I’ve heard it more than I care to remember— “Belly Dance isn’t a real a dance.” Those who have put their blood, sweat, and tears into learning to Belly Dance are often hurt by this sort of remark. For me, a huge moment of validation came when a ballet/jazz/lyrical teacher decided to take my Belly Dance class. She had trouble keeping up! Yes, her posture and lines were phenomenal and her footwork impeccable, but she couldn’t quite get the hang of the deeply rooted isolations so characteristic of Belly Dance. After class, she apologized to me. “I always thought this would be super easy,” she said. “I’m sorry I didn’t give it the credit it deserves.”
So why do people (especially dancers) often discredit Belly Dance as a true dance form? In my experience there are two main reasons.
One, people see untrained “Belly Dancers” in bars, nightclubs and at private parties. The “Go-Go Belly Dancers” (often noted by wearing cheap coin outfits and dancing on tables with dollar bills spewing out of their bras) are not representative of a trained dancer…by presentation or skill. These women are usually performing their own made up version of Belly Dance by mixing isolations with Go-Go Dance, and even Reggaeton. In establishments that allow this type of entertainment, there is rarely a studied professional so passerbys (and dancers alike!) walk away with this misconstrued understanding of what a trained Belly Dancer really looks like. It’s such a shame.
Second, people think Belly Dance is easy. The movements look so fluid and effortless…it must be easy. NOT! Many people don’t realize the level of technique, hard work and precision that goes into achieving those perfect isolations…the body control is exceptional! In addition, Belly Dance is more than just isolations. There is a TON of footwork —a lot of which we see in ballet. We have arabesques, chassés, chaines, pas de bourrées, grapevines, pirouettes, pliés, tondues, and the list goes on and on. There are many Belly Dancers who execute more footwork and turns than they do isolations. Even more noteworthy is the cultural component of studying Belly Dance. Trained dancers must learn to identify and dance to Middle Eastern rhythms (there’s over 50!!!)…this can take years and years to accomplish!
In short, it takes many years of learning discipline, coordination, skill, grace, musicality, and culture to become a skilled Belly Dancer. As one of the oldest known barefoot dances on this planet, Belly Dance (whether modern or traditional) deserves the respect to be valued as a real dance form!