American Bellydance: From Columbian Exhibition to American Tribal Style

photograph of Algerian dancer from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago

Photograph of Algerian dancer from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago

In 1893, visitors to the World’s Columbian Exposition were introduced to a form of dance not seen before in the U.S. On the Street in Cairo section of the midway, dancers performed the first bellydance seen in the U.S., a dance which has exploded in popularity since then. A new mini-exhibit on Regenstein’s 3rd floor examines some aspects of the birth of American Bellydance and the modern variations. It is on display from April 1 through September 1, 2013. Exhibit viewers are encouraged to check out an MP3 player with musical accompaniment to the exhibit from the nearby Recordings Collection desk.

Bellydance at the Columbian Exposition: For the Street in Cairo display, Sol Bloom hired a number of performers including dancers. Among the dancers was a woman who came to be known as “Little Egypt.” This dancer was highly popular and inspired many imitators. By the beginning of the 20th century, many women were performing under the name “Little Egypt” and it was associated with bellydancing up through the mid-20th century as the dance became more commonly known. 

Cabaret Style: While bellydancing is thought of as traditional to the Middle East, what Americans associate with bellydance is part of a style distinct to the Americas, which draws from traditional forms but uses different costuming and many different moves. Cabaret style dancers perform in many different contexts in the US, including restaurants, at theatrical performances and in films. 

American Tribal Style: This fast-growing American style of bellydance is a hybrid of several different dance forms and costuming styles. Developed in San Francisco by Fat Chance Bellydance troupe, American Tribal Style or ATS now has multiple offshoots. ATS bellydance is a structured improvisational group form at its heart, with a specific repertoire of moves combined in performance using various communication methods and an alternating system of leading. 

Dancers from Different Drummer Bellydance troupe perform at a street festival in Bloomington, IN.  (Photo by Adam Zolkover.)

Dancers from Different Drummer Bellydance troupe perform at a street festival in Bloomington, IN. (Photo by Adam Zolkover.)

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