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Both feminism and belly dance enjoyed an upsurgence in the early 1970’s, suggesting that there is a community of interest between the two.  When “women’s liberation” was pushing for more job opportunities, more personal freedom, and more sexual freedom for women, belly dance offered freedoms that seemed to exemplify these goals.  

It encouraged self-expression, it freed women from constraint in their physical movement and it encouraged taking center stage – a liberating combination for women who had begun to see the demureness and agreeable blandness expected of them as restrictive and wrong. 

There is no doubt that the dance was liberating to women.  Those of us who taught in the 70’s saw it time and time again: women whose stiff, introverted body language showed lack of confidence were suddenly opening up, shaking their hips, performing, expressing. Going to belly dance class was, for some, a subversive act.  

Teaching in the South in the late 70’s, I knew several of my students lied about where they were going on Tuesday nights. I also knew of several women who danced themselves out of restrictive relationships.  Through belly dance, many women found a way to escape, for the class hour or on a wider scale, from societal bonds that restricted them from power, adventure, exploration of their own sensuality, and claiming a public voice.

Over the past thirty years, Western belly dancers have come to an interpretation of their art that builds on these early liberating self-discoveries.  While many individual philosophies of dance exist, and while there is often heated discussion about them within the community, on the whole dancers take a more or less feminist view of what they are doing.  Most dancers feel that they are dancing for themselves and for a wide audience, rather than to please and seduce men.   

Most dancers, while aware of sometimes unpleasant professional competition, have a sense of sisterhood with other dancers.  Most dancers feel that this dance is particularly feminine, that what it says is said best by women, and that it is a valuable form of self-expression for themselves and for women as a group. Dancers tend to discuss belly dance history in terms of goddess worship and childbirth rituals, though other myths (harems and slave dancers) still dominate the consciousness of non-dancers.  Dancers also tend to embrace archetypes that embody central issues of their own dancing: earth goddess, gypsy dancer, sensual queen, sweet young nymph.   

Through these images, dancers create feeling, move their audiences to new perceptions and ideas, express who they are, and open the door to something deep and powerful in themselves and in their audiences.  Dancers love this ability in themselves and rightly see it as a power, a gift, a voice.  On the whole, dancers’ experience tends to support the notion that this dance is good for women: it is valuable as self-expression, and it is at heart a woman’s dance, reflective of women’s essence, skills, power, sexuality, and spirituality.

Read more: 

Women's History Magazine

There are many variations on the theme, but in outline, the history of the Celts is usually told as follows.

By around 8-600BC, in the lands just North of the Alps, peoples had appeared whom their literate Greek neighbours to the South came to call Keltoi.

These earliest known Celts formed principalities in the zone North of the Alps, and traded with the Greeks and Etruscans. Around 500BC these principalities were violently destroyed.

During the 400s, in a band of territory stretching across Europe from Eastern France through Germany, Austria and into Bohemia, new groups arose, characterised by, among other things, warrior graves and a new kind of art. Archaeologists call this the 'La Tène culture', the physical remains of groups who, around 400BC, suddenly erupted into Italy and began to settle the Po Valley.

These newcomers were the Ancient Celts par excellence, otherwise known as Gauls. No longer a distant scholarly curiosity, the Celts were suddenly the most fearsome 'barbarian' danger. Around 390BC, the Gallic Senones actually sacked Rome, but they were driven back and largely contained in the Po Valley which became Gallia Cisalpina, 'Gaul this side of the Alps'.

The Celts in medieval times and beyond

  • BRITTANY, an independent kingdom in the 9th century, became one of the many almost-independent duchies which made up medieval France. As central Royal power grew in the fifteenth century, so its independence dwindled, and it was politically absorbed by France in 1532. 
  • WALES remained a separate principality, but under increasing English dominancefrom the 10th century. In 1485 the Welsh Henry Tudor became King of England, but his totally Anglicised son Henry VIII united Wales politically to England.
  • SCOTLAND was divided, roughly, between the Gaelic speaking (Irish Celtic) Highlands and the Scots-speaking (Germanic dialect, close to English) Lowlands. The warlike clans and chieftains of the Highlands were often in conflict with their Lowland neighbours, who thought them cattle-thieving barbarians. This formed the background to their eventual brutal suppression after their (actually luke-warm) support for Catholic Bonnie Prince Charlie's attempt to sieze back the British throne for the Ancient Scottish royal house of Stuart from the Protestant Hannoverians in 1745-6.
  • IRELAND Once the Vikings began to raid in 795, Ireland was permanently occupied, wholly or partly, by foreigners. The Danes were followed by the Anglo-Normans in the twefth century. During the sixteenth century the English imperial grip tightened, and relations were further embittered by the Reformation. Protestant England kept Catholic Ireland under subjection, sometimes incredibly brutal, until after the First World War. 
Source: University of Leicester

    The story of Piltdown Man came out at just the time when scientists were in a desperate race to find the missing link in the theory of evolution. Since Charles Darwin had published his theory on the origin of species in 1859, the hunt had been on for clues to the ancient ancestor that linked apes to humans.

    Sensational finds of fossil ancestors, named Neanderthals, had already occurred in Germany and France. British Scientists, however, were desperate to prove that Britain had also played its part in the story of human evolution, and Piltdown Man was the answer to their prayers - because of him, Britain could claim to be the birthplace of mankind.

    Charles Dawson had made a name for himself by finding fossils in Sussex, and passing them on to Sir Arthur Smith Woodward at what is now the Natural History Museum, London. Dawson now claimed that at some point before 1910, a workman had handed him a dark-stained and thick piece of human skull. He said that recognising that this might be part of an ancient human, he had continued to dig at the site and collected more pieces of skull.

    On 14 February 1912, he wrote to Woodward with news of exciting discoveries, and that summer Woodward joined him to excavate at Piltdown. They found more fragments of skull, and the bones and teeth of extinct British animals such as elephants, rhinos and beavers. They also found primitive stone tools, and a remarkable ape-like jaw.

    On the basis of these finds, Woodward constructed a skull that seemed to supply the missing link in the evolutionary path between humans and the apes. With a brain the same size as that of modern humans, and a very ape-like jaw, Piltdown Man was born....

    It was not until new technology for the dating of fossils was developed, in the late 1940s, that Piltdown Man came to be seriously questioned once again. In 1949, Dr Kenneth Oakley, a member of the staff at the Natural History Museum, tested the Piltdown fossils and found that the skull and jaw were not that ancient.

    He joined forces with Professor Joe Weiner and Sir Wilfrid Le Gros Clark from Oxford, to apply stringent tests to all the Piltdown remains. They realised that the human-like wear pattern on the teeth had been created by artificially filing down the teeth from an orang-utan jaw. The skull pieces were found to have come from an unusually thick-boned - but quite recent - human skull. It had simply been boiled and stained to match the colour and antiquity of the Piltdown gravels.

    Although many of the mammal fossils were genuine, they had also been stained to match the skull and came from all over the world. It turned out that every single one of the 40 odd finds at Piltdown had been planted.

    On 21 November 1953 the news broke, and headline writers revelled in the Natural History Museum's embarrassment: 'Fossil Hoax Makes Monkeys Out Of Scientists!' Weiner and Oakley quickly began an investigation to uncover the identity of the hoaxer. Who had had the access, the expertise and the motive to carry out such an outrageous forgery?

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