Belly dancing has an extensive history across the Middle East. It can be dated back to 500 BC during the times of the Egyptian pharaohs. Many Westerns assume that it is something that is found in every Middle Eastern culture and is purposefully performed in a sensual way. In fact, the term belly dance is a Western coined term meaning "solo, improvised dances based on torso articulation." There are two main forms of belly dancing--Raqs sharqi and Raqs baladi. Raqs sharqi is generally performed by women and is the form of belly dancing we are more familiar with; while, raqs baladi is the local type of belly dancing that is performed socially by both men and women at festivities such as weddings. Belly dancing consists of percussive and fluid movements as well as vibrations, shimmies, and shivers.
Belly dancing is either performed in a social or presentational aspect. In a social aspect, individuals of all ages will dance and wear their typical clothing. Performances are just polished versions of the social dance and include costumes that will showcase the part of the body generating the movements (i.e. the hips). Women who decide to pursue belly dancing professionally in the Middle East are looked down upon because they're displaying their bodies in public.
The history of belly dancing is reminiscent of the reading we read in the first few days of class discussing whether ballet should be considered an ethnic dance. Ballet like belly dancing has been influenced by various cultures and ethnicities. I don't think this undermines belly dancing's 'authenticity' or being classified as 'ethnic.' Instead, I think this part of the dance's history makes it more appealing. It not only showcases its origins in the Middle East but reflects the influences of all the peoples who've developed the movements over time. I find these types of dances the most intriguing because they still preserve their origins while molding to encompass aspects of other cultures.