Belly Dance in Russia


Foreign dance classes have become popular in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union (Radchenko 1). Many young women and men have started to practice foreign dances for professional reasons or just for fun. In Russia, Belly Dance, Irish Dance, Indian Dance, Flamenco, and Swing Dance have become tremendously popular (Radchenko 1).

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This essay will employ a variety of sources both from the internet and printed ones to examine various aspects of Belly Dance in Russia with focus on its style, training, professional performance, competitions, festivals, costumes, and management. Toward the end of the paper, a single artist will be chosen to reveal the state of the dance industry in Russia. The paper, in general, is aimed to pinpoint various nature of the Belly Dance in Russia.

Belly Dance has been defined as “a term generally used to describe a particular kind of solo Middle Eastern social dance, usually performed by women, which has developed into a performance art both within and outside of the Middle East” (Kelly 8).

Belly Dance performance is characterized by “swaying hips, undulating torso, and emotional expression” (What is Belly Dance?). It is titled differently in many countries; it is called Raqs Sharqi in Arabic, Middle eastern/oriental dance in English, and in French as Danse du ventre. The exact origin of belly dance is unknown, although it is highly believed it originated in the Middle East (What is Belly Dance?). Although the belly dance is a professional artist, it is also a popular hobby in most western countries, where it is admired and performed by ordinary women in parties, weddings, anniversaries and other special occasions (Henderson).

Belly dance was popularised in the East and West during the 18th and 19th centuries. The popularization is attributed to paintings by orientalist artists who portrayed the romanticized lifestyle of the Ottoman Empire (Henderson). These were middle eastern performances at world fairs and exhibitions during that period, which gathered large crowds of people that helped to create the passion for these exotic dances.

Belly dance is believed to have produced several health and social benefits. It claimed to aid in boosting self-esteem, relieving joints pains, strengthening bones, reducing stretched in women, relieving Post Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) as well as relieving back pain (What is Belly Dance?). From a social standpoint, it is said to enhance feminity.

In belly dance, the focus is on the hips and pelvic area while movement is controlled by legs and knees. Performers commonly wear costumes that are designed to help dancers move freely with their legs (Salome).

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Style and Organization

Russia and Ukraine are the two main countries in Eastern Europe where belly dance enjoys immense popularity, especially among women. There are many belly dance schools in major cities. Most gyms also include belly dances in their training. Most Russian belly dancers practice what is locally known as Russian Oriental Belly dance. This version of belly dance is a mix of borrowings from Turkish, Egyptian Lebanese, and East India dances. It is contrary to the western version whose dance style includes Classic American, Tribal, Gypsy, Goddess/spiritual, Fusion, as well as Fitness. Thus, it is difficult to give it a unique definition to the Bally Dance.

Russian Oriental Belly dance is said to be flexible; it gives freedom to adopt new styles of their own. The Russian Belly dance is infused with ballet mostly because a dancer who takes it up is already trained in ballet. This style is akin to the modern Egyptian cabaret in elegance, control, and finesse. However, it lacks the conservatism of the Egyptian style, and performers are usually scantily dressed, a feature common to Turkish style cabaret (Azar).

The result of the mixture is a unique Russian version of the dance that is difficult to define. Mostly, many of the characteristics of ballet, such as performance on stage by a single dancer, features in belly dance performances. Russian Oriental Belly dance also displays a significant influence of popular Russian culture. Belly dance in Russia is also regarded as more democratic. It is common to see women of all ages attending the classes and participating in them.

Most performances are accompanied by Russian ballet music or by the music of foreign compositions. Most classes resemble the dances of the Turkish styles and instruments, such as Oboe, clarinet, oud, finger cymbals, and hand drums. Many new dancers, who take up belly dance say they were inspired by “The clone”, a Brazilian soap opera full of belly dance scenes. Apart from Turkish styles, Egyptian styles are also very popular, especially among amateurs. It is usually performed alongside Egyptian folk dances, such as Raks al Assaya and Raks al Nash’ar (Salome)

Because it is an imported dance, the type of belly dance in Russia is largely the basic one. Basic Bellydance is made up of four major moves, namely, basic staccato hip, basic rolling hip, basic ribcage circles, as well as basic arm, shoulder, and head moves (Melike, para 4). A typical belly dance show in Russia can involve a solo dancer, but more often it is an ensemble of 3 to 5 young female dancers under the direction of a mature choreographer. Some commentators have rated Russian performances as substandard or inaccurate. However, some of them have gained worldwide acclaim and fame for their performances.

Nowadays professional belly dance in Russia is performed by hired dancers, who are performing for tourists or affluent locals at fancy hotels, clubs, and on special dinner cruises (Melike, para 4). Payment is usually made in cash or by placement banknotes on the body of the dancer as she passes by.

It is common for top-rated Russian dancers to emigrate to work in western and Middle East cities (Melike paras 3). Only a few of them return, and those who do settle down abroad usually set up their dancing schools or studios. In advanced dance studios, classes are conducted via video lessons and watching pre-recorded performances.

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There is little few on the history of belly dance in Russia. This has been blamed for the autocratic Soviet Union regimes when private businesses were illegal in the country, and it was against the law to move out of the country for work.

The league of Belly Dance Master, a group, made up by a finest Russian dancers, is responsible for the organizations related to the dance in the Russian Federation. Each year it organizes competitions, such as the Internation Belly Dance Cup, which rates top dancers. Apart from the cup, there are numerous other festivals and competitions, which are held in Russian cities.

