OrientalDancer.net - Magic of Oriental Dance (Belly Dance)
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A Professional - Culture

By Salome

"A Professional - Primer" outlines the basic traits of a professional. The series is intended to act as a reference to develop said traits. To read previous installments visit the Article Index page and look for the titles "A Professional - ...".

Possesses correct knowledge of the culture relating to Oriental dance

Learning about the culture relating to Oriental and other folk dances from the Near and Middle East is nothing less than a life long pursuit. A definite obstacle in this journey is misinformation. Fiction abounds sold as hard facts. Consider the source before accepting something as a truth. When I asked dance ethnologist Morocco "what advice can you give those on a journey for knowledge?" her response was "the quest for more knowledge never ends and the most important word in a researcher's vocabulary is WHY. The 2nd most important is NOT. Why? Why not?"

On-line resources

Magic of Oriental Dance – Articles relevant to the topic include:

A Name, a Notion. "The term Belly Dance perpetuates a promoter's description founded in "racism, colonialism, and mid-Victorian Orientalist misconception..."

Roots of Oriental Dance. "All the women were singing softly and undulating their abdomens, then sharply pulling them in several times. The movements were much slower and stronger than what..."

A Brief History. "Oriental dance continued in this vein until the influx of European tourists in the 1800's. The Europeans created a demand for public performance and this sparked a segue..."

Just Say No. "Belly dance" was used by concubines to win the sultans favor. "Belly dance" is the eastern equivalent of strip tease. In a word – Erroneous!"

Faux or For Real? "In the same breath emulation should be executed with care. Because a dancer in Egypt wears a spandex dress that barely covers her backside or does something very..."

Guedra. "With hand-to-head gestures, she salutes the four corners: North, South, East and West, followed by obeisance’s to the four elements: Fire, Earth, Wind and Water..."

Schikhatt. "Vigorously dances the Schikhatt, exaggeratedly moving hips, stomach and breasts, for this is very definitely an erotic dance and the movements have to be visible in spite of..."

Persian Classical Dance. "Delicate hand movements, gentle upper body undulations, and facial expressions were the essential elements of this dance…"

Coming articles are Ghawazee, Tunisian women's dance, Zar, Debke, Raks al Nasha’al, Raks al Assaya, Floor work, Shemadan, sword dance, and veil use.

Morocco (www.casbahdance.org) - Articles relevant to the topic include:

Dance Directions: Old Forms & New Influences. Commentary on indigenous dances that have been influenced or altered to fit the Western standards of beauty.

"Belly Dancing" and Childbirth. Discusses the age old use of dance as a practical aid in natural child birth and the adaptation of it today by western childbirth education courses.

Getting Down to Floorwork. Points out the authenticity of floorwork within many folk dances in the Middle East. Focuses on the history and current state of floorwork in Egypt.

Prologue to the Ethics of Ethnic. Learning Oriental dance, music and customs from performers of the Middle East in the 1960's.

The Ethics of Ethnic. Myths and misconceptions of folk and Oriental dance.

So What Else is New (or Old)? Differences in Oriental dance styles from Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey… to America.

The Marrakesh Folk Festival. Vivid description of the Marrakesh Folk Festival in Morocco.

Don't Just Applaud, Throw Money!?! The role tipping performers has in demonstrating admiration within Middle Eastern culture.

The Art of Middle Eastern Dance (www.shira.net) – Articles relevant to the topic include:

A Dance For The Whole Family. Is it a dance of seduction, or a joyous family activity?

The Veil And Oriental Dance: Veil Dancing In North Africa And The Middle East. History of how veils have been used over the past century in the dancing of the Middle East and North Africa.

Fact Or Fantasy? There are many beliefs about the history of Middle Eastern music, dance, and apparel. Which ones are true?

Belly Dancing - Isn't That Like Stripping? Just why do people link belly dancing with stripping? Here's a historical and cultural perspective.

Cross-Dressing in Middle Eastern Dance. When and where men in the Middle East performed dressed as women.

That "Snake Charmer" Song. Find out how belly dancing first came to North America, and learn about the "snake charmer" song that so many non-dancers associate with belly dancing.

Dance of the Seven Veils. Why people think belly dancers do the "dance of the seven veils".

Why the Fuss Over Egyptian Style Music & Oriental Dance? Why so many people believe Egyptian style is the "real" Oriental dance.

Styles Of Belly Dance In The United States. Explores the differences between the three styles of belly dancing that are most popular in the United States: American Nightclub, American Tribal, and Modern Egyptian Nightclub. Read this before you attend your first belly dance festival in the United States so you can recognize the different dance styles that appear on stage!

A Dance By Any Other Name. What should we call it? Belly dance? Oriental dance? Raqs sharqi?

A Glossary Of Middle Eastern Dance Terms. Contains a list of more than 60 terms related to belly dancing along with their definitions and guidelines on pronunciation.

What Is Pharaonic Dance? What does it mean when a dancer says she performs "Pharaonic" dance, and where can you see performances of it?

