A Belly Dancer Dances for British Troops on Cyprus, 1964

May 7, 2021

In this photo from 1964, a belly dancer entertains British troops on the island of Cyprus, which is located in the eastern Mediterranean near Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. The dancer in this photograph is not from the Middle East, but rather from Great Britain, specifically Middlesex. Belly dancing was a minor fad in the UK and the US in the ‘60s, and this dancer is wearing an outfit typical of belly dancers, or at least the way we understand them today.

Source: (Getty Images/Colorized by Klimbim)

Belly dancing has its origins in the Middle East, although exactly where is unknown. It is considered an indigenous dance, that is focused on the movements of the muscles in the torso, not the limbs. It is believed to have been brought to Spain from Lebanon sometime during the time of the Phoenicians, a period which lasted from the 11th Century BC until the 5th Century BC. However, the name ‘belly dancing’ had its origins much later. The first known usage of the term ‘belly dance’ referred to the performance of the Middle Eastern dancers at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1893. 

She Wears An Authentic Inauthentic Belly-Dancing Outfit

Belly dancing and the wearing of a bedlah constitute a long-simmering fad in western culture obsessed with the "exotic," as shown by these two typical belly-dancing album covers from 1961 and 1975. Source: vouptuousvinyl.com

The outfit, called the bedlah, relies on showing skin. Typically, the dancers sport a bare midriff, and occasionally a low neckline. The bedlah often uses large amounts of sheer material, and the bottom half of the bedlah is typically a long skirt or wrap, and a belt decorated with sequins, beads, crystals, fringe and other materials. The top is a fitted bra, similarly embellished. Occasionally, the belly dancer wears a small veil covering the lower half of her face. It does not have its origins in authentic Middle Eastern dress, but rather in Victorian painters of “Orientalism, as well as early 20th century vaudeville and burlesque entertainment. Then, Badia Masabni, who owned a cabaret in Cairo, was credited for bringing the costume to Egypt, because the image appealed to Western tourists.