Navel Jewels

This is one of those questions that comes up periodically on the med-dance list...

Question: Jewels in the Navel?

"I've noticed in various dance catalogs that people sell belly button jewels and glue, but I have never, ever seen anyone wear that. Was that an old trend or something? Just curious where that came from, or went to. Seems that whenever you mention that you're a belly dancer, the first question people ask is "do you wear a jewel in your navel?". Why do they do that?" --Vera


"The answer to the Jewel of the Navel question (!):

"Where the whole idea came from was a result of the Hayes Code for the movie industry, a series of rules & guidelines created after the terrible Fatty Arbuckle scandal in Hollywood & the backlash it engendered.

"It was against the Code to show the navel in a movie, because it supposedly reminded viewers of a crevice a bit lower down, ergo creating lustful thoughts & mortal sin (Hey: I'm only explaining, not endorsing!!!) Since 'sheik' & 'harem' movies were popular escapist fare, with casts of thousands of starlet-wanna-bes in the scenes showing the Hollywood fantasy idea of what women wore around the harem, they avoided having all those scenes end up on the cutting room floor by putting a jewel in the navels of all the women involved, including & especially 'dancing' girls.

"Since the general public never met a fantasist cliche it didn't immediately assume to be fact, the 'expectation' that all 'belly' dancers had to have a jewel in the navel took off. Too many innocent & culturally ignorant 'dancers' went along with it: it appealed to the personal fantasies of a few.... Can't tell you how often, 20 - 36 years ago, I'd hear: 'Oh, Mideastern dance? Is that "belly" dance? Where's the jewel in your navel?'. To which my answer would be: 'No, it's Raks Sharki & if you ever see a jewel in her navel, that dancer doesn't know s*** from shinola about the 'real thing'!' .....

"Get real! Where would they find eyelash glue, spirit gum or double-sided tape in the middle of the desert? (Like generic Muslim women run around the desert or midtown Marrakesh or downtown Beirut or the Cairo Corniche in Sharki performance costume......) GIMME A BREAK!!!

"I'm astounded that anybody would ask you anything so totally off the mark in this day & age of much increased awareness & exposure (no pun intended) of our beloved dance form!! It's been YEARS since I heard that one (thank God!) How old is that catalog & do they pretend to cater to the real M.E. dance scene, or did they buy the close-outs on the 'How to Bellydance for Your Husband' & 'How to Strip for Your Husband' records from Roulette Records after the owner died & hope folks will buy the jewel item along with it?"

Rockin' Raks & Masmoudi Merriment,

"As others will also mention, the 'jewel in the navel' came about from Hollywood's getting around the censors' demands that the belly button could not be shown (on film or on television - that's why Jeanie's [USA tv show character] hip band came up to her waist). Hollywood got around that rule by having their "harem girls" glue jewels into their navels, thereby covering up the 'offending' belly buttons. Back in the 70s and early 80s, many dancers still used navel jewels, but these days many of us flat out refuse to wear those uncomfortable things (not to mention protest against what Hollywood has done to/for our 'profession' in general by many silent and not so silent protests against the hype)." --Tedi

"Early 'I Dream of Jeannie's [USA tv show from 60's or 70's] not only had her navel covered, there was a big controversy when they wanted to uncover it a bit: they chickened out. The renewed series (after a few year's hiatus) had a lower costume, as I recall. (I could be wrong as to when, so I won't give dates.)

"The Hayes Code went the way of all that stupidity in (I think) the '60s, when foreign films had become popular & financially successful & didn't cater to that idiocy. TV has always been more conservative than the movies. I had to wear a bathrobe under my costume, when I did the Ed Sullivan show in '65. I couldn't wear a costume first time I did the Carson show, in '67: had to dance in a miniskirt & blouse. Second time ('72) I could & did.

"In the early '50s, Otto Preminger was almost prevented from releasing 'The Moon Is Blue' [film] because it has the words 'pregnant' & 'virgin' - so help me!!! We've come a looooong way, thank you. They can kiss that **** goodbye!"

Maintaining Muckraking Masmoudi Madness,

"Maybe we're just backward here in Australia (or upside down :-) ) but I DO get asked about the jewel in the naval, about every other performance !!!!! To which I reply *Oh, but I do the REAL thing!* (and who are they to argue?)" --Jenny L

"Gee, I thought questions about navel jewels and rolling quarters was an Okie thing! Guess it must run rampant everywhere. I always refer to myself as a middle eastern dancer just because of the Bible Belt image of belly dancers. But I have been asked several times if I do the quarter thing and if we wear navel jewels. I just tell them that we don't wear navel jewels because we found out how to really wear them and decided against it. They fall for it every time. In the old days of burlesque, Gypsy Rose Lee wore a navel jewel and when asked by other strippers how she kept it in she told them that it had a pin on it and that it was to be pushed right into the navel. (Sort of like a hatpin.) She sent lots of strippers to the hospital that way." --Shadia

"Just a little note to add to the "jeweled navel" thread. While living in Turkey last fall I had the opportunity to see a few gala nightclub shows, as well as some dancers in smaller nightclubs and discos. One of the dancers in one of the shows I saw in Istanbul wore a jewel in her navel. Must have taken it from the Americans. Considering that mostly tourists seem to go to those shows anyway, they're coming home with that image ('Oh, I saw a dancer in Istanbul with a jewel in her navel')." --Rachel Newcomb

"BTW: asked a dancer (maybe the same one) in Istanbul this summer why on earth she wore that damned jewel (put it more diplomatically than that at the time, however) in her navel & she said a few tourists asked her where her jewel in the navel was, how could she be a real 'belly' :>( dancer, if she didn't have a jewel there. So she got one & wore it - another example of catering to ignorant fantasies that then go on to reinforce the ignorant myth....... Phooey!!!"

Karsilama Kraziness (thank you, Belita, for that one!),

"Educate, teach, don't give the public what they might think they want! They don't know. The times that people get it are worth the continuing efforts of educating them."

Sometimes strident but definitely de-stressing Djinnlas Ki'i

The dancer's belly is the focal point of the dance, and the navel is the focal point of the belly, so what's the harm? A jewelled navel is a thing of beauty. Check out Anita Ekberg in "Zarak" [United Artists, 1956]. Modern Indian women wear saris that ride low on the hips, exposing the belly, and I've been told by an Indian friend that many of the upper-caste women wear jewels in their navels as an adornment, and also as a sign of liberation. It's not provocative: it's a statement." --thatis

Last Modified: 15 Jun 1997
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