A Review of
Belly Dancing Basics
by Laura A. Cooper
|Laura Cooper has dared to try something that is rare in this age of home video – she has created a book that explains how to do belly dancing moves through the use of photographs and written text.
|Belly Dancing Basics
|Laura A. Cooper
|Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.
|Non-Fiction: How to Belly Dance
Number of Pages
This book uses written text and color photographs to teach how to do belly dancing moves. It includes use of props and finger cymbals.
The book doesn’t really talk about the different styles of belly dance that exist. It treats the subject as if there were just one generic style. The style of dance technique that it presents tends to be in the American Classic style of belly dance, which some people call Vintage American Oriental.
The introduction to the book begins with a brief "history" of belly dancing that seems to have been compiled by repeating theories without taking care to determine which have merit versus which have flimsy supporting evidence.
Next begins a series of instructional chapters. These begin at the beginning, with recommendations on how to prepare for dance practice, use proper posture, warm up, and do a variety of beginner-level dance moves. The moves include hip work, traveling steps, arm movements, and various undulations. Following this instruction in basic moves, the next several chapters provide introductory information about various props that can be used with belly dancing, such as American-style veil work, sword balancing, candle tray, Isis wings, cane, and finger cymbals. Next comes a chapter on performing, with brief suggestions on how to put together a routine, assemble a costume, and do makeup.
The closing chapter covers the topic of dancer etiquette. The primary aim of this chapter is to encourage new dancers to represent the dance with class and dignity, with practical suggestions on how to do this.
Is It Right for You?
You Will Probably Enjoy This Book If...
- You’re a teacher who needs ideas on how to explain moves to your students.
- You are a student who needs more explanation on how to do certain moves than what you’re receiving from your teacher or your videos.
- You are friends with one or more of the dancers who appear in the photos used in this book.
This Book Probably Isn't Right for You If...
- You have difficulty translating written words into movement.
- You're not interested in the American Classic style of belly dance.
- You’re looking for a book that offers well-researched historical information about belly dancing.
- You're a left-handed person who feels annoyed when instructions for dance moves and finger cymbals are given for only right-handed people.
What I Liked, What I Didn't
What I Liked:
- With many full-color photographs, this book is a feast for the eyes.
- The photography, which is entirely done by Sarah Skinner, is beautiful.
- The book features a variety of different women in the photographs, showing varied ages and body types.
- The photos show attire that’s appropriate to the purpose of the picture. For example, pictures showing how to do certain dance moves show the model wearing exercise attire that makes it easy to see weight placement, angles of the legs, etc. However, there are also many stunning photos of dancers in full costume.
- All photos are well-lit and show the entire dancer from head to toe, enabling you to see nuances such as weight placement, arm positions, etc.
- The table of contents and the index are both quite helpful.
- The book offers ideas for beginners on how to assemble moves together into a practice choreography, which can help with learning transitions and learning how to structure a dance practice.
- The chapter on dancing with a veil offers some interesting ideas for veil moves that I haven't seen before.
What I Didn't Like:
- In the resources listings in the back, the only mention it makes of my web site is as a place to find listings of belly dance teachers in the U.K. That’s only one of over 1,400 html pages on my web site, so I can’t help but feel a bit cranky that the author didn’t notice everything else I have!
- The book provides instructions to warm up using stretches. Current fitness recommendations are that stretches should not be done until after the body has been warmed up doing other kinds of exercise.
- I’m rather surprised (and disappointed) that the music recommendations fail to contain classical Egyptian songs widely used by Egyptian-style dancers such as those by Oum Kalthoum, Abdel Halim Hafez, and Farid al-Atrache.
- In the history section, where it talks about the Gypsies as an ethnic group, it fails to capitalize the word “Gypsy”.
- I’m quite disappointed in the "Introduction" to the book, with its emphasis on “wishtory” (what people wish the past was like) and the Gypsies as it talks about belly dance history. The author speaks in sweeping terms about belly dancing being an ancient fertility ritual. The fact is that this concept is purely theory and wishful thinking. This has never been proven, and it makes me sad to see a book perpetuating these notions which are appealing to think about but unsupported by evidence.
- The "Introduction" chapter not only perpetuates "wishtory" that cannot be proven, it also fails to mention actual information about the 20th century leaders such as Badia Masabni, Tahia Carioca, and Samia Gamal who transformed the dance from its social-dance origins to a glamorous entertainment in high-class night spots.
- I’m not fond of the use of harsh-sounding words such as “thrust” and “snap” to describe dance moves. I fear such terminology may lead some users of the book to beat the music to death when they dance. I would prefer to see softer terms such as “bump” or “accent”.
- I have concerns about the use of knee-driven technique to power hip accents. Such technique fails to engage the torso muscles that are so basic to our dance form, and if over-used it can place stress on the knees with risk of injury.
- The book says the baladi rhythm is a "9/8", which is musically incorrect.
- The book recommends a 15-minute 6-part routine for a beginner's first performance, complete with finger cymbals, veil, sword/candle balancing, and drum solo. This seems very odd to me. It would seem much more appropriate to recommend that beginners start with something 3-4 minutes in length, without props.
- The "Resources" chapter seems to be hastily assembled, without the proofreading that was done in other parts of the book. It contains several errors.
Although this book isn’t perfect, it may prove helpful to either students or teachers of belly dance who are looking for new ideas on how to explain some of the basic belly dance movements such as undulations and abdominal rolls.
The many beautiful color photos are the strongest aspect of this book. They make it worthy of consideration as either a source of costuming ideas or a coffee table book.
The book could also appeal to collectors who enjoy acquiring belly dance memorabilia.
I have never had any contact with the author, Laura Cooper. I've been acquainted with the photographer, Sarah Skinner, through the Internet, but we haven't met in person. Sarah Skinner sent me a complimentary copy of the book to use for my review.
To Buy It
Via Amazon Stores
Laura Cooper (Alyra)
Phone: (917) 612-4147
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