Gilded Serpent presents...
A Book Review:
"Also Known as Sadzia!
The Belly Dancer
written by Merrill Joan Gerber
review by Karen Roberts

I ran across this YA book (young adult) by Merrill Joan Gerber (who is a Belly dancer and a fiction teacher) when I searched Belly dance at my local library.  Published in 1987, "Also Known As Sadiza The Belly Dancer" is the story of Sandy, a 16-year-old girl who can never live up to her mother's expectations of thinness and beauty.  When Mom drags Sandy to the recreation center for "Thinnercize" classes, Sandy stumbles in to a Belly dance class and falls in love with the dance form.  True to YA formula, she also falls for the dumbek (drum) player, Samir.  Sandy (Sadzia) begins to assert herself with her mother, gaining self-confidence and self-acceptance as she learns to dance.  Additionally, in typical YA fashion, we follow Sandy as she grows into her personal truth, finds herself, and, of course, gets her guy.

This book offers some depth beyond "chick-lit" (the current term for light-weight).  The story threads include: an inter-generational friendship with an eighty-year-old woman who is teaching Sandy Yiddish, Sandy's distant relationship with her father, another friendship with a hippie mom whose aerobicizing daughter  bonds equally with Sandy's mother (Ah, irony!), and the complex mother-daughter dynamic that marks adolescence.

There are even brief insights regarding the implications of a Jewish girl learning an Arabic dance form, dancing, aging, and dreams deferred.

As with many YA books, this one touches on mature themes such as loss, rebellion, and even adultery in a brief mention, and in a teaching context.  However, it also falls back on the typical formula of rising conflict, rapid resolution, and a happy conclusion.  The dance information portrayed in the book is, largely, sound, (although Sandy's instant success as a "natural belly dancer" is a bit unbelievable!) and Sandy's growing self-acceptance and brightening future are compelling.

There were a few scenes when I felt sure that Samir would turn into a cad.  Perhaps I have too much angst in my YA days, obviously now long past, but thankfully, those evolved into moments of gentle romance.  The mother is stereotypical: pushy, shrewish, and critical.  Sandy's father is portrayed as a silent savior.  The stereotyped portrayals are unfortunate, and the ending ties up too neatly and too quickly as is the case with many short YA novels, Despite these criticisms, I still found the exploration of Belly dance as a tool for a young woman's growth unusual and enjoyable.

"Also Known As Sadiza The Belly Dancer" isn't heavy literary fiction, but it was a fun little read at 182 pages, and girls who are interested in ethnic dance might like it.

 I found the cover rather incongruous: it shows a drawing of a girl who appears closer to 8 rather than 16, appearing that the story was written for a much younger audience.  If this book were reprinted with a more contemporary cover, it may have become quite popular today.

 The story contains no profanity or sex, has a brief mention of infidelity, and is probably the only YA book that one could research under the keywords zills or beledi!  The book appears to be available only as used copies on, so it may already be out of print, but I hope  that I have shined a spotlight on this somewhat obscure YA belly dance book.  Good luck finding it at your local library!

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