Belly Dance

Three Introductory Books about Belly Dance – Review

Cairo Lorna dance show

Professional dancer Lorna performing in Cairo. An inspiration for all raqs sharqi learners.

If you are new to oriental dance, after having taken the first few lessons and once you realise that this is the type of dance you enjoy, you may want to find out more by reading some books on the subject. This is what I did when I was a beginner in my first and second year practising belly dancing. I loved this dance genre from the beginning, but I wanted to know more about it. Below you can read a review of the first three books I read about belly dance, which I found very useful. I am not able to learn movements from books and I find that (apart from live lessons) DVDs and videos are better. However, it is useful to read some good books on the topic, to get some ideas of the movements which are possible, get some general knowledge about the roots of the dance and take in some various pieces of information.

See below the reviews of:

Bellydance by Keti Sharif

This is a very small book, but packed with information. It is basic information, but, when you are a beginner and discovering everything from the start, it is very useful. This book, basically gives you, in a short and succinct form, the basis on which to build your future knowledge as a belly dancer. Because it is small, this book is easy to carry and it has glossy pages with nice illustrations. Overall, I found this book to be useful when I was a beginner, to get an overview and an introduction to the rich world of belly dance. The part that I have found the most useful throughout the years though, as I will explain below, is the one about music and rhythms.

The writer, Keti Sharif, is the author of the A-Z Bellydance course; she is from Australia but she teaches and performs Egyptian style worldwide and she also organises dance courses and events in Egypt. This book is structured in five parts, which I describe below.

Part 1

This part is the one that I personally found the most useful in this book. There is a very short section about history, which is not the best section of this book, however, as it is not an in depth account, for which you need to read several books and articles to get the big picture. The content I found most useful in this part is where Keti writes about musical instruments, music interpretation and rhythms. This is information which you cannot usually find in other books and which is extremely important to understand this dance and build good foundations. In particular, I have found myself often referring back to the rhythms section, which, together with Hossam Ramzy’s CD ‘Rhythms of the Nile’, has been my guide on rhythms for the last few years. This is because Keti does not just list the rhythms, but she also breaks each one down with taks and dums and gives the tempo of each.

Part 2

This part is about the physical side of belly dance. It starts with highlighting its benefits and it then covers a few warm-up exercises, body isolations, accents and travelling steps. Even though, as I mentioned, I find it hard to learn movements from a book, reading this part has enabled me to have an overview of the oriental dance movement vocabulary and its basic components. Once you understand what these are, you will then be able to build on this knowledge and I found that the key to a more rounded understanding of dance is reading about it and reflecting on it, as well as practicing.

Part 3

This is the part which, although I enjoyed reading it, I found hardest to apply in practice. It starts with turns and transitions and it then suggests some simple routines for belly dance, which I never applied in practice. This part then goes into describing some props with advice and guidance on how to use them. In particular it mentions veil, stick and finger cymbals. Although I eventually learnt about props from classes and DVDs, reading this section made me interested in finding out more about props and it is a good introduction to this topic.

Part 4

This part is about different styles of belly dance and other types of Middle Eastern dance. It is a very good introduction, concise but accurate. It is perfect for beginners to become familiar with the different styles and the terminology.

Part 5

This is about costumes and which are more appropriate for different types of performances. It is followed b y a glossary, at the end of the book, useful for terminology.

Belly Dancing Basics by Laura A. Cooper

The thing I liked the most about this book are the photographs. The topic is about the practical side of the dance, rather than the cultural background. There is, however, a short introduction with the history of this dance. Although it is not very in depth, it is accurate enough considering that the history is not the main focus of this book. Overall, this book is good for those who are able to learn movements from books, as the information on movement is pretty detailed with good broken down explanations and plenty of photos. Even if you do not learn from books though, this one is a great addition to your collection as it looks very nice!

The book starts with advice on what to wear, how to warm up and basic posture and positions. It then goes on to explain movements from the most basic ones to turns and travelling steps. It includes isolations of the torso, hips, hands, neck, arms and belly. Although I find that, for me, learning movements from a book is not ideal, if you instead find that learning this way suits you, this book is probably the best for this purpose. This is because the moves are broken down well, with a numbered photo for each stage of the movement.

After the explanation of movements, there are four chapters dedicated to the use of props. In particular, veil, sword and Isis wings get a chapter each. If you like learning from books, this is perfect for learning these props as Laura Cooper explains a lot of movements, which are all broken down and with a lot of detailed photographs. One last chapter about props includes candles, stick and finger cymbals. The last chapter in the book is about general performing tips and it suggests a few routines you can use.

Belly Dancing – The Sensual Art of Energy and Spirit by Pina Coluccia, Anette Paffrath and Jean Pütz

This book also has very nice photographs, but in terms of information is the one I have used the least. The first half of the book is about the history of oriental dance, but it highlights the maternal goddess element connecting it to ancient civilizations. However, there is not really enough evidence to suggest that the origins of belly dance goes that far back, so not everybody agrees with this view these days. The book then goes through the mental and physical benefits of belly dancing connecting it to different stages in a woman’s life and it suggests some warm up exercises.

The second half of the book is about movements, from basic posture to body isolations of hips, chest, shoulders, hands and wrists, arms (a big section), head, shimmies, steps and combinations. Overall, although there are some good pictures, not every single move explanation has pictures to accompany it (unlike in Laura Cooper’s book), so it can be tricky to learn some of those moves from this book. The very last part of the book is a very brief section with some Middle Eastern food recipes.

The books I have reviewed above are only three of the many books available on belly dancing. It is great to be able to explore and read on this topic and, if you have read other books which you liked, please feel free to contact me to let me know!

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Valeria is a dance researcher completing a PhD in dance and heritage. Valeria also teaches and performs as a belly dance but also enjoys learning ballet, jazz dance and other dance genres.

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