May 11 heralds the arrival of World Belly Dance Day. The term belly dance is a Westernized description of what was originally traditional Middle Eastern dancing. The earliest form of belly dancing came from the Egyptian ghawazee dancers. The ghawazee were popular street dancers, unveiled women who rapidly shook their hips and played brass cymbals or castanets with their hands. While audiences enjoyed the art form, it was often frowned upon as improper. In the early 1800s, Europeans became fascinated with all aspects of orientalism, including belly dancing.
It was the French who first called it danse de ventre, or belly dance. In the 20th century, the dancing of the ghawazee evolved into raqs sharqi, a classical Egyptian style of belly dance. This modern style rose to fame during Egypt’s golden age of film, but despite its popularity, raqs sharqi is still considered disreputable.