Book Reviews



Dahlena with Dona Z. Milch, Bantam Books, New York, New York, 1975, 213pp. OUT OF PRINT

The copy I have of this is a cute little paperback so it's easy to carry around. The pictures used to illustrate the moves are clear and for the most part from a good angle. It covers a wide range of moves and is a good little book for beginners. Unfortunately this is another book you have to look for in libraries and used bookstores.


Rebecca long and Dawn Kreutzberger, privately published spiral bound available through Artemis Imports, 30pp. spiral bound

This is a very useful little book of Cabaret costume patterns. It covers the sewing fundamentals of basic Bra and belt construction, skirts, capes, accessories and embellishments. It even shows you how to sew on Shisha Mirrors (Shisha means "glass" or "mirror" in Hindustani), which are the little bits of mirrored glass sew on to shirts, skirts, vests you name it. If you've ever seen the wonderful belts worn by FatChanceBellyDance then you know how great Shishas are in costuming. I only wish that instructions for constructing harem pants or maybe jawlwars and some basic bead work had been included. In summing up, this is a good book for the beginning Belly Dance seamstress because it makes creating a costume so easy.


Julie Russo Mishkin and Marta Schill, Doubleday & Co., New York, New York, 1973, 160pp. OUT OF PRINT

This was the first Belly Dance instruction book I ever read and it's still my favorite! These ladies have no trouble translating motion into language; I seldom had trouble understanding what was wanted in terms of posture. The photographs used to illustrate the moves or stances are nicely precise and very attractive. There are a wide range of moves discussed along with some basic vocabulary, rhythm, basic costuming and some performance advise. I think that this book is worth looking for in libraries and used book stores, whether you're a beginning dancer, or a bibliophile like myself, you'll want to read this book. Definitely on my lists of favorites.


Max Tilke, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, New York, 1990, 128+pp.

This is another must have for costume designers! It's an over-sized book, with 128 pages of attractive illustrations, covering most countries and a wide variety of folkloric representations. It also contains accompanying descriptions that I sometimes wish went into greater detail. This is still one of my favorite books to refer to for historical costuming ideas.


Elizabeth Artemis Mourat, manuscript 1987, 54pp. Available from Artemis

This is an excellent introduction to ancient Egyptian dance. It covers religious and non-religious dances, banquet and harem dances, combat and street dances. Artemis also discusses the music and instruments of the time and the evolution of Egyptian dances. This is a good historical overview, including several fascinating ancient quotations and some very interesting black and white illustrations. Artemis is not just a beautiful dancer but a well-researched historian as well.


Agatha Christie, Harper Paperbacks, New York, New York (1944), 1992 214pp.

I was really curious when I came across this book. It's a classic Christie murder mystery with a wonderful twist - it's set in ancient Egypt! Our Heroine is Renisenb, a young widow who has just returned with her daughter Teti, to her father Imhotep's household. There she is reunited with her brothers, Yahmose and Sobek, their wives and children, her Grandmother Esa and some family servants Kameni, Hori and Henet. All appears to be peaceful until the arrival of Imhotep's new concubine, the young and beautiful Nofret, who of course ends up dead. If you like Agatha Christie murder mysteries, you'll love this one.


Mary Ellen Donald, Mary Ellen Books, San Francisco, CA, (1976) 1981, 111pp. Spiral bound

I think the sub-title of this book pretty much sums it up, "A thirty lesson course in Middle Eastern Drumming with basic music theory." This is a serious and comprehensive instruction manual for learning to play Doumbec, which covers a wide range of rhythms and techniques. The author, who was also a dancer, has made quite a name for herself as an instructor of Middle Eastern Drumming. I highly recommend this publication as a good intensive self-study course. I believe the current copies come with an accompanying audio tape.


DREAMS OF TRESPASS - Tales of a Harem Girlhood
Fatima Mernissi, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading MA 1994 242pp.

This is such a wonderful book! From the very first page you are transported to Fez, Morocco in the 1940's when the author was a young girl. You are soon introduced to each fascinating family member, not all of whom are related, and given a complete tour of the house, from the locked front gate to the forbidden terrace. You travel to a Hammam, take part in a possession dance, wash dishes in a river and become actors on the rooftop.

