Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of English Literatures, Philosophy, and Languages - Faculty of Arts


This thesis traces the genealogy of the discursive construction of belly dance in literature and culture in the West from the late nineteenth century to 2005. Drawing on theoretical perspectives from literary studies, cultural studies, and dance studies it takes an interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of representations of belly dance. It explores how this dance has been shaped by major socio-cultural shifts in ideologies of race, gender, and embodiment. The solo improvised Middle Eastern dance, also known as belly dance, is a highly recognisable and strikingly pervasive dance form in Western popular culture, yet the topic of belly dance has remained significantly under-analysed in any academic field. This study brings the belly-dancing body into focus as a legitimate object of analysis that exposes how social meanings are produced through performance, and how dancing bodies are inscribed with, and read through, markers of race, sexuality, and gender. In examining the politics of gender and race in the representation of belly dance, this study brings to bear three key theoretical formations: feminism, Orientalism, and the grotesque. It is concerned with the complex ways in which belly dance has been mythologised, represented, and constructed in a range of texts such as colonial travel writing, fiction, and images from popular culture. In addition, this thesis also explores the intersections of (neo)colonialism, commodification, consumer culture, sexuality, and notions of female embodiment in representations of belly dance.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.