Baladi. By Hossam Ramzy. The word "baladi" refers to a rich Egyptian cultural heritage. Egyptian musician Hossam Ramzy describes the culture that spawned the baladi dance style.

Recommended reading

Suggestions from Aisha Ali

The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians by Edward W. Lane - Written in Egypt between 1833 and 1835. An accurate description of Egyptian life at that time which covers a broad range of subjects, including costume, music, dance, a description of zar rituals and a chapter on the Ghawazee.

The Arab danse du ventre by Morroe Berger, Dances Perspectives 1961 which he reworked and expanded for Horizon Magazine - spring 1966. An intelligent and interesting article on the Belly Dance which also provides many historical sources of information which were not commonly known at the time.

Looking for Little Egypt by Donna Carlton. An engrossing book that sheds light on the legend of "Little Egypt" and describes the development of the 1893 World's Colombian Exposition, while focusing on the many musicians and dancers from the Middle East and North Africa who were brought to this country for the first time to entertain on the Midway Plaisance.

Excerpt from: Muruj al-dhahab (Golden Meadows) by Al-Mas'udi (d. ca. 957) A section of this is covered in Morroe Berger's, Horizon article, but it is also available to download from the IDD/Archiv-1.htm page on Donna Carlton's web site. Also available on her web site are descriptions by two early 20th century travelers of the Ouled Nail, an excerpt from DESERT WINDS by "Hafsa" 1927 and a selection from the Writings of Guy de Maupassant, Au Soleil or African Wanderings, published 1903, M. Walter Dunne.

Danse du ventre - A Fresh Appraisal by Leona Wood, published in Arabesque Vol. V #V and Vol. V #6 March-April 1980. An article on the history of the belly dance under its many names which covers almost everything you would need to know as a student of Middle Eastern dance.

Homage to a Belly-Dancer by Edward Said, printed in Arabesque May/June 1994 Said's eloquent description of an Egyptian dance performance by Tahia Carioca, witnessed by the distinguished professor of Middle Eastern history and author of "Orientalism" when he was a young man.

Meetings in the Middle East a seven part Arabesque series on the Ghawazee, by Aisha Ali, published between 1979 and 1981.

The Tunisian Experience - Dress and Adornment in Tunisia by Mardi Rollow, Arabesque Vol. V, No. I May-June 1979. Also in that issue, "A Performance in Menzel Shaker" by Aisha Ali.

Arabesque is no longer in publication and should you have difficulty purchasing back issues, they should be obtainable from your public library. (Check bhuz.com for the upcoming re-release of Arabesque)

Serpent of the Nile by Wendy Bonaventura published by Interlink Books, 1989. A well organized book on "Women and Dance in the Arab World" with an excellent collection of painting and photo reproductions.

The Orientalists: European Painters of Eastern Scenes by Philippe Julian. First published in 1977, this was one of the first books to make our favorite paintings available in high quality reproductions.

Harem: The World Behind the Veil by Alev Lyle Croutier. Croutier describes life in the harems of the Ottoman Sultans, and includes recollections by members of her family. It also has a beautiful collection of painting and photo reproductions.

The Veil and the Male Elite by Fatima Mernissi. Although the title includes "A Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam", the book actually has a broader interpretation that would be of interest to most. It presents interesting sections of the written history of Islam while explaining many of the customs pertaining to women.

Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society by Lila Abu-Lughod. An intimate and informative view of the present day lives of the women of the Awlad Ali tribe who live in the western desert of Egypt bordering Libya. The author focuses on how the women express themselves through oral lyric poetry.

Letters from Egypt by Florence Nightingale. Letters from a 29 year old Ms. Nightingale written to her family and later published by her sister. It was interesting for me compare the Egyptian way of life in 1849 to life in 1971 when I made my first journey into the Egyptian countryside, and to realize that many customs had changed very little.

The Superstitions of the Egyptian Fellahin by Winnifred Blackman. A fascinating book written by an English lady doctor who lived in Egypt during the 1920's. The book makes a comparison of the superstitions that affected the lives of rural Muslims, Jews and Christians, and how little they differed. I have not seen this book for 20 years, so my listing of the title may not be completely accurate. I borrowed my copy from the UCLA library.

The Source: A Handbook for Oriental Dancers by Omar Batiste, 1983 one of the first to present an outline of the diversity of Arab dances. This paperback book includes lots of somewhat low resolution photos and information on dancers from various regions of the Arab World including Egyptian Ghawazee, the Ouled Nail, and even touches on Arab dancers from the Chicago World's fair, etc.. It is certainly a good starting point for dancers who wish to learn something about the cultures related to Oriental dance. (Finding a copy may be difficult)

A Thousand Miles Up the Nile by Amilia Edwards. Written in 1877, this is another interesting report by an English woman, of her travels in Egypt, including descriptions of the dance performances she encountered.

