Middle Eastern Dance Lexicology

Lay Summary 

When Middle Eastern torso-articulated dance styles were first performed in Europe and North America at the world's fairs of the 19th century, they did not come with their own names. These dance styles were so common in countries like Egypt and Lebanon, where everyone learned them growing up, that they were often known simply as raqs, "dance". It was the French who labelled them "danse du ventre", a term that was later translated into English as "belly dance".

This project looks at the history of how we refer to these dance forms in English and French and at the terms that English-speaking dancers have invented to refer to belly dance movements, which are unnamed in their cultures of origin. Through the names that they choose for the dance and its movements, dancers negotiating competing visions of the dance and its cultural meanings.

Refereed Journal Articles

Hawthorn, A. Forthcoming. "Middle Eastern Dance and What We Call It." Dance Research.

Conference Presentations

Hawthorn, A. 2018. "From danse du ventre to raqs sharqi: Middle Eastern Dance and What to Call It." Presented at the Dance Studies Association Annual Conference, Valetta, Malta. July 5-8.

Hawthorn, A. 2017. "Speaking of the Grassroots: Representing Oriental Dance Movement in North American English." Presented at the World Dance Alliance Global Summit, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. July 23-28.

Hawthorn, A. 2016. "Camels, Snakes, and Jewels: Talking Belly Dance in the English-Speaking World." Presented at The Uses of Intangible Cultural Heritage: Challenges and Perspectives, Québec City, Québec. May 19-22.


2018. "Cross-Cultural Collaboration, Study, and Creative Practice." Ori, post-performance discussion, Arts and Culture Centre, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. November 2.

2015. "Where Words Fail: Challenges of Representing and Teaching Movement." Symposium on Embodiment, Gesture and Dance, Research Centre for Music, Media and Place, Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland. May 24.

United States
United Kingdom
Industry Sectors 
Performing Arts, Spectator Sports and Related Industries
Start date 
24 May 2015