Belly Dance has traditional associations with both religious and erotic
Many dancers believe that these women's dances have their origins in
the ancient fertility cults
of the middle and near east. It is not possible to entirely prove or disprove
this theory in any way
that would satisfy scholarly academic requirements. The modern Western
woman who is also
perhaps an office worker and wife doesn't think of herself as doing an
ancient cult dance. But
she can find in the dance a source of feminine elegance, serenity, passion,
and creativity that is
sorely lacking in a modern technological culture which is distinctively
certainly, any woman who dances Raks Sharki, where the movements originate
stomach and flow through the chest understands that it's certainly possible
that this dance has
ancient pagan origins..
People have always endowed their gods with human frailties, and thus
these deities had to be
appeased with the best of their possessions: the fruits of the field,
the fatted calf, and even human
beings. The fertility cult in particular existed in all ancient civilizations.
The great Mother
Goddess has appeared under different names such as Mylitta, Isis, Ashtoreth,
Aphrodite, Venus, Bhagvati, Parvati and Ceres. The function of these goddesses
reproductive, not just in the limited sense of human beings, but in the
greater sense of the planet
itself. They ensured the cycle of the seasons which regulated the growth
of crops. They were
responsible for the increase of livestock and the perpetuation of the
race. The well -being of both
the city and the countryside depended upon the goodwill of the regional
None of these goddesses were celibate because it ran counter to their
function. Neither were her
priestesses necessarily expected to be celibate. Since the reproductive
functions of the goddess
were symbolized in the human female's reproductive organs, it must have
seemed very natural to
give the goddess the gift of a girl's service and virginity. Thus began
the practice of temple
prostitutes, who were honored citizens in their day and time. The ancient
definition of "virgin"
simply meant that woman belonged to no man. There is ample evidence in
the writings of
Socrates, Apollodorus, Plautus, Arnobius, Justin and Eusebius of sacred
prostitution in the
Middle East, West Asia, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and North Africa. Girls
might be sent to the
temple as the result of a pious vow. Sometimes it had a double aim, namely
that of serving the
deity while earning their marriage portions. Dance might also have been
an integral part of their
In Egypt today, it is still the custom at many weddings to hire a belly
dancer for the wedding.
The bride and groom often take a picture with their hands on the belly
dancer's stomach. This is
an obvious reference to the dance's relation to ancient fertility cults.
As if there were any doubt
on this score, Morocco reports making the acquaintance of a Saudi Arabian
arranged for her to take part in a Berber tribal birthing ceremony, reminiscent
of ancient times.
(Morocco had to pretend to be the unfortunate mute serving girl of her
benefactor in order to pass
inspection.) The women gathered in a tent, while the men waited outdoors.
A hollow was dug
in the ground, where the mother-to-be sat. She was surrounded by concentric
circles of women
who danced with repeated abdominal movements while the woman gave birth.
Saudi woman found it highly amusing that the LaMaze "birthing classes"
taught the same
movements to be found in the timeless art of belly dance. The dance itself
was considered by
these women to be sacred, and not intended to be seen by men at all. Armen
Ohanian, a Persian
dancer of the nineteenth century, who was a Christian Armenian, wrote
of her horror at seeing
the debased form of the dance for the first time: "In the true Orient,
the most depraved man
venerates instinctively in every woman the image of her who gave him birth....
In this olden Asia
which has kept the dance in its primitive purity, it represents maternity,
conception of life, the suffering and the joy with which a new soul is
brought into the world.
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