Thoughtful Technique in a Beautiful Package
Jo Wise’s "The JWAAD Book of Belly Dance"
Book Review by Stasha
posted July 17, 2013
The JAWAAD Book of Belly Dance is a beautiful book to be savored; to be read over a cup of tea or a glass of wine, over a leisurely afternoon or long into the night. You donʼt have that kind of time in your busy life? Well, neither do I!
Fortunately, this beautiful book can be opened at any time, to any page, for any length of time you can spare, and it will offer you concise instruction, illustrative photos, inclusive models, creative costuming, witty sayings, insightful technique and imaginative choreographic notes!
A performer, researcher and teacher focused on the dances of Egypt and the Middle East since 1981, and who has helmed the Josephine Wise Academy of Arabic Dance (JWAAD) since 1990, Josephine Wise states a distinct purpose in making this book available:
"to enable westerners to understand both the physical technique and the cultural intricacies of Belly Dance."
Ms. Wise begins her book with a succinct history, giving an overview of the theories of origin and dissemination of Middle Eastern dance. A brief synopsis of styles and costumes follows, as well as a review of instrumentation, song styles and popular singers of the 20th and 21st centuries. A breakdown of the most popular rhythms is presented in an instructive, easy-to-understand format. With her background in teaching both Pilates and the Alexander Technique, Josephine focuses on the correct alignment and use of all the major muscle groups in her section on “The Basics” (postures and positions, warm ups and cool downs).
The “Techniques” section is the strong core of this volume; a description of many basic moves and patterns. It is a textbook for teachers and students alike, offering a depth of technical advice. As a dance form with a tradition of oral and visual transmission, any book on Middle Eastern dance can be a challenging way to learn these movements.
For this reason, this book may not be appropriate for the absolute beginner, as the uninitiated may lack the insight particular to these postures. That said however, all the steps are clearly articulated, and an adventuresome ﬁrst-timer as well as a student with some basic Middle Eastern dance posture and movement history would be well served by these references. For example, sometimes a movement is very subtle, as in the tilting small hip circle. Featured on page 74, this movement is so subtle that the accompanying series of photos aren’t enough to adequately portray the movement; it is the combination of the photo series, text description, and the muscular technique hint (in this case a sequence of “ab” and “glute” contractions) that completes the knowledge transmission.
The same strategically descriptive method is used to convey over a dozen main "families of movement". For example, “Figure 8s” of hips and/or rib cage: forward, reverse, horizontal, vertical and (the cleverly named) "Roller Coaster" which designates a diagonal application. Often associated with the Egyptian regional dance Hagalla, the so-called “3/4 Shimmies” are also explored in great variation. As an instructor, I enjoyed the thoughtful teaching of the “Camel Walk” (page 91) and it’s nine variations. That’s a difﬁcult maneuver to teach, this would be a good tool for instructors.
The section called “Props” (stage properties) suggests several manipulations of fabric, such as a veil, using the same photo series plus text description used so effectively in the “Techniques” section. The fourteen entries in this section also include an overview and choreographic suggestions for several balancing feats. Folkloric dances, like the Egyptian “Melaya Lef” and the Khaleegy “Thobe Nashal” are also featured here.
In this Props section, I respectfully offer a different insight on one point she makes, and perhaps she is making it facetiously. Regarding snake dancing: it would appear Josephine is not a fan of using a snake in a performance, and most assuredly, not every performance is appropriate for a snake. As I’ve had the opportunity to dance with snakes myself and have known and performed with several remarkable snake dancers, I hope I can assure readers that Ms. Wise is joking when she warns a large constrictor can wrap around your neck and strangle you! Snake dancers are performing with beloved pets. (Although they can be mischievous! I’m remembering a show where Asia’s 8 foot boa sneakily reached his tail down and wrapped around one of her ankles, then as she lowered his head he quickly reached down and wrapped his upper body around her other ankle, effectively tripping her! I swear I heard a "sss sss sss" as he laughed about it!)
A ﬁnal section of the JWAAD Book of Belly Dance gives insight into the JWAAD Personal Development Program and encouragement on where to ﬁnd and engage with the Middle Eastern dance community in your area.
Particularly as a teaching and learning tool, I believe readers would be interested in this informative reference volume; it’s a natural for teachers as well as students, written by someone of deep experience and years of exposition. I was inspired to jump up and execute many of the moves as I read them. Yet, wouldn’t it be great if I had the time to just savor the book over a cup of tea or a glass of wine, over a leisurely afternoon or long into the night?
Rating: 3 1/2 zils
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