In the case of places like Turkey and Egypt, these dancers are growing up with that rhythm in their blood.

At my sister-in-law's last visit we took her to a Moroccan place here named Shu Fiy Ma Fiy, which means “What’s Up”.  They had live music and much to my surprise a belly dancer.  I was surprised because we had been before and there was no entertainment, and this would be my three-year-old son’s first experience with the art of this dance.

The food was great and the entertainment even better.  The music was excellent, and even though my son was more into the band and instruments, I can say this belly dancer was one of, if not THE best I have ever seen.  We all thoroughly enjoyed it and could have watched this woman dance all night.  And this was not just my opinion.  I was with Turks who have seen more belly dancers than I have. 

Before we left, I asked the band where she was from. Kyrgyzstan.  What?  While Turkic in origin, it is a former Soviet Republic.   Not only was she beautiful and amazing, she completely blew away my concept that someone who is not from a culture where belly dancing is the norm is not convincing. 

Please note, since this post was written, Shu Fiy Ma Fiy has closed.

History references from and


Cristen Plummer said...

Just saw this post...guess what my 9 year old is going to be for halloween? Yup, ordered her costume on amazon this week!

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