Belly dance and body image
Think of belly dancing and you may think of seductive and erotic movements performed by a woman in glittering costume but this image is far removed from the origins of this dance form. Probably originating in India or the Middle East up to 5,000 years ago belly dancing was originally performed by women for other women as a dance based on a womanâ€™s natural bone and muscle structure with movements emanating from the torso rather than the legs and feet. Belly dancing attire was then just regular day to day clothing with a scarf tied around the hips to accentuate movements. It was when the French Orientalist art movement got hold of belly dancing that things began to change.
EugÃ¨ne Delacroix, Jean-LÃ©on GÃ©rÃ´me, and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres were some of the most prominent figures of the â€œOrientalist movementâ€, artists fascinated by the mystique of the East. Orientalist paintings often depicted highly eroticised fantasy scenes from â€œharemâ€ life featuring semi-naked concubines, reclining on pillows with swaying peacock fans, dancing for the pleasure of a sultan or a group of men. These works were entertaining and provocative but completely untrue to the reality of Middle Eastern culture and to the role that dance played in it. Reality of course has never impeded art and when Hollywood got hold of belly dancing things changed even further.
In the hands of Hollywood directors of the Silent Era and then into the 1930s and 1940s the belly dancer became an erotic seducer. It was Hollywood too who invented the tasselled brassiere and probably even the addition of flowing veils.
In its modern expression belly dancing is known to be physically healthy, burning plenty of calories, but researchers from Flinders University in South Australia wanted to see how it impacts the psychology of women who practice it.
To do this they surveyed more than 100 belly dancers and compared them to more than 100 female university students. All subjects completed questionnaires as to how they felt about their bodies, how they thought others view their bodies, and the attention they get from men.
The results showed that belly dancers were more likely to have a positive self image and less likely to be unhappy with their overall appearance than the non-dancers. Belly dancers were also less likely to be influenced by what others may think of their body. It also emerged that belly dancers were no more likely to enjoy attention from men than were non-dancers.
All of that adds up to bell dancing being an â€œembodying activityâ€ which allows women who do it to focus less on their external appearance and more on what they are able to do with their bodies. According to the researchers it allows an opportunity to express the sensual self in a safe way, which is probably what belly dancing was originally all about.
It seems you can hang tassels on a thing but that doesnâ€™t necessarily change the essence of it.