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Ancient Belly Dance


... that female musicians in Egypt were thought to be of disreputable character. ... Can we find solo-improvised dance, and if so, determine the technique used? ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Ancient Belly Dance

Ancient Belly Dance
Written descriptions Sources within the culture
take for granted just what we would like to
know Outsiders accounts may show outsiders
cultural prejudices Often lack detail, or give us
only one view that may be blown out of proportion
A nineteenth century example
Quote goes here
  • What cultural prejudices show in this account of
    the dance?
  • Based on what you have seen of the folk and
    performance dances of the Middle East, how
    helpful would this account be in reconstructing
    the authentic techniques and aesthetics of belly

Visual representations Notoriously bad at
conveying quality of movement Often have an
agenda that requires dance to be portrayed a
certain way May express qualities or metaphorical
ideas about dance or dancers
Comparative ethnology Ethnology study of human
peoples Can show how dances function within a
living society Can provide limits for
interpreting the evidence May not offer exact
parallels Comparisons may be misleading it is
hard to see how culture and its dance practices
Comparative Ethnology Work with living
populations offers cautions about our assumptions
about the meanings of ancient dance Emic a
viewpoint that reflects how someone from within
the culture would see his or her actions Etic a
framework or interpretation that reflects the
outsiders view of the underlying structure of
the actions of the studied group
Bloke in a dress. What was the point?
Prehistoric dance
In Western culture, prehistory is often co-opted
to express ideas about the primitive either as
(1) the first step toward modern civilization or
(2) an antidote to modern civilizations ills
What are the characteristics of primitive or
prehistoric people as our popular culture
imagines them? Can you find variations of both
sides in our representations?
Henri Matisse, The Dance, 1910
Prehistoric dance
Dance images first appear in cave art in Europe.
13,000 BCE
4000 BCE
Prehistoric dance
Early humans were hunter-gatherers, living in
nomadic groups and foraging for natural
resources. Does comparative ethnology help with
reconstructing their dances? Joanne
Kealiinohomoku comments,
The dances of modern hunter-gatherers differ
from one another in almost every way, except that
characteristically they are performed by one or
the other sex, there is not much torso movement,
and the rationale for the dance is rooted in
Why should we take this as evidence of early
dance in the SIDTA area? Why shouldnt we?
Prehistoric dance
Agriculture developed in Mesopotamia in about the
8th millennium BCE, and spread through the SIDTA
area and beyond by the 4th millennium BCE.
People live in larger villages, some with
population in the thousands.
With agriculture comes a new interest in
representing dance. Dance is the most common
scene (visual image that shows action) in the art
of this area. Most scenes involve group dances
with everyone moving identically.
Dance (especially line or circle dances)
apparently represents something important in the
world of the agricultural village. What could it
Predynastic Egypt
In the Naqada II culture of predynastic Egypt
(3500-3000 BCE), there are representations of
female figures who are apparently dancing alone.

What else besides dance is going on in this
Predynastic Egypt
What are some arguments for considering this
SIDTA? What are some arguments against its being
Predynastic Egypt
Some association of the dancing figure with a
goddess Images such as these Hathor and the
horns as upraised arms Hathor and dance
Predynastic Egypt
Hathor is a goddess of drinking, dance, song,
music, and sexual pleasure Celestial associations
with the sun-disk, the moon and the morning star
3800-3500 BCE
Predynastic Egypt
Who is the female figure in these
representations? (Some possibilities ) Is she
important? Is she divine? What kind of scene is
being represented here? What does this tell us
about the role of dance in predynastic Egypt?
Ancient Egypt
  • Time span from Predynastic to Greco-Roman Period
  • Predynastic through ca. 2524 BCE
  • Old Kingdom ca. 2524-2260 BCE (Interregnum)
  • Middle Kingdom ca. 2134-1784 BCE
  • New Kingdom ca. 1570-945 BCE
  • Ptolmaic/Roman domination 332 BCE into 4th
    century CE
  • This includes several periods of invasion and
    population change

Some questions
  • Who were the professional dancers and what was
    their social status?
  • High society vs. ordinary people very few
    records of ordinary people
  • What sort of dancing did professional dancers do?
  • Role of dancing within the culture
  • What constitutes professional is it always
    (or ever) a valid category within the culture?
  • Musicians and Instrumentation and their
    reflection on dance

Is it Belly Dance?
  • If it is, it will be (1) Solo-improvised and (2)
    Based on hip and torso articulation. Look for
  • Costuming emphasizing hips?
  • Crotala?
  • Celebratory occasions?
  • Dancers engaged in different movements?
  • Vocabulary associated with hip articulation?

