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A Review of

Grandmother's Secrets:
The Ancient Rituals And Healing Power Of Belly Dancing

 

sold in the United Kingdom under the title

Belly Dancing: Unlock the Secret Power of an Ancient Dance

 

sold in German-language editions as

Der Ruf der Großmutter: Oder die Lehre des wilden Bauches

 

by Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi

 

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Summary

This book explores anecdotes about the author's childhood in Iraq, some historical notes about women's dancing, and ideas on linking dance moves to personal development.

It was originally published in the German language. The English-language translation was the version used for this review.

Cover U.S.

U.K. Cover

German Cover

 

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Fact Sheet

Title

In the U.S.: Grandmother's Secrets: The Ancient Rituals & Healing Power Of Belly Dancing

In the U.K.: Belly Dancing: Unlock the Secret Power of an Ancient Dance

In Germany & Austria: Der Ruf der Großmutter: Oder die Lehre des wilden Bauches

Author

Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi

ISBN

In North America: 1566563267
In the U.K.: 1841194123
Iin Germany & Austria: 3853711103

Publisher

In North America: Interlink Publishing Group
In the U.K.: Robinson Publishing
In Germany & Austria: Promedia, Wien

Category

Non-Fiction: Culture

Rating

StarStarStar

Number of Pages

158

Published In

German-language edition: 1996
English-language edition: 1999

 

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Description

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:

Whenever I went down the stairs in our house I looked down to avoid falling. One day my grandmother was watching me. "Let your feet see for you," she told me. "They'll keep you from falling much better than your eyes! Feel with your toes until you find the edge and let your heels slide down the stair until they find the next one. Put yourself in your center, in the place below your navel, and keep your head high!"

That was fun, and I spent days going up and down the stairs like a queen. This is how I realized, with time, that my feet were "seeing" better and better. I felt my soles become more aware, my feet more sensitive and sensual. I came to trust them more and more, and my balance eventually settled in the lower part of my body.

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:

It's fun to shroud oneself, showing only the part of oneself that one wishes to expose. The veil lends the dance an element of mystery. Swung over the head or over one's shoulder, it seems to take in the space and extend one's aura. As the dancer's body melds with the veil, the sacred manifests itself. The individual disappears behind the archetype, the divine; the mystical and erotic become one.

In the veil dance, a woman dances the knowledge of the new living creature that can be born from her. She dances the eternal return of life; even without children, she dances this awareness of life that comes to her from the rhythms inside.

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.

 

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Is It Right for You?

 

You Will Probably Enjoy This Book If...

  • You would like to use dance as a tool for personal growth, healing, and spiritual expression.
  • You would enjoy reading what it was like to grow up in an Iraqi family.
  • You're looking for ideas to help you unlock your creativity in dance.

 

This Book Probably Isn't Right for You If...

  • You're hoping this book will teach you how to belly dance.
  • You're looking for factually-presented historical and cultural information.
  • You don't know much about belly dancing and you're looking for a book that will give you an informative introduction.

 

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

 

What I Liked:

  • For those dancers who might wish to incorporate dance into their spiritual expression, this book offers practical suggestions.
  • The suggested exercises are geared to lead to positive body image, self-acceptance, and inner peace.
  • This book was originally published in German. It was translated into English for the North America market. The translator has done an excellent job of producing a result that reads smoothly, with none of the awkwardness that often arises in the translation process.
  • The photographs in the book are excellent. I wish there had been more!
  • Overall, the author comes across as someone who loves the dance, and has made a place for it in her day-to-day life. Her tone is warm and inviting, and she makes the reader want to share in the fulfillment that she herself has found in dancing.
  • The book is enjoyable to read.

 

What I Didn't Like:

  • I wish the author would have included language indicating that her statements about the symbolism of various common dance variations and how to use them in ritual are her own ideas rather than historical or cultural reality.
  • I wish that modern-day advocates of woman-based spirituality would quite inventing ways to link belly dancing to it.
  • I'm dismayed by the number of people who have read this and cite the "meaning of moves" (which are the author's own ideas) as being fact.

 

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Conclusion

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.

 

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Disclosures

There is nothing to disclose. I have never had any contact with anyone associated with this book.

 

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