Beginning performed at the Chicago World’s Fair.

Beginning with the performers like Ruth St. Denis and Mata Hari, who performed ‘oriental dances’ for a Western audience, without actual training or immersion in the dance forms native to a location; this phenomenon of representing an imaginary, exotic and eroticised Orient has become more complex with the development of creative and hybrid choreographies. Indigenous dances, when performed by natives were a cause of political and moral anxiety for the colonial administrations, for they were viewed as a political as well as a moral threat. As a consequence, reforms and mostly, bans were enforced to put a stop to these dance practices. However, the indigenous dances were not only a site of fear but also a sight of desire. This contradictory approach towards dances is well evident in the case of Nautch Dance in India, which was ultimately outlawed by an anti-Nautch movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. This was preceded by an ambivalent approach by the British wherein the dancers were treated with suspicion and moral disgust, and their livelihoods were slowly shorn away. And yet, they were also housed within hospice-like quarters in military cantonments, so that they could be used for satisfying the soldier’s sexual urges. At the same time, the Nautch girls were an important part of cultural gatherings that colonial officers organised. This attitude towards Nautch becomes more so contradictory when we examine how Ruth St. Denis, an American woman — integrated some apparent motifs of the Nautch dancing and mythologised them, becoming one of the most renowned dancer of her time. 
American belly-dancing can be traced back to 1893, when Sol Bloom, an American who returned from a trip to the Middle East with Syrian and Algerian dancers. These dancers performed at the Chicago World’s Fair. It was in this instance, that ‘belly-dance’, a solo improvisational dance form was re-invented as highly sexualised, cabaret performance, with frequent associations to strip-tease. And it was in this format that ‘belly-dance’ was exported back to the Arab nations, canonised and forged as a cultural art. However, it exists in the Middle East as an entertainment-genre performance and not as an art form, and there exists no compelling evidence to suggest that historical attitudes towards belly-dancing could be different. This dance complex does not have a classical tradition, that is, no named vocabulary, no academy and no uniformly fixed and named movements. Belly-dancing is also designated its location of origin in religious rituals, however this is only in unreliable accounts of popular histories and no evidence suggests that it began as a part of ritual ceremonies.

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