The Bellydance Historian

The Bellydance Historian

This page is dedicated to promote the knowledge of the history of bellydance, past and present, in a

For bellydance classes please visit our studio page:
Dragonfly Bellydance

Operating as usual


Top 9 posts of 2021! Thank you everyone for your likes, follows, shares, questions, suggestions, DMs, & support! 💕

I haven't been able to post anything new in many months, yet I keep seeing the page growing and gathering interest.
I'm happy so many people have found it informative, interesting and helpful on your bellydance and/or historical journey.

All the best regards and many blessings into 2022! 💜💕❤

Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 21/03/2021

Happy Spring everyone! 🌻🌷❤Sorry I have been quiet lately, life sometimes gets too busy & time flies by....
For today a collection of depictions of Turkish Ottoman dancers with 'clappers'.

1) Turkish Dancer, 1714, by Jean Baptiste VanMour. Original title: "Tchinguis ou Danseuse Turque" . Flemish - French painter. He accompanied the new ambassador to Constantinople, the Marquis Charles de Ferrioli, who commissioned him to do 100 paintings of the local people. Engravings were created after the paintings and published in 1714. He spent many years in Constantinople working for various diplomats in the Ottoman Empire.
Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation Library.

3) Ottoman dancers, 1790, by Mouradgea D'Ohsson, Armenian, Orientalist, historian and diplomat. Unlike most Orientalists, he was born in Istanbul and was fluent in both Arabic and Turkish. From: "Tableau General de l'Empire Othoman", vol II, Paris. He aimed to give a "full picture of the Ottoman Empire" in this book and in 2 more volumes that followed.

4) The earliest of this collection, dating to 1648, titled "Comedienne Turc" by French artist George de La Chappelle who lived in Istanbul for several years. He painted female figures of diverse ethnic groups, from Istanbul & other areas. His Album of drawings of women was first published in 1648. He depicts women in 'typical costume' often with monuments & sights of the Ottoman capital in the background. A theme that had become popular since the mid 16th century.
Image & info: Travelogues:

4) "A Turkish Dancer Dancing before her Master", 1769. Engraved from the Collection of Lord Baltimore" -Frederick Calvert- after designs by Francis Smith, London.
The Gennadius Library - The American School of Classical Studies at Athens.
Image & info: Travelogues:

Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 04/03/2021

Related to ancient clappers & with a history parallel to that of metal finger cymbals are the castanets. According to Flamenco historians the origins of castanets are debated between Ancient Egypt & Phoenicia. What can be said with almost all certainty is that Phoenicians were responsible for the diffusion of finger-held idiophone instruments (like cymbals & castanets) associated with dance performances, throughout the Mediterranean.

Phoenician cities & colonies particularly Carthage (North Africa/today’s Tunisia) & Gadir -Gades- (in Southern Spain, today’s Cadiz), were famous in Antiquity, among other things, for their female dancers.

Gadir was founded in c. 1100BCE by Phoenicians from Tyre (in modern Lebanon, Tyre itself extending to the 3rd millennium BCE).

In its earlier stages, these clappers were made with sea shells and later on, with wood and metal.

By the 1st century AD the dancers from Cadiz were famous and sought-after throughout the Roman Empire and they accompanied their dances with cymbals &/or castanets. They were hired for banquets & celebrations.

According to historian Posidonio, the Mediterranean explorer Eudoxos, used to take gaditanean dancers & musicians in his adventures to gain the favour of petty kings he may encounter.

Martial talks about the grace &confidence of a certain slave who had mastered the art of dancing with the cymbals/castanets/crotals in the “way of the dancers of Cadiz”: “Her undulating body lends itself to such quivering and to such provocative attitudes that it would melt Hipolito himself if he ever saw her” (Hipolito being a character of Greek Tragedy known for his unbreakable chastity).

Photo references in the comments below.⬇️

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Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 16/02/2021

Continuing our journey through the cymbal-playing traditions in the Mediterranean.
For today a collection of Roman depictions (and one Hellenistic) of dancers and musicians with cymbals. The first 2 depict female dancers associated with Bacchus/Dionysus. Note that in almost all cases the cymbals are held one in each hand. The 4th mosaic depicts the type of clapper or crotals similar to those we shared in earlier posts.

1) Roman Mosaic representing dancers with cymbals during bacchanal, from Samandag, Turkey. 2nd - 3rd Century AD.

