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Typically, a woman who wears a midriff-revealing outfit and a lot of jewelry. She does movements of her hips and stomach that can mesmerize onlookers. Occasionally, men do belly dancing too, but this is less common and may be played up for humor or Fan Disservice.
Often occurs in the Middle East. Serious performers of the sophisticated genuine article began to refer to it as "Middle Eastern Dance" in the 1980s. Strictly speaking, what Westerners think of as belly dance is the Arabic raqs sharqi style. Some historians believe it was a way of exercising the muscles of the pelvis and abdominal area for women who were pregnant or had menstruation problems; or that it was part of a religious ceremony. Nowadays it's more for entertainment purposes, although it can be utilized as a form of exercise, too.
Note that the revealing outfits are purely an invention and misconception of people who don't know anything about belly dancing; female dancers of the original raqs sharqi style dressed more conservatively.
If a character dresses like a belly dancer, but is not actually a dancer, she is a Bedlah Babe.
Please place only particularly notable real-life examples in the Real Life section.
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Anime and Manga
Ena from Mahoujin Guru Guru wears a Belly Dancer outfit most of the time, but doesn't actually do much dancing. That "honor" is given to the Old Kita Kita Man, an old man who dances around in a grass skirt.
The mute villainess Erola from the OAV Labyrinth Of Flames dressed like a belly dancer and had a short and pointless (but arousing) dance sequence just before attacking the hero with her horde of killer puppets.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has Bette Midler note Not the actress. Araki just likes to make all kinds of music shout-outs in his character names, who's better known from the JoJo's Fighting Game created by Capcom since she never actually appeared on-panel in the manga.
Queen's Blade: Menace herself could qualify, but her various servants shown in flashbacks and in her rebuilt Amara in the OVA definitely do.
Fushigi Yuugi: Yui Hongo's main Seiryuu-priestess outfit is pretty comparable to something a belly dancer would wear.
In the Yu-Gi-Oh! game, there's an old Ritual Monster named Performance of Sword, who not only dresses like a belly dancer, but appears to be one. (The required Ritual Spell Card is called Commencement Dance, and also features a dancer dressed like this.)
Every. Egyptian. Movie. Ever. And most other Arabic-language ones too, come to think of it. A belly dance and dancer are to Arabic film what The Item Number and Item Girl are to Bollywood.
A rare male example in the film Alexander; Bagoas, the Persian dancer who performs for Alex at one of the big banquets. (He was real, and so was that hot & steamy make-out session he has with Alex later in the film.)
A more traditional female example was Roxana's dance.
There was a six-breasted alien in Jabba's palace who appeared to be a bellydancer in Return of the Jedi. In Tales from Jabba's Palace, we learn that she is actually 'fat dancer', a kind of performance that the Hutts prefer. She was selected for his performance because her species have fat cells that work like a sponge, allowing her to appear much, much fatter by absorbing water. This ability, plus the fake warts she is forced to wear, allow her to look like Jabba's mom.
Moving right along, Jabba's also got some more traditional examples in the human and twi'lek dancers. Although he seems to prefer feeding them to giant monsters.
Used as part of a disguise/infiltration ploy in the first Charlie's Angels film.
The Flight Of The Phoenix (1965) (the 1965 version) has a scene where a character dying of thirst hallucinates a belly dancer in the desert. It's all very trippy.
From Russia with Love: there's one under the opening credits and another in a dance scene at a gypsy camp.
This seems to be popular in James Bond films, since they also feature in Octopussy and The Man with the Golden Gun. (The one in the second film bears especial remark. She was the lover of one of the villain's former victims, and after he died, started wearing the golden bullet used to kill him in her navel when she performed. Bond needed the bullet as evidence and... Well, suffice to say, getting it from her wasn't easy.)
In Charlie Wilson's War the congressman's girlfriend does a belly dance for some Egyptian bigwigs, one of whom comments that it doesn't resemble any belly dance he's ever seen (there are some definite pole-dancing moves).
Truth in Television: Egypt is one of the major traditional centers of belly dancing (see above), so the minister knew what he was talking about. Though the real woman also had a sword that made the bodyguards very nervous.
The actress that played the belly dancer is Tracy Phillips, the daughter of the coach of the Dallas Cowboys, providing another tie between real-world Texas and the movie.
In the Batman movie (the based on the tv show one from the 1960s), a belly dancer rises out a suspicious package and does the "dance of the seven veils" to distract several soldiers while she gasses them.
The sexiness is subverted in Where the Spies Are (1965), where the amateur spy played by David Niven watches a belly dance while listening to his veteran agent partner grumble about how he's met "more randy girls back in England than in the mysterious bl-dy East." Niven does get involved with the belly dancer though, who also turns out to be a spy.
Parodied hilariously in Wild Wild West, after Kevin Kline has been captured by the big bad, Will Smith shows up to rescue him, dressed as a belly dancer. It's hilarious. Especially when his pasties turn out to be flame throwers.
The leading female in Slumdog Millionaire wears a very beautiful midriff-baring outfit, complete with big amounts of jewellery while she's about to be rented for the first time (the dance was part of the advertisement) when the lead finds her again after being separated from her.
