“The Syrian cabaret-hostess, whose hair is bound back by a Grecian headband, whose quivering thighs sway to the rhythm of castanets, dances, intoxicated, voluptuous, in the smokey tavern.” Or so went a first century, AD Latin verse attributed to the ancient Roman poet Virgil. It could be one of the earliest descriptions of what we now call “belly dancing,” which some historians believe is the oldest form of dance. The illustration by the artist Sanvala (circa 1602) shows belly dancers performing for Shah Tahmasp I of Iran and the Mughal Emperor Humayun in 1544. It’s on display at the Chehel Sotoun Palace at Isfahan, Iran.
Photo credit: Sanvala / Public Domain