History of Belly Dancing (US)

With its emergence at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial, the last four decades of the 20th century moved belly dance in the U.S. more into the mainstream. The current interest in the dance can be traced back to the 1950s and '60s. It was in the ethnic nightclubs in major cities like New York, that most Americans first became acquainted with the dance. These clubs were owned, operated and patronized by members of the ethnic communities of Mediterranean countries like Greece, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. At the time, most of the dancers were Greek or Turkish, but in time their ranks would grow to include Americans as well. One example of this is the dancer "Morocco" of New York, who started her career in the night clubs of Greek Town on 8th Avenue. These American dancers learned the dance by watching and imitating their Greek and Turkish sisters, as well as the patrons.

Belly dancing was almost unknown in the United States until Little Egypt and her dancers appeared at the Chicago World's Fair. At this expo, Sol Bloom, an American entrepreneur, brought over Middle Eastern women and men to create scenes from the Middle East for a mostly conservative audience. Shortly thereafter, Middle Eastern dancers from these attractions and copiers of the dance could be seen at Coney Island and in the vaudeville circuit.

In the late 1960s and early '70s many of these dancers began offering dance classes. With increasing exploration of the East in the late 1960s, many people became interested in everything Eastern, including dance. Many touring Middle Eastern or Eastern bands took dancers with them as they toured to provide a visual representation of their music, which helped to spark interest in the dance. This had the effect of creating many beautiful dancers who have generated greater interest in belly dancing. The increased interest in belly dancing created diverse names for the same simple movements and the need to have a "style" as each teacher tried to distinguish differences in their way of teaching from other teachers. This has hampered belly dance from acceptance with the more established dance forms because there is no nationally recognized choreography terminology that can be used to create repeatable dances.

Multicultural trends that have shaped Western and U.S. belly dance are still at work. Ever evolving, this versatile dance keeps absorbing a blend of influences; modern fashion, film and television imagery, the worlds of country, rock, reggae, r&b, jazz, clubhouse, and hip hop music, underground subcultures, and many other contemporary influences.

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