The "Can You Dig It?" sequence in The Monkees' film Head takes place in a harem full of belly dancers.
In The Secret of the Grain (original title La Graine et le Mulet) by Abdellatif Kechiche, the stepdaughter of an Arab restaurant owner, upon finding that the main course can't be served on time at the opening night, begins an improvised belly dance that has the entire audience transfixed. It provides the movie with its climax.
In the Tunesian movie Satin Rouge, widowed Hiam Abbass lands in a cabaret (a raunchy, male only cafe featuring belly dancers) when she wants to confront her teenage daughters lover, who works there as a musician. She ends up dancing herself.
In the Discworld novel JingoNobby Nobbs is forced to dress up as one. He is not allowed to dance, though. It was subsequently impliednote about as subtly as it's "implied" that Carrot is the rightful heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork! that he enjoyed the experience more than he'd expected to and took up crossdressing afterwards.
Merrill Joan Gerber's YA novel Also Known as Sadzia the Belly Dancer.
Live Action TV
A weird reclusive artist crashes on Gilligan's Island and offends Ginger by asking if he can paint her while she's dressed as a "belly Dancer." Turns out he actually asked her to dress as a Bali dancer; that is, a dancer in a Balinese dress.
Fran and Grace in The Nanny disguise themselves as belly dancers in one episode when they think they're being held prisoner by the sultan of Kooristan, the father of one of Grace's friends, who also happens to have a harem of real belly dancers. Surprisingly, that episode was funny.
The Star Trek episode "Wolf in the Fold" has a belly dancer INSPACE.
Belly dancing is pretty much the Hat of Orion females.
Stephen Fry, on his Stephen Fry in America series, encountered a belly dancer, who also happened to be a member of the Salvation Army (four words Silent Hunter never thought he'd put in the same sentence). She pointed out that she takes tips, but not in Victoria's Secret Compartment.
Incidentally, the series also featured a "Mormon Missionary calendar". Yes...
Michael Palin's New Europe, of course, featured it when he went to Turkey. Palin had a go himself...
On an episode of the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids TV series, Diane takes belly dancing lessons with friend Eileen and then must perform at her recital in full regalia.
The Dark Star club on Babylon 5 had a lot of these.
The Batman series from the 60s had these on two occasions.
Marcia, Queen of Diamonds (played by Carolyn Jones) would wear the outfit on occasion.
The episode guest starring Liberace featured a trio of female henchmen who on one occasion wore the outfit.
Spy shows on TV featured these a lot. Go figure.
Diana Rigg squeezed into one during an episode of The Avengers
Get Smart featured a doomed agent named Tamara doing the dance ("There's no Tamara, Chief")
Megan McCormick attended a belly dancing class in Beirut in Globe Trekker.
On an episode of Parks and Recreation Leslie livens up her boring dinner party by inviting teachers from the Pawnee community center to demonstrate their skills, including a caricaturist, a fencing instructor and a belly dancer.
The fitness TV show Shimmy features a lot of this.
One is also known as 'Flame Dancer' in a So Weird episode, "Carnival".
One is named 'Fatima' in a Growing Pains episode, "Jason Sings the Blues".
One of these, a girl named Natasha, shows up in 1000 Ways to Die. Predictably, she ends up as the victim: while practising for a competition she carelessly throws her scarf up in the air, it gets caught in the ceiling fan, and you know where this goes...
Firefly: In "Train Job", a bellydancer at a pub-bar surreptitiously slips Mal the contact details for a new caper as she dances by his table.
One seen in an episode of Pugwall called "The Local Show".
Barbara Eden in an episode of Rawhide called "Incident at Confidence Creek".
An episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? had attractive twin belly dancers with snakes. The comedians kept alternating between humor and terror throughout the whole scene. Especially when one of the snakes tried to get very personal with Wayne Brady.
The late R&B princess Aaliyah often incorporated various dance moves borrowed from raqs sharqi (especially "figure 8's" and "hip/belly rolls") into her choreography. The most clear examples can be seen in her last video filmed just before her death, 'Rock the Boat'.
Neddie Seagoon visits Arabia in one of the episodes of The Goon Show. At some point, he is treated to an exotic dance of the "seven army surplus blankets", which strip off to reveal that the belly dancer in question is actually Eccles.
The women who belong to the Dancer class from the Fire Emblem series, which allows certain units to take an extra turn, generally dress as belly dancers. The only exception is Ninian, who dresses more like a medieval noblewoman.
Karin and Mina in Suikoden are both dancers you an recruit for your army.
The female elementalist dance emote in Guild Wars is a belly dance (and several of their armour sets in the Nightfall expansion were belly dancer costumes). The female paragon dance is based on an African tribal dance, but has elements of belly dancing as well.
In Quest for Glory V, the Dead Parrot Inn has a pair of former harem girls who will occasionally dance. In a plot event, the Player Character (who is decidedly male) gets roped into belly dancing at the other local inn.
