Exotic dancing is one of the oldest styles of dance in the world. It served to entertain but it also represented fertility, sexuality and it most often celebrated femininity.
The earliest estimated date of Exotic dancing began more than 20,000 years ago. It can be seen in the Paleolithic cave paintings found in southern France. According to the Exotic dance writer, Maxi Mounds, the footprints of these dancers can still be seen on the floors of the caves where they used to dance. These types of dances included erotic poses and animal fur costumes. They were intended to celebrate sexuality and the mother goddess of the era. Maxi said in her book that these dances were used to increase fertility, and to represent the hunt – both the hunt for animals, and the hunt for a sexual partner. During these dances, the costumes would be removed by the women in the worlds first ‘strip tease’.
In neolithic Europe near the Black sea, near Romania and Bulgaria in the area of the black sea, dancer statues have been found by archeologists. They estimate their date to be over 9 thousand years old. Some of these statues, called “kouretes” were miniature figures of erotic dancers. They were developed after the dancers of that era who would use sexual dance to stimulate the goddess and to increase fertility of crops, and for the purpose of reproduction.
These types of dances and dancers have been found all over the world, with an ancient and rich tradition and history. Images of the goddesses of that era show that people preferred a much rounder and heavier look [like the Venus of Willendorf]. It was different in other areas of the world, especially in the middle east and in Africa where a leaner look typified the ideal woman.
Erotic dancing was also used in Egypt, where the women would dance in a sacred fertility ritual. According to Mounds, the most famous of these priestesses was the woman known as Het Heret [the Greek Hathor]. These types of sexual dance were also popular in the temples of Bast, Isis, and Nuit, goddesses who represented beauty, fertility and the power of sexuality. These dances were a magical gateway into the spiritual realm; the priestess would become ecstatic during the performance, invoking the spirit of the Goddess. Some maintained that their dances lead them to orgasm while performing, leading to spiritual visions and the act of ‘becoming the goddess’.These types of dances were created in the paleolithic era.
Their use lasted throughout time, into the Greek and Roman era where erotic dance was performed by the priestess of Diana and Artemis in their sacred temples. These goddesses represented the Moon, and the hunt. Women were chosen to dance for their beauty and vitality. In the Roman era, dancers would dance in honor of the god of wine, Bacchus and Dionysus. Women dancers would remove their clothing during revelry; the ancient Greeks and Romans had no issues with nudity as their art so clearly shows.As society advanced, the use of erotic Dance in temples spread in popularity as it became more accessible to others outside of the temples.
These dances were performed in a paid show, with courtesans entertaining the men-folk and people in general as they dined at banquets or during celebrations.The Art of Belly dancing also began in the middle east and its popularity spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. The earliest examples of these can be found from the 14th century in the area of Phoenicia. This type of dance illustrates the erotic pleasure of sexuality with the movements of the pelvis that were associated with childbirth. These dancers were paid by the audience who would toss coins at them, representing the first kind of stage tipping. the tradition continued in other types of erotic dance, especially for the priestesses at the temples who embodied the figure of the Goddess.
Ancient Erotic Dance
This type of dance is reminiscent of the Dance of the Seven Veils, a biblical take on Salome’s dance for King Herod of the Bible. This dance was similar to the erotic and deathly dance of Ishtar who descended into the underworld, at each gate removing one of her articles of clothing, each symbolically representing some important aspect of society – ie. money, beauty, wealth. Through this action she was cleansed of her material attachments.
According to Maxine Mounds, who did extensive research on the history of Erotic Striptease, modern erotic dance was most likely influenced by the temple dancers of India, not Africa [as most people have thought]. “Indian dancing traditions lie at the heart of much modern Erotic dance and many of the movements that have come to be associated with jazz and rock dancing, particularly the hand, pelvic and abdominal movements.” The tours of Indian temple dancers toured around the US during the height of America’s cultural fascination with India and Egypt, and they influenced the dancers here, including the tradition of modern striptease and burlesque.
Maxine Mounds made a very important point when she says that most of the erotic art that was found in the Americas was destroyed by archeologists of a Christian society who often thought the images to be pagan and demeaning. “…Destroyed by Christian and sometimes also by Islamic rulers and archeologists who viewed these materials as pornographic, pagan, and demeaning. In fact, it is sometimes amazing that anything sexual at all survived the meat grinder of these puritanical sex-hating attitudes and fundamentalist religious practices.”
