I have listed below 10 countries, which are good to visit if you wish to learn about belly dancing, whether you wish to take lessons from local dancers or learn about the culture and art in general. However, be aware that, as some of these countries are located in politically volatile areas, it may be not safe to travel there or there may be areas of those countries that it is best to avoid. Hence, before organising your trip, always check the FCO website (www.fco.gov.uk) for some up to date advice.
Egypt is La Mecca for belly dancers all over the world, especially the cities of Cairo and Luxor. Egyptian bellydancers are considered amongst the best in the world and Egyptian belly dance teachers are extremely sought after. There are also a lot of great bellydancers who are not originally from Egypt, but who are based there. Just a few names that belly dancers around the world will recognise include: Raqia Hassan, Dandasha, Randa Kamel, Dina and Mohamed El Hosseny (Egyptian male belly dancer, based in Finland) just to mention a few. Also, bazaars in Egypt are great places in which to buy all your belly dance costumes, accessories and belly dance music CDs. Last but not least, Egyptian deluxe hotels are nowadays the places where you can see a lot of great belly dancers perform. Read more tips for travelling to Egypt for belly dance training.
Another great place to visit for belly dance lovers is Turkey. Turkish bellydance style is very different from Egyptian style, but equally interesting. Belly dancers can find everything they wish to do with belly dance in Istanbul’s bazaar, and it is possible to go and see various belly dance shows in Turkey. Famous Turkish belly dancers include: Asena, Princess Banu, Nesrin Topkapi, Sibel Baris and Burcin Orhan. A Turkish male belly dancer is Ozgen, who is based in the UK and greatly appreciated.
Belly dance is big in Lebanon too; they even have a reality talent show on Lebanese satellite channel LBC, called Hizi Ya Nawaem (World Belly Dance Championship). Lebanese bellydance style is very energetic and there are a lot of great Lebanese belly dancers, such as Amani, Maya Abi Saad and more.
Some travel companies and some belly dance teachers organise trips to Morocco. Belly dance lovers visiting Morocco can combine belly dance lessons with trips to the desert, visits to saunas and cultural tours. Also, a lot of nightclubs in Morocco feature live belly dance shows. You can learn belly dance in Morocco, although this is not really a typical Moroccan dance. In Morocco they have a variety of local dance styles, such as guedra and shikhat, which you can also learn and watch.
Trips involving belly dance are also organised in Tunisia. This country has its own unique style of belly dance and folkloric dance and it is culturally very interesting. An expert of Tunisian belly dance is Leila Haddad, who was born in Tunisia and moved to France when she was eighteen. In France Leila
Haddad pursued her love for dance, rediscovering the ancient art form of belly dance and Tunisian dance. Leila teaches and performs in France, where she presently lives, and holds workshops around the world.
Algerian belly dance is usually associated with the Ouled Nail women. The Ouled Neil is a Berber tribe, based in Algeria, whose women traditionally went around making money from their dance performances and from selling their bodies. Ouled Neil women started travelling very young and, once they had made enough money, they returned to their village in order to get married and start a family. Their costumes were very rich and included heavy headdresses, lots of jewellery, coins sewed to their costumes and heavy make up. The jewellery of Ouled Nail dancers has inspired the costumes of today’s American tribal belly dance. A famous belly dancer, who was born in Algeria and who has travelled the world, is Amel Tafsout. Amel Tafsout is not only an international dancer, but also an anthropologist, a choreographer, a singer and a language instructor. Algeria is also known for its own characteristic belly dance music, called Rai.
Saudi Arabia is one of the countries of origin of what is known today as belly dance. Probably not worth going to for learning how to dance, but it can be nevertheless very interesting culturally. Saudi Arabia has its own dance genre, called Khaleeji. Khaleeji is different from belly dance and the dancer wears a long and wide kaftan called thobe nashal, which is used as a prop as well as a costume. This type of dance involves a lot of movements of the upper body and a lot of focus on footwork.
Although not as popular here as in Egypt or Morocco, Syria still has a popular following and you can see shows and experience this dance form in these parts.
Greek belly dance is called tsifteteli. Tsifteteli has been danced in Greece for centuries, as some say that belly dance was performed in Greece already by the ancient Greeks. Nowadays Tsifteteli music can be heard everywhere in Greece, but it is usually danced socially rather then performed.
With its big influx of immigrants, the USA has always been a melting pot of cultures. Officially, belly dance arrived in the US in occasion of the “Street in Cairo” exhibition on the Midway at the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, when Little Egypt performed (one of little Egypt’s possible identities was Farida Mazar Spyropoulos and she was a bellydancer from Syria). However, a big part in the spread of belly dance in the US was played by the immigrants coming from various Middle Eastern and Northern African countries. American belly dancers preserved an art form that threatened to be lost in some countries of origin and they even invented a new form of belly dance, American tribal belly dance. Nowadays, there are a lot of great belly dance performers and teachers, well known worldwide, who are based in the USA. Many of them are based in California, such as Jamila Salimpour and her daughter Suhaila, Jim Boz, Carolena Nericcio, the Bellydance Superstars who tour around the world all the time and more. On the East Coast, in NYC, is Morocco, who has been involved with Arabic dance for over 50 years and still teaches and performs in the USA and abroad.