The history of belly dance in Egypt in 20,000 words

Giselle Rodríguez is the author of "Danza Oriental en Egipto", a Spanish-language book that traces the origins of oriental dance all the way back to the Pharaonic Egypt until today., the blog of the author (known as Giselle Habibi as a dancer) reached one million visits in early 2016. (Photo: Courtesy of Danza Oriental en Egipto)
English 18/01/2016 13:43 Newsroom Actualizada 09:39
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Giselle Rodríguez is a Mexican journalist whose real passion is raqs sharqi, that means oriental dance in Arabic and is the actual name of belly dance.

As a teacher and performer of this millennial art, she was curious about its origins and evolution. To answer these questions, she wrote the book “Danza Oriental en Egipto” (Oriental Dance in Egypt).

The 20,000-word research, to be released in late February 2016, traces the origins of oriental dance all the way back to the Pharaonic Egypt until today.

“I tried to demystify the history of belly dance with the help of dance scenes in paintings, ceramics, reliefs and 19th-century photographs, as well as chronicles and descriptions written by Western travelers, newspaper articles, interviews and documentaries. Most of the existing books on the subject rely solely on bibliographic references, so I wanted to try a different approach. Being a translator helped me use sources in different languages, such as English and French,” Rodríguez said about her work.

She added that even though Middle Eastern newspapers write about belly dance, nobody seemed to be keeping track of the contemporary oriental dance stars, so she mentioned in her book some of the dancers currently working in Egypt, both, locals and foreigners. 

The book also includes a chapter on the Ottoman empire harems, the Golden Age of belly dance (when the boom of Egyptian cinema turned many dancers into movie stars) and the role that dancers and musicians played when parts of Egypt became provinces of Caliphates and other Muslim dynasties, as well as a glossary with terms and names associated with the Arab culture, music and dance. 

About the effect of belly dance on women, Rodríguez said: “In 2010 I had the chance to take dance lessons in Egypt. I was so amazed by their unique style that when I returned to Mexico, I decided to start teaching this technique that was different from what I had learned so far. In my ten years as a teacher I have noticed that belly dance invariably transforms women. Achieving a total control of their body, being able to move in ways that seemed impossible to them in the beginning, spending time in the company of other women interested in this bewitching dance, listening to the deliciously exotic Arabic music and wearing the feminine belly dance costumes eventually heals them from the inside out and improves their self-esteem and figure.”  

The author, known as Giselle Habibi as a dancer, was selected to give a lecture on the history of belly dance on April 3, 2016 at 10:00 hrs.  at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City as part of the Arab Week organized by the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE).

About the decision to write a book, Rodríguez said: "I have always loved Arab culture. Apart from learning belly dance I completed the Egyptology course offered by Barcelona's Autonomous University through Coursera. I have also studied Islam and taken Arabic lessons and Arab singing lessons. That is why I decided to start a blog to write about this rich and diverse culture. When reached one million visits, I thought it was time to write something more insightful about this amazing dance, that has enticed men and women alike since time immemorial."  



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