Dispelling misunderstanding in the Origins of Belly Dance by Ankhesenamun
Many dances have thier ancient origins in some of the oldest dance , dating back 5,000 or 6,000 years done to worship a Mother goddess. Belly dance is no different. Many would disagree based on the idea that they believe proponents of this theory are saying Belly Dance itself have origins going back 5,000 years. I cringe when I hear the claims that Belly dance is only newly formed and not a form of ancient worship., If you are looking for research in the pyramids or other ancient drawing that look exactly like the Belly dance of today, you will indeed be sorely disappointed. Indeed one of the oldest images of dance known to us today appears in the tomb of Mehu at Saqqara, Egypt, and is believed to date back to 3,000 B.C.E.
The image below shows us a dance style which appears athletic with high kicks. There are no images in this drawing that show shimmies or undulations or the Belly dance of today.
The necropolis at Saqqara is the oldest collection of ancient ruins in Egypt. It shows images of what is thought to be dance, The images do not resemble belly dance as we know it, they have more a gymnastic or Broadway line dance feel to them. How then can some believe that belly dance is the oldest dance? Simple. They are not saying this: they are saying modern and pre-modern Belly dance evolved from an earlier sacred dance form.
Many of our modern day cultural activities have evolved over time. If we trace back the origins of dance period, we find it linked to primal worship. Belly dance is one of these dances we can indeed trace the evolution back to Ancient Egypt and perhaps Sumeria, the costuming, the sensual nature, the divinity of Belly dance all have origins in far earlier practices. They say all roads leads to Damascus, in all dance all roads lead to our pre-ancient ancestors.
The second image below appears as part of a mural on the walls of the tomb of Nebamun who is believed to have lived around 1400-1500 B.C.E. This image interpretive, however is much more representative of what we know of Belly dance today. Important to note that this image as with all ancient images it can be easily interpreted other ways.
This image of the dancers at Nebamun is in a banquet scene. Nebamun, the deceased scribe, is feasting while enjoying music and dancing as entertainment, as it may be interrupted . Some say the scene definitely does not show priestesses honoring a goddess. However, as with many thing of the Ancient World how can we sure? Ancient life and even entertainment practices we often closely entwined with religion and spiritual undertones. It would not be a far stretch to conclude that Nebanum was being entertained with a dance in which Isis was being supplicated. Even in todays' modern world we often combine spirituality with entertainment.
Across the world , cultures, and eras dance has been used as a form of worship, praise, and prayer. Why would the origins of Belly Dance be any different? Can we prove this? Frankly No, just as we cannot disprove it either.
We do however have the Ancient Sumerian text of Inanna. This text has been disputed as much as praised for its very close relation to not only Belly dance, but a strip tease. In short sensual dance. In the story of Inanna she descends to the underworld to save her lover, removing her veils one by one at each gage she must pass. Many believe this is an ancient reflection of what we know today to be Belly dance.
Many Belly dancers feel a connection between spirituality and the dance and offer up their dance to deity. Many report a meditative trance state while dancing, and say they can “hit the zone” with Belly dance. The sites, sounds, feels, movement, and even smells may heighten sensory awareness and take the dancers to another place. In most cultures, there is dance that can entice the senses to take flight into the ethereal. For, me Belly Dance is my spiritual high.
In short, is Belly dance the oldest form of dance? Most likely not, however Belly dance did indeed evolve from some of the oldest forms of spiritual dance, as have most modern dances. It is up to the individual dancer to come to terms with what they believe. In actuality neither stance can be proved or disproved.
Judson Laipply (2009) History of Dance, Judson Laipply
Gascoigne, Bamber (2001). HistoryWorld. Gascoigne, Bamber
Shira (2007). Middle Eastern Dance:The Spiritual Connection. bellydancenet
Gayle Kassing(2007). History of Dance An Interactive Arts Approach, Gayle Kassing.
Written by Ankhesenaum
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