also bellydance, 1883, in a British account of travels in Persia, from belly (n.) + dance (n.). In early use sometimes referred to by the French danse du ventre, which is attested by 1872 in French accounts from the Middle East. It appears as a French term in English by 1883, and its use got a boost from the performances of it at the Paris Exposition of 1889.
We agreed, and made our way to the mimic street called Grand Cairo, where we witnessed the lady contortionist who performs a series of movements, designated with charming frankness on the affiches as "La Danse du Ventre." It might with equal candor be called the Lumbar Wriggle [or] the Pectoral Squirm, for this curious Arab almeh possesses the power of moving any one of her principal sets of muscles quite independently of all the others, and can make any prominent part of her person waggle or surge, while its neighboring lines or curves preserve a statuesque rigidity. [Table Talk, September 1889]
The number of women [in the audience] was ludicrously disproportionate, and the number of American women was noticeable. Some of them seemed slightly pensive, but all were interested. Their large eyes grew larger still. They almost forgot decorum in crowding for a better view, in leaning over the backs of chairs in concentrated absorbed attention. [Scribner's Magazine, January 1890]
The English noun is perhaps a direct translation of the French. As a verb from 1963. Related: Belly-dancer (1922); belly-dancing (n.), 1921.
updated on August 28, 2018