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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

A Review of

Belly Dancing for Health & Relaxation

by Tina Hobin

 

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Summary

Published in 1982, this book comes from the era before belly dance instructional videos were widely available. Although it gives a little bit of "history" about the dance and a little bit of information about costuming, its primary focus is to use photographs and text to teach belly dancing moves. The author is a long-time dancer based in the United Kingdom (U.K.)
Cover

 

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Fact Sheet

Title

Belly Dancing For Health And Relaxation

Author

Tina Hobin

ISBN

0-7156-1605-6

Publisher

Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd. (both U.S. and U.K.)

Category

Non-Fiction: How to Belly Dance

Rating

StarStar

Number of Pages

96

Published In

1982

 

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Description

Back in the 1970's and 1980's, there were a number of books published on how to belly dance. Most were written by dancers in the U.S., but this one by Tina Hobin features an author from the U.K.

You know a book is going to be cringe-worthy when its very first sentence says, "Belly dancing is no longer confined to the world of burning sand and the equally burning passions of the harem." This kind of nonsense only serves to reinforce stereotypes that damage our dance form and prevent it from taking its place in the artistic dance world. Unfortunately, this represents the tone of the entire book, treating belly dancing as being little more than a game for the boudoir.

Chapter 1, which talks about "The History of Belly Dancing", is very weak. It makes many assertions about dance in ancient times, including dance in locales that have nothing to do with modern-day belly dance as we know it. For example, it asserts that the belly dance we know today is virtually unchanged as compared to that done 50 centuries ago in Pharaonic times, yet offers no evidence to show what the dance in ancient Egypt may have looked like. In keeping with the overall tone of the book, this chapter explores erotic tales of temple priestesses in India (a region that has almost nothing to do with belly dance as we know it) while failing to mention the important 20th century pioneers of Egyptian raqs sharqi such as Tahia Carioca and Samia Gamal.

Chapter 2, "Music and Instruments", takes a step in the right direction. It provides a cursory introduction to rhythms, but focuses mostly on musical instruments. These include kemengeh (rebaba), darabukka (dumbek/tabla), kanoun, dulcimer, oud, ney, zumarrah, arghool, and bazooki. Drawings show what some of these look like, and text describes a bit about the physical properties of each instrument and how it is played. The information it presents is okay so far as it goes, but with only a paragraph or two at most dedicated to each instrument, the coverage is cursory.

Chapter 3, titled "The Exercises", contains a series of exercises to use in building muscle tone. These are generally beneficial to belly dancers, and offer some useful ideas on workout options that can help develop the muscles needed to belly dance. This chapter is extensively illustrated with photos of Hobin demonstrating the exercises while wearing a leotard and fishnet tights. This attire looks very dated by 21st century standards, but on the plus side it is easy to see exactly how to position the body for each exercise.

Chapter 4, at long last, delves into the topic of how to do some belly dance moves. For this, Hobin's attire shifts to that of a full performance-worthy belly dance costume of decorated bra, hipband, and 3-panel circle skirt. The performance costume seems like an odd choice for teaching dance moves, since the skirt frequently makes it impossible to see where the weight is and what the legs are doing. This chapter is lavishly illustrated with many black-and-white photographs showing stages of each dance move.

The chapter is organized in a way that seems helpful for learning. It introduces 3-4 moves, and then suggests a short "routine" (combination) that puts these moves together into a group. This method, if followed, will help build the ability to do transitions. The moves it describes are many of the basic moves of belly dance, including hip circles, figure 8's (infinity loops), camel walk, hip thrusts, and shimmy variations.

Chapter 5 moves into arm movements. There is a page of information on playing finger cymbals, followed by a few pages of ideas for dancing with a veil.

Chapter 6 describes a collection of floor work moves. As with previous chapters, Hobin wears a full performance-style costume in the photos illustrating the moves.

The book closes with Chapter 7, which talks about how to make a belly dance costume. This includes instructions on making a circle skirt, a rectangular panel skirt, harem pants, a hip band (also known as a belly dance belt), a costume bra, anklets, and armbands. Dancers interested in aiming for a retro 1970's look will find this section to be very helpful.

 

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Is It Right for You?

