Belly Dance

The first lesson I learned in belly dance class was to resist the urge to overthink. I had to let my body and my reservations go. Belly dance isn’t all improvisation, but the fundamentals call for a freedom of movement that requires a little rewiring for newcomers—even trained dancers! By the end of my first class, my nervousness had vanished. I overheard the woman next to me tell our instructor that belly dance made her appreciate, rather than envy, other dancers. Even though our bodies were all different shapes and sizes, and we were working at varying levels of experience, everyone brought something special to class. I knew I would be back!


In ancient cultures, belly dance provided a physical expression for the joy and beauty of womanhood. Today, this dance form continues to grow in popularity among recreational dancers and aspiring professionals alike. It’s a form of exercise, expression and empowerment, and each new practitioner puts a bit of herself into the dance to pass on to the next generation.


History and Meaning
Belly dance was created by women for women, to embrace and celebrate femininity. Traditionally, it was a rite-of-passage dance, learned by watching older relatives and family friends at community celebrations and in informal settings. Most scholars agree that the dance sprouted in India and spread throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe via gypsies. The first belly dance performance in the U.S. is believed to have been by a dancer known as Little Egypt, at the 1893 World’s Fair.

Language of the Dance
“Belly dance incorporates a unique vocabulary using body isolations and intricate hip work,” says Amar Gamal, co-founder of the NYC-based company Bellyqueen Dance Theater. You’ll recognize the basic hip circle—“Imagine you’re stirring a pot with your hips,” Gamal says—but belly dance also uses chest circles, body rolls, hand movements, locking, spins, turns, shimmies and more. “Some of my favorite moves are the figure eights, which represent eternity,” says Gamal. There are many variations on the figure eight; a basic one, moving your chest and hips in a vertical figure eight, is called “undulating.” Another common step, the “grapevine,” features a rhythmic side step, side step, step-across pattern in the feet, often performed with corresponding hand movements. Like lyrical dance, belly dance usually involves moving with two opposing tempos in the body. “Your top is soft while your bottom is percussive and aggressive,” says Sahar Javedani, a world dance teaching artist, choreographer, dancer and founder of NYC-based Compani Javedani.

Getting Started
Belly dance can be found across the U.S., so search online for classes in your area. You’ll find a variety of styles: Turkish, Greek, Lebanese, Egyptian, Tribal Fusion, Cabaret and American Tribal, to name a few. “Every country has its own style, and every single person has her own style,” says Veena, half of the twin sister duo known as the Bellytwins, who have performed with celebrities including Seal, Sting and Michael Jackson, and have a series of belly dance DVDs. Many dancers have backgrounds outside of belly dance, as well, from ballet to modern to salsa, and fusion is common. A tip for beginners: Look for classes that incorporate genres you’re already familiar with, like hip hop.

Mass Appeal
Javedani notes that lots of young dancers are attracted to belly dance for the same reasons as hip hop—it’s expressive, passionate and less restrictive than other forms. “It’s also one of the safest and most empowering ways for young women to learn to embrace themselves and their bodies,” she says. Belly dance doesn’t favor one specific body type or technique style. In our culture, where young women are bombarded with images encouraging sexiness and skinniness, belly dance is a positive way to learn to love yourself just as you are.


Belly dance connects with our natural need to feel good both inside and out. “If there was a way to learn to cultivate confidence, self-esteem and ownership of your body, if there was a dance that could help you feel that you are part of a community, that you are healthy and moving healthfully,” says Javedani, “it would be this dance form.”

Latest Posts

Protocol like mandatory face masks, temperature checks, and careful class staging have become the norm at comps and conventions like NYCDA (Evolve Photo & Video, courtesy NYCDA)

4 Industry Leaders Walk Us Through the State of the Competition/ Convention World

After a year of tumult, virtual events and constantly moving targets, it's more than reasonable to wonder: What exactly is the state of the competition world?

For months, we didn't see our favorite friends and teachers unless it was through a screen—now, against all odds, programs are rising from the ashes to bring you meaningful training and performance opportunities both in person and online. We asked four prominent competition/convention directors to give you the inside scoop on what to expect from this season (and, yes, that includes Nationals).

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo by Matthew Karas/MOVE|NYC|

Blu Furutate is Your March Cover Model Search Editors' Choice Winner

Congratulations to the March Cover Model Search Editors' Choice video winner, Blu Furutate! Watch her solo below, and be sure to enter the Cover Model Search here.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Students at NYU Tisch School of the Arts (Clara Reed, courtesy NYU Tisch School of the Arts)

How College Seniors Can Make the Best of Graduating During a Pandemic

If you're a college student, there are some guarantees. The dining hall food will be bad. Your communal shower will be gross. You will sleep through class (at least) once. And at the end of it all, you will walk across a stage and move the tassel on your hat and—finally!—graduate.

But not even college traditions are immune to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Because while dining hall food may remain terrible, communal bathrooms disgusting and alarm clocks just a little too quiet, graduating in the midst of a global pandemic will be different.

And that's not just because, at many schools, COVID protocols will require that your graduation be held virtually. Dancers today are graduating into a different job market—one plagued by company closures, performance cancellations, and significant challenges facing the arts industry as a whole.

We know, we know. It sounds pretty bleak. But with vaccination rates rising and live performances slowly returning to stages, there is a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. And to make sure you're ready for graduation (even in a time that nobody could have prepared for), we spoke with faculty at two top dance schools about what students can do differently this year to prep for life postgrad.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search