If you’re a belly dancer, chances are you’ve heard about “Golden Era” style belly dance. But what exactly does “Golden Era” mean? What characterises “Golden Era” Belly Dance, and is it really any different to modern belly dance? Why do so many dancers adore the Golden Era style? It looks so… simple when compared to the modern belly dance stars, right? Well, here’s your chance to learn more about what Golden Era belly dance is, and why there’s so much hype surrounding it!

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When was the Golden Era of Belly Dance?

In our belly dance bubble, we might think of the term Golden Era as referring only to dance. In actual fact, the Golden Era (or Golden Age) refers to a time in the mid 1900’s (around 1940-1960) when Egyptian cinema was booming, with the Egyptian film industry being the third largest in the world in the 1950s.1 However, many movies featured Egyptian dancers who became very popular, in part as a result of their film appearances.  When talking specifically about the dance, we often refer to the Golden Era as being in the 1900s-1960s.

What does Golden Era style belly dance look like?

How long is a piece of string? The truth is, many of the Golden Age belly dancers shared similarities in the way they moved, or the types of music they danced to, but each of these stars of the Golden Age were individuals with their own dance (and life!) histories, and therefore different ways of performing.

Tahia Carioca (like many Egyptian dancer stars at the time) danced in Badia Masabni’s troupe at the Casino Opera,2,3 and reportedly earned her name thanks to practising the Brazilian dance, the karioka, and incorporated latin footwork into her performances.4,5 Naima Akef, on the other hand, came from a circus family, previously working as an acrobat before making her way onto the belly dance scene!5 Undoubtedly, this would have had an influence on the way she performed.

More generally, Golden Era belly dance may be characterised as being “softer” and “rounder” than current belly dance styles – it was rare to see a drum solo performance from these dancers . Although, as Badriyah told me in our recent live Q&A, they did exist! Check out this drum solo performance from Samia Gamal:

Notice; it’s really not performed in the same way we see a modern belly dance drum solo performed! What differences do you see personally?

When watching Golden Era style in general, I also see a difference in the dance posture, with shoulders and arms often far behind the hips to frame the front of the body, and sometimes a posture that almost leans back in contrast to the upright balletic postures that are so often prized now.

During a workshop I took with the lovely Scottish dancer Jen, she also pointed out this tendency by some Golden Era dancers to dance with their hands framing their hips, but instead of their hands and arms being beside the body, they really contracted their shoulder blades and danced with their hands right behind their bodies. You see this really briefly in this video of Tahia Carioca around 0:37 and 0:49 as she is moving with some horizontal hip circles.

In the same video, around 0:20 (as the drum accent hits), she takes an arm position (one arm in front, one above, almost Flamenco-like, which could tie into her Latin dance training!) where you see a rigidity in her upper body. This upper-body rigidity is something I’ve also noticed in videos of Samia Gamal’s dancing (like here). The arms and lower torso are fluid, but there is a tension around the upper part of the torso and shoulders. Again, I think this may be coming from a strong contraction of the muscles between the shoulder blades, which could be also part of what contributes to this feel of an almost backward lean in some of the Golden Era dancers.

Why is my teacher so crazy about Golden Era belly dance?

Well, maybe you should ask her! But I too remember being a baby belly dancer and wondering what the big fuss about Samia Gamal was. I was much more impressed by snappy drum solos, fluid veil work, big Khaleegi hair flips, and dexterous cane handling!

I’ll be honest; after being in belly dance for almost a decade, now is when Golden Era style dance is really speaking to me. I personally have been noticing this total freedom and fluidity in dancers from this era; what baby belly dancer Siobhan used to see as “just the same movements repeated” I’m now seeing as hips with total freedom, the ability to roll and undulate so smoothly in all directions, and this total control around their waists that looks so effortless.

While Golden Era belly dancers still showcased sharp, snappy technique (see Soheri Zaki’s downward diagonal hip drops, or Samia Gamal’s drum solo above, or some of the crazy backbends incorporated by some of the dancers), I believe this feeling of “roundness” that I mentioned earlier comes from the fact that these dancers had just mastered this art form. They really had such control over their hips and bellies and backs (and everything!) that the moved they performed looked like second nature.

I stumbled across this video of Soheir Zaki just a few days ago and was taken away by her hip movements:

I think as we grow on our dance journey, our appreciation for difference branches, ages, and styles of the dance evolves. As we begin to master or understand one area of the dance or our of own technique, we realise there’s another piece of the puzzle we’re missing or another aspect we need to improve on. The more we learn, the more we realise how much we don’t know… 😉

How can I learn more about Golden Era style dance?’

