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A Name, a Notion

By Salome

In the Middle East it is known as Raqs Sharqi - translation, "Oriental Dance." The term "Belly Dance" was coined by promoter Sol Bloom in 1893. Sol used the term as an advertising hook to draw visitors to an exhibit called "The Streets of Cairo" at the Chicago World's Fair. At the time, society considered any description of the body to be socially unacceptable and Sol knew the term Belly Dance would scandalize, interest and ultimately increase business.

Within the dance community, different labels are attached to the art form. It is called, among other things, Middle Eastern, Mid Eastern, Mid Eastern Oriental, Near East, Oryantal tansi, Raqs sharqi, Oriental, and Belly dance.

Legitimate points exist in support of, or opposition to, a particular label. Examples include but are not exclusive to:

  • The desire to create a positive connotation with the term Belly dance by "honoring the abdomen as the center from which new life emerges".
  • The term Belly Dance perpetuates a promoter's description founded in "racism, colonialism, and mid-Victorian Orientalist misconception".
  • Society has a preconceived notion of the term Belly Dance, a notion not based in knowledge but in media stereotyping, imagination, or misinformation.
  • Middle Eastern Dance designates a cultural and geographical area the general public can readily identify.
  • Oriental dance is a folk dance belonging to a specific ethnic group. It is the artistís obligation to label the dance as that ethnic group labels it.

    When considering labels, weigh the fusion factor. Many artists blend flamenco, jazz, ballet, or African movements with Oriental dance. In those cases, it is no longer purely Oriental dance. Perhaps a label that reflects the multi-cultural forms of movement should be used.

    With an informed perspective, you can share what the dance is called in the Middle East, where the term Belly Dance came from, and why you choose to call it what you do. Knowledge reshapes perception, bringing societyís notion from "dance of seduction" to "family oriented art form".