Suggestions from Morocco

A Trade Like Any Other by Karin van Nieuwkerk: excellent analysis of the real life & social position of the dancers of Cairo's Mohamed Ali Street, based on her personal acquaintances & extensive interviews. The history of Cairo's dance "scene" in the foreword is mostly accurate & the book would be worth it for that alone.

Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea & Basima Bezirgan: an anthology drawn from many sources & countries that is an excellent overview of real lives of women in the Near & Middle East. You can't go wrong with any book by Fernea.

Veiled Half Truths (Western Traveler’s Perceptions of Middle Eastern Women) by Judy Mabro: A fabulous overview, using extensive quotes / examples, of how prevailing colonialist & racist attitudes of 18th & 19th century Western travelers to the Near/ Middle East & North Africa highly colored & distorted their experiences & subsequent writings - accounts from which we get so much of our current misinformation & Orientalist fantasies.

The Hidden Face of Eve by Nawal el Saadawi: Egypt's leading radical feminist writes about her real life, from her midnight circumcision on the bathroom floor (when she was 4 years old) to more recent struggles with the all - pervasive cultural misogyny that landed her in prison more than once & led, recently, to a "fundamentalist" fatwa calling for her assassination & necessity of political exile to the U.S.

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal el Sadaawi: Dr. El Saadawi writes the story of a real, condemned woman prisoner she met, who was convicted for killing the man who tried to force her to accept him as her pimp, the life that woman was forced to lead - mostly the result of living within the cultural misogyny that has also led to Dr. Saadawi's political problems with the "fundamentalist" mindset.

Price of Honor: Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Secrecy on the Islamic World by Jan Goodwin: current accounts of the terrible price women are paying for the rise in so-called "fundamentalism". A must read & important "reality check".

Khul-Khaal: Five Egyptian Women Tell Their Stories by Nayra Atiya: exactly what it says & it does so eloquently & vividly, in their own words. Another moving reality check.

The Veil & the Male Elite (titled "Women In Islam" in England) by Fatima Mernissi: like Elizabeth Fernea, you can't go wrong with any book by Mernissi. A historical overview of the life & times of the Prophet Mohamed (PUH) & the very real importance of the women in his life.

Beyond the Veil: a Male/Female Dynamic in Modern Muslim Society by Fatima Mernissi: An excellent analysis, in response to what she saw as the total illogic of existing all - pervasive sexism in her country / society (Morocco) & its crippling effects on men as much as on women in their relationships & dealings with one another.

The Forgotten Queens of Islam by Fatima Mernissi: written in response to the total uproar in the Islamic world (by men) after the election of Benazir Bhutto to head the government of Pakistan.

Guests of the Sheik by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea: her first book, about two years spent with & within women's culture in a small village in Iraq. Worth it just for the description of that village sheik's reaction to seeing a Western man dance with his wife in a Baghdad restaurant, let alone what happened when she & one of the local women accepted a ride with the woman's cousin.

A Street in Marrakesh by Elizabeth W. Fernea: about her time in Morocco.

View from the Nile by Elizabeth W. Fernea: living in Egypt.

The Arab World: Personal Encounters by Elizabeth W. Fernea: she revisits the places she lived (Iraq, Morocco, Egypt), reporting on changes & the situation in Palestinian camps.

Nubian Ceremonial Life by John Kennedy (no relation): good study, including details on "pharaonic" female circumcision practices *&* the importance & place of communal dancing in Nubian culture as of the time it was written.

The House of Obedience: Women in Arab Society by Juliette Minces: Islamic "Sharia" (Legal Code) in relation to women.

Harem Years: the Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist by Hoda el Shaarawi (trans.: Margot Badran): life & times of a woman of Ottoman Egypt's ruling class during the 1st half of the 20th century, who saw the necessity of using her status to help all women in Egypt. Upon returning from a women's conference in Italy, she was the first to publicly remove her veil & cast it in the Nile. She also started Egypt's Women's Union.

Looking For Little Egypt by Donna Carlton: very well researched & written. She clears up allot of myths & half-truths.

Valide by Barbara Chase-Riboud: well-researched novel about the life of Aimee Dubuc de Rivery, cousin of Josephine Bonaparte, who was captured by Barbary (Berber!) pirates on her way back to Martinique from convent school in France. She was presented as a gift to the Ottoman Pasha in Istanbul, renamed Nakshidil & rose to the highest position a woman could attain there: Valide Sultana - mother of the Pasha, head of the Grand Harem of Topkapi Serai - the world's most luxurious prison.

Sultana by Prince Michael of Greece (honest!): another view of the story of Nakshidil.

At the Drop of a Veil by Marion Alireza: as a young American college student, she married a very well-placed young Saudi & went back to live with him in Saudi Arabia, at the very start of petro power & before modernization.

The Saudis by Sandra Mackey: a journalist for the Christian Science Monitor, she had to smuggle the notes for this book out.

Beyond the Veil by Seymour Gray, M.D.: no relation to the Mernissi book of the same name, this one relates the experiences of a doctor in Saudi Arabia.