and Belly Dance, Two Books
Review by Rebecca
Over a year
ago, Amina Goodyear's Giza
Club met to discuss the import of two new books that had
to do with Middle Eastern dance, belly dance, and folkloric
dance. I was the only person who managed to get through both
of them by systematically penciling them over coffee before
going to work. [Ed note- not so!
At least a few people in that room have read these book!]
Dance: Orientalism, Transnationalism & Harem Fantasy
edited by Anthony
Shay and Barbara
Let's start with the title. Every "hot" word
you can think of is in there, including the recently coined terms "Orientalism" and "Transnationalism".
Does that justify this book's $40 price tag? Well yes, if you need
to read it for a class. Otherwise, I'd recommend borrowing a copy from
your friend, after you convince your friend to buy it by citing this
book contains an interesting and eclectic collection of
essays, somewhat marred by sloppy editing and post-modern
jargon. A few people really had some axes to grind. I had
enough just to re-read the book to write this review; I
can't evaluate the historical accuracy of any of the claims
or assumptions that were made. Some of them were entertaining,
to say the least.
ranged from "Belly Dance: An Urban Folk Genre" to "They
Said She Could Dance on a Single Tile". There's a good
historical Introduction section that touches upon the themes
of the essays and provides a brief survey of events and people.
Authors included Andrea
Deagon, Najwa Adra, and others. Most
seem to hold professorships at various universities.
need to get comfortable with words like "Orientalism", "imperialism", "the
male gaze", and "the colonized body". Orientalism,
a word popularized by Palestinian-American scholar Edward
Said in the 1980s, essentially claims that "the
West" has created a synthetic "mysterious Orient" in
order to exploit and dominate it. It's what they used to call
colonialism, except Orientalism is more of an intellectual
exercise, a fantasy, and what is our dance about if not fantasy?
times the jargon went a little too far. For example, "popular
performance forms revolve around a transnational interplay
of images which ultimately creates a global discourse." I
had to get out my Magic De-Coder Ring to figure out that
this might mean something like, "pop culture rips
off from everywhere until it all looks the same." But
I guess people don't get a Ph.D. for stating the obvious.
The whole "trans" thing
got me going. What the hell is "transnational"? How's
it different from "global" or "world"?
Is it anything like "transgender", "transgress",
or even "trans fat"? Maybe it's an attempt to erase
old boundaries (the ones created by Orientalists, who are bad),
and replace them with an overall resistance to any sort of
categorization into This and not That.
essays did at times take various positions, sometimes almost
to the point of polemic. At other times, they were revealing
viewpoints, or simply detailed examinations of aspects or historical
personages that I had never thought to consider before.
of them seemed like detailed treatments of things that I already
knew about firsthand, written for a narrow academic audience,
like an anthropologist who studies junkies in order to analyze
their slang for a linguistics degree, bypassing the sometimes
tragic human conditions in which they live. The thing to ask
is, "Would this essay be interesting to someone who wasn't
already a total belly dance nerd?"
that was really out in left field was Stavros Stavrou
Karayanni's attack on Gustave Flaubert under
the guise of presenting his private journals. He quotes extensively
from Flaubert's letters and diaries to prove that this famous
19th-century French novelist turns out - surprise! - to be
a total horndog. Is this really news? What value does this
new viewpoint have to offer? Karayanni had plenty of historically
interesting content in there, but I could have done with a
less snide tone.
it hit close to home. Frequently there were mentions of people
I'd heard of, or met. People like Carolena Nericchio,
who are still doing their thing, right up the street from me.
Often I would come across some observation about American feminists
and said, "Hey! They're talking about me!"
If I had
to re-read every goddamn word I'd be sitting here till the
sun exploded in its old age, turning the earth into a charred
lump of coal. I have penciled notes in most of it, so I must
have read them all at some point. At the risk of turning
this review into a fourth grade-style book report, I'm going
to list the titles of the essays to at least give readers an
idea of what is in this book. This is assuming they're still
considering plunking down those 40 bones.
Dance: An Urban Folk Genre - Lively, informative description
of the complex place that dancing holds in Middle Eastern
Male Dancer in the Middle East and Central Asia - Historical
descriptions of the famous dancing boys of Turkey and elsewhere,
based on travel writings.
and Jurisprudence in the Islamic Middle East - Discussion
of Islamic law and its applications to dance. How many
of us belly dancers know or even care what the "Hadith" is?
Veiling Desire: Kuchuk Hanem and Imperial Masculinity -
Poor Gustave Flaubert, can't get off with a dancer-prostitute
in foreign climes in peace. Interesting descriptions of
her clothing and dance style.
- Dance & the
Dancer in Egyptian Film - Discussion of how dancers
are portrayed in Egyptian films, including their semi-underworld
Evening in the Orient: The Middle Eastern Night Club in
America - Traces the origins of these nightclubs, all
gone now, where my teachers learned their craft. Written
for musically literate readers.
Meri and Middle Eastern Dance - Historical bio of both La
Meri and Ruth St. Denis, two
seminal figures of early 20th century American dance. La
Meri may have been the first dance ethnographer to really
explore regional forms of Oriental dance in an attempt
to learn them rather than merely appropriate them.
Coffee in the Land of the Sweets - The Orientalism
in "The Nutcracker Suite".
Dance of the Seven Veils: The Revision of Revelation in
the Oriental Dance Community - Explores how the themes
and archetypes of Salome have inspired (mostly) female
Image Identity: Americal Tribal Belly Dance - Discusses Jamila
Salimpour, Carolena Nericchio, and John
from the Body: Belly Dance as a Spiritual Practice -
A hard-hitting critique of recent trends such as Goddess
dancing, birth dancing, and belly dance as female empowerment.
