The jewel in the navel image is believed to have become prevalent between 1930-1970 and particularly around the 1950′s when air travel revolutionised the wests knowledge of the east and as this enthusiasm increased so did the demand for exotic imagery. Hollywood movies indulged this fascination and depicted veiled, mysterious women dancing in luxurious yet skimpy two piece costumes. This caused great scandal as you can imagine for a society with strict dresscodes, courtship curfrews, tea dances, strong traditional views on gender roles and well ..no internet! Even today we have much to thank victorian etiquette for and also much to say no thank you for but one thing’s for sure, it runs deep in society to this day. So, back then something had to be done about this liberation of feminine dance which had gone just a step too far for most and only helped to strengthen the view of Hollywood as Sin City. No one was quite sure what to make of this representation and since the lizard brain of humanity chooses to fear the unknown a protest followed, the result of which was the ‘Hays Code’ or ‘Motion Picture Production Code’ as it is also referred to. This code put in place by the American film industry seeked to raise moral standards on the silver screen stating that *’dancing or costumes intended to permit undue exposure or indecent movements in the dance are forbidden’* and various other rules. The problem with the code was that it was relatively unenforceable but it did work alongside other authorities such as the Motion Picture Association of America so the big boys at Hollywood Studios worked to find loopholes in it and found that by glueing a stone or jewel into the navel of the dancer/actress and choosing romantic costuming they could have their film released and sometimes without any certificate of approval, this undermined the code and resulted in it being more of a set of guidelines, a lesson in movie etiquette if you like!
It wasn’t just oriental dance that the code affected, it ricocheted throughout the world movie industry with offshoots into other industries and its legacy remains. Reportedly it even lead to a redesign of the cartoon character BettyBoop from flapper to housewife! Bettys like Barbie though, she’s strong enough she can turn her hand to anything and do a damn good job!
The other thread to the Jewel In The Navel story goes back hundreds of years with reports of tribal women and daughters practicing moving or dancing with a small round stone placed inside the navel “belly button” and aiming to keep it there using only the contraction of the surrounding muscles of the abdomen and pelvic floor. Puh.. easy!! Well depends on the stone and the body right! (citing to follow when I remember were I discovered this)
So whilst the ‘jewel in the navel’ may not be a traditionally active part of present day oriental bellydance, it certainly has it’s place in its history!
Navel piercings were trendy in the 1990′s in America and the UK, though these have never really been the go in the Middle East. For me personally, growing up I always remembered my mother telling me about how special the navel is, my navel to her, she said “the bellybutton is where the mummy and the baby are attached” and I thought OH YEAH!!.. so I didn’t want to ‘mutilate’ this special thing in the same way my friends were at that point by getting a piercing for the sake of having a piercing and then gradually, very gradually my views on this changed, I began to think WOW WHAT A TRUELY SPECIAL PART OF MY BODY and I thought one day, one special day, I might highlight it for the beauty that it is. Having completed many personal achievements in the summer I wanted to reward myself with a daily reminder of how proud I am of myself and my mother. Knowing how special this was to me my brother and his partner gifted me my navel piercing on my birthday in July. It was certainly heaps sorer than having your ears pierced but not agony, in fact, I think the skin clamp was sorer than the piercing itself, yes there was a little blood, yes I was niggled for a couple of days, yes it can take up to a year to heal but I enjoy the cleansing ritual and am very much looking forward to adorning my beautiful belly with all manner of sparkles!
Why I write this at 5am is completely another story..
here’s dancer Tahia Carioca (many different spellings) – dancer and Samia Gamal – actress in 1950′s Egyptian movie