Belly dancing in the Middle East has two distinct social contexts as a folk or social dance, and as a performance art. As a social dance, belly dancing is performed at celebrations and social gatherings by ordinary people in ordinary clothes. In more conservative societies, these events may be gender segregated.
Historically, professional dance performers were the Awalim (primarily musicians and poets), Ghawazi, and Köçekler. In the modern era, professional performers (including dancers, singers, and actors) are not considered to be respectable in more conservative Middle Eastern countries, and there is a strong social stigma attached to female performers in particular, since they display their bodies in public. This is considered harem-like behavior in Islam. However, in Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco, Iraq and unofficially in Iran and Egypt the art is still celebrated and performed.
Many bellydancers work in Cairo. The modern Egyptian belly dance style is said to have originated in Cairo's nightclubs. Many of the local dancers became famous by appearing in Egyptian films. They also had a great influence on the development of the Egyptian style.