Belly Dance arose in the Middle East, specifically in Turkey, North Africa, Egypt, and the Arabian Gulf. And because it is a blend of all these different cultures, there are different characteristics to the dance. However, some characteristics are similar: serpentine movements, hip movements, and the isolation of head, shoulders, chest, and hands. In the Middle East, it is known as raks shardi. The Belly Dance popular today would be known in French as danse du ventre, because of the mid-riff exposure and movements.
Originally, the Belly Dance was an erotic fertility rite, where the belly dancer would get the married couple in the mood on their wedding night. She would also bless the couple for fertility, as well as provide entertainment.
In traditional Belly Dance, there are two types: "city dance" (stage and cabaret) and "country dance" (regional folk dance). These two combined make up the umbrella term, Belly Dance, as we know it. The rhythms and instrumentation have emphasis, but the music mainly focuses on the percussion and use of the dombec.
There is an apprehension that comes with the reputation of a belly dancer. The Egyptian Film dramatized this apprehension with Zuzu the Dancer, in 1960. The film-maker falls in love with the dancer but then finds out about her past. And there are countless examples in Hollywood, for the Belly Dance is a provocative dance, with many dancers not earning solely from dancing.
In America, a phenomenon has occurred. Since the traditional Middle Eastern Belly Dance has travelled throughout time and space, it has also morphed into what is known as the American Tribal Style. It has the costuming and movements of the Middle Eastern, but is more accessible to American audiences.
Some say, the Belly Dance may be the first dance, in the Fertile Crescent. It is that old. But since recorded history, especially recorded history of women's past, is obscured, this cannot be verified. Either way, nowadays, Belly Dance is taught in almost every country, as a form of exercise, entertainment, and liberation, for women.