Grandmothers Secrets The Ancient Rituals and Healing Power of Belly Dance
Morbid Outlook would like to stress that any dance and exercise should be preceded and ended with a gentle stretching routine. Any medical concerns and/or conditions should be discussed with a doctor thoroughly before beginning to study any dance form. Even though this book does provide instructions on belly dance, those interested in learning should seek the instruction on a reputable teacher in their area.
It was a difficult task
to review a book that has become so dear to me. I wanted to retain complete objectivity and distance myself so I could provide an honest and unemotional review of Grandmothers Secrets. However, it seems that when a book touches on the many levels that this one does its bound to cause at least a few stirred emotions.
I was surprised when I visited Amazon.com and read some of the feedback on this book, that my warm feelings were not shared by other belly dancers like myself. As this book addresses many areas of the art and spirituality of Middle Eastern dance, it also created many mixed emotions from dancers and interested parties alike. Particularly, Al-Rawis recounting of history behind the evolution of the dance itself is a strong call to reclaiming womens spirituality. This seems to be somewhat controversial; to some individuals, it reads as dubious or even outright fabricated and to others it is a welcome affirmation to woman as an earthbound archetype of Deity.
The memories shared here of Al-Rawis own childhood offer a glimpse into a world many of us in western civilization may never get to see. It is truly a beautiful and inspiring journey. Grandmothers Secrets explores the cultural mysteries and living art that is most commonly known as belly dance. Middle Eastern dance has become a popular tool of self-discovery and empowerment for women in the west in recent decades. As the liberation of women slowly opened doors to re-discovering lost feminine qualities and inner strengths that were stifled by a patriarchal society, the dance has gained popularity as a reclaiming of womanhood. However, since a patriarchy also exists in Arabic society, I truly did not expect my individual long-held beliefs on these people to be challenged. As I (and perhaps most of you) grew up, we were taught as young women that after passing a certain age, innocence is no longer accepted and proper behavior is to be adopted. Movements that are natural to us as young girls are no longer acceptable as forms of expression. Certain areas of our bodies are explained to us in puberty as dirty and not to be moved, touched, adorned, or by any stretch of imagination shimmied around, as these actions are considered to be un-ladylike, immoral and unclean.
Al-Rawi has written a beautiful work exploring the mystique of dance as it relates to women everywhere. She breaches the gap between her own childhood as a young Arabic girl growing up with her family in Baghdad, to her life as a successful woman living and working in the United States. Not only has dance become a connection to her home and culture but it unites her with women all over the world through ancient practices. I found myself almost envious as she recounted stories of her Grandmother teaching her life long lessons with metaphors of dance and examples of connection to body and spirit in seemingly small and often innocent ways. There are the lessons of balance, of observance and of giving and receiving; all of which play not only a place in the dance but in every area of all of our lives. Her youthful days are marked with lessons that to a child might have seemed like a game. The recounting of her observances though young eyes are skillfully retold. Its all to easy to see for yourself the sights she must have seen, the associations made to people and places. Her family is shared with a warmth and love that you can feel as she grows and her world changes from that of a child to that of a woman.
The book is carefully divided up into four distinct sections that flow beautifully into each other, yet share very different purposes. Al-Rawis childhood is the perfect primer for the transition into her history of womens dance. Not everyone will agree with this passage, it is difficult to prove or disprove much of the theory presented here. It seemingly explains how what once was a spiritual journey of femininity, was turned into commercial entertainment or equated to a lowly profession. Places and times in history have both revered and banished this beautiful dance form, being thought fit for both priestesses and prostitutes.
The third section deals with written lesson in the dance form. Those looking for a step-by-step instruction in the dance will be disappointed with this section. As an aid to lessons however they are wonderful reminders as to why a dancer holds her head high and leads with her eyes, and why her arms are as important as her posture and her hips and belly. The temptation for the student dancer or the enthusiast to turn directly to the instructional section is strong, however the anecdotes and cultural rituals associated with the dance impart a strong sense of pride and individuality for each dancer.
The final section are lessons in advance dance levels such as sword and stick dance, floorwork and veil dancing. Also there are beautiful passages on the dance in womens Arabic culture, such as the Menstruation dance, the Wedding dance, the Birth dance and the Mourning dance.
All in all there is much to gain from this book for both the novice and the experienced dancer alike. Belly dance is the ultimate self-expression and it unites women across the globe, and why not? Womens bodies were designed to move this way, or more accurately the dance was designed as a celebration of the beauty that is the sway of a womans hips. It is pure joy to dance, its so much fun to dance with a room full of women and feel the connection we all share. The magic that is created when so many of all ages and backgrounds and walks of life come together to dance in harmony. But there is so much more to the dance than movement. To quote Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi from her book: Belly dancing is an art and as such it entails three factors: theory, practice and the heart, without which no art form ever comes to life.
A valuable resource for belly dance in the NYC area is, www.bellydanceny.com