Modification Around the World: Belly Piercings and Cultural Renewal

by Lorna
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cultural connotations of belly piercing

The navel piercing is unique amongst modifications.  As a primarily modern piercing, first gaining popular momentum in the 1990s, it remains one of the only standard modifications to never be heavily practiced amongst the native peoples of any particular nation.  But the belly button ring has forged for itself a distinctly cultural purpose in the new millennium, as a noted accompaniment to eastern dance.

Belly dance, as is the popular western term, is a combination of several traditional Asian and Middle Eastern dance styles repurposed and modified for wider practice.  First popularized in the west during the Victorian era, this type of dance has grown to include navel adornment as an important costuming feature, particularly amongst practitioners in the US and UK.  The most popular of these of course, is the belly button piercing.

 pierced modern belly dancers

As body modification in general continues to rise in the western world, so too do the social and cultural connotations adherent to particular forms of that body art, and just as nose piercing has grown to be forever connected with Indian culture and Ayurveda, navel piercing has begun to interlace itself socially with the imagined exoticism of the Middle East, Egypt, and Asia.  Beginning in the late 1800s, belly dancers from across the globe carved out a niche performing at symposiums and World’s fairs.  Their style of dance was decidedly foreign and mysterious to the American public, and drew followers almost immediately.

 belly dancer style navel jewelry

In today’s society over one hundred years later, bare bellies, piercings, and alternative dance are a cultural norm, so it’s easy to forget about all of the less superficial reasons for modifying the human belly.  While navel piercings are sure to continue their partnership with the sometimes media-driven aesthetic of modern beauty, it’s certainly worth noting that amongst their virtues we can now count the drive to explore our deeper cultural roots.  It’s enough to make you wanna dance.

by Lorna

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