This book is divided into four major parts.
The first section of the book tells of the author's childhood memories from growing up in Iraq, with a focus on her grandmother and the other household women who raised her. This section offers a glimpse into the rhythm of an upper-class Middle Eastern household of a few decades ago. It is presented as a series of experiences between the child and the adults of her household, particularly her grandmother. Each anecdote is portrayed as a learning experience for young Fawzia. This is my favorite part of the book, and I wish it had been longer. The personal glimpses are fascinating, and it presents the anecdotes in a way that heightens my understanding and respect for the Iraqi culture. Beyond simply describing life in another culture, this book shares the wisdom that a matriarch has handed down to her family. One example:
The second section of the book provides an overview of the history of women's dance. It starts with ancient times, and progresses to modern times. The focus is not limited solely to belly dancing – it covers "women's" dance, so it also discusses the evolution of historical European dance. The coverage of this topic is superficial, which makes sense considering that there is limited space to address such a broad subject.
The third section of the book discusses ways to use each body part in the dance, starting at the top of the head and progressing through the body down to the toes. Some of the movements described are actual belly dancing movements that would be familiar to experienced dancers, while others fall more into the category of body awareness exercises, and the book doesn't identify which are which. The author's intent here is not to provide instruction on how to put together a belly dance performance to display in front of other people, but rather how to use this dance form for one's own personal wellness program. It offers exercises (both mental and physical) for bringing mind and body into harmony.
The fourth and final section of the book talks about specific variations of the dance, such as using a cane as a prop, and rituals in which dance can play a part – menstruation, birth, and mourning, to name a few. In each case, the author explains the variation and then attaches her ritual meaning to it. But it's important to be careful in reading this chapter, because these ritual meanings are the author's own invention and typically do not match the actual history of how these dances came into being. For example, in Part Four, "The Veil Dance", the use of a veil in belly dancing is described as follows:
The above description is certainly more poetic than the mundane explanation that veil dancing as it is performed in Egypt today arose when a Russian dance teacher urged Samia Gamal to make her entrance holding a billowy piece of fabric as a way of helping her develop more graceful-looking arms. Yet the Russian dance teacher is historical fact. The "mystical and erotic" perspective is not.Similar issues exist throughout the Third and Fourth sections of this book.
Is It Right for You?
You Will Probably Enjoy This Book If...
This Book Probably Isn't Right for You If...
What I Liked, What I Didn't
What I Liked:
What I Didn't Like:
I have mixed feelings about this book. It may suit some people, but not others.
I would definitely recommend it for insights into what it was like to grow up in a Middle Eastern family. It could also serve as a tool for learning how to use dance moves in private to achieve psychological benefits.
However, I would not recommend it as a tool for learning about Oriental dance history or origins of the moves. The history section is superficial, and the "meaning" of belly dance moves is just the author's own opinion, not widely acknowledged historical or cultural fact.
There is nothing to disclose. I have never had any contact with anyone associated with this book.
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