Entertainment Performing Arts The Origins of Belly Dancing Shimmy and Shake Your Torso Share PINTEREST Email Print Peathegee Inc./Getty Images Performing Arts Dance Styles Basics Singing Acting Musical Theater Ballet Stand Up Comedy By Treva Bedinghaus Treva Bedinghaus Treva L. Bedinghaus is a former competitive dancer who has studied ballet, tap, and jazz. She writes about dance styles and practices and the history of dance. Learn about our Editorial Process Updated on 02/07/19 The true history of belly dance is a greatly debated topic among belly dance enthusiasts, leading to many conflicting theories. Because belly dance consists of a mixture of many different dance styles, it must have mixed origins. Many experts believe that belly dance is one of the oldest forms of dance. Belly Dance Origin Theories Most belly dancers believe in one of many theories explaining how belly dancing originated. And many people want to know how belly dancing originated out of general interest. The most popular theory is that it evolved from a religious dance performance. Some people believe that it descended from early Egyptian dances, or from the migration of gypsies from India. Another popular theory is that belly dance began as a traditional birthing practice to help ease the pains of childbirth. The dance focuses on torso movements and includes a variety of motions. The movements can include fluid movements in continuous motion, as well as percussive movements where the hips move to accentuate beats. Vibrations and shimmies are also part of the movements that make up belly dancing. Belly Dance in America It is believed that belly dance first came to America in 1893 when a dancer known as "Little Egypt" performed at the Chicago World's Fair. Fascinated by the dance and the music, Americans became very interested in the exotic dances and rhythms of the orient. Feeling the approaching craze, Hollywood created glamorous, colorful costumes, popularizing an exotic dance of self-expression. These days, taking a belly dance class can be an exciting way to learn a new, lesser-taught form of dance. Belly Dance Terminology Even more debated than the origin of belly dance is exactly what the dance form should be called. The term "belly dance" is believed to have come from a French term (danse du ventre) meaning "dance of the stomach." There is really no correct word or name for this art form, simply because so many styles and forms of the dance exist in several cultures. However, most Americans referring to this ancient art form simply call it "belly dance" and take lessons. Evolution of Belly Dance Today, belly dance is enjoyed throughout the world and is taught in almost every country. Belly dancing offers an instant community of friends for women of all ages who find joy in music and movement. While there are many theories and explanations about belly dancing's origins, most people simply enjoy doing the movement or watching a performance. Belly dance creates self-confidence. Women learning it often gain a sense of empowerment and self-discovery through artistic self-expression. Although many enthusiasts perform for a modest income, the majority of belly dancers do it for themselves. They find the dance form to be a great source of exercise and a means of socialization.