Turkish or Middle Eastern music is frequently played on a tape recorder by a band that includes a drum, a clarinet-like instrument, a lap harp, and Turkish mandolins. They may wear veils and perform bawdy renditions of popular or classical music. They balance candelabras and swords on their heads at other times and encourage audience members to join them on stage.
Belly dancers consider themselves artists, and they recoil at the suggestion that they are nothing more than stylised strippers. They are paid handsomely to play at nightclubs, private events, and weddings. Low-level dancers put forth a lot of effort to delight the audience and earn money through tips.
“Jehan went onto Taja’s little, rose-petal-covered stage bearing a lotus flower in each hand,” Shayna Samuels wrote about a belly dancer during a concert in New York. She framed her face with diamond-shaped arms and grinned lasciviously at the crowd, her legs held together like a mermaid’s. She moved away from the audience and sank unexpectedly on her back, drawing attention to her stomach with dramatic, solitary pulses, wearing a transparent burgundy veil with jewels rattling from her breast and hips.”
“Her dancers, working those rhumba, chiftetelli, and kashlimar rhythms, showed classic Serena training – elegant carriage, willowy arms, and hips that make tiny flicks like a clock’s second hand,” the Village Voice wrote in a review of a performance by the Serena Dance Theater troupe at Lincoln Center Out of Doors in 2001. Sahar’s gold wings rippling like Loie Fuller’s, a duet undulating with swords balanced on wrists or hips, and a third dancer toting a tray of flickering candles on her sliding head were among the highlights.”
One writer described a belly dancer at a wedding: “cavorts with the master of ceremonies, lowering her dress, extending her leg, gyrating on the floor, rubbing up against him, playing, and ruling the arena. Guests stuff cash into the dancer’s waistline or bra, or wave money in the air, which the dancer snatches, to share the stage with the dancer, either dancing or being mocked.”
Belly Dancers of Notoriety
The majority of belly dancers have only one name. They’re usually described as having huge breasts and a healthy bottom. It’s preferable to be a bit chubby than to be overly skinny. Traditional belly-dancing outfits are a sparkling, sequined halter top and a long, gauzy skirt. A fringe or a large embroidered panel might be used to hide and accent the belly button. Some dancers have 5,000 outfits, which come in various colours, sequin counts, and slit and cut places.
Many consider Egyptian Takia Karyoka the finest belly dancer of all time. During and after WWII, she captivated Nazis, Allies, and Arabs alike. In the 1950s and 1960s, Samia Gamal was regarded as the greatest belly dancer in the Middle East, and she was also a performer. A belly dancer was frequently featured in Egyptian films from the 1940s and 1950s.
Celebrity belly dancers’ relationships, quarrels, scandals, fortune, and salaries provide spicy material for gossip columns in Egypt. Lucy, Fifi Abdou, and Dina were among the most popular dancers in the 1990s. Fifi Abdou had roughly 5,000 outfits, whereas Lucy had about 600. The Egyptian ambassador to Israel was accused of sexually assaulting an Israeli belly dancer, which strained Israeli-Egyptian relations slightly. This accusation surfaced at the same time that an Israeli spy was snooping on women’s undergarments.
Bellydancer and actress Naima Akef
Mousabah Ballbaki, the Middle East’s best-known and maybe only consistently performing male belly dancer, performed at Amor y Libertad nightclub in north Beirut for many years. Susan Sachs wrote in the New York Times about his presentation. “It’s not a striptease or a transvestite performance.” It’s like a cross between “Saturday Night Fever” and “The Thousand and One Nights.” He undulates on stage with a distant expression in his eyes and a bodyguard close at hand, clothed in…a gauzy black caftan over a Bedouin-style white robe.” Balki worked as a fashion editor for a glossy Lebanese magazine at the time. Many people were angry with him because of what he was doing. Audience members squirmed in their chairs. He was ridiculed and mocked by several. A few people hurl objects at him.
Everyone in Cairo in the mid-1990s was buzzing about belly dancer Diana and her decision to wear bicycling shorts and a bikini top with gold chains wrapped around her waist instead of the typical sequined outfit. Ahmed Diaa Eddin, the controversial designer of Diana’s belly dance attire, has a shop in Cairo, maintains a website, and publishes a quarterly magazine.
Kasumi Kimura, a Japanese belly dancer, is the only Asian professional in Cairo. After graduating from junior college, she began teaching yoga and dance and was inspired to try belly dancing after witnessing it in a movie. “I realised right away that this was the dance I’d been looking for, “She told Yomiuri Shimbun. She made her debut in 1987 after learning under renowned choreographers in Turkey and Egypt, and she was still dancing in 2009.
Islamists, belly dancing, and the West
In the West, belly dance is quite popular. Belly dance schools and community centres may be found in virtually every American city. Some Middle Eastern restaurants and dining clubs serve it as well.
Dancers frequently study the “cabaret style,” which is highly influenced by the portrayal of belly dance in Hollywood films. Professional dancers earned around $125 for a 20-minute performance plus tips in the early 2000s. They won’t play at bachelor parties because they don’t want to be mistaken for someone they aren’t. Some makeup up $12,000 in gratuities performing in front of celebrities throughout Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and on luxury cruise ships and in Las Vegas.
Due to Islamist pressure, the concerts’ sensual elements have been toned down, and dancers are required to cover their bodies. Belly dance shows are sometimes outright prohibited.