You will fall in love with almost every person you meet in this evocative memoir. It's one of those books you hate to finish. In fact I'm sure that these stories could easily have bought Scheherazade many nights reprieve. You will never feel the same about Harem life again after getting to know this charming family so intimately. Get it! Read it! You'll be glad you did!


Daniel Gioseffi, Artemis Imports, Pacific Grove, CA, (1980) 1991

The author of this book has some definite opinions on the origins of Belly Dance, an issue I think will be in debate for a while yet. She is a believer in the theory that Belly Dancing's origins are firmly based in ritual, centering on childbirth. This belief is the fundamental basis for this book, giving it a focus on the possible spiritual sides of Belly Dance. This is a wonderful book for the spiritually oriented beginning dancer. The history section is thoroughly fascinating and some of my all time favorite photographs are contained between Earth Dancing's pages. The instructional sections however are minimal, only covering a few of the basics. It's ever so slightly dated now, but since spirituality never goes out of style really, I'd recommend this book to spiritually inclined beginning dancers.


Ger Danlies, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, New York, 1989, 200pp.

Excerpt from the slip cover - "From Australia to Asia, Europe to the Americas, this book illustrates and examines jewelry and traditions that will enchant anyone interested in fashion and body decoration."

This fascinating book contains 241 illustrations hand drawn by the author, with accompanying descriptions. This over-sized publication deserves a spot in any Folkloric book collection and a must have for Primitive jewelry enthusiasts.


Alev Lytle Croutier, Abbeville Press, New York, New York, 1989. 224pp.

This is another book which is a wonderful source of Orientalist Paintings and a favorite of mine. As the title implies, the focus of this book is Harems, particularly Turkish Harems. The author herself, was born in Turkey, in a house which was once a Pasha's Harem. Her Grandmother and Great-Aunt were raised in a Harem and so she grew up listening to stories and songs she says could have come from "A Thousand and one Nights". This is not a Western scholar observing from the outside but a knowledgeable member of the culture about which she is writing. This book conveys the impression that this is a personal journey into the author's roots. How many of us have not been fascinated by where we come from? By what circumstances may have befallen our ancestors and so influenced us to become the people we perceive ourselves to be today? However must of us don't discover as fascinating and colorful a heritage as Ms. Croutier has. We're fortunate she chose to share it with us, and that she included many photographs which document her family's recent history.

This book has also been thoroughly researched and offers not only beautiful artwork but many beautiful quotations and passages from writings both famous and obscure. I don't think the author allowed any hidden secrets of Harem life to remain undiscovered. She covers daily life in both a Sultan's Harem and much more mundane Harems. We are introduced to Sultanas, often grand and scheming, and Eunuchs, also often grand and scheming. We learn what the women of the Harem wore, what they ate, how they entertained themselves and how in the end the last Turkish Harem was dissolved. The book concludes with chapters summing up the effect Ottoman culture and Harem life have had modern culture. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in learning what life was really like in a Harem, and a long time favorite of mine.


Braun and Schneider, Dover Publications, New York, New York, 1975, 126pp.

A wonderful collection of plates originally printed from 1861 through 1890 in Germany. There are over 1450 black and white costumed figures spanning from antiquity to the end of the 19th century, with a wide variety of people, class and professions represented. A nice resource for historical costuming.


Elizabeth Artemis Mourat, manuscript 1995, 191pp. Available from Artemis

This manuscript is the culmination of over sixteen years research, during which time the author traveled to nine different countries to gather historical documentation on the many different practices of veiling, and veil dancing. At the same time Artemis began her historical research, she also began gathering the first of what was to become an extensive collection of antique post cards. The manuscript is heavily illustrated with these post cards, and yet only draws on a small portion of the images Artemis has collected over the years. To me the images alone are worth the cost of the manuscript, but don't let that miss lead you, the manuscript's historical research is as interesting as the illustrations. Artemis covers the wearing of a veil, veiling Holy objects, the use of a veil in Ritual and ancient dance, and the veil and oriental dance. She even includes a few basics for modern veil dancing. I really enjoyed this manuscript, it was well researched, well written, well illustrated, and well, just plain good.


Donna Carlton, IDD Books, Bloomington, Indiana, 1994, 103pp.

