Belly dance is the English-language name for a complex of solo improvised dance styles of Middle Eastern and North African origin whose movements are based on articulations of the torso.
The expression danse du ventre—literally, dance of the belly—was initially popularized in France as an alternate title for the Orientalist artist Jean-Léon Gérôme’s 1863 painting La danse de l’almée (detail above) and ultimately became the standard designation for solo, and especially women’s, dances from the Middle East and North Africa.
The translation belly dance was introduced into English in 1889 in international media coverage of the Rue du Caire exhibit at the Parisian Exposition Universelle. A close examination of the historical sources demonstrates that the evolution of this terminology was influenced by contemporary art, commercial considerations, and popular stereotypes about Eastern societies.
This according to “Middle Eastern dance and what we call it” by Ainsley Hawthorn (Dance research XXXVII/1 [summer 2019] pp. 1–17).
Below, the legendary Fifi Abdou (فيفي عبده) in 1986.
Related article: Subversive belly dancing