  • Sacred occasions temple positions and rituals,
    funeral rituals, both depicted and described
  • Secular events depicted and described
  • Overlap of sacred and secular
  • Idealization of both in tomb paintings

Acrobatic Dancers
Depiction of Acrobatic dancers from the Red
Chapel at Karnak, receptacle of the barque of
Context Celebration of Amon, journey of the
Acrobatic Dancers
  • Level of skill may indicate professional training
  • What status of women does this imply?
    Aristocratic women?
  • Women attached permanently to temples for dance
    and other services?

Acrobatic Dancers
An old kingdom tomb painting (l) and a shard of
pottery (below).
These positions occur elsewhere too.
What do they show about dance? Can we interpret
either the action they show or their meaning?
Acrobatic Dancers
Related positions in the depiction of
acrobatic(?) dance. Interpretation?
The hnr
The hnr was a group of musicians and dancers who
provided services for both cult and non-cult
activities. Old kingdom hnr seemed mostly women
later men are attested as well. Singers who
daily rejoice the heart of the king with
beautiful songs -
In many instances unity rather than spontaieity
is emphasized
There is no evidence that female musicians in
Egypt were thought to be of disreputable
character. . . The indication of status that is
associated with musicians is also indicated by
the presence of many women of the upper classes
and the royal family who served as musicians in
temples as well as in the royal residence.
Emily Teeter, Female Musicians in Egypt.
Throughout Egyptian history, women of high status
are depicted as musicians. No similar depictions
as dancers. Women musicians may have achieved
star status musicians names preserved in
hieroglyphic labels. Not so dancers. Is this a
real difference in status?
Some dancers are shown nude. Is nudity a status
determinative in art? Probably not, as nudity is
shown in many situations, including even
high-status women. Here 3 musicians are shown in
varying states, presumably without status
Music and dance both evoke sensuality and
pleasures for the taking are women excluded as
consumers of pleasure, and depicted only as
providers for men?
Or are womens roles in creating celebratory
atmospheres respected and counted as a positive
element overall?
The story of Redjedet explains the birth of the
three first rulers of the fifth dynasty. Ra
sends three goddesses (Isis, Hathor and Nephthys)
to oversee the birth, impersonating a group of
dancer/ musucians.
tomb of Aknaton
So these gods set out and they made their
appearance as that of musicians, while Khnum was
with them as porter. When they arrived at the
home of Userre, they found him standing, (his)
loin cloth upside down.
They held out their menat and sistra and he said
to them "My wife, behold, she is a woman
suffering from labour pains". They said "Let us
see her, for behold, we know about child bearing".
And he said to them "Proceed". They entered to
Reddjedet, locking the room behind her and
themselves. Isis placed herself before her,
Nephthys behind her and Heqet hastened the birth.
This child rushed forth onto her arms, a child of
one cubit (in length), strong of bones, his limbs
covered with gold and his headdress of true lapis
These gods came out, having delivered
Reddjedet from child birth and they said "May
your heart rejoice, Userre, for three children
are born to you". And he said to them "My
ladies, what can I do for you? Please, give this
sack of barley to your porter and take it in
exchange for some beer". Khnum loaded himself
with the sack of barley and then they went back
to the place whence they came.
... The maidservant went down but when she opened
the room, she heard the sound of singing, music,
dancing, shouting and everything that is done for
a king in the room. She went and she repeated all
that she heard to Redjedet. She then walked
around in the room, but she did not find the
place where it was done.
Solo-Improvised Dance
Do we find the equivalent of belly
dancing? What is belly dancing Folk form of
solo-improvised dance based on torso
articulation, as performed by dancers for
audiences Can we find solo-improvised dance, and
if so, determine the technique used?
Solo-Improvised Dance
All the people of all the dwellings of the court
heard (of the coronation of Hatshepsut) they
came, their mouths rejoicing, they proclaimed
(it) beyond everything, dwelling on dwelling
therein was announcing (it) in his name soldiers
on soldiers ..., they leaped and they danced
for the double joy in their hearts. James Henry
Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two,
Solo-Improvised Dance
Some Greek Evidence
... the rest of the feast of Dionysos is
celebrated by the Egyptians in the same way as by
the Hellenes in almost all things except choral
dances.... Herodotus, Histories II
... They sail, men and women together, and a
great multitude of each sex in every boat and
some of the women have rattles and rattle with
them, while some of the men play the flute during
the whole time of the voyage, and the rest, both
women and men, sing and clap their hands and
when as they sail they come opposite to any city
on the way they bring the boat to land, and some
of the women continue to do as I have said,
others cry aloud and jeer at the women in that
city, some dance, and some stand up and pull up
their garments. Herodotus, Histories II
Solo-Improvised Dance
Come northward to the court immediately ...
thou shalt bring this dwarf with thee, which thou
bringest living, prosperous and healthy from the
land of spirits, for the dances of the god, to
rejoice and gladden the heart of the king of
Upper and Lower Egypt, Neferkere, who lives
forever. From the letter of Pepi II to
HarkhufJames Henry Breasted Ancient Records of
Egypt, Part One, 353
Solo-Improvised Dance
What are the possible conventions of showing this
sort of dance?
Solo-Improvised Dance
Solo-Improvised Dance
Solo-Improvised Dance
1405-1395 BCE tomb of Djeserkareseneb
Solo-Improvised Dance
Solo-Improvised Dance
Some Roman Evidence
Solo-Improvised Dance
Some Roman Evidence
Because it is meant to show cultural difference,
this image is valuable in indicating hip
articulation and solo improvisation in the dance
style of Egypt.
Solo-Improvised Dance
Some Roman Evidence
The scene depicted is probably the Apis festival.
Is this a formal event or popular dancing?
That is unclear since the iconography is
Solo-Improvised Dance
Some Roman Evidence
  • Women are shown as the main dancers, while the
    men clap in accompaniment or play percussion (?)
  • Is this a real perception, or Roman prejudice?

