The origin of the name ‘belly dance’ comes from the French Danse du ventre, which translates as “dance of the stomach”. Sol Bloom is said to have been the first one to use the English term belly dance, for the dancers of the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893. Belly dance is also often referred to as “oriental dance” and also sometimes raks sharqi. This is Arabic for “Dance of the east”. The term Dance du ventre, from which belly dance originates, had originally racist connotations so there is currently a debate going on about whether the term belly dance should still be used. According to some it should be avoided and replaced possibly with oriental dance, in order to dissociate this dance form from the misconceptions associated to it. According to others, the term belly dance is here to stay, it is the most known way of naming this dance form and it has now lost its racist connotations anyway.
The racist implications of the term belly dance are concerning, but I often find that, if I call it oriental dance, people think I am referring to dance of the Far East, from countries such as China, Korea or Japan. The Arabic for oriental dance, raqs sharqi, seems lately to refer to one particular style, which does not include dances such as raqs shaabi, baladi or American tribal.