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Evolution of Belly Dance: Mata Hari the "Femme Fatale"

Updated: Mar 3, 2023

Evolution of Belly Dance: Mata Hari the "Femme Fatale"

Born in the Netherlands in 1876 as Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod, the infamous Mata Hari is linked to espionage, exotic dance, and the "evil seductress."

By the turn of the century, throughout Africa and the Middle East, nightclubs began to open up to specifically cater to the colonial rulers and the Western tourists who paid handsomely to see the Belly Dancers perform in the glamorous ornate costumes.

At the end of the 19th century, a theatrical show by Oscar Wilde was inspired by the supposed "Dance of the Seven Veils" by the "erotic and vengeful" Salome (who also was incorrectly labeled as an "evil seductress"). Wilde's show was inspiration for Richard Strauss in 1905 for the opera "Salome," which featured a nine-minute "Dance of the Seven Veils" piece. Both of these operas set the stage for not only the character of Salome, but also the example of "women of sin," such as Mata Hari.

This image of the erotic "Femme Fatale" was conjured up by the "ideas, fears, and fantasies men had around the end of the 1800s" due to the obsession with the Orient at this time. The general consensus is, that ever since the Turkish dancers were brought to San Francisco Fair of 1889, that Belly Dance was synonymous with the "exotic East" in movies and on stage, including the famous stage performers Little Egypt and Mata Hari.

Long before being accused and executed for being a German spy during World War II, Mata Hari was a renowned performer, known for her exotic dance routines. Society's mindset was starting to change, and exotic dancing was growing as a glamourous method of liberation and empowerment. Still, Mata Hari's "Oriental" style was considered scandalous by many as she was the "most sinister embodiment of the dancing temptress ." Using props like Veils and shawls, her provocative performances drove a frenzy of interest.

Mata Hari met her demise by firing squad in 1917 at the age of 41. Many feel that was a simply a scapegoat of the French, and wrongly convicted of espionage, due to many inaccuracies at her trial.

Mata Hari's story has been portrayed in numerous books, movies, and TV shows. Memorabilia from her life is on display at a museum in the Netherlands. And, she is also the inspiration for singers and dancers to this day!

  • Sources:

  • Belly Dancing by Wendy Buonaventura

  • Bellydance by Dolphina

  • Bellydance by Keti Sharif

  • The Secret Language of Belly Dancing by Maria Strova

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