A reader wanted to know whether there were professional belly dancers in Saudi Arabia and how were they perceived. Due to the conservative and segregated nature of the culture it is not common to see or hear of professional belly dancers in Saudi Arabia. However that is not to say that a Saudi woman may not know how to belly dance. If she does, it would be done very privately either for her husband or among other women.
Countries like Lebanon, Syria and Egypt are better known for belly dancers. Belly dancing classes have been offered at times at various expat compounds in Riyadh and Jeddah.
Most of the movements in belly dancing involve isolating different parts of the body (hips, shoulders, chest, stomach etc.), which appear similar to the isolations used in jazz ballet, but are often driven differently. In much of bellydance there is a focus upon the core muscles of the body producing the movement rather than the external muscles of the body. Egyptian and Lebanese bellydance in particular emphasise the need for movemements to originate in the muscles of the back. Correct posture is as important in bellydance as it is in other fields of dance. In most belly dance styles, the focus is on the hip and pelvic area. Due to the diversity of styles and ‘origins’ of the dance, many of the moves are referred to by a wide variety of different terminologies. However, from an observer’s point of view bellydance includes certain key elements.
Important moves are:
- Shiver or Shimmy – a shimmering vibration of the hips. This vibration is usually layered onto other movements to create depth in performance. It may be created by moving the knees past each other at high speed, although some dancers use contractions of the glutes or thighs instead. It is also possible to perform this using the muscles of the lower back. The two terms may refer to performing this move in different directions, as it is possible to create this vibration moving the hips alternately up and down, side-to-side, or in a forward and back swinging motion. The same move can be performed using the shoulders and is sometimes called a shoulder shimmy.
- Hip hits – A staccato movement of the hips out from the body. This can also be performed using other body parts such as the shoulders or chest. The move is usually achieved by isolating the hip area and contracting the glute muscles to move the hips up or down. The dancer’s weight can either be distributed across both legs or on one leg with the toes of the other foot pointed.
- Undulations – Fluid movements of the hips or of the chest in a circular or rotating fashion. There are a wide variety of movements of this kind, of which the most well known is probably the rotating movements of the chest forward, up, back and down to create the impression of riding a camel.
Different styles also incorporate kicks and arm movements as an integral part of the style.