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Camels and Belly Dance

Camel in Mongolia
Robyn Davidson and Camel
Robyn Davidson and Camel
After walking almost 1,700 miles across the heart of the Australian Outback, Robyn Davidson and her camels arrived at the Indian Ocean. Never having seen a body of water larger than a puddle before, her camels were mesmerized. A camel is an even-toed ungulate within the genus Camelus, bearing distinctive fatty deposits known as "humps" on its back. Lifespan: Dromedary: 40 years, Speed: 65 km/h (Maximum, In Short Bursts, Running), Height: Dromedary: 1.8 – 2 m. | Photo: Rick Smolan | Link | Camel, Desert, Animal, Humpa, Arabic, Saudi Arabia, Smail,

These Misunderstood Animals are a Symbol of the Dance

In Middle Eastern dance, movement is often derived from natural elements and the animals located where the dance was born, in the desert. Camels play a prominent role in the dance.

Camels are known as “ships of the desert” for good reason. They move both legs from the same side of the body at the same time. Thus, they mimic the slow rolling motions of a ship at sea.

The Arabic camel, the Dromedary (one hump not two) is found in the Middle East. It’s not surprising that the undulating motion one experiences while riding atop a camel is the same as that used in Middle Eastern belly dance. In our dance form, we call the undulation, surprise of surprises, the "camel walk.” Thus, camels have become symbols of belly dance.

Interestingly enough, giraffes also have the same method of walking as the camel. If the dance originated in Kenya, belly dancers would probably be dancing the “giraffe walk.” Camels, however, are fascinating and misunderstood creatures.

Contrary to what most think, camels don’t spit. They do “throw up” when they feel threatened. They do moan and groan, bleat, bellow and roar. Most times, though, they are rather quiet. They are also rather docile. They seek attention, are inquisitive, affectionate but can be a bit emotional and unpredictable.

A Dromedary camel stands about six-feet tall at the shoulder, seven-feet tall at the hump. The hump rises about thirty-inches from the body. They weigh between 1,000 and 1,600 pounds. Camels can run 65mph in short bursts but can sustain a speed of 25mph.

These hot-climate camels are adapted to harsh, dry desert conditions. Their eyes have a thin membrane that’s like a clear inner eyelid that protects the eye from blowing sand yet allows in enough light for the camel to see. Double rows of long eyelashes and bushy brows also keep out the sand. They can close their nostrils to keep out sand as well.

Camels are basically herbivores but have been known to eat fish. They have large, tough lips adapted to pick up dry vegetation, including thorny plants. Each half of their split upper lip moves independently to help it grip short grass from the ground. Like cows, they regurgitate food back up from their stomach to chew it again. Their stomachs are divided into three sections for this purpose.

Robyn Davidson and Camels
Robyn Davidson and Camels

Robyn Davidson, born September 6, 1950, is an Australian writer best known for her book Tracks, about her 1,700-mile trek across the deserts of west Australia using camels. Her career of travelling and writing about her travels has spanned over 30 years. A camel is an even-toed ungulate within the genus Camelus, bearing distinctive fatty deposits known as "humps" on its back. Lifespan: Dromedary: 40 years, Speed: 65 km/h (Maximum, In Short Bursts, Running), Height: Dromedary: 1.8 – 2 m. | Photo: Rick Smolan | Link |
Large, broad feet do not sink into the sand. Broad, flat leather pads with two toes on each foot. Though they do not have cloven hooves, they are not considered kosher. Camel milk is low fat. Though they are mainly beasts of burden their meat is eaten their skinned tanned into leather, their fur used as wool and their dung used as fuel. A camel can carry 200 pounds for 20 miles in a harsh desert without food or water. Camels have been domesticated for over 3,500 years.

Camels can go a week or more without water and several months without food. When they do drink they can drink 30 gallons of water in 13 minutes.

The Bedouins, desert nomads, used to rely on camels for transportation. These days, four-by-fours serve the purpose. Camels used to be a sign of wealth. The more you owned, the richer you were. This is part of a joke in Egypt. As a side note, my husband was asked by an Egyptian, “How many camels would you take for your wife?” Too many!

Robyn Davidson


Robyn Davidson was born September 6, 1950 at Stanley Park, a cattle station in Miles, Queensland, the second of two girls. Her mother died by suicide when Davidson was 11, and she was largely raised by her father's unmarried sister, Gillian. She went to a girls' boarding school in Brisbane. She received a music scholarship but did not take it up. In Brisbane, Davidson shared a house with biologists and studied zoology. Later, she went to Sydney and lived a bohemian life as a member of the Push.

In 1975, Davidson moved to Alice Springs in an effort to work with camels for a desert trek she was planning. For two years she trained camels and learned how to survive in the harsh desert. She was peripherally involved in the Aboriginal Land Rights movement.

For some years in the 1980s she was in a relationship with Salman Rushdie, to whom she was introduced by their mutual friend Bruce Chatwin.

Davidson has moved frequently, and had homes in Sydney, London, and India. She currently resides in Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 1:50 PM EDT | More details

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