2) Roman fresco from Pompeii, Villa of the Mysteries of Dionysos, part of a much larger scene possibly depicting initiatory rites, at the culminating point of the initiatory rite the woman dances naked while playing finger-cymbals over her head and another woman holds a reed or wand (thyrsos), a symbol of the god Dionysos. Second Pompeiian Style, 1st century BCE.

3) Roman mosaic panel depicting "street musicians" ("Musici Ambulanti"), perhaps associated with the cult of Cybele. Signed by Dioskourides of Samos. Villa of Cicero, Pompeii. c. 199-80 BCE A scene from Menander's comedy play "Theophoroumene" (The possessed person) Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.

4) Mosaic of three musicians, Carthage. ca. 300 CE–ca. 25 CE
Museo nazionale della civiltà romana, Rome.

5) Hellenistic terracotta figurine of a cymbal player from
Myrina. Height 18 cm. National Archaeological
Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 5060 (Ioannis Misthos Collection 543).

Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 10/02/2021

For today's post, lets travel to another area in the Mediterranean with finds of ancient cymbals: the Levant, Phoenicians & The Bible.

Cymbals are mentioned in the Old Testament numerous times in different settings such as religious ceremonies, psalm singing and special occasions. Usually appearing in connection with other instruments such as trumpets, horns, harps, lyres, & tambourines.
The Hebrew text uses two different words for them: 'tseltselim' & 'metsiltayim', both derived from the Hebrew root 'tsalal' = to quiver, cause vibration, to ti**le.

Cymbals have been found in the regions of today's Israel and Palestine in diverse sizes from 3cm to 12cm (1.18in to 2.36in)

1) Bronze cymbals from Israel, found in a crevice in the ruins near Jerusalem, dating c. 1000 - 586 BCE. Diameter, 5.5cm (2.16 in). Private collection. Photo and some of the info from (Antiquity dealers)

The Phoenicians were a mighty force in Antiquity throughout the Mediterranean. Phoenicia extended to the region of modern Lebanon, parts of Syria and Israel.
They were seafarers, merchants, traders, and colonizers of the Mediterranean. Their major cities were Sidon, Tyre, and Berot (modern Beirut). By the 2nd millennium BCE they had extended their influence along the coast of the Levant, North Africa, Anatolia, & Cyprus.

Carthage (in modern Tunisia) became a chief power in the western Mediterranean and their colonies extended all the way to southern Spain (Gades). Phoenician dancers from Gades and Syria will later feature prominently in Roman writings. (Upcoming post)

2) Phoenician cymbals, 10th century BCE excavated at Megiddo (North Israel). Photo credit:

Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 05/02/2021

Continuing our journey through the history of finger cymbals in the Mediterranean.

We get our word "cymbal" from the Latin cymbalum, which in turn derives from the Greek 'kymbalon', from 'kymbē' meaning "cup" or "bowl".
Another common word used for cymbals is "crotals" (spanish "crótalos"), from the Latin "crotalum", deriving from the Greek 'krotalon'.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica & various museum sites, these ancient finger cymbals were used in the Middle East & across the Mediterranean in Ancient times primarily as dancers' instruments.

The cymbals themselves &/or representations of them have been found in paintings & relief sculptures from Armenia, Mesopotamia -Sumer, Babylon, Assyria- , ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, ancient Israel and Phoenicia (in the Levant, modern Lebanon, Syria, Palestine).

References to cymbals appear throughout the Bible and in several Roman accounts.

Today's cymbals are some of the many examples coming to us from Roman times. Images after the cover collage photo:

1. Crotals consisting of cymbals attached to a handle shaped like tongs. Roman Egypt. Bronze. On the second picture the handle is wood & leather.

2. Bronze cymbals (picture with blue background). Found in Palestrina (east of Rome). 3rd - 5th C BCE. 13 cm in diameter (5 1/8 ")

3. Bronze cymbals, 1st - 2nd C. AD, found in Vaison, France (Roman Gaul). 9.5 cm. (3.7 in)

ALL ⬆️ these . Photo credit: © The Trustees of the British Museum

4. Copper Alloy, Roman Egypt, 30BC - 364AD, 5.9 cm (2.32 in)

5. Bronze cymbal, Roman Hispania, 10.5 cm. (4 in) Necropolis of Puig de Molins, Ibiza, Museo Arqueologico Nacional.

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Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 01/02/2021

Our first stop in our history of finger cymbals takes us to Ancient Egypt and these beautiful clappers.
Clappers are some of the earliest percussion instruments found in Egypt. A precursor of finger cymbals, these clappers were also used in pairs. Clappers were designed to replace hand clapping by striking them together, creating rhythm for music & dance in activities such as banquets, funerary processions, rituals and for magical acts.

