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In Search of the Perfect Belly Dancer’s Library
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3 Books Reviewed by Martha

The E.D.A. Handbook for Middle Eastern Dance by David of Scandinavia
Daily, on my search for fresh new material to build a more reliable Belly dancers’ Library, I went on a quest to find Belly dance curriculums from master teachers, or books of Belly dance style. I started with a book search for Egyptian Belly dance styles: one that describes the style, costuming, dance steps, and origins of the style. It included names of those who danced it previously, and tells who dances it now. Voila! I found a handbook:  The E.D.A. Handbook of Middle Eastern Dance by David of Scandinavia. His handbook is best described as a textbook, and it includes a full chapter on anatomy that is essential for a Belly dancer to increase his or her body awareness, prevent injury.

There is a brief description of rhythms as well as a deep look at concepts like blocking and layering and a short lesson on terminology in which it states that this textbook and the E.D.A. (Ethnic Dance Academy) focuses its terminology upon common concepts and names used for movements and movement concepts in the Egyptian style according to Mahmoud Reda’s style. This is where I became more intrigued!

Next, I discovered that many Belly dancers in the U.S.A. are familiar with ballet theory and terminology and that many of us have had a ballet education since we were little children. During the first year, foot and arm positions are essentials for a dancer—any style dancer! This lesson of fundamentals of ballet found in the EDA handbook was adapted by David of Scandinavia to accommodate the Middle Eastern dance style:

  • Raqs Sharqi: its basic concepts and history
  • Standards of positioning and generation of movements that the E.D.A. format requires one to follow (in order to bring style and structure to a more defined Egyptian style of Belly dance)
  • How to do steps, drilling, floor patterns, and combinations and recommendations for combining movements of the feet the legs and arms, are lessons in Chapters 1 through 4.
  • Concepts of movements, where each one is described fully—to obtain the correct style—as based on the E.D.A. format are found in Chapter 5.

This handbook would prove useful to those dancers who enroll in workshops or regular classes with its writer, David of Scandinavia.

It is a compilation of knowledge provided at the E.D.A. that has been handed down by his instructors (who are named in Chapter 14), his colleagues and sources of inspiration, or through his own experience as it is stated on the handbook’s prologue.

It should be noted that the handbook does not intend to replace an instructor nor will it teach one how to perform the Egyptian style of Belly dance or how to teach it. I fully recommend this handbook to those who have taken (or are going to take) a workshop with its author David. However, those of you who don’t have any formal dance education (and prefer to learn Belly dance on the Internet or through the study of books) may find this particular handbook is a little difficult to handle.

Zil Rating= 3 zils

 

Tribal Vision by Paulette Rees-Denis
Next, I went on a different Belly dance quest and found Tribal Vision, which is a celebration of life through tribal Belly dance from Paulette Rees-Denis (producer of the Tribal Technique Series of instructional videos and founder of Gypsy Caravan). What I thought would be a book about how-to-do-Tribal-Belly-dancing, turned out to be a great lesson about Tribal Belly dance history! Topics covered how Tribal was created, what inspired it, and who created it, if the creators were always Belly dancers, where and how they lived. I found quite amusing when I got to Chapter 2: “ A Dancer Finds Her Place” where Paulette describes her life’s journey as a dancer, ballet dancer, and jazz dancer who had a feeling that there was still more out there for her.  She met Caroleena Nericcio who invited her to this new style process of creating a new form.

Many wonderful photographs of Belly dance in the late 1980s and early ‘90s are included in this book of Tribal dance history. In a way, this is a memoir of Paulette’s Belly dance life.

Many of us have read various articles and books about the history of the golden era of Belly dance, but these renditions of history are always talking about many decades ago. I have not seen other books that were as descriptive as this one concerning the “in-between” era of Belly dance. It is very clear how Tribal Belly dance is defined in the last 30 years; Paulette’s words are very inspiring! I think that her book is an essential for all Tribal Belly dancers because one needs to know the background—and for tribal dancers, this is one of your founders who helped mark an era that revolutionized this art form. (No, it didn’t start with Rachel Brice, but much earlier with Jamila Salimpour—and more directly—Masha Archer.)

“Teaching this dance fills my soul with delight,” Paulette Rees Denis writes in chapter nine. Where her vision (as a teacher) of a student’s progression is clearly stated, every teacher must nurture his or her students for them to be able to progress in any art form, and the feedback given by the teacher of both new and old students is not often shared.  However, the author makes a very detailed demography of her dance students, and she explains that during the teenage years these young students are often the hardest ones to sign up for classes (a phenomenon about which I fully agree). The joy of dancing and the satisfaction of passing it on to other aspiring dancers led her to create her Gypsy Caravan Teacher Certification Program and in the last chapter, she describes her ups and downs while giving life to next generation teachers.

She fully describes the progress of a dancer’s journey through her dance life, through a performance process, to achieving a full awareness off the moment.  The full story is in this Tribal Belly dance history book—much as the author lived through it.

I would recommend Paulette’s book as an option for dancers who are interested in obtaining a background of this fairly recent dance style.  I do not consider it a “must-have” for every Belly dancer’s library; however, it is very inspirational, produced with high quality printing and beautiful full-color photos.

Zil Rating= 4 zils

 

Belly Dance for the Versatile Dancer V. 1: Foundations by Zanbaka 
This rather interesting book about the foundations of Belly dance clearly states that its foundations originate in the dancers posture, her body awareness through foot positions, and foot patterns. It discusses the journey of the warm up and the cool down phases of dance in a descriptive style that includes black and white photos of all the postures recommended for this part of the class.

The chapter on Music and Rhythms is brief but has the essentials, like music measures, are included and described for those who do not know what the term “measure” means when applied to music.  However, Baladi Maqsoum and Saidi rhythms are the only ones described in this volume.

The chapter about Percussive and Shimmy Concepts is interesting because it directs readers how to apply different directions in order to make variations of movement out of a shimmy. For example, in a Figure 8 or a Hip Circle, the shapes are pictured for you “tu visualiza” but not all are described until later volumes. Dance terms and concepts are used throughout this book’s chapters, and Zanbaka emphasizes it in order to help the dancer have better mental retention, which I agree would be helpful. Dancers today are not only dancers, they are mothers, wives, lawyers, nannies, doctors, waitresses and are always multitasking, so it is very hard to retain choreography until one’s next class.

This book gives you homework! There is one exercise in particular that I loved: Homework Number 2 in which Zanbaka asks you to get maps of Africa and of Europe to get the knowledge of where your dance originated. (There are still a few dancers and dance teachers out there that still do not know that Egypt is a part of the African continent!)

Although Zanbaka’s book establishes a versatile Belly dance format, in general, it does not focus on a specific Belly dance style. I noted in her background: Flamenco dance, East Indian, as well as Fitness dance, and basic dance education (like ballet, jazz, and tap).  I found this book was easy to understand, but as I read, its pages began falling out!  Perhaps this happened because it is a self-published work.  I admire the time and dedication to produce this book but would greatly recommend a higher quality of publishing because the content is a fitting resource for Belly dancers, and it would be a shame to loose a page.

I recommend this book for aspiring belly dance students and to Belly dance instructors who have little background in general dance technique.

Zil Rating=1 1/2 zils

 

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