A Big Picture
Burns' "Belly Dance, Celebrating the Sacred Feminine"
Reviewed by Stasha
How the Belly
dance world has changed during the 30 years in which I’ve been
its participant! Once, I had to search for music and imagery,
but now, it regularly comes into my email inbox directly. In
this case, it was a simple email announcing a new book release
scheduled for October 2008: “Belly Dance, Celebrating the Sacred
Feminine”, by Martha Elena Burns. Another email was from my
friend, Amira of Las Vegas, who said, in part: “This book is,
perhaps, the biggest in the world of Belly dance photography
that’s ever been created...” and she sent along additional
70,000 photos of Belly dancers were made in creating this
10” x 12.5” coffee table book 160 full color pages
dancers’ vellum overlays
(as of this writing), tome intrigued me instantly, and I contacted
the author for further information (http://bellydancebook.net/).
book is meant, among other things, to be a source of unity
and celebration in the entire Belly dance community,”
said Martha Elena Burns.
and dances with her family in Santa Monica, California, and
she photographs Belly dance throughout the United States. This
book features images photographed during a 10-year period,
both in black and white and color, in nature settings, and
during live performances.
I asked for,
and was granted, the opportunity to see an advanced finished
copy (a galley copy), to interview the author, and report to
you what I have learned. I believe this book will be of interest
to more than the Belly dance community alone. It contains prose
and poetry concerning passion, the goddess, and the power of
the sacred feminine. It’s also a meditation on the healing
found in this most ancient of dances!
Northrup, MD (best-selling author of “Women’s Bodies,
Women’s Wisdom”) has set its tone in her forward. Several
years ago, Dr. Northrup was transported by a Belly dance
class experience, feeling a deep connection and sense of
I first started to do a simple veil dance, I nearly fell
to the floor weeping,” she writes, “it was a profound and
powerful experience I will never forget.” She continues,
in part: “ ... Belly dance reawakens ancient wisdom in
our bodies..... tapping into my Divine power through the
movements of creation that are part of this wondrous dance....”
and concludes “These movements are a pathway to pleasure,
fitness and stamina.”
“Interestingly enough, I discovered Belly dancing and Women’s
Bodies, Women’s Wisdom at the same time. After my first
miscarriage (a total of four), my pre-natal yoga instructor
recommended Belly dancing as a way to exercise and heal my
body and mind, and to re-focus my energy toward a positive
and constructive endeavor. I walked into my first Belly dance
class feeling depressed and angry. However, after a few weeks
of reading the mind-body concepts (in ‘Women’s Bodies, Women’s
Wisdom’) and having been blissfully immersed in the rhythmic
spirit of Belly dance, I embraced my feminine soul for the
first time. Passion for living returned along with the deepest
respect and reverence for life. The pivotal moment in time
was the beginning of exploring and discovering the mind-body
connection and Belly dancing. It was also the beginning of
my Belly dance photography book.”
“.....by the time the book was almost completed, I realized
that it was more than a photographic journey. The title became
‘Belly Dance, Celebrating the Sacred Feminine’, a title which
pays tribute to and encompasses the wild woman, the goddess,
the great mother goddess, and all that relates to the soul,
divinity, and creation.
of photographs represents and honors women of all sizes, colors,
and ages dancing their wisdom, grace, beauty, and power. I
want to share—especially with women—the profound connection
I feel with all women through Belly dance.”
thoughts are reflected throughout the book, for example:
joyous afternoon at my friend’s family home in Cairo, his
mother and I danced until we couldn’t anymore. She plopped
onto the couch, and as she adjusted her headscarf, she
said, “Oh no! I danced too much! I should go pray now.”
I answered, “Oh? But I just saw you praying.” - Eva Cernik
As well as
dancers’ self-actualizing statements; for example:
is not great because of her technique. A Dancer is great
because of her passion.” -Martha Graham
voices of this book are the images of dancers, a lot of them!
