Thursday, July 30, 2020

Introduction to Belly Dance as a Form of Service

Erotic/Sensual dance is a type of service that often comes up when discussing slavery. It was actually one of the types of service that drew me into the world of M/s. Although, it is obviously not exclusively the realm of M/s. We’ve all seen images of harem girls in diaphanous silks dancing in the middle of a great hall for a sheikh or sultan. Orientalist artworks are some of my all time favorites, even if somewhat problematic from a cultural perspective.

My initial interest in belly dance came from the idea of including it in my offerings as a slave. Its actually a prominent feature of the slavery depicted in the Gor novels. One of the books is even called Dancer of Gor. Although the dances described in the books are not explicitly belly dance, their descriptions do imply that belly dance is what inspired them.

Dance has long been a way for people to express intense emotion. We have long used it to express sensuality, passion, and, well, outright sexuality. For the s-type, this can manifest in various forms. We have performative dances, in which you dance for your partner, or some other audience, and then participatory ones, in which you dance with your partner.

I’m going to speak about belly dance (a performative dance), as that is what I have experience in and they are something you can learn even if you are unpartnered. It is also something that can be learned independently. There are classes and workshops during normal times, but I will be providing resources for distance or independent learning due to current conditions. I also learned independently myself.

This style of dance can be a wonderful addition to your service repertoire as well as easily incorporated into any fitness routines you might have. It’s fantastic for learning how to be aware of your body, as isolation is a big aspect of the dance. You can even use some of the hip movements to spice up the bedroom once you’ve mastered them.

Costuming can be a thrilling way to express your sensuality with this dance, and costuming is important. While nudity is fun and all, belly dance costuming is all about the mystery and the movement. You want your costuming to enhance and emphasize the movements of the body, to draw attention to the delicious way you express the music and demonstrate your control over your body. Yes, you can do it nude, but it’s less fun that way. It’s amazing what a good costume can do to improve your dance.   

There are several styles of belly dance, but they are broken up into 3 main categories.


  • Tribal
  • Cabaret
  • Oriental


Tribal and Cabaret are both American styles, tribal having been created in America by an American woman, and Cabaret being a style that developed in the 60s and 70s and is a combination of different elements of oriental styles which evolved from MENAHT (Middle Eastern, North African, Hellenic, and Turkish) immigrants combining their different styles.

Oriental refers to the various regional styles of the MENAHT regions, although the most popular professional styles are Egyptian and Turkish. I specialize in Egyptian styles.

Keep in mind that tribal and oriental have very different movement styles and terminology, so it’s best to concentrate on one style to start. American Cabaret includes elements and terms from both of these styles, but on the whole, resembles oriental more than tribal.

Tribal


Tribal or American Tribal Style is an improvisational dance style that is typically performed in groups, although it can be performed as a solo. This is the style in which you find the more “gypsy” aesthetic costumes. (It is important to note that “gypsy” is considered a slur and its usage is frowned upon within the belly dance community) Huge multilayered circle skirts, tassels, hair pieces, coins, baubles, flowers. It is also most often performed with finger cymbals.

Tribal fusion is a set of styles that are based on the tribal dance vocabulary but incorporate elements of other types of dance. Any type of dance. Latin, hip hop, Bollywood, ballet, etc. Hence fusion. If you see solo performances of tribal, they are typically tribal fusion.

Tribal/fusion styles are the easiest to find classes for (In my personal experience) because there is an established teaching format.

ATS Example:


Tribal Fusion Examples:

General fusion:


Flamenco Fusion:


Indian Fusion:


Caribbean fusion (More of a Cabaret Fusion than Tribal):



American Cabaret


As mentioned before, American Cabaret is a style born of the MENAHT immigrants in the 60s and 70s and combines elements of oriental styles to create something new. This is probably what most Americans think of as belly dance. Two piece sparkly costumes, lots of chiffon, and coins and fringe. It is often performed with finger cymbals as well, but this is not required. It shares elements with tribal styles. AmCab came first, but I am unsure who developed the current terminology used in both styles. American Cabaret has a largely Turkish foundation as far as move set and posture.

Examples of AmCab:

Modern:


Vintage:


Group:



Oriental


Oriental (Raqs Sharqi [Arabic], Oryantal Tansi [Turkish]) refers to the various regional styles of the MENAHT region. This includes Egyptian, Turkish, Lebanese, and Persian (Iranian), among others. There are other folkloric styles within these different cultures, but they would not necessarily be called “oriental dance” although belly dancers will learn and perform them on stage.