Some were made of wood, others of hippopotamus ivory.

They were depicted on vases since the predynastic period. Clappers with hands appear in the Middle Kingdom, and the more ornate examples date to the New Kingdom.

1. Clappers, Middle or New Kingdom, c. 2033-1069 BCE.
at the Louvre.
These lovely clappers, carved out of hippopotamus ivory, represent hands and are decorated with the head of the goddess Hathor, Egyptian goddess of joy, love and music.

2. Clappers, ca. 1900 - 1640 BCE. Middle Kingdom. Memphite Region. This style of clappers: straight and shaped like a pair of hands and arms was common in the Middle Kingdom. Incised lines indicate the finger joints and fingernails, while broad bracelets adorn the wrists.

3) Detail from a sculptural relief, Egypt. Perhaps a banquet scene with music & dance with tambourines & clappers. Tomb of Hormin, Saqqarah. c. 1250 BCE. (Picture from dance historian Alkis Raftis' website).


Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 14/01/2021

"Egyptian Dancer in a Tent with musicians and spectators", 1868. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. . Pencil & Watercolor, by Willem de Famars Testas (1834-1896), Orientalist Dutch painter, etcher, draughtsman & illustrator.

Notice the finger cymbals, the coin jewelry, her hair in multiple braids, her dancing pose and the detail of the composition. 💕😃

The artist's work depicts every day life in the Orient. He travelled to Egypt in 2 occasions. On his first trip (1858-1860) he joined an expedition with the goal of recording Arab monuments as illustrations for 2 books by Emile Prisse d'Avennes, 'L'Art Arabe' & 'L'histoire de l'art Égyptién. In this expedition he created numerous sketches of animals, objects & landscapes.

In 1868 he was invited by the famous French Orientalist Jean-Leon Gérome to join him & fellow artists on another trip to the Orient.

The wonderful researcher and writer Kathleen Fraser identifies this dancer as possibly being Hasna of Sinnuris, whom Gerome and his companions met at the Faiyum in Egypt in 1868.
Paul-Marie Lenoir -also part of the expedition-, in his travel memoirs recounts an exceptional evening of dance when the artists stopped at Sinnuris, describing Hasna as 'very talented and much appreciated locally', and her solo as 'wild & brilliant... that had the all-male crowd cheering her praises.'

(Image: Public Domain.
Quotes from Kathleen Fraser's 'Before they were Bellydancers' p. 139-140)


Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 08/01/2021

In 1834 there was a ban on female dancing in Egypt. The Ghawazee were outlawed from Cairo by Mohammed Ali and banished to Upper Egypt.
As a consequence, there was a rise in popularity of male dancers.

There were 2 groups of male dancers at this time in Egypt: the indigenous Egyptian khawals (khawalat) and the ginks, who were of other backgrounds (Jews, Armenians, Greeks and Turks).

Dancers mentioned, painted and photographed in the 19th Century are often anonymous with only a few names known for female dancers. As for male dancers only Flaubert mentions the name of a khawal, Hasan al-Bilbeissi:

"an adult male, not a youth whom he saw twice, once in a wedding procession and, later, performing in the Hotel d'Orient in Cairo... Flaubert found Hasan's performance possessed high artistry." (quote from Kathleen Fraser "Before they were Belly Dancers", p. 82).

Photo of a khawal, dating to before 1907, Egypt. (Public Domain)

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Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 06/01/2021

“The dancing girls appeared in a cloud of dust and to***co smoke. As their heels beat upon the ground, with a ti**le of little bells and anklets, their raised arms quivered in harmony, their hips shook with a voluptuous movement; their form seemed bare under the muslin between the little jacket and the low loose girdle….
They twirled about so quickly that it was hard to distinguish the features of these seductive creatures, whose fingers shook little cymbals, as large as castanets, as they gestured boldly to the... strains of flute and tambourine.
Two of them seemed particularly beautiful; they held themselves proudly; their Arab eyes were brightened by kohl, their full yet delicate cheeks were lightly painted.
But the third I must admit betrayed the less gentle s*x by a week old beard, and when I looked into the matter carefully... it did not take me long to discover, that the dancing girls were, in point of fact, all males” - Gérard de Nerval (1808 - 1855) at a Café in Cairo.

