5. Let’s Dance!


In the 1960s and 1970s, a belly dancing craze swept the United States. Audiences could enjoy live belly dancing performances in Middle Eastern restaurants and clubs. Viewers could watch belly dancers in hit movies and on popular television show. At first glance, the history of belly dancing appears to be a story of white middle class women appropriating Middle Eastern culture and styles to make themselves more exotic. But the story of belly dancing is much more complex: it is a story in which Middle Eastern and American artists and audiences shaped and reshaped artistic expressions, sexual performances and cultural identities.

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Hosts and Creators: Gillian Frank and Lauren Gutterman

Senior Producer: Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Producer and Story Editor: Rebecca Davis

Assistant Producers: Chris Babits, Isabel Machado and Mallory Szymanski

Intern: Julian Harbaugh

Thank you to Kanina, Mychelle Crown, Roberta Dougherty, Roxxanne Shelaby, and Barbara Siegel for sharing their stories with our senior producer Saniya Lee Ghanoui.

Music: Gus Vali, “Let’s Belly Dance” (1973), Özel Türkbaş, “How to Belly Dance for your Sultan” (1973), George Abdo and His Flames of Araby Orchestra, “The Best of George Abdo” (2002), George Abdo, “The Magic of Belly Dancing” (1979), The Sheik’s Men, “The Belly Dancer” (1961), Little Egypt, “How to Belly Dance for Your Husband, Vol. 2” (1963), Hrach Yacoubian, “The Sultan’s Harem” (1962), Özel Türkbaş, “Alla Turca” (1975), Özel Türkbaş, “Kismet” (1978).


Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young, Belly Dance: Orientalism, Transnationalism, and Harem Fantasy, Costa Mesa: Mazda Publishers, 2005.

Barbara Sellers-Young, Belly Dance, Pilgrimage and Identity, New York: Palgrave, 2016.

Anthony Shay, Dancing Across Borders: The American Fascination with Exotic Dance Forms, New York: McFarland, 2008.  

Anne K. Rasmussen, "Theory and Practice at the 'Arabic Org': Digital Technology in Contemporary Arab Music Performance." Popular Music 15, no. 3 (1996): 345-65.

Anne K. Rasmussen, "Made in America: Historical and Contemporary Recordings of Middle Eastern Music in the United States." Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 31, no. 2 (1997): 158-62.

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Selected Readings