This is a marvelous book which I truly enjoyed reading. Under the guise of looking for the mythic "Little Egypt" the author has done a wonderful job of researching the history of Belly Dance in the United States. Along the way she manages to dispel several myths and misconceptions while educating in a very entertaining way. The Colombian Exposition of 1893 came to life as I read. I could practically smell the air of a by-gone era, almost hear the calls of the "Talkers" of the Midway. I loved learning the original meaning of words and phrases, which are now in such common usage. Historical photographs always fascinate me and this book is full of them, along with some wonderful illustrations. I believe this book is a marvelous historical resource for dancers and dance historians in the United States, especially. One of my Favorites!


MEHNDI - The Timeless Art of Henna Painting
Loretta Roome, St. Martin's Press, New York New York 1998 162pp.

It's been awhile since my spirit was really moved by reading a book. This beautiful offering on the subject of Henna painting is a lovely and moving instructional on a very ancient art. There are several books currently available on henna and mendhi, but this book is by far the most comprehensive. The author supplies a well-researched history focusing on India and Morocco where henna use is still very prevalent. The author encourages the reader to view the practice of mehndi from beginning to end as a sacred ritual. Let me quote from the book "Symbols occur in Mendhi on several levels&ldots;There is the symbolism of the act of painting with henna, the metaphysical significance of the plant itself, and finally, there is the symbolism of the designs themselves. These multiple levels of metaphorical meaning make mehndi a highly charged and extremely potent medium of expression." "The realm of symbols is profound and multidimensional. The deeper one's exploration of the symbols used in henna painting, the harder it is to distinguish between the beauty of science, the power of art and religion, and the miracle of the human unconscious."

The author supplies a step by step guide to applying henna, which is simplistic, but very time consuming. The art of mehndi can not be rushed. The henna must be prepared hours in advance, the drawing of the designs is slow careful work. After the designs are finished there is a sugar glaze applied as a mordant, and then the designs are wrapped for protection and left overnight. In the morning the dried henna can be scraped off and if all was properly prepared you have a deep rich stain which will last on an average of a week to ten days. The henna can be reapplied to maintain the stain. There are easy to follow directions for drawing the designs. A little practice and any one can be a henna artist. There is also a list of recommended suppliers included.

This is just a wonderful book and I encourage anyone with an interest in mehndi to read it, not only to learn how to apply henna but for the joy of reading a book so beautifully and lovingly written. Let me give you one more quote.

"Mehndi is an absorbent substance. It takes on the feeling that surrounds it. If you're careless and hurried, if you mix your henna in front of the TV, it will not have the same quality as that of a person who sees this process as an opportunity for meditation or prayer. To make henna in to a paste, you draw upon centuries of tradition, and for every pattern you paint, many unseen hands have labored- planting, harvesting, grinding and sifting. You are the last in a long chain. I recommend taking a moment to contemplate this. Try to be as present as possible in every step of the process. There is much you can learn about yourself through this medium. For better or for worse, the henna never lies."


Isadora Duncan, Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York, NY, 1995 255pp.

Isadora Duncan has gone down in history as the founder of Modern Dance and I'm sure she would have approved. Isadora liked compliments and high praise (who doesn't?). She also liked adoration and devotion. (Again, who doesn't?) I mean she really, really liked compliments, high praise, adoration and devotion and she got a lot of all of it!

It seemed evident, even in her youth, that Isadora was a rare talent, at least Isadora thought so. She never received any formal dance training and she held Ballet in contempt, regarding it as unnatural and ugly. Isadora considered her dance to be based on natural movements, which she had discovered and later found mirrored in images on ancient Greek vases. She danced in a short Grecian tunic, bare legged and barefooted, scandalous behavior for women at the turn of the century. Sometimes without music, more often, however she danced to classical music played by her mother or a friend. And always she danced in front of her trademark blue curtains.

From her earliest childhood Isadora had a vision. She dreamed of a school of dance based on her movements, which would reflect the American spirit. She spent most of her life trying to achieve that vision. She suffered many tragedies and inspired great devotion. She was an early feminist, bearing three children by three different men, none of whom she married, as well as a proponent of painless childbirth. She was also a follower of Lenin. The book ends seven years before her death, when she was garroted by her scarf, which had become entangled in the wheel spokes of a car. A dramatic ending to a dramatic life.

