The documented history of Raks Sharki is very sketchy, but I have gleaned this information from many years of interest and study in this area. Each recount of the story is personally coloured by nuances, flavours and colours which are lost through the written word. That being said, may I patch together the bits and pieces I have learned over the years, and offer you a picture...

Oriental Dance, Raks Sharki, Belly Dance

These movements were borne out of an ancient time when women honoured their bodies, nature and the spirit world. We lived together in community and functioned in harmony. The people planted according to the moon, and listened intently to the voices of the earth, energies and plants. In so doing they balanced their light and dark sides. Their dance was more of a sacred dance, They socialized, cooked and cleaned with other women. Men provided lovingly for their families. Men and women lived in harmony.

However, there were those who felt the need for control. Using force and brainwashing techniques, a particular group of men disrupted these rituals, and caused them to become taboo. Weaker minds gave in. The men in control convinced the majority to ostracize those practicing these rituals, and as a result drove them underground. Weaker minds gave in, and the stronger minds who resisted, and were determined to maintain their ancient ways, were forced to live on the outskirts of society.

This gave birth to the Gypsies, men and women who became trouble makers as they scoffed at the ongoings of mainstream society. Gypsies stayed around for as long as they could, however if they became too uncomfortable in an area, they would drift to other regions, as control and dominance spread like a disease from region to region in the East.

Gypsies from one area would connect with gypsies from other areas, continuing to dance, practice their ways, and learn from each other. This helped to evolve the dance. It became more versatile as it migrated through North Africa, Greece, Turkey, Persia (Iran) and 22 cultures in all. As this happened, the dance took different shapes, with many different flavours.

Eventually the West caught wind of this "exotic" dance from the East and wanted to bring it home with them. But they quickly discovered that it did not have the same ambiance as the Gypsy dance. Romanticizers from the West spun hypnotic tales, though the Gypsies were very poor, and with little means of a balanced diet, were suffering imbalances resulting from undernutrition and poor dental and personal hygiene.

Any money they did have, they sewed into their clothing. Dances which had been performed in small groups on the earth were taken to the stage, and absorbed Western elements. Rags took on glamour and glitz. Bra, skirt, and coin belt all became part of an image and developed into a costume. Eventually a dance evolved that encompassed elements of East and West. Because of this you can Belly Dance to any rhythm imaginable. You do not need a partner, and I call it "moving yoga". Bellydance is structurally correct for the human anatomy and is a fun and wonderful way to strengthen the body in proper alignment. You can see this in the ease with which professional belly dancers go into a full knee bend, and the looseness of the hips.

In the East today, you are frowned upon if you bellydance in public, being regarded as a stripper. However, you can dance with other women, in private...

UNLESS, of course, you become a professional dancer. THEN you are showered with gifts, adulated, given cars, travel the world and houses, asked to perform at weddings. Imagine what a man whould have to endure to become a dancer, especially if he wanted to dance in a female style...You can check our Tito on Youtube under 'Bellydance Tito'. Tito is an amazing dancer who had to endure insurmountable odds, but now has a huge following, and teaches many women the feminine style of belly dance.

Belly dance is a way of connecting to a community of other dancers who are there to help you find and draw out the Goddess/God or light within you. You do not need a partner for this dance, nor do you need an audience. This dance is a way to escape the ordinary bounds of life, to ignite your creativity, experience freedom, and help create a life you are passionate about living.

If you are performing, it is a means of self-expression that goes beyond words, and relays many different forms of energy.I always say that technique is not as important as passion in terms of how well you connect with your audience, and what they feel when they are in your presence as you dance.

I have had the privilege of teaching (actually they taught me a thing or two) students with Downs Syndrome, and they ended up performing for a large audience. They could not easily remember the moves, but the way they danced was unclouded by expectation. They were able to connect with the audience and get them going, bringing audience members out of where they were and into a community where everybody is important.

My Downs group did a demonstration or mini-lesson after the performance where one of the audience members said, out loud, "This is hard", and one of the Downs dancers said, with all her love and enthusiasm, "Don't worry, be happy".

As the audience roared, there was instant understanding and connection, and a miracle occurred in that moment.

Don't worry. Be happy.

Yara Ma'ab
Yvonne Bloom