Musical Accompaniment
Flutes, cymbals, and drums survive Music may have
been more like Nubian music today in rhythm and
sound How persistent is musical style?
Musical Accompaniment
Percussion is a key element of depictions of
dance rhythmic clapping by women, or frame drums
played usually by women. Cymbals and various
forms of crotala survive
Musical Accompaniment
Musical Accompaniment
Here women play lute-like instruments ...
Musical Accompaniment
Various forms of lyre are depicted. Professional
musicians, or skilled amateurs? Or is
professional the right concept?
Musical Accompaniment
Several types of reed flutes are played here.
Instruments include flutes and reed-mouthpiece
Greco-Roman Egypt
Issues Greek, Roman and native Egyptian
population mix Detailed information about prices,
social organization, etc. Still little
information about the type of dancing Possible
insight on lifestyle of dancers
Greco-Roman Egypt
  • What are these veiled dancers doing?
  • Ordinary women dancing in processions?
  • Professional dancers doing a set dance?
  • Women casting off inhibition?
  • A dance, or a moment in a religious experience?

Greco-Roman Egypt
Greco-Roman Egypt
Contract with Isidora
To Isidora, krotalistria, from Artemisia of the
village of Philadelphia. I request that you,
assisted by another krotalistria, total two,
undertake to perform at the festival at my house
for six days beginning with the 25th of the month
Payni according to the old calendar, and you two
to receive as pay 36 drachmas for each day, and
we to furnish in addition 4 artabas of barley
Contract with Isidora
and 24 pairs of bread loaves, and on condition
further that, if garments or gold ornaments are
brought down, we will guard these safely, and
that we will furnish you with two donkeys when
you come down, and a like number when you go back
to the city. Year 14 of Lucius Septimius Severus
Pius Pertinax (206 CE)
Greco-Roman Egypt
  • Isidora as independent business-woman
  • Works with other dancers on a loose basis is
    she a booking agent as well as a dancer?
  • A woman hires them on behalf of the community a
    wealthy woman performing a liturgy?

Greco-Roman Egypt
Contract with Isidora
  • Usually a binding fee is set in advance
  • Dancers are expected to have fine costumes and
    jewelry (portable wealth and display)
  • Style of dance?
  • Dancers vs. prostitutes Greek vs. Egyptian?

Greco-Roman Egypt
  • Pay is well above the rate for other labor days
    working is an issue though
  • Board and transportation provided in a standard

Greco-Roman Egypt
  • Other contracts day rates for musicians similar
    to other laborers was Isidora a star?
  • How often did a working dancer work?
  • What about her musical accompaniment? None
    mentioned in the contract ...

Greco-Roman Egypt
Hiring Zenobios
Demophon to Ptolemaios, greetings. By all means
send me the flute-player Petous with both the
Phrygian and other flutes and if any expenditure
is necessary, pay it and you will be reimbursed
by me. Send me also Zenobios the effeminate
dancer kinaidos with the drum and cymbals and
castanets, for the women want him for the
sacrifice and let him be dressed as elegantly as
possible. Get the kid from Aristion and send it
to me. And you have arrested the slave, hand him
over to Semphtheus to bring to me. Send me also
as many cheeses as you can, empty jars,
vegetables of every sort, and whatever delicacies
you have. Farewell. Put them on board with the
policemen who will help to bring the boat along.
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