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

A Review of

Have Belly Will Travel

by Tanya Lemani

 

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Summary

This book contains the memoirs of Tanya Lemani, who worked as both a belly dancer and an actress during the 1960's. She appeared in a number of television shows and motion pictures, sometimes in roles that involved dancing and sometimes not. This book, her life story, provides a glimpse into what the life of a working dancer was like during the early 1960's, as well as highlighting the challenges that aspiring actresses faced during that era.
Cover

 

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Fact Sheet

Title

Have Belly, Will Travel: From Elvis and Star Trek to Ambassadors and Kings

Author

Tanya Lemani

ISBN

978-1424166749

Publisher

Publish America

Category

Non-Fiction: Biography
Non-Fiction: Belly Dance History

Rating

StarStarStarStar

Number of Pages

374

Published In

2007

 

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Description

This is the autobiography of Tanya Lemani, a woman who worked as both an actress and a belly dancer during the 1960's. It traces her life from growing up as a child in an immigrant family, to beginning work as a teen-ager performing belly dance in Las Vegas, to building up an elaborate Las Vegas show, to working in the movie and television industries. It tells of her encounters with government leaders such as the Shah of Iran, celebrities such as Elvis Presley and William Shatner, the Mafia, and many others.

The book also tells of Lemani's personal life - the men who romanced her and cheated on her, the friends who supported her through rough times, and the family dramas that swirled around her.

At times the tone of the book is light-hearted and happy, while at other times it shows the darker side of working in the entertainment industry. Lemani speaks openly and honestly about these dark times in her life, such as the experience of being raped by her boyfriend.

Because my personal interest in the book focuses around Lemani's work as a belly dancer, I find the sections where she talks about her dance jobs (both on-screen and off) to be fascinating. She speaks in detail about how she got started at age 16 as a dancer, and how her dance career evolved into crafting elaborate stage shows for her performances in Las Vegas. I'm fascinated to read about the types of people who came to see her Vegas stage shows and the interactions she had with these audiences before and after her shows. It makes me wish I too could have been there to see her perform! I also particularly enjoy reading about her work in the television and movie industries, particularly her dance jobs. And yet, I understand the frustration she voices at wanting to break out of the "belly dancer" niche and become a serious, successful actress.

 

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Is It Right for You?

 

You Will Probably Enjoy This Book If...

  • You are familiar with Lemani's appearances in a Star Trek episode, Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round, Head, The Hell With Heroes, a Get Smart episode, an I Dream of Jeannie episode, and many other movies and television shows.
  • You are interested in the history of U.S. belly dancing during its surge of popularity in the 1960's and 1970's, and would be interested in reading the life story of someone who worked as a dancer during that era.
  • You're a fan of old Hollywood movies and / or television shows, and would be interested in reading about someone's personal encounters with famous actors, actresses, and directors.
  • You're fascinated by old Las Vegas of the 1960's and would be interested in hearing stories of what it was like to live and work there as a performer during that time.
  • You enjoy reading memoirs of people who have lived interesting lives.
  • You enjoy collecting books related to belly dancing.

 

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

  • You know very little about movies and television shows of the 1960's and have no interest in reading about the people who worked in the industry at that time.
  • You're not interested in the memoirs of a dancer who worked during early surge of popularity belly dance enjoyed in the U.S. during the 1960's.

 

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

 

What I Liked:

  • Lemani offers a first-person account of a slice of U.S. belly dance history from an insider's perspective.
  • There's a real honesty about Lemani's writing style.
  • Lemani speaks very openly about her experiences working as a dancer and an actress - the good, the bad, and the ugly.
  • I find it quite interesting to read about what it was like for Lemani to work on the sets of movies and television shows in which I have seen her perform.
  • I always enjoy hearing artists talk about their work - the training, the motives, the craft of creating it. Lemani talks extensively about making costumes, designing shows, and developing her craft.

 

What I Didn't Like:

  • I find myself feeling rather exasperated with Lemani's stories about the poor choices she made regarding the men she dated.
  • It isn't always clear which movies Lemani performed dance scenes in versus which ones she had strictly acting roles in. As someone who is interested in acquiring some of these titles on home video, I would have liked for that to be clearer so I could choose the dance-scene ones.
  • There are many spelling and grammar mistakes throughout the book. It could have used better proofreading.

 

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Conclusion

The best autobiographies leave you wishing you could meet the person who wrote them, and Have Belly Will Travel has that effect on me. Through her work in the film and broadcast media, Lemani brought national awareness to Oriental dance and contributed to the highly popular U.S. belly dance fad of that era. She was influential to our art form while at the same time seeking to put the dance behind her and move on to other things. I would recommend her book to anybody who is interested in the U.S. angle of belly dance history. It isn't perfect, but it's content-rich with many fascinating adventures.

I find the tales of Lemani's love life to be exasperating because of some poor choices she made, but at the same time those tales show just what types of sacrifices were needed to work in the career she had chosen for herself.

I definitely recommend this book for the glimpse it offers into the life of a working dancer during a very influential time in U.S. belly dance history, as well as the insights it gives into the television and movie industry of its time.

 

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Disclosures

Lemani sent me a free copy of the book to review for my web site. Unfortunately, the envelope that was supposed to contain it arrived empty, torn, and muddy, with a note attached by the postal service apologizing for damaging my mail. So I ended up purchasing a copy to use for the review! Since then, I've had a fair amount of correspondence with Lemani about the book and her career, which I've enjoyed very much. We've never met in person, but I'd very much like to meet her someday!.

 

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To Buy It

 

Contact Information

TanaVision Productions
22425 Ventura Blvd. # 271
Woodland Hills, CA 91364
U.S.A.

Web Site: www.tanyalemani.com

 

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