One of the things I enjoyed most while reading this book was the image that kept forming in my mind whenever Isadora described herself dancing. I see Elizabeth Artemis Mourat dancing her beautiful Ancient dance. There are no pictures in this book which is a definite disappointment. Some images of Isadora would have been useful in helping us to better understand her style of dance. However I did enjoy reading the writing style of the twenties; it's like Art Deco in literature. I think any dancer would enjoy reading this book by a true visionary.


OSCAR WILDE'S LAST STAND - Decadence, Conspiracy and the Most Outrageous Trial of the Century.
Philip Hour, Arcade publishing, New York, 1998 241pp.

All right, I'll admit I bought this book because of the cover. I know, I know, you're not supposed to do that. Never judge a book by its cover and all that, but I did. The cover of this book is a cool picture of Maude Allen in her infamous (for 1918) Salome costume. Maude Allen was a contemporary of Isadora Duncan and Theda Barra. In fact she and Isadora were rivals. At least as far as Maude was concerned they were, but I doubt Isadora was the least bit concerned with Maude. Maude's claim to fame is the fact that she had created a Salome dance that apparently was very good. Too good. She was to dance her Salome in a London production of Oscar Wilde's infamous play of the same name. It was 1918 and though Wilde had been dead for several years, his play was still banned in London.

Now there's a lot more book left to go. It's very complicated, but poor Maude becomes the subject of a libel suit. A suit that disguises a great deal of political intrigue. A large portion of the behind the scene players and several of the leading characters are high ranking British Government officials, along with a heavy sprinkling of the aristocracy, all the way up to the King's mistress. Add rampant homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Communist, one very sexually disturbing dance, the ghost of Oscar Wilde, the First World War and Victorian Moral Outrage at it's height and you have one explosive libel trial. To quote from the book: "The trial had become a medieval inquisition, with Maude Allen as a modern witch, her company a coven choreographed by Grein (the play's producer) in a Danse Macabre for Teutonist perverts!"

The main focus of the book is the political machinations and not Maude Allen. Unfortunately she only plays a small part in the drama. There are a few pictures, but unless you are a history buff I'm not sure I'd invest the time to read this. Good pictures though.


Shelagh Weir, University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, 1989, 288pp.

This is another absolutely wonderful over-sized book, with a breathtaking example of Palestinian embroidery on the cover. The author is an anthropologist with the Museum of Mankind at the British Museum, where her responsibility is the Middle Eastern collection and she really knows her stuff. This beautiful book is loaded with exquisite photographs of Palestinian and Bedouin costumes taken from Museum exhibits and from daily life in the Palestine region. The time frame covered is from the 19th century to present day. Covering not only clothing and textiles but jewelry as well. The author also provided an in-depth study of the social and symbolic meaning of the main regional styles of clothing, textiles and ornamentation. Definitely another must have for costuming aficionados.


Michael Foss, Arcade Publishing, Inc. New York, New York, 1997 192pp.

When I started reading this book I actually knew very little about Cleopatra. She ruled in Egypt, she had a brother, she had a thing with a Caesar and one with Mark Antony and finally, she committed suicide by snakebite. That's really all I knew and I got most of that from the movies. I never did realize that the Caesar concerned was The Caesar, Julius Caesar, as in "ET Tu Brutes". Reading this book gave me a much better idea of the characters involved and politics of the time. It has a few illustrations and many wonderful ancient quotes, which really help to bring these almost mythical people to life. The first Ptolomy was a general under Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great was Macedonian and after conquering Egypt in 332 BC, ruled from the Greece mainland. This Ptolomy, Ptolomy Soter I, stole Alexander's body and took it to Alexandria, thus laying claim to Egypt and founding the rule of the Ptolomys. The people of Alexandria revered the Greek culture. By the time Cleopatra came to the throne in Egypt, Rome was conquering everything in sight. Cleopatra knew that her country was lusted after by the Romans and that it wouldn't be long before it was plundered. She understood that she had to defend her country and this motivated everything she did. Even when she chose to die she died wearing the robes of the "New Isis", a powerful symbol for her country and one she had utilized throughout her rein.

