Belly Dance History

Belly Dance History
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Belly Dance History and Origins:

Baladi means “country” or “folk” and refers to a particular style and costuming. Prior to the twentieth century, when performed, baladi was performed primarily for weddings, outdoor festivals, coffee houses and private residences. The baladi style was performed in small spaces and was improvisational, utilizing movements of the shoulders and hips. Traditional instruments accompanied baladi dancers, including drums, wind or string instruments, and tambourines, and their costumes consisted of an optional headscarf, a floor length dress, and hip scarf.

The most common dance that belly dancers perform today is called “raqs sharki,” translated as “dance of the East” or “oriental dance.” It has been said that French travelers referred to the Middle Eastern dancers, primarily the Moroccan “Shikhat” and the Algerian “Ouled Nail” dancers as “danse du ventre” (dance of the belly), as what they witnessed was bizarre to them. The terms belly dance or raqs sharki are widely used today.

Although today belly dance is practiced all over the globe, the Golden Era of belly dance rests in the mid-twentieth century in Egypt. In 1926, Badia Masabny, Lebanese dancer and actress (also residing in Syria) opened “Casino Badia,” a nightclub in Cairo that was modeled after the cabarets in Europe. Casino Badia featured Eastern as well as Western entertainment, which both European and Middle Eastern audiences found appealing. Similar nightclubs emerged in Beirut, Algiers and throughout Cairo. It is at this time that the evolution of the beledi to raqs sharki, the sophisticated art form that we know today began.

Badia Masabi can be seen as the forerunner of belly dance as we know it. Badia was influenced by many dance styles. Some say she may have been inspired by Isadora Duncan. Utilizing veils and encompassing a larger stage area, as well as embracing ballet inspired arms, posture, and foot placement, on the balls of the feet, typical “belly dance” was created. Dancers wore bedlahs, two-pieced, sequined costumes, inspired by Hollywood, and for the first time, dancers reached celebrity status and gained prestige. Products of this period are famous dancers Tahia Carioca and Samia Gamal.

*Please note, since writing this article, I did a lot of additional research and created “Belly Dance History Part 2.”

Further Reading: You may find Jalilah’s article on Badia Masabny interesting, “Badia Masabny: Star Maker of Cairo.”

For more info about the author, visit

About Mellilah Jamal

Mellilah teaches belly dance classes in Redmond and Bothell and performs for private parties and restaurants throughout Seattle.


  1. Lydia Randall says:

    Your website was tipped by Google search result AD mastermind Themelis Cuiper, you must be doing a good job as he is pointing towards you?

  2. Great explanation of the evolution of the transition from the ‘village’ dance to the ‘city’ dance. Succinct, yet complete!

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