The Origins of Belly Dancing
Belly Dance is actually the Western-coined term used to describe the different types of Middle Eastern dances that were originally solo and improvised dancing involving the torso articulation. The western term is also derived from the French description of Middle Eastern dancing, danse du ventre, or “dance of the stomach” in describing the abdominal movements made by the Arabic Ouled dancers of Algeria after the Europeans were regularly exposed to this types of dancing. The real term for these torso-driven dances is “Raqs Sharqi” (“Eastern Dance”) or “Raqs Beledi” (“Country Dance” or “Folk Dance”).
All over the Middle East the origins of belly dancing was merely as a social dance performed originally and solely by males or children during social gatherings and celebrations since women then were forbidden to perform public dances. The males would do the torso articulations and gyrations as a fertility dance so their “seeds” would produce good children. Later on, women were taught belly dancing as a form of fertility wedding dance performed by both husband and wife. Later fertility belly dancing would see groups of unwed women performing in front of unwed bachelors.
It was in Egypt that belly dancing began to be performed solely by women for public entertainment. These performances were mostly for private parties, special occasions, or events, especially when performed in front of the kings or other royal family members and their guests. Private sessions were also held for members of the high class society. Egyptian “ghawazi” or belly dancers originated the dancing art of seduction which westerners wrongly conceptualize with belly dancing. This was probably reinforced when the Turkish belly dancing style, originally lively and playful for entertainment purposes only, was adapted more for harem entertainment, again putting a taint on the reputation of belly dancing.
The belly dancing today seen in western countries as well as the Middle East have adopted a combination of the Egyptian and Turkish styles but have done away with the seduction and sexism movements.
The Belly Dancer and Ballet Instructor
Aimee Camille Dabuet learned belly dancing and ballet from her sister, Merianne Dabuet, herself considered as one of Cagayan de Oro’s pioneers in teaching ballet and was the first to bring belly dancing to Mindanao. Merianne learned belly dancing from the late and great Ginajane Grey, the first Filipino professional dancer to introduce belly dancing and Flamenco dancing in the Philippines.
Aimee started to learn proper ballet and belly dancing when she was in high school, although she was already dancing at a young age. While Merianne was already an expert ballet dancer, she learned belly dancing in 2004 and started passing it on to Aimee in 2005. By 2006 both were a belly dancing tandem, with Aimee helping her sister teach the new dance art form.
Aimee originally wanted to take up fine arts, but ended up taking and graduating with a degree in Nursing from Xavier University. She won a belly dancing competition in Gaisano Mall back in 2006 while a couple of her students have joined Pilipinas Got Talent in the past and have gotten as far as the Davao regionals. She started teaching by herself in 2011 at the Clark Hatch Gym at the Limketkai Center. Last 2015 she transferred to the Dance Studio below Sports Zone Complex at Tomasaco St. Nazareth, Cagayan de Oro near the old night cafe.
Belly Dancing in Cagayan de Oro
Due to the avid misconceptions on belly dancing that has festered for generations, it was not easy bringing this type of dance to CDO as a fitness and wellness program rather than for entertainment purposes. Aimee and her sister Merianne had to endure jeers, criticism, and silent crowds when their belly dancing group started performing publicly in malls back in 2006. It wasn’t until around 2014 that Kagay-anons slowly warmed up to belly dancing as a result of better exposure and more people enrolling for the dance classes. Word of mouth still plays a big part in this city in giving belly dancing a positive nod from society.
What Aimee is teaching in her classes is what is now considered as “authentic” belly dancing. This is the basic belly dancing that originated from fertility dances in Arabic countries, Egypt, and Turkey. It has no mix of western influence whatsoever.
In teaching belly dancing, basic belly dancing is simply mastering the basic movements plus wearing a costume or dance dress for performance purposes; a more advanced belly dancer is one that can dance while handling a long cloth veil; even more advanced dancers can dance using a wicker cane placed on top of the head without the cane falling off; then there are the more advanced dancers who can dance while using the finger zills; and the most advanced dancers can use a fan with tails or a sword while dancing. And the sword has to be real for the dance to be authentic.
Amazingly, while Aimee’s students in both ballet and belly dancing continue to grow in number, a number of males are already taking up belly dancing, a clear signal that belly dancing is fast gaining in the city.
The Belly Dancing Experience
The beauty of belly dancing is that it can be tailored even for those with certain health conditions, except if the knees are involved like having extreme arthritis since the knees may not be able to sustain the body’s weight. There is also no age limit to learning belly dancing; Aimee’s oldest student was a 70-year old woman. And like any other dance or sport, belly dancing follows a strict routine of warm-ups before any dance instruction and cooling-down after doing dance routines.
Of course, in learning ballet or belly dancing, there is no need to fear the unknown, but there is also a degree of discipline concerned especially in learning the movements and steps as well as being conscious of their daily diet.
Health Benefits of Belly Dancing
Understandably, the majority of dancers are women, in spite of the fact that belly dancing originated for males, but the health benefits for both males and females are enormous. And because it is a non-impact and weight-bearing exercise, it is suitable for all ages of both sexes. It prevents osteoporosis for older people because of the isolation moves that improves the flexibility of torso, spine, and abdominal muscles without the grave impacting from more severe exercises.
The dance movements also build up upper body strength as well as in the arms and shoulders. When using veils and zills it trains the hand and fingers to work independently. The leg and back muscles are also strengthened considerably. Medical research has also proven that belly dancing improves the menstruation flow. Belly dancing has also been proven to produce great weight loss.
To this day Aimee and the “goddesses” (her belly dancing group) are usually invited and perform publicly at malls and big events, though she admits that she shies away from political rallies, corporate events, and “private” sessions in order to preserve the good reputation of belly dancing. This is a clear sign that belly dancing is truly gaining in popularity in Cagayan de Oro and is no longer shunned.
According to Aimee, learning ballet and belly dancing is like learning from two different worlds. While ballet focuses more on the stiffness, preciseness, and accuracy of movements, belly dancing has to be graceful and makes almost all parts of the body move around.
Also, ballet teaches you to move the body in unison, while belly dancing has the ability for both movement unison or isolation moves, meaning that you only need to move a certain part of your body while the rest remains non-moving.
Summer Ballet Classes
Summer is near and Ms. Aimee has summer ballet class offers to interested students. Here they are:
Ms. Aimee is proud to present the children who enrolled in her ballet classes.