Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Book Review - You Asked Aunt Rocky: Answers & Advice About Raqs Sharqi & Raqs Shabbi

I recently finished reading Morocco's book You Asked Aunt Rocky: Answers & Advice About Raqs Sharqi & Raqs Shabbi. I did actually read the book from cover to cover and if you own or have seen this book, you know this was a bit of feat, because this book is essentially a belly dancing textbook. No pictures (except at the very end), just dense page after page of belly dance advice, knowledge, and insights.

Morocco is one of belly dