Postcard of "Bedouine"
An Exploration of Some Belly Dance Costuming Origins
I received a note and photo asking if I knew anything about a
group of dancers (here, in the U.S.A.) who dressed in wide and
colorful print skirts, shirts and vests styled like pirate outfits,
and who covered their faces. They billed themselves as Authentic
Traditional Middle Eastern Dancers! Actually, I liked the
costumes depicted in the photo, and I have to admit that they
may have been indicative of a real place located somewhere, in
Africa, or perhaps the costumes were recreated from something
seen on a postcard.
the first Belly dance conference held in California, I recall
stating in her lecture that she got her ideas for the form of
costuming she called "Ballady Tribal" from postcards—and
not from authentic sources.
I have no
objection to any form of dance from any part of the world that
is creative and flattering, but in this particular case, the costumes
are not really an indication of anything from the Middle Eastern
culture from which I came, which brings to my mind certain misconceptions
good old Lawrence
" Middle East” and the origin of that term:
We may properly define the Middle East during the time
of Lawrence of Arabia, back in the early 1900s.
At that time, it was part of the colonization of Asian Arabia
by the British, primarily, and was the Western counterpart also
known as “Greater Syria” --or what my people termed B'lad
E'Shaam which encompassed Mandated Palestine, Jordan,
Syria, parts of Iraq and Lebanon. It did not
include Egypt or any other African countries.
a reporter in the U.S. wrote an article initiating the actual
term “Middle East,” in an article about the mandating of Palestine
to create a state named Israel, also known as the Balfour Declaration
Brits involved in the Balfour Declaration
It may have
come into existence during the Sykes Pico Accords, which were
supposed to limit the number of Europeans making their homes in
any occupied (mandated) land. The term “Middle East” appeared
around that time in American newspapers and the name spread after
establishment of Israel, the definition of the term “Middle East”
seems to have changed and now has come to refer to a conglomeration
of a number of unrelated countries in the Asian and African parts
of the hemisphere. I have heard that the Middle East includes
countries whose people do not speak Arabic nor which have Semitic
people living in them. The only common connection that I
can discern is Islam, which is a worldwide religion, and, as such,
is not exclusive to Arab people alone—even though the Koran is
in the classical Arabic language.
The main reason
I even mention any of this is that I hope to explain from where
commonly held ideas may have originated. I certainly do not blame
people in the West for believing that the fantasy Middle Eastern
dance costume is traditional and true to reality. In dance
and costuming, some part of the fantasy may be, in fact, close
keep in mind that:
Easterners are Asian Arabs and/or displaced Arabs from Asian
Eastern Dance is as vague a term as American Dance and therefore,
needs a description such as Middle Eastern Debke or Middle Eastern
If that is
still not clear, think about Country Western Dance, Disco, American
Rock N Roll, etc., all of which names types of American Dances,
but by itself, the term “American Dance” does not describe any
of the dances I mentioned.
To end on
a light note: even my own surname, Banat, should
also have something else in it, such as Al Banat (The Girls) or
Raks Banat (Show Girls) but it has always been an unadorned Banat
or Bannat—by the American and Arab legal definition of names.
My daddy was always called “Abu Banat” (Father of
Girls), which he sadly was—in his Middle Eastern point of view;
so don't feel bad that you have may have believed that Middle
Eastern Dance was a complete description, when I am only one Banat—plural.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
8-18-05 Re-defining Belly Dance
and Middle Eastern Dance by Tasha Banat
fact is that “Middle Eastern Dance” is not an acceptable
definition for Belly Dance and let me explain why.
1-18-07 Who Really Gave Us This Dance? by Sausan
And, in their quest for self-expression, they,
too, would fall prey to the sweet expressive motions of a timeless
dance only to find a cure for their soul in the performance of
this expression in front of an appreciative audience.
Western Dancer's Guilt, a Respnse
to Naajidah, by Miles Copeland
People have occasionally suggested Arabs would be “horrified”
by the inclusion of the Tribal style in our show but I can tell
you that this style is extremely popular with Middle Easterners
who come to our show.
5-4-04 Belly Dance in Israel by Orit Maftsir
dancers are the hottest trend at the moment, unlike the totally
frozen attitudes towards the Arab culture in Israel.
I Dance; You Follow by Leila
As Westerners interested in an Eastern dance form, we might want
to ask ourselves if we are missing certain critical aspects of
Raqs Sharki because we are not open to Eastern teaching methods.
The Ethics of Fusion
If the culture that you’re borrowing your moves
from objects to your fusion, does it matter? Are you being respectful
or exploitative if you borrow steps from a culture that doesn’t
want their music and dance used that way?
Back to Basics by Najia
Belly Dance is most meaningful when we define it as a
communication of mutually held emotional response and truths between