Some of them, such as the International Bellydance Oasis festival in St. Petersburg takes place twice a year. Most festivals have an array of programs that range from concerts, competitions in various nominations to workshops, seminars and fashion shows. These events are popular, and professionals along with amateurs normally throng such events. Regular participants have been known to come from Germany, Egypt, Turkey, Byelorussia, Poland, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Estonia.

There have been reports that dancing is used as the cover for prostitution in Russia (Salome). This is reported to usually take place during sea cruises or at expensive nightclubs as part of entertainment for rich clients who are not grudged to spend their money on such kind of entertainment. Some are also said to be working in Middle East cities as prostitutes under the cover of professional dancers. This fact, however, is denied by many entertainment and tour agents and, as such, no actions have been undertaken by authorities to confirm it, or, on the contrary, arrest the alleged perpetrators.


Traditional costumes for ballet dance consist of a bra, a hip belt, and a long skirt, mostly made of silk or chiffon. Costumes vary from place to place. The bra and belt are normally adorned with moveable jewels, beads, and palettes. During dancing, they move in unison with the movement of the dancer adding flavor to the performance. In Russia, these costumes are of a typical cabaret dancer and are sold by design experts (Muralidharan, par 3). For folkloric dance (Marina Oganyan) a Baladi dress and a cane, trays, jar, candle, stick or sword are common just as originally in the Middle East. Still, some perform with captivating stunts with props that may include mammals, such as snakes, for example ((Muralidharan, para 5). Some use cymbals (‘Zill’(Turkish) or “Sargat”-Egyptian). In some cases, cymbals are played by a separate musician standing near the performer.

Costumes can be made at home, purchased from local shops or via the internet. Most online stores can supply most of the materials needed, such as Brass bangles, shiny clothing, mid-drift tops, large flowing skirts, jewelry, as well as unique customized ones.

Marina Oganyan

Marina Oganyan is one of the most well-known female belly dancers in Russia. She has had an illustrious career as a Bellydance teacher, choreographer, stage director and as a producer of her popular group “Amaren-show” (“Marina Oganyan”). Marina began dancing at a tender age. When she was 11 years old, she took Indian dance classes during which she mastered classical dance along with Khatkhak styles. It is reported in media that it was while dancing at an Indian festival in Moscow that she got noticed by an Indian Embassy official, who contributed immensely to her subsequent success.

Marina later mastered Arabic dance but faced challenges in the process due to a few Arabic dance schools available in Moscow at that time. However, her mastery of the dance was boosted when she met Nour (Tatiana Fedyaeva), a well-known Egyptian bellydancer, who was visiting Moscow at the time. With Nour assistance, she visited Cairo where she participated in “ Ahlan Wa Sahlan” Festival. During this visit, she met some of the most celebrated choreographers in the music industry whose assistance and training catapulted her to greater heights. Marina performances are highly emotional, a feature that she has come to be closely associated with (Marina Oganyan)

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Professional Life

Nowadays, Marina is a professional bellydancer living and working in Moscow. She is paid with high fees (“Marina Oganyan”, para 1). She also participates and performs at major festivals and prestigious events worldwide (Marina Oganyan). In 2006 she was the chief guest at Berlin Festival Bazaar Oriental. Marina has not stopped teaching Bellydance. She continues to visit cities inside and outside Russia to offer master-classes sessions for professional dancers (Marina Oganyan).

Apart from her solo career, perhaps her major other success has been her group “Amaren-show”, which she personally created and considers the crown of her dancing career. Amaren-Show first performed in 2006 and continues to win the hearts of many oriental dance lovers in Russia and abroad. The group was especially well received in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and her native Russia.

It is said to be “the best known professional group of oriental dance in Russia” (Marina Oganyan). She together with the group won the Miss Bellydance 2006, Goddesses Splendor Show Program 2006, Bellydance Festival Pharaonic 2004-2006, Moscow Oriental Festival 2005, Oasis Festival, St. Petersburg 2005, and the International Oriental Dance Festival (I and II) (Marina Oganyan). At present, Marina remains active in oriental dance events in Russia and is reportedly planning new shows and tours.


Belly dance has its roots in the Middle East where historical findings show it was purely a social event. Using colonization, it spread to the western and eastern parts of the globe. In these new places, it grew to gain popularity among a large number of women. In Russia, the kind of belly dance practiced bears resemblance to Turkish and Egyptian varieties and styles. They have been refined in the “Russian way” to include Russian ballet and culture. The end result of the merger is dancing being unique.

The popularity of the dance is exemplified by a high number of training schools in major cities and towns of the country. To perfect the art, Arabic masters have been imported to train locally. The dance is well organized and there are numerous festivals and competitions dedicated to it. Notable belly dancers have emerged in Russian showing the whole seriousness Russians have attributed to this kind of dancing. If the current trend is to further thrive, the belly dance in Russia will continue to prosper in the coming years.

Works Cited

Azar, Soher. “A primer on Middle Eastern Dance Styles.” 2008.

Henderson, Karol. “The World’s Oldest Dance: Origins of Oriental Dance.” 2007.

Kelly, Brigid 2008, “Belly Dancing in New Zealand: Identity, Hybridity, Transculture”. Master thesis, Univ. of Canteburry.2000. Thesis Online.

“Marina Oganyan.” 2012.

Melike, Kristina. “An Introduction to the History of Russian Oriental Bellydance.” 2007.

Muralidharan, Anuradha. “Egyptian Belly Dance.” 2006.

Radchenko, Daria. “Dancing in Other’s shoes: between pain and pleasure.” 2010.

Salome, Patriya. “Prostitution in the Eastern Block and Belly Dance.” 2007.

“What is Belly Dance?” 2012.

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