Bookshelf! And mini book review-ish.

My online bookshelf needed a make-over.  Bad.  So, I’ve added a few articles and books on belly dance, and I reorganized a bit.  You’ll find quite a few more resources on belly dance history and practice, as well as a few more books on creativity.

I also recently read Imagining Arab Womanhood: The Cultural Mythology of Veils, Harems, and Belly Dancers in the U.S. by Amira Jarmakani.  Jarmakani looks at images and films that use the imagery of veils, harems, and belly dancers and explores their meaning and the messages that the viewer (or consumer) sees in them and how that affects how we in the United States perceive not only women in the Middle East, but Middle Eastern society in general.  This book is all about semiotics: examining and analyzing the meaning inherent in images and signs.  Beginning with the importation of the French style of Orientalist painting to the United States, she examines images of dancers from the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, Orientalist 1920s cigarette ads, and how we have perceived oppression of women in the Middle East and South Asia in the past 10 years. She also examines how the women (and men, such as sultans) in these images reflect changing American expansionist and imperial tensions, which I found fascinating.  Basically, the institutional racism and commodification of the Middle East exhibits at the Chicago World’s Fair, which were adapted from the realistic fantasy paintings of French Orientalism, continue to affect and prejudice how we view the Middle East and the women from there today.  Her material is certainly groundbreaking and incredibly relevant for us belly dancers, even if it is not specifically a book about belly dance history or practice.  It does elucidate how and why we continue to fight and encounter the perception that we dance the “hootchy kootchy”, that we do an over-sexualized dance for men, or that we’ll give someone a private show.  Keeping in mind that it’s not a book about belly dance per se, and the author is not a practitioner, she does not offer advice or insight on how we as a community can fight this perception; that topic is beyond the scope of her book, and discussing that is not her goal.  Just putting that out there.

For anyone who wishes to gain greater insight on how the consumerist culture of the United States perceives Middle Eastern women, I recommend this book.  Be warned, though: it reads like a doctoral dissertation (therefore it’s quite dense in parts) and could have used an editor to better organize it before going to print. (Which, honestly, I found distracting; for example, don’t paraphrase a quote right underneath the quote.  And if you need to say “in other words” more than 5 times in your book to explain an entire paragraph worth of analysis and interpretation, maybe you didn’t say it clearly enough the first time.)



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