This was the one where I really said, "Hey, that's
ME she's talking about!"
Said She Could Dance on a Single Tile - A strange little
essay that was apparently originally a performance piece.
contains many interesting (and grainy) photos. They add texture.
I have to say that there's plenty of "texture" in
this book overall, even in the far-out parts. By texture, I
mean just a sense of richness of description that by itself
is inspiring and also specific.
paid $40 for it, and now that I've written all over my copy,
I guess I'll be keeping it. Maybe the weird sensationalistic
vibe is just an attempt to keep afloat in the cutthroat world
of academic publishing. It's enough just to have academic researchers
who are paying serious attention to Oriental dance. And, strangely
enough, I DO think every belly dancer should read it, even
if they can't afford to buy it. Why? Well... so many of them
have never applied a critical or rigorous lens to what they're
doing, and I think that every so often it's good to step back
and take a fresh look.
on to the other book.
Politics: State Folk Dance Companies, Representation, and
by Anthony Shay
After reading Shay's work in the first book, I was pleasantly surprised at
the quality and vividness of this one. Although Shay has a definite bias, which
shows particularly in his writings about Egyptian dance, he also has produced
a very wide-ranging examination of the complex artistic, cultural and political
factors that produced some world-renowned state dance companies such as the Moiseyev
Ballet and the Mahmoud
A self-described "folk
dance ensemble junkie", Shay has spent years observing,
learning, performing, and participating in folk dance events
including dances of Greece, Hungary, Egypt, Turkey, Russia,
Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Iran, and Bukhara - to name a few.
this book to address a perceived gap in dance scholarship that
ignored state ensembles "in favor of a narrow and detailed
focus on Western theater dance forms... or 'authentic' dance
in the field."
opens with a description of the ironic contrast between CNN's
coverage of turmoil in the Mexican state of Chiapas and the
lighthearted "fun in the village" as he calls it,
which is the image portrayed by not only Ballet Folklorico
but other companies such as Mahmoud Reda's theatricalized Egyptian
dance. State dance companies served as cultural ambassadors,
and sometimes instruments of propaganda.
dances, aside from their charm, can be cynically employed
to symbolize the "nation-state" which often means
the ethnic majority in places like the former Soviet Union,
at the expense of marginalized groups who officially don't
exist, or if they do, their official portrayals are often
distorted to serve the purposes of the ruling regime. Whose
dances are they, then?
not a new phenomenon, either. Louis the XIV used dance (and
architecture) to display his power. Persian court miniatures
depict dancers, musicians and other entertainers as part of
the panoply of the royal court.
a contrast between ethnicity (older, prehistoric tribal identities)
and nationalism (relatively modern sense of national identity).
Ethnicity views folk dances as artifacts, and nationalism uses
folk dances as symbols.
I liked best about this book was the descriptions of the artistic
approaches and the performances themselves. He sensitively
and vividly describes costuming, choreography, music and musical
instruments, the atmosphere, and the attitudes projected by
the dancers themselves in a way that I would not have believed
possible. Even when he seemingly disapproves of some of the
compromises made by certain directors, Shay continues to praise
their good points and to treat their attempts to address complex
issues as worthy efforts even when they might fall short of
what he would have wanted to see.
the Gilded Serpent readers will probably go straight to the
chapter on Egyptian dance first. I found myself pretty much
in agreement with his assessments, which are liberally sprinkled
with quotes including some very biting remarks from our very
who pulls no punches.
would be most beneficial if the GS readers were to explore
the broader elements set forth in the book as a whole.
Most of us don't think about these issues that deeply,
except to feel a vague sense of pity for any woman who
voluntarily assumes the hijab. We think it's OK to borrow
from anywhere and everywhere, because none of that stuff
has any meaning for us other than as pretty or exotic imagery.
Shay describes some folk dances as they are presented closer
to home, where the manner in which a group is portrayed
can have a direct impact on how that group is perceived
is excellent - lucid, straightforward, and evocative. It'll
take a bit of work to get through it, but not as much as, say,
reading toxic-waste environmental cleanup reports at one's
day job. I found it to be deeply thought provoking and would
recommend it to anyone with a serious interest in any sort
of national, ethnic, or regional dance.
it didn't cost $40. More like $20 or $22, if I remember correctly.
Clever readers will buy this one, and make their friend buy
the Orientalism one... then you can both swap.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
2-07-08 Aruna's "Dancer's
Body" Reviewed DVD review by Rebecca Firestone
One of Aruna's claims to fame is being 50 and being tougher than chicks half
her age. And it's true, at least with regard to the strength training - which
was her profession for many years. Considering that most belly dancers want to
be as youthful as possible, it's a nice change to have someone so athletic who's
still improving with time.
Fusion, Bedouin, What's the Difference? 4 DVDs reviewed
and compared by Rebecca Firestone
When I see a dancer I really like, I want to
*be* her, or him, right at that moment. My heart leaps at the music
and then leaps again when I see what they're doing. With this one,
I was interested, but not that engaged.
The Classic Style Prevails, Workshop review by Rebecca
does everything from the knees, and Dahlena said not to do that!
What's a girl to do?
Belly Will Travel by Tanya Lemani book review by Birute
The process of getting booked on these shows and her relationships
with other artists, both famous and unknown, who help her on her
way is the most interesting part of the book.
Del Vientre by Devorah Korek Book Review by Gregory
Burke Translation by Amina Goodyear
Book is in Spanish. Once in a while an object of desire
comes along, which is deemed important by its obscurity. Such could
be the case with this hardcover, difficult to acquire tabletop
adornment from Devorah Korek, an American-born Belly Dance teacher
living and thriving in Spain.