If you like costumes, you’ll love this book. Its first image
is a breath-taking swirl of skirts and veil that seems to capture
the dancer at the moment she appears to embody a glass sculpture
by Dale Chihuly.
employs an inventive photo collage of movement: on one page,
several photos of the same dancer executing the full range
of the movement. Martha has the uncanny ability to capture
a dancer at the perfect moment of the movement without losing
the vitality of the action.
these exquisite, beautiful images, I am impressed with
Martha’s ability to delve deeply into each dancer’s essence.”
stunning realistic images, there are artistic treatments, printing
techniques, metallic paper, and image manipulation, transcending
into the realm of pure aesthetic art. One such textural image
is a metallic print of a dancer superimposed on a crunchy close
up of sparkly sequins.
and text may have become too ethereal: one vellum page was
so dream-like, so sheer, the image was almost too ghostly to
see, the text not read easily. (I heard that some of the vellum
pages have been edited out of the final copy—this may have
been one of them.) However, this technique was used again—much
more effectively—several pages later where the translucent
vellum dream of a dancer with her veil is paired with a photo
of the same dancer with her veil in the rolling surf. Then,
once again, this technique is creatively employed where a translucent
dream-like veil juxtaposes a stronger static pose beneath,
as if one dancer is dreaming the other.
features inspiring quotations from iconic women’s literature:
to Avalon” and “Goddesses in Everywoman” by Jean
Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer
Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa
Pinkola Estes, and others.
a woman senses that there is a mythic dimension to something
she is undertaking, that knowledge touches and inspires deep
creative centers in her.” Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.
are fully referenced in the book’s index should you wish to
read them in their entirety.)
is a work of art, a truly astonishing array of images. The
content is very inclusive and features all age ranges, body
types and styles. You will see yourself, your best self, in
is a dance
More info: http://bellydancebook.net/
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
In Belly Dance Costuming”by Stasha Vlasuk, Vol 1 book
review by Robin Alnisa Wood
This is a good book for both sewing veterans and beginners alike.
Bellydance: Level One DVD Review by Eugenia
by Temple of Jehan. This is followed by a “body prayer”performed
by a number of women in similar garb. While this segment is graceful
and calming, I found it at the same time somewhat creepy, perhaps
due to the haunting background music and repeating vocals.
Lentini and Carvanserai Dance Theatre: “Argumentum
Ornithologicum”Report and Review by Elaine
7-10, 2007, Hudson Guild Theatre, New York City, most photos
by author, show photos by Mia Moy
8-12-08 Review: "Allure
of the East: Orientalism in New York, 1850-1930" at
the New York Historical Society by Thalia
small one-room exhibit with its narrow geographic focus--the
city O. Henry dubbed “Baghdad-on-the-Subway”--presents
much for dancers to consider. As belly dance continues to gain
popularity, what is this continuing "allure" of the
Orientalist inspired arts? When is attraction to this aesthetic
drawn from a desire to understand other cultures and when is
it driven by desire to market ourselves?
Wood' s "The Dancing Cymbalist–How to play music
with finger cymbals and dance at the same time." Book
Review by Yasmela
I was eager to review this book in hopes that it would
be a new tool to help revive the dying art of finger cymbal playing.
Jenna Woods seems to share that hope.
Redoux- Bellydance with Jillina DVDs Reviewed by Yasmela
On the whole, this is a great set of instructional DVDs.
They are top-notch quality and well worth the price. Even the
minor annoyances of the camera work on the performance sections
is very small compared with the wretched production quality of
many comparably priced instructional DVDs. These are definitely
top of the line.
to the Gothla! Dancing Along the Sulk Road Review of 3
DVDs by Rebecca Firestone
The costumes are fabulous. It's almost like—who
needs all that dance technique if you're wearing an enormous
leather headdress that makes you look like an alien refugee from
Star Wars? Tempest's approach in particular is a painterly one,
not surprising from a student of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Trade Like Any Other: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt, Book
Review by Kathleen Wittick Fraser
Van Nieuwkerk had as her main objective an examination
of the professions of musician and belly dancer in contemporary
Egypt and an identification of the influence of these professions
on the status of their practitioners, the underlying question
being "Are dancers and singers considered disreputable,
and if so, for what reasons?"
of Desire: A Foreign Dancer in Cairo, 2006, Review by
I believe that any dancer who has the desire to go to
Cairo to work will benefit from the experiences of Yasmina and
the other working dancers whom she asked to contribute. One will
come away having a better understanding of the Arabic culture
and how the dance is viewed within that culture.