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

Belly Dancers' Reading List, by Shira

 

Table of Contents

 

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Introduction

Every raqs baladi (belly dance) student who decides to make this dance a serious part of her life should learn more about Middle Eastern music, dance, history, and culture, regardless of which style of dance she chooses to study and perform. It's even more important for everyone who intends to teach this dance form to learn more about these topics, again, regardless of which dance style she intends to teach.

However, for someone new to these subjects, it can be confusing to sort out which ones offer the most accurate, interesting information.

This reading list offers a place to start with suggestions for well-researched, well-written books about Middle Eastern dance, music, and culture.

 

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History of Belly Dance

A Trade Like Any Other

by Karin van Nieuwkerk

What It's About

Describes the history of women singing and dancing as professional entertainers in Egypt from the 19th century into the present.

Mini-Review

Difficult to read because of its academic language, but provides valuable background on history of our dance.

Shira's Rating

StarStarStarStar

Read Shira's full-length review.

A Trade Like Any Other

Looking for Little Egypt

by Donna Carlton

What It's About

Looks for the facts behind the legend of Little Egypt, the entertainer who brought "belly dancing" to the attention of the American people at the Chicago World's Fair in the 1890's.

Mini-Review

Fabulous photos, fun to read, very informative.

Shira's Rating

StarStarStarStarStar

Read Shira's full-length review.

Looking for Little Egypt

Before They Were Belly Dancers: European Accounts of Female Entertainers in Egypt, 1760-1870

by Kathleen W. Fraser

What It's About

This book collects together 19th-century eyewitness accounts by travelers in the Middle East who saw raqs baladi performers. The author offers some analysis to help readers understand the context of what the writers said.

Mini-Review

Kathleen Fraser is an excellent researcher. She presents these travelers' tales about dancers in a way that is lively and fun to read. At the same time, she remains faithful to the historical facts. I admire this book, and highly recommend it to anybody who is interested in learning more about belly dance history.

Shira's Rating

StarStarStarStarStar

Before They Were Belly Dancers

You Asked Aunt Rocky

by Morocco

What It's About

In this book, long-time Oriental dance artist Morocco (whom many dancers affectionately call "Aunt Rocky") shares the knowledge that she has gained over the course of a career that has spanned over four decades. She talks about the different forms of folkloric dance she has found in her travels throughout the Middle East and North Africa, examines history of raqs sharqi, and offers advice on being a working dancer today.

Mini-Review

The book's writing style is informal and friendly, making it fun to read. The question-and-answer format makes it easy to consume the information in bite-sized pieces, though I personally might have preferred a more structured narrative. I found myself wishing Rocky would have identified more of her sources, but at least the fruits of her lifelong research are here in this book to point the rest of us in the right direction to do further research of our own.

Shira's Rating

StarStarStarStar

You Asked Aunt Rocky

 

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Snake Hips

by Anne Soffee

What It's About

With a playful sense of humor, the author shares her personal experience of what it was like to come into the North American belly dance subculture as a beginning student. Her observations about our dance scene come across as affectionate, while at the same time poking just a bit of fun. For example, when she mentions being invited to join a troupe, she likens it to being invited to join a sorority.

Mini-Review

Anne shows us belly dancers how to laugh at ourselves by describing her own dance journey in a light-hearted way. Even though she sometimes tackles uncomfortable situations such as troupe drama, I laughed throughout the book, from beginning to end.

Shira's Rating

StarStarStarStar

Snake Hips

 

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Middle Eastern Culture

Dream Makers on the Nile

by Mustafa Darwish

What It's About

This book offers photographs and mini-biographies of legendary actors and actresses who appeared in Egyptian cinema, focusing on the ones who made the greatest impact in the eyes of the author.

Mini-Review

The photographs in this book are a feast for the eyes, and the profiles of silver screen legends provide a helpful introduction to Egyptian cinema. However, I am disappointed that the book doesn't include Samia Gamal.

Shira's Rating

StarStarStarStar

Dream Makers on the Nile

Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village

by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea

What It's About

This describes Fernea's two-year stay in a tiny rural village in Iraq during the 1950's, where she adopted the locals' clothing and lifestyle.

Mini-Review

The writing style is easy to read, and the narrative is very interesting. Just remember, it was written half a century ago, and cultures evolve.

Shira's Rating

StarStarStarStarStar

Read Shira's full-length review.

Guests of the Sheik

Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood

by Fatima Mernissi

What It's About

A Muslim feminist, describes what it was like to grow up in a Moroccan household in the 1940's and 1950's.

Mini-Review

The writing style is easy to read, and it provides a very intimate look at Muslim family life in Morocco. Just remember, it was written half a century ago, and cultures evolve.

Shira's Rating

StarStarStarStarStar

Read Shira's full-length review.

Dreams of Trespass

 

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Ancient Voices

Inanna: Queen Of Heaven And Earth

by Samuel Noah Kramer & Diane Wolkstein

What It's About

This book tells the stories that focus on the Sumerian goddess Inanna as their central character. It speaks of her as a young woman, as a seductress, and as a bride.

Mini-Review

This book is a valuable resource for people with a special interest in the goddess Inanna. The writing style uses poetic stanzas.

Shira's Rating

StarStarStarStar

Read Shira's full-length review.

Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth

 

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Fiction

Valide: A Novel of the Harem

by Barbara Chase-Riboud

What It's About

This historical fiction is based on the real-life story of Naksh-i-Dil, an American-born woman who rose to power in the Ottoman harem of the 18th century.

Mini-Review

This book is well-researched and absorbing to read. Chase-Riboud brings her characters to life.

Shira's Rating

StarStarStarStarStar

Read Shira's full-length review.

Valide: A Novel of the Harem

Angeline Gower Trilogy:

Book 1: Baby Love

Book 2: Desiring Cairo

Book 3: Tree of Pearls

by Louisa Young

What It's About

In this 3-book series of thrillers, Angeline is a former belly dancer who will never dance again due to an accident. She is raising her deceased sister's daughter as a single parent.

In the first book, Baby Love, the child's abusive father surfaces to demand custody. Angeline acts to protect her niece. In the process, Angeline learns about secrets from her past that are still haunting her life today.

The second book, Desiring Cairo, explores what happens when people from widely different cultural backgrounds find love, with complications thrown in by the assorted characters from the first book.

In the third book, Tree Of Pearls, Angeline finally puts to rest the ghosts of her past and reaches closure on the problems she was having with her love life.

Mini-Review

Although I wouldn't consider this series to be great literature, I found it entertaining to read and would definitely recommend it to others. The first book, Baby Love, gets off to a slow start, but if you stay with it, the second half picks up the pace and draws you in. It's worth sticking with it. I enjoyed the entire trilogy, and I'm thinking about reading it again soon.

Shira's Rating

Baby Love: StarStarStar

Desiring Cairo: StarStarStarStar

Tree of Pearls: StarStarStarStar

Read Shira's Full-Length Reviews

Baby Love

Desiring Cairo

Tree of Pearls

 

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