While this view is a bit extreme, because of the many factors involved, there is a lot of truth to this statement, unfortunately. There was a lot of beautiful artifacts, books, statues, art, and even temples that were destroyed in the name of progress. During the ‘dark ages’ of sexuality, there was a lot of sexual repression against women who were often viewed as the source of all of the men’s troubles and sins. This trend continued into the Victorian era which was known as one of the most repressed eras for woman’s sexuality in all of recorded history. Exotic dancing that was once enjoyed in temples and used for sacred purposes became, slowly, over time, and underground practice that was performed by gypsies and other folks who didn’t fit into societies social boundaries. It was the repression of sexuality through dance that made it a taboo and underground practice in Christian societies.
The first American strip tease [or belly dance] was performed in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair. The woman’s name was Little Egypt and she created a sensation with her fully-clothed belly dance. She came from a troupe of mid-east dancers. While she was not the first dancer to hit the stage publicly, she was among the most famous and is credited to this day with introducing Erotic Dance to our popular culture. Some theorize that her real name was Fatima who danced at the Bordello in the late 1800’s.
Exotic Can Can Dancing
The exotic can-can dance was also popular during that era. It was a very energetic dance that involved the use of high kicks, during which the dancer would become exhausted and therefore this was seen as an erotic loss of control since women were so proper in that era. the can-can originated in France where it was danced by both men and women as the dance of that era.
Can Can Dancing spread to America and became popular with the Bordello dancers who used it as an erotic and athletic type of dance. It was also used as a Coucer d’Yvette, or ‘Couch Dance’, creating the first known act of lap dancing. Since sexual diseases were very rampant in that era this type of erotic dancing provided pleasure and sometimes close intimacy without contact. The era of Burlesque began in the 1860’s. The original use of the Burlesque show was a parody, a comedy entertainment which had singing and dancing acts, along with sexy comedic routines. These performances involved chorus lines of beautiful but scantily clad women. The Christian religious preached against these types of performances, but none the less the performances grew in popularity and it became a business.
These performances grew in popularity from theater performances to dance halls, where different styles of dance were combined to create an arabesque burlesque performance, including elements of eastern and oriental dancing, flashing, along with can-can. This style of dance was also featured at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. It remained popular into the 20’s and 30’d during prohibition until it was made illegal by New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
This was because this style of dance had turned into something much more than theatrics; it included elements of Striptease along with fan dancing and nudity. Dancers were at an advantage in this era where woman’s sexuality was slowly becoming more un-repressed, and the fashions allowed for a rising hemline. Dancers took advantage of this but they also took it a step further, providing more entertainment through dance than most of the other women would.
The First Exotic Dancer
During this time the most famous of these dancers was Sally Rand, who would dance while unpinning her costume and throwing the pins into the cheering audience. There was also the stripper who was known as Anna Smith, who was the first exotic dancer, well known in her time for providing not just frontal nudity, but nudity below, as well. During the prohibition many burlesque houses were raided and closed down, driving this culture even further into the underground. This meant that the promoters of these kinds of dancers. By the 50’s enforcement made it possible that these dances could continue but only in certain zoning in the cities, out of the way places. that were out of sight from the city folk.
One of the famous dancers from this era was known as Tempest Storm. Unfortunately, during this time, the rise of television, film, movies and even film pornography lead to the decline of theater burlesque and exotic dancing. It wasn’t again until the 60’s when the culture was more accepting of sexuality in a new and freer way that exotic dance clubs came back into fashion.
It was a San Fransisco Waitress named Carol Doda, who made her fame by dancing on top of a white grand piano, wearing the latest [topless] swimsuit fashions. She was so sensational that she inspired the opening of other similar acts in the area. This type of exotic dance spread throughout the country. Carol was also the first to get implants. She started a trend that has become popular ever since. This is the modern era of Exotic Dance, from where we get the lifestyle and fashions and moves that we see in the clubs today.
Throughout the 60-s 70’s new rules were created for these types of clubs, including licensing laws, and zoning. Many clubs were closed down because of the new rules in the cities. But, clubs have survived since then despite public protests and city regulations. This is why the rules for every club tend to be different, depending on the area that the club is located in.
Today, Exotic dancing is more popular than ever. It is now called ‘urban striptease aerobics’. With the advent of pole dancing, many dancers have turned this style of dance into a beautiful art form that is sensual and entertaining. So there is a whole new aspect to dancing that appealed to the free society that we have today, where staying fit and looking good are two very important things. Now we have pole dancing competitions and exotic dancing can be learned as an art form, not just for club entertainment.
To read more about the history of exotic dance, I recommend Maxine Mound’s Book, “The Maxi Mounds Guide To the World of Exotic Dancing” Available at Amazon. This is a highly rated and very entertaining book that takes you through the life and times of a feature dancer. You are sure to enjoy!
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