in reference to Egypt and other nearby regions, "dancing-girl, belly-dancer," 1814, perhaps from Arabic almah (fem. adjective), "learned, knowing," in reference to their training, from alama "to know." Or perhaps from a Semitic root meaning "girl" (source also of Hebrew alma "a young girl, a damsel"). Her occupation was performance to amuse company in wealthy private homes and to sing at funerals, with higher status than the ghawazee (dancing girls), but the word was used broadly in English.
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