Cleopatra was a Macedonian, who ruled from a Grecian city, seduced Rome twice, died of love and did it all for Egypt. She never lost sight of her duty to Egypt, it's people and it's Gods. Cleopatra really was the "New Isis".

This book is a good historical over-view of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.


SERPENT OF THE NILE - Women and Dance in the Arab World
Wendy Buonaventura, Saqi Books, London, England, 1989, 207pp.

I knew the minute I saw this book that I just had to have it! This was the first book on which I had ever spent so much money, around $50 for the hardback edition. It seemed to me then, as it does now, a large sum. But I still think I got a bargain, one of the best. For me the artwork alone is worth the price, which I think is considerably lower for the paperback edition. This book is an incredible source of Orientalists Paintings! Not only was the author able to call on the Victoria and Albert Museum in England for assistance, but she was allowed to make free use of the extensive picture collection of Ibrahim Farrah's Arabesque magazine. Ms. Buonaventura has done a wonderful job of researching the material offered. I like the fact the she begins with a Glossary, encouraging her readers to educate themselves. To be able to really understand a culture you need to know at least a little of its language(s). The author is offering herself as our tour guide, and these are some of the terms she thinks we will find useful on our journey with her.

The introduction that follows could by itself be divided into a series of multi-page articles in any good dance magazine. It's that intensive. A chapter dealing with ancient history, succeeded by a chapter focusing on the origins of the "Gypsy" dancers, follows the introduction The next three chapters bring the focus in on the 19th century. Although the past is a large part of the book's content the present and possible future of Oriental Dance do not go ignored. All of this material is lavishly illustrated with beautiful and inspiring artwork. As the author brings us forward in time with each succeeding chapter, we begin to understand how Art and its various mediums influence society. As the Middle Eastern and Western Worlds learned more about each other, they influenced each other's culture. Creating things that had never existed before. Which led to things like modern American Belly Dance. This is a fascinating story, told by a gifted and knowledgeable storyteller. I think this is a book all serious Oriental Dance enthusiasts should read, but it's such a good book that I think any one with an interest in Art, History, Arabic culture or just dance in general would enjoy reading this lovely book.


VAMP - The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara
Eve Golden, Emprise Publishing, Inc., Vestal, New York, 1996 274pp.

Theda Bara, originally Theodosia deCoppett Goodman was a star of silent movies, the first big screen sex symbol and the original modern movie Vampire! The term "Vamp" was coined to describe Theda and the roles she played and quickly came into popular use as a description of any beautiful, manipulative and dangerous woman. The stories circulated about her exotic past were some of the very first wonderful studio advertising creations. Unfortunately these outlandish, implausible, bigger than life tales wouldn't survive five minutes in a modern media feeding frenzy, but at the turn of the century they were great entertainment. Theda's popularity came to her after years of struggle and lasted only a short time, but its impact on our American culture, and that certainly includes modern American Belly Dance, was indelible.

This is an easy book to get wrapped up in. There are quite a few pictures, including stunning stills taken from movies "Cleopatra" and "Salome". With incredible costuming and breath taking scenery practically dripping in Egyptian Asiut material! I only wish more of her films survived so we might see her at her best. Both movies were great successes. Well at least we can read this wonderful biography.


WHAT LIFE WAS LIKE on the Banks of the Nile, Egypt 3050-30 BC
Time-Life Books, Alexandria, VA, 1997, 192pp.

This is a very nice; easy to read, beautifully illustrated book. Following the usual standards one has come to expect from a Time-Life publication. It doesn't delve too deeply into any one particular subject, but instead presents a broad entertaining over-view. Subjects range from funerary rites to cosmetics, Pharaohs to fishermen, children, wildlife and even pets. This is an affordable "coffee-table book", which is not a bad thing to be.


Mimi Spencer. Mimika Publications, Fairfax, CA, (1977) 1994, 57pp. spiral bound

This book will give you all you need to play fabulous zils, except the zils! The Author has been a dancer herself and a musician most of her life. Her ability shows in this publication, which covers a good variety of patterns and techniques. There is also an accompanying audio tape to help in fully understanding the rhythm patterns presented. If you enjoy self-study, want to play and play well, then this is the book for you!


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This page last modified: December 22, 2005