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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

The True Origin of Belly Dance:
A Time Traveler's "Tail"


by Shira





As you all know, I have spent many years researching belly dance history. Guess what? Doctor Who showed up with his Tardis to help me settle the question once and for all! He took me back in time, so I could meet the very first human EVER to do solo, improvised, torso-based, hip-articulated movement to music.

At last the story can be told!

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by PixieVision, Glendale, California.



Journey of a Lifetime!

I had just finished putting on my belly dance costume, getting ready for a gig, when Doctor Who arrived at my doorstep and invited me to step into the Tardis. I didn't want to make him wait for me to change my clothes first, because I was afraid he might change his mind, so I grabbed my house key and left. I didn't notice at the time, but my tuxedo kitty sneaked into the Tardis with me. He does that — this cat often follows me on walks around the block, and this time he followed me on a giant step back in time!

The Doctor told me he'd heard about my desire to discover the origin of belly dance, and he'd calibrated the Tardis to take me there. Before I could even finish asking when, exactly, and where we were going, we had arrived.

We ended up in ancient Sumer, at the dawn of Middle Eastern civilization, before the time of Abraham, when people in the Middle East were first starting to build cities.

Meeting Inanna

He led me to the temple of the great goddess Inanna. To my surprise, it wasn't really a "temple" as we think of the term at all. It was more like a mansion, the sort of home a wealthy person would live in, with lots of living quarters for the household staff. The servant who answered the door led us in, saying we were expected.

She took us to a grandly furnished living room, and seated in a sumptuous chair was Inanna herself, a living, breathing flesh-and-blood woman who exuded charisma and power out of every pore. She was draped in sumptuous fabrics, and gorgeous jewelry sparkled at her throat, ears, wrists, and ankles. Not bothering to get to her feet, she said, "I've heard you traveled far to see me." The Doctor stood off to the side, with a mischievous smile on his face, as if to say, "Be careful what you ask for, you might get it."

Asking My Question

I stammered, knowing that I was truly in the presence of greatness, and somehow managed to explain that I had come to seek knowledge of the origins of a beautiful art form from Inanna's domain that thousands of years later would captivate people all over the world.

She listened politely, and ask me to describe this art form. I tried to explain about hip drops, shimmies, and undulations, but the slight frown on her face showed she was having difficulty figuring out what I was talking about.

Finally, she commanded, "Show me!" Feeling self-conscious, I asked if there were any musicians available. She snapped a command, and seemingly out of nowhere two women appeared holding musical instruments. One held a frame drum, while another what looked like an ancient lyre.

She commanded them to play, and a slow, sinuous taqsim unfolded in an ancient maqam. I was captivated by the music, and without even really thinking about what I was doing, I began to undulate, and do hip circles, and lose myself in our wonderful dance form.

I became aware that the musicians, the servants, some additional women who appeared to be Inanna's friends, and even Inanna herself were all gaping at me in astonishment. Embarrassed, I stopped. "Continue!" she commanded. So, as the music continued, so did my dance.

An Unexpected Development

Finally, the musicians stopped, and I stood there, feeling very self-conscious. "Teach me how to do that!" Inanna commanded.

"But, I thought I came here to learn from YOU!" I stammered.

"TEACH ME!" So, I started teaching Inanna and her friends how to do hip drops, hip circles, figure 8's, shimmies, and undulations.

It was a playful party atmosphere, a lot like the gigs I do teaching private-party lessons at bachelorette parties, bridal showers, and other women's parties. They laughed, they experimented with making up their own variations, they admired each other. They learned quickly, and soon they were taking turns dancing for each other.

The Doctor took my arm and said, "It's time for us to go." As he returned me to the 21st century, he pointed out to me that a time paradox had just occurred - the origin of belly dance was me, Shira, going back in time, and mucking with history by teaching the dance to Inanna and her friends, in a social party situation.

There were no prancing priestesses, no pregnant women preparing to give birth, no Sultans waiting to be seduced. Just a group of friends who were dancing around just for the sheer joy of dancing and discovering the movements they could make their bodies do.

And what was my cat doing while I was belly dancing with Inanna and her friends? That's a "tail" for another day!

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Sarah Neighbors.



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