Male dancers in feminine attire were at points in history as popular as female dancers throughout the Middle East, particularly following prohibitions of women dancing in public.
In Egypt, they were known as Khawal (sing) Khawalat (pl).

Gérard de Nerval, a literary figure of French Romanticism, traveled to Turkey & Egypt in 1843.

Pic 1: Egyptian dancer in front of a divan, c.1870s, unidentified photographer.
Pic 2: Egyptian male dancer, Khawal. Photo by Wilhelm Hammerschmidt, Cairo. 1860 - 1869.
(Photos: Public Domain)


Our 9 most liked posts of 2020! 🎉💕🌟
Thank you do much everyone for your follows, likes, comments and shares! This account just started on Sep. 30, and I'm just so grateful for every single one of you, your support and interest in the history of the art form we all love so much! 💕💜❤
Looking forward to keep sharing with you in 2021!
May it be a better year, may it bring good health, joy, love, wellness, kindness, care for our home the Earth, care for each other, and of course dance! 💕


Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 28/12/2020

Do you recognize them all? Can you guess what character are they portraying?
These actresses are all portraying the character of SALOME and her dance.

Salome -in a nutshell- is that Biblical character who famously danced for King Herod at his birthday & -guided by her mother- asked for the head of John the Baptist as a reward. Her dance has been discussed at least since the 4th C. & she has been portrayed in art at least since the 11th C. becoming a popular motif during the Renaissance & an extremely popular figure in the 19th-early 20th C. in Orientalist art.
Artists found in her a motif to expand, recreate, reinvent, and often run & "go-wild" with, particularly after the invention of the "dance of the 7 veils" by Oscar Wilde.

Today we are looking at some of the most notable portrayals in movies. Although we do not know what kind of dance Salome performed, she has often been associated with "Eastern dance" and thus with "bellydance"... Movies played an important role in the solidification of this image in the "collective imaginary" of western audiences. The dance presented in most cases is an oriental fantasy, often with little connection to actual bellydance and yet the image is important for the perception of 'oriental dance' in the imagination of mainstream audiences.

* 1953 (pics 2-3) Rita Hayworth performs the "dance of the 7 veils" in the movie "Salome". Her dance being an orientalist fantasy.
* 1961 (pics 4-5) Brigid Bazlen in "King of Kings", her costume is bellydance inspired and her dance also presents some elements related to bellydance.
* 1977 (pic 6) Isabel Mestres in "Jesus of Nazareth", her dance distinctively does not try to portray bellydance at all.
* 2013 (pic7) Jessica Chastain in "Wilde Salome", a contemporary/modern dance version with a minimalist look, & some bellydance-related elements, a bit of veil work, shimmies and body waves.


Happy holidays! 🌟☃️🎉🎄🎁❤Merry Christmas for those celebrating! 🎅 Blessings to everyone! ❤ May love, good health, peace and joy be always with you!
We will resume our history posts shortly!


Wow!!! I got an early Christmas gift! 1000 followers! 💜🥰❤
THANK YOU so so much everyone for following this account, for reading my posts, for all your comments, likes and shares! 💕 You guys rock and your interest in these topics just makes me do little happy dances every time! 😊❤

It is truly a pleasure to share these tidbits into the history of bellydance, its representation in art as well as biographical capsules/series on some legendary bellydancers! 🥰

Is there a topic you are particularly interested in learning more about?
A question you have always wanted to ask?

➡️ Let me know in the comments!

Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 21/12/2020

Nejla Ates appeared on the cover of many magazines and publications of her time. Orientalism was alive and well in the 1950s and Nejla became the poster girl of the "exotic dance of the East" conflated with the figure of "femme fatale" and often between the lines of bellydance and burlesque that often crossed in the early history of bellydance in North America.

For example, In the movie "Son of Sinbad" while Nejla portrays the dancer in the market, Lily St. Cyr a famous burlesque performer of the time appears in the same movie in a dance scene that takes place inside the harem (with veil, beaded bra and chiffon skirt), however Lily's dance routine is characteristically burlesque as opposed to Oriental.

For the educated eye, the dances presented by these 2 artists are easily recognizable as being as different as their respective arts are; however, for the general public of the time, -perhaps- that might not have been the case.

Burlesque and Bellydance at this time in the US experiences a history of "crossover" that had started decades before, with burlesque & vaudeville dancers presenting "oriental themes" and contributing in some ways such as with the introduction of the semi-transparent chiffon skirt. On the other hand several establishments presented both and/or required bellydancers to wear pasties. Thus at this time, in the eye of the general public they both appeared as forms of "exotic dance".

Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 20/12/2020

Nejla Ates appeared on the cover of many Middle Eastern/Bellydance music albums, most famously among them (or infamously) on the album "Port Said" (Photo #4) by Mohammed El-Bakkar (1957)


I'm delighted to be sharing my love for bellydance history in conversation with Live of Facebook as part of Sharqui talk series! 🥰😊💕

Join us at 11 am EST, today Wednesday Dec 16. Or watch the video after if you cannot make it live.❤
We all think we know what “bellydance” is, but once you scratch the surface it gets much more complicated. Dig into this question with ‘s guest this Wednesday at 11am et on SharQui’s page.

Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 15/12/2020

Nejla Ateş, known as "The Turkish Delight" and "Turkish Torso Twister" debuts on Broadway in November 1954 in the musical "F***y" -original production- where she appears as an "Arab dancing girl" accompanied by Mohammed El-Bakkar on oud.

The director, Joshua Logan, created a spotlight scene with a song composed especially for Nejla called "Shika Shika". This performance catapulted her fame and according to her widower's biography "made her unforgettable for many people".

The play run until December 1956 after a total run of 888 performances. Nejla's success in this production catapults her career to the silver screen! (Upcoming post!)

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Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 14/12/2020

Happy Monday everyone!
Today we are sharing 3 pictures of Nejla Ages' signature luscious backbends!

Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 11/12/2020

These beautiful portraits are of Turkish bellydancer Nejla Ates.
In Nejla Ates life-story we find a roller-coaster full of stardom, romance, personalities, adventure as well as misfortune.

According to the memoir book written by her widower, she struggled at the beginning and once performed as a target in a knife throwing show.

After achieving fame in Turkey, Nejla traveled and danced in Beirut, Cairo, Baghdad, & Rome (according to a newspaper of the time: The DaytonaBeach Morning Journal, 1954).

Around 1952 Nejla Ates is in France having become the lead dancer at the world famous Casino de Paris. During her short time in France she appeared on the covers of French magazines & newspapers and learned the French language.

The last photo featuring the Casino de Paris in a French magazine, is from her widower's memoirs:

➡️Follow as we follow Nejla's journey to the US, Hollywood and later back to Istanbul.

Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 05/12/2020

For this Saturday a beautiful and evocative photo from the turn of the century. Titled: "Egypt: Dancing Girl" also known as "Egyptian Dancing Girl with Tambourine".

Her attire resembles/may be assuit (also known as "Tulle bi telli" / "tulle bitalli" roughly translating as "net with metal"), a fabric with a long tradition in the Middle East and particularly in Egypt.

In the Library of Congress it is dated 1890 - 1930, with some other sources writing the date as 1904-1906 or as late as 1916.
Carpenter Collection, Library of Congress.

The second photo (found on Pinterest) shows this same image as a postcard with the following caption: "Egyptian Types and Scenes - An Arab Girl - LL".

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Photos from The Bellydance Historian's post 01/12/2020

Have you ever danced to "The Sensual Chifti", "Raks El Sheik", "Rumba for Veil" or "Ripples of the Nile"?

Eddie Kochak was an icon of Middle Eastern music in America.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1921, to immigrant Syrian parents, Edward Sibou Kochakji had a passion for music from early age, especially percussion.

Having joined the army he performed for the troops during World War II in Greece, Italy and Egypt. As the story goes he seemed to have received the nickname “The Sheik" during this time.
Years later and back home in the US he formed the Eddie Kochak Trio and performed at different venues, including Green Grove Manor and The Cedars Hotel in New Jersey, a prime entertainment venue popular in the Lebanese and Syrian community.

It was here that he first referred to his music as "Amer-abic" a hybrid of Western and Middle Eastern sounds that responded to and reflected the society he lived in. His music presents a rich mix of Middle Eastern, Jazz and Latin American sounds and rhythms and created one of the most characteristic sounds of American Cabaret Bellydance.

He collaborated with Iraqi violinist Hakki Obadia and many bellydancers including the Jewish/Egyptian sisters Lys and Lyn Gamal.

In the 1980s he played for Anthony Quinn in the Broadway production of “Zorba The Greek" and toured with him in 1983. Eddie passed away on December 2018.
His vast discography includes over 100 records, with many of his songs considered classics of American Vintage bellydance.

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