Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What is this "Belly Raqs" thing?

My (stage) name is Kashmir and most people would call me a belly dancer. I teach belly dance. I entertain using belly dance. I even belly dance. Most of my free time is sucked up with belly dance and most of my holidays are belly dance related.

So, why do I use "belly raqs"? It is not because I am one of the belly dancers who find the name "belly dance" demeaning and inaccurate, but rather that "belly dance" has too often become a sloppy label attached to any movement that includes undulations and bare bellies. Belly dance, real belly dance, may include undulations and it may be danced with a bare belly - but often is not. Belly dance can include these elements but far more importantly it is based on a social dance from (North Africa and) the Middle East. The movement vocab is torso centered; the belly often powering the moves rather than being the point of them. And it links back to the Middle East - in its music, in its approach, in its feel.

To make that link explicit I use the Arabic term for dance - "raqs" and place it after the Western term for our dance genre - "belly". This acknowledges for me that both cultures have given me my belly dance.

To those who wonder why I don't just use the term "raqs sharqi" - it is because that is actually a small sub-set of belly dance. Raqs sharqi (aka danse orientale) is a style that came out of Egypt in the 1920s and 1930s. Many people still dance in this style and even more dance in a style directly derived from it. But it isn't my preferred belly dance style. I tend to be a bit more beledi; a bit more folkloric.