Why Do Belly Dancers Wear Coins?
Belly dancing is a form of ancient dance from throughout the Middle East. During the Ottoman Empire, it spread into the rest of the Middle East through caravans of traveling Gypsies. The caravans entertained in the streets during festivals and even in palaces to entertain the women.
One item belly dancers wear that brings much folklore behind it is the coin scarves. While nothing is certain, there are three predominant theories behind the scarves.
One theory that is founded in historical evidence emerged through the infamous Turin Erotic Papyrus. This ancient Egyptian artifact reveals the culture’s view on intimacy through various indiscreet drawings. In many of the drawings, the woman is wearing a belt with coins attached. The current theory is that Egyptian women used the belts to attract the eye of their mates while walking and completing work. As the woman worked, the belt would move and jingle with her hips, creating a tantalizing sound.
The Egyptian theory then goes on to connect this belt by suggesting that the Egyptians adopted the belt into their belly dancing. The logic is that it only seems natural to add coins to a dance form designed to reveal the range of motion of a woman’s hips, belly, ribs, and shoulders. The only hole in this theory is that there are no archaeological findings showing early Egyptian belly dancers wearing the coins.
Gypsy Bank Account
Another theory for the origin of the coin belts comes out of Turkey. During the Ottoman Empire, Gypsies, Bedouins, and other street entertainers would have coins thrown at their feet by passers by during the performance. With no “safe” place to deposit the money, the entertainers would have special pockets sewn into their clothing for the coins. At the end of the day, the coins were then permanently sewn into the hip scarf garments to prevent theft.
This practice then became a form of resume for gypsies practicing belly dance. The gypsy with the most coins in their clothing was obviously the best dancer. So it is theorized that the gypsies then began placing the coins visibly on their costumes leading to the eventual creation of the coin belt. Given that gypsies spread the art of belly dance throughout the Middle East and eventually into Europe and America, this seems like a plausible theory.
Modern Costume Item
The final theory behind the infamous coin belts is that it was simply invented in 1978 by a costume designer in Egypt for a New York belly dancing club known as the Casbah dancers. This group is associated with developing the style of costumes associated with belly dancing today. According to the dance group, they discovered the hip scarf (without coins) while on a tour in Egypt. When they explained to the store owner what the dance group was doing, he began fashioning scarves with coins attached*.
Regardless of the various legends for the origins of the coins, there are some things that remain consistent. At the forefront is that the coins are designed to add excitement and rhythm to the dance as well as complement the spins and other movements. Additionally, anyone who has ever tried to belly dance can attest to the usefulness of the coins when learning shoulder and hip shimmies.
To find a great selection of coin belts, belly dance scarves and other belly dance costumes, go to Shop.HipMix.net.
* Refer to Aunt Rocky's article "Marvelous Mahmoud Abd el Ghaffar: The Beginning Of Al Wikalah!" for more history on the coin scarves she inspired.