How lucky you are that we live in the age of the internet! There are so many resources out there for us!

TheClassicCaroVan is a Vimeo channel with over a thousand videos of vintage dancers.

Here are a couple of blogs and websites I’ve found useful in my own searches to learn more about Golden Era:

But of course, learning is best put into practice. Seek out good teachers who specialise in this era of Oriental Dance. If there are none in your area, look into online learning, or take workshops or private lessons when you can. Greenstone Belly Dance is very fortunate to be bringing the wonderful Badriyah to Rotterdam, the Netherlands to teach a 3 hour workshop on Golden Era Belly Dance on Saturday the 23rd of March – you can register here to join us!

 

By Siobhan Camille, Director of Greenstone Belly Dance, a belly dance company currently based in the Netherlands.

References:

  1. https://www.economist.com/prospero/2018/01/31/the-rise-and-fall-of-egyptian-arabichttps://www.economist.com/prospero/2018/01/31/the-rise-and-fall-of-egyptian-arabic
  2. https://www.worldbellydance.com/10-famous-belly-dancers/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26V9iOEw1co
  4. http://www.serpentine.org/yasmin/TahiaCarioka.htm
  5. https://www.sharqidance.com/blog/belly-dance-history-a-timeline-of-egypts-biggest-stars

I am really pleased to share that my article, “A Retrospective Study Investigating Injury Incidence and Factors Associated with Injury Among Belly Dancers” has been published in the March 2019 edition of the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science. We collected so much data we could have written several papers from this, but I’m really pleased this little piece is out there.

Screenshot 2019-03-07 13.01.08

As far as we know, this is the first scientific study ever to examine injury incidence and potential risk factors in belly dancers. I hope this generates more interest around the topic and furthers the belief that oriental dance and its associated forms are worth of academic study.

For us, The most significant clinical implication from this study is the correlation of non-dance-related exercise with reduced risk of injury. Strengthtraining has already been suggested for reducing injury risk in dancers of other styles, and as dance requires both aerobicand anaerobic fitness in addition to strength, any exercise training outside of dance may be beneficial for meeting the athletic requirements of dance.

You can access the article here.

I am so excited! We tested and went live this morning, and we are good to go to broadcast a live Q&A session with Badriyah tonight on the Greenstone Belly Dance Facebook page!

Badriyah is a professional belly dancer from the Czech Republic (currently based in Belgium) who was a lead dancer for Bellydance Evolution, and toured with the company for six years. She is internationally renowned as a belly dance performer and instructor, and she’s a lovely person to boot.

livechatbadriyah

Greenstone Belly Dance is bringing Badriyah to Rotterdam to teach workshops on Saturday the 23rd of March, 2019, so we’re going live to chat with her tonight to ask her a few things! What do you want to know about Badriyah? Do you want to know how she trains? How she started out in belly dancing? Have you got specific questions about her workshop topics in Rotterdam? Join us tonight and ask away!

Don’t forget to send your questions for Badriyah, or let us know your questions via comment when you’re watching the live Q&A stream at 19h GMT+1 TONIGHT! 😀

Happy Fusion Friday, dancers! I’m happy to share with you my latest fusion belly dance performance from the Fusion Freeze show in Ghent, Belgium in December last year. 🙂

If you’re in Rotterdam or Paris, you’ll also get a chance to see this live in the coming months. Stay up to date with my performances here on the Greenstone Belly Dance website or on our Facebook page.

~ Siobhan

Want to try something new to kickstart 2019? We’re offering a free trial belly dance class at STUDIO Hillegersberg in Rotterdam!

Greenstone Belly Dance Free Trial copy

If you’d like to join us, simply visit our classes page to register, or just contact us for more information.

Missed our trial class? Not to worry, you can drop-in for a casual lesson at any time during the Winter Session for just 15 euro! If you love the class, discounted concession cards are available so you can keep coming back for your shimmy fix.

We look forward to dancing with you in Hillegersberg, Rotterdam!

A thought-provoking fusion piece performed by our winter workshop tutor and hafla performer, Shems. Don’t miss the chance to study with this dancer in the Netherlands!

“Looking at Western media interpretations of the Middle East, a two pronged message comes across strongly and repeatedly, on one point eroticism, seduction and belly dance; on the other terrorism, war and violence. It is in part Orientalist stereotype and fear-mongering and in part a simplified reflection of the real and complex cultural struggles found in these regions of political repression. My war dance is a metaphor of this devil’s trident, dedicated to the third spike, the people caught in the middle of it all.”