There are so many of these and my expertise is with Egyptian, so I’m just going to link you to several examples.

Egyptian:

Modern:


Baladi:


Saidi:


Shaabi:


Turkish:

Modern:


Turkish Rom:


Lebanese

Modern:


Dabke:


Persian:

Oriental:


Bandari:


Traditional:


Iraqi:

Hosa:


Kawliya:



Men Belly Dance Too!


Don’t feel left out, guys! There are lots of male belly dancers out there, so you can totally join in on the sexy fun. There are male dancers that practice more feminine styles, and others that choose to go with a more traditionally masculine effect. The point is, men can do it too!

Male Belly Dancers:

Classical:


Lebanese:


Tribal Fusion:


Modern Egyptian:


Egyptian Oriental:


Egyptian:


Tribal Fusion:


Modern Egyptian:


Props


There are also a number of different props that can be incorporated into the dance, although you want to learn the basics first, of course. Here is a list of examples of different props and how they are used in performance. Any one of them can add a degree of sensuality and complexity to your dance.

Veils: 

Double Veil:


Hand Veils:


Isis Wings:


Melaya:


Poi Veil:


Fan Veils:


Sword:

Tribal:



Cabaret:





Cane:

Fire:

Shamadan:


Candle Tray:


Votives:



Where Do I Start?


If you’re interested in learning belly dance, my first recommendation is to look at examples of the different styles and find which one speaks to you the most. If you can’t decide? There are numerous online tutorials for Tribal, Fusion, AmCab, and Egyptian/Turkish belly dance on YouTube for you to try and see what feels best with your body.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t pick it up right away. And don’t be afraid to try. Trust me, EVERYONE sucks when they first start. Isolation is a bitch to learn if you’re not used to it, and you have to get a feel for the music. Because, that’s the biggest part of this and any other type of dance, being able to feel and interpret the music. Choose music that speaks to your soul. Find the music that makes you feel things, gives you emotion that you can express with your body.

Belly dance is a very body positive style. It is for all bodies, regardless of size or gender. I don’t necessarily consider myself particularly sexy, but I always feel sexy when I belly dance. But, remember, this is a dance, an art. It is something you have to learn. Don’t go into it thinking you’ll master it in an hour, because you won’t. It takes time and effort just like any other art.

Resources For Learning


DVDs

https://worlddancenewyork.com/collections/beginners

This site has a lot of great programs with high production quality. They also have burlesque and exotic dance programs if those interest you.

http://www.cheekygirlsproductions.com/

This site has numerous programs on various types of belly dance from beginner to advanced. I find these programs tend to overall be a bit meatier than some of the WDNY programs, although they are somewhat lower budget productions.

https://www.bellydance.com/instructional-belly-dance-dvds

Here you can find many of the programs from the other two websites, but also DVDs that you can’t find elsewhere. This site also has different costuming options if you are interested in those, as well as music CDs.

Youtube (Free):

https://www.youtube.com/user/Labellydanceacademy

This channel has been posting full length classes on their youtube channel during quarantine, as well as hula and yoga classes.

https://www.youtube.com/user/tiazzawilson

She is currently inactive, but she has hundreds of little bite-sized lessons to pick from, as well as some workouts and choreographies that you can dip your toes into.

Online Classes:

https://daturaonline.com/ (Tribal Fusion)
https://bellydanceapp.com/en/Home (Oriental & Oriental Fusion)


Books:

The Belly Dance Reader
The Belly Dance Reader 2
The Belly Dance Handbook: A Companion For The Serious Dancer
Grandmother's Secrets: The Ancient Rituals and Healing Power of Belly Dancing
Tribal Vision: A Celebration of Life Through Tribal Belly Dance
The Belly Dance Book : Rediscovering the Oldest Dance
American Tribal Style® Classic: Volume 1
The Belly Dance Book of Practice Prompts: Inspiration for Tribal, Cabaret, and Fusion Dancers
HowExpert Guide to Belly Dancing: 101+ Tips to Learn How to Belly Dance from A to Z

Egyptian Belly Dance in Transition: The Raqs Sharqi Revolution, 1890-1930

  • This is a very dense anthropological volume. I recommend it for those interested but it is NOT light reading at all.


Before They Were Belly Dancers: European Accounts of Female Entertainers in Egypt, 1760-1870

  • Another academic work. I have this, but have not yet read it, so I can’t speak to its readability, but it’s one of those recommended to those interested in the history of the dance.



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