 

You Will Probably Enjoy This Book If...

  • You are a teacher of belly dance and looking for ideas on how to explain moves to your classes.
  • You don't find helpful the explanations offered by your teacher or by the instructional videos on how to do certain moves, so you're looking for another description to see if that helps.
  • You're interested in knowing more about how people learned about belly dancing without a teacher before the era of home video and the Internet made information more readily available.
  • You're nostalgic for the style of belly dancing that was done in the 1970's and early 1980's and you'd like to see a resource created by a dancer who was working during that era.

 

This Book Probably Isn't Right for You If...

  • You're trying to learn belly dance at home without a teacher. (Videos would be more effective than a book.)
  • You would feel alienated by a book that encourages the "belly dance as tool for seduction" stereotype.

 

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

 

What I Liked:

  • The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs and line drawings.
  • Hobin's explanations are reasonably clear and in nearly all cases I am able to figure out what kind of move she is trying to teach.
  • The photographs are reasonably good quality, in focus with uncluttered backgrounds.
  • The costuming instructions are reasonably well written.
  • Hobin chooses appropriate items to suggest for beginner costuming, and offers helpful explanations of how to make them.
  • There is a brief chapter on music and instruments. The textual descriptions of the instruments are good, and the drawings are excellent.

 

What I Didn't Like:

  • I have some difficulty with unfamiliar words. I'm assuming that's due to regional differences — Hobin is in the United Kingdom and I'm in the United States. For example, although I'm accomplished at sewing, I had no idea what "petersham" when it was mentioned in her costume chapter. I eventually figured out that it's the same thing we call grosgrain ribbon in the U.S., but I was puzzled at first.
  • The description of what Middle Eastern music is like isn't very well-written.
  • Hobin places far too much emphasis for my taste on the harem fantasy notions of this being a dance of seduction. The blurb on the back cover sets the tone for the book: "Belly dancing was once a thing of burning sands and the burning passions of the harem." That approach was widely used by belly dancers to sell their craft in the 1970's and early 1980's, but it doesn't work so well in the 21st century. I can't speak for the U.K. where Hobin lives, but in the U.S. such an approach to belly dancing would be unwelcome at county fairs, city festivals, nursing homes, and other environments in which belly dancers like to create performance opportunities for their students. By encouraging her readers to think in sexual terms as they learn the dance, Hobin is preparing them to alienate audiences in their communities or limiting their future performance options.
  • In the floor work section, all of Hobin's photographs emphasize a great deal of bare leg, all the way up to the crotch, with the knees pointing directly to the camera. This would probably be okay in a performance for an adult-oriented nightclub audience, but wouldn't go over so well in a performance at family-oriented events. At least, not in most U.S. communities. I don't know whether the U.K. where Hobin lives would be different. I found myself wishing Hobin would have included some comments talking about how when it's okay to expose so much flesh versus when it's better to be more modest.
  • When Hobin teaches dance moves, she does so in a costume which includes a full skirt. Because of that, it's often difficult to figure out the positioning of the feet, legs, and hips with respect to each other. I would have preferred to see her teaching in either pants or a leotard that would have made it easier to see her leg and foot positioning.
  • Not every move is accompanied by photographs. While this is generally reasonable, there were a couple of moves where I found myself wishing for a photograph I could study, because it wasn't clear to me from the text what to do.

 

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Conclusion

I personally have a great deal of difficulty learning how to do a dance move from a book. I've tried it in the past from other books, and it simply does not work for me. Although Hobin makes a valid attempt to use photographs and text to explain how certain movements work, I just can't see this book taking the place of a live teacher or a good instructional video. It's best to learn from a live teacher because she can give you feedback. If a teacher is not available, then a video is better than a book because it shows how the dance looks in motion. Also, live teachers and videos will expose you to the music, which a book cannot do.

Compared to other books that were published in the 1970's and 1980's on how to do belly dance moves, I find this to be one of the weaker ones. Still, it may have some value for people who are looking for text descriptions of how to do belly dance moves, and it definitely has archival value in showing how belly dance was presented to the public during that era.

 

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Disclosures

There is nothing to disclose. I have never had any contact with anyone associated with this book.

 

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