In Final Fantasy IV, when the player goes up to a certain woman (who appears in most towns), she gives the player a belly dance, instead of "paying her taxes". Obviously the main character has a bad reputation.
In World of Warcraft, female trolls and draenei have this as their /dance emote. This makes some degree of sense for the vaguely Roma-inspired draenei, but for the Caribbean-esque trolls...not so much.
In Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time, to get past a heavily guarded door, Carmelita disguises herself as a belly dancer and performed a dance to distract the guards allowing Sly and the others to get through.
Princess Kashmir (real name: Shauna Tifton) on The Simpsons dressed as a belly dancer for a bachelor party on the season one episode, "Homer's Night Out" and has often appeared in her belly dancer garb in other episodes (such as the Couch Gag for "Marge vs. The Monorail" in which The Simpsons are joined by three rows of recurring characters). Originally, Princess Kashmir was going to be a stripper who dressed like a belly dancer, but the Fox censors at the time objected.
Some dancers are in Homer's dream in the episode, "Skinner's Sense of Snow''
Genie conjures some up in Aladdin. Disturbingly, some of them are camels.
In 6Teen the small video store that Wyatt and Jude work at for awhile almost goes out of business because of a store called Taj Ma-homeVideo, whose cashiers dress in belly dancer costumes and sing Bollywood musical numbers about the store.
Sincerity from What About Mimi appears as one in the episode "Teacher of the Year".
Flip The Frog dressed up as a harem belly-dancer in "Movie Mad", and another Flip the Frog cartoon which is called "Circus" had a belly-dancer at the beginning.
A belly-dancer who a sultan ignores to listen to "Amos 'n' Andy" in "I've Got to Sing a Torch Song"
Harem cats are featured in "Catnip Capers", and reused in Gandy Goose's "Somewhere in Egypt" and Heckle and Jeckle's "King Tut's Tomb".
One dancer is featured in a Hong Kong Phooey episode called "The Little Crook that Wasn't There".
One is featured as a cameo in an Animaniacs episode, "Plane Pals"
One is shown on a poster at the carnival in a Pluto cartoon, "Bone Trouble"
In a Donald Duck cartoon, "The Autograph Hound", three silhouettes of belly dancers are behind a curtain, who then turn out to be the Ritz Brothers
Daisy Duck is featured in a penny arcade called "Dance of the Seven Veils" in a Donald Duck cartoon called "Good Time for a Dime"
An elegant animation of a belly dancer is in the late-70s British film, "Gulliver's Travels" starring Richard Harris. The sequence with the bellydancer is a bit misplaced in the culture of Lilliput but well choreographed, drawn and executed. The funny thing is that although this is a children's animation feature, the dancer is bare-breasted!
One is featured in an MGM cartoon, "Good Little Monkeys"
"Bosko in Bagdad" has frogs as belly-dancers
A Bosko and Honey cartoon called "Circus Daze" features a belly-dancer in the sideshow at the beginning.
"Animal Crackers Circus" had possibly a couple at the sideshow as well.
In "Goofy Groceries", one was a stick of gum.
A Porky Pig cartoon called "Wholly Smoke" features one during the song about smoking.
A bunch of belly dancers can be seen in the Inspector Gadget episode "Arabian Nights"
One episode of James Bond Jr. has Tracy and Phoebe dressed up as belly dancers but they also happen to hate it.
In The Archie Show episode "Veronica's Veil", Veronica disguises herself as a belly dancer due to Archie and Reggie paying more attention to Betty.
In one episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987, the turtles enter a alternate universe where Shredder rules the world. In this universe, April and Irma are slaves to Bebop and Rocksteady where they dressed as belly dancers.
In the Muppet Babies episode "Gonzo's Video Show", Piggy briefly appeared as a belly dancer but doesn't do any dancing.
We really need to note that what the West knows as belly dancing is something of an artificial construction. As noted above, it's generally raqs sharqi (Oriental Dance), which is a more sexualized version of the traditional dance of the Arab world, developed for the entertainment of wealthy men, and thus only practiced by women. However, the traditional dance of several countries is similar; this is particularly true of the Egyptian raqs balady ("native/local dance"), which is practiced by both men and women and shares many moves with the other thing. So in other words, if you ever see a guy on the dancefloor who looks like he's bellydancing: (1) well, he is, but (2) he's probably just Egyptian.
In Turkey, it is not uncommon for a slender, veiled dancer to perform a belly dance on the more sensual end of the scale, and then unveil to reveal that it was a male dancer, to the consternation (and in some cases probably delight) of the spectators. Obviously, the regular version exists there as well.
Western dancers blended raqs sharqi (often called "cabaret" in the West) with hip-hop and ballet to create "tribal fusion" bellydance, as demonstrated by Edenia Archuleta
Unlike strippers or burlesque dancers, many professional belly dancers are hired to perform in the presence of mixed audiences (men, women and children). It is not uncommon to see belly dancers, male or female, performing at weddings, baby showers, or even retirement parties. Children will often learn to belly dance at a young age as well.
Bellydance Evolution, an LA-based dance company that puts on massive productions complete with storylines and world tours, including auditioning and using local dancers in each country they tour.