Summary of belly dance in the 1960s

Timeframes and Themes

In Table 20 and Table 21 (below), I have highlighted the main themes for this timeframe (1960 and 1970s).

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Belly dance timeframes from the 1960s
Table 20 – 1960s and early 70s in Egypt and the USA – Part 1

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Part 2 of the analysis of raqs sharqi 1960s and 1970s
Table 21– 1960s and early 70s in Egypt and the USA – Part 2

Increasingly Transcultural Dimension of Raqs Sharqi

The most important aspect to notice is the increasingly transcultural dimension of raqs sharqi, because of its diffusion outside of Egypt. This is due to the ever-increasing corporeal travel of people, a type of what Urry (2007) calls ‘mobilities’.

Nadia Gamal, one of the most famous dancers from the Middle East who started her career in Egypt, traveled and worked in many countries, including the UK and India and she moved to Lebanon, where she influenced the local oriental dance scene.

Diasporas

At the same time, a diaspora from the Middle East, Greece and Northern Africa took the music and dance of that part of the world to the USA.

There, these dance and music traditions found fertile ground in a society in which (especially in big cities such as New York) people were eager to discover different cultures and had the ‘economic capital’ to invest in leisure activities.

This increased mobility led to more hybridity ‘as a transformative, innovative process of continuous interaction between two or more cultures’ (Naguib, 2008, p. 473).

Contact Zones

The ‘contact zones’ in which the Middle Eastern dance takes place are ethnic restaurants, in which musicians and dancers from different Middle Eastern and northern African countries work together.

American dancers learn by imitation in these venues and this is how the dance is transmitted at first.

However, over time, those who first learnt in the ethnic restaurants start teaching classes, so the transmission becomes more formal and classes are attended by women who have the financial capital to do so.

Artifacts and Commodification

Moreover, festivals are organized and artefacts such as books and magazines are produced, which constitute part of the tangible aspects of this heritage and increase the ways in which this can be transmitted, conceptually as well as in an embodied way.

These artifacts, are also a form of ‘objectified cultural capital’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992, p. 99), which people who own cultural and economic capital can acquire.

Thus, the transmission of raqs sharqi heritage starts being commodified, just like eastern movements forms have been, as Brown and Leledaki (2010, p. 139) argue, ‘by the rationalization of leisure via the interpenetration of market commodification logics’.

The Impact of Mobilities

Most importantly though, the ‘mobilites’ of people go now in the opposite direction, from the USA to the Middle East as American practitioners are interested in searching for the ‘authentic’ roots of this heritage.

Hence, they travel, research and take their students with them. One of the countries to which practitioners travel the most is Egypt.

This, together with the fact that raqs sharqi was already prominent in local culture and the cultural prominence of Egypt in the Arab world because of its movie industry, means that Egypt becomes more and more central to the American (and later global) bellydance discourse.

American and Egyptian dancers also travel to perform in London. These dancers influence the dance scene in London and teach their style to the local dancers.

A very important element of the dance tradition and experience in the 1960s and 70s in the USA and in London is the fact that dancers could perform to live music.

This still happens regularly in Egypt, but it is less common now outside of Egypt. In 5.7.7, I will return to the issue of live music and how foreign dancers move to Egypt, just to be able to dance to live music all the time.

It seems though that, unlike dance, the performing of the music that goes with the dance, has not moved out of its area of origin. Also, live music seems central (not necessary but very important) to a completely authentic experience of raqs sharqi.

Dance Heritage Timeframes

The big influences on how heritage develops in this timeframe are related to the:

  • mobility of people
  • politics (war and political instability that causes diasporas)
  • class (affluent students in the USA and rich customers for clubs in London)
  • the availability of ‘contact zones’ in which the dance is transmitted (i.e. ethnic restaurants in the USA)
  • economic factors (the ethnic restaurants owners in the USA who embrace the orientalist depiction of their cultures in the American movies to attract customers, in an act of (Potuoğlu-Cook, 2006) ‘self-Orientalism as the local deployment of globally available Orientalist tropes that reify Eastern sensual or religious exotica for material or symbolic gain’) and finally social changes.

The Development of Oriental Dance

These changes, which happened in the 60s and 70s in the USA, allowed oriental dance to spread.

The idea of power being associated with raqs sharqi, in particular women who dance raqs sharqi, will return over and over again in this research as part of the discourse associated with this genre, with empowerment still being one of the reasons why middle-class women in the USA take up belly dance classes (Moe, 2012).

The most noticeable characteristic of this timeframe is the international and transcultural diffusion of bellydance and of Egyptian raqs sharqi as one of the styles practised.

In terms of the Living Heritage Framework (3.7), there are some connections that can be made to highlight how the tangible and intangible elements connect.

First of all, the transcultural element of heritage is embedded in practitioners’ bodies through their phenomenological habit, as well as through their socio-cultural habitus, which practitioners carry with them as they travel. 

Furthermore, artefacts also travel and these constitute objectified cultural capital and objectified allocative resources, which give practitioners more agency and variety in the way they express themselves.

Artefacts can also be commodified, thus giving a tangible dimension to intangible cultural values.

The Performance Environment

The performance environment is also one of the tangible/intangible elements of this transcultural living heritage, as contact zones (for example Middle-Eastern restaurants in America) facilitate the transmission and hybridization of cultures.

Live music is one of the in/tangible elements highlighted in this section. Live music is the aural element of these dance performances, which affects practitioners in many ways.

  • Firstly, on an emotional (phenomenologically subjective) level
  • Secondly, dancing to live music can empower dancers, as they draw on it as an additional resource to express their creativity (agency)
  • Thirdly, the ability and opportunity of dancing to live music can act as a form of cultural capital that gives dancers further prestige.

Overall, the transcultural element of heritage gives practitioners and audiences new resources to extend their agency and creativity across the structural boundaries of different societies, allowing for fluid authenticity to develop.

Next Page >> Raqs Sharqi in Egyptian Cinema and TV (1970s and Early 1980s) and Nagwa Fouad.

Transculturality can also be understood in terms of power relations in a social field and the amount of capital that is needed to be able to be mobile, as well as the new capital that being able to access different places and cultures can give individuals.

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Hi - I'm Dr Valeria Lo Iacono and I am a dance researcher with a PhD in dance as a form of living heritage. I also teach belly dance and love to travel to discover new dances around the world. I have worked also as an academic and in the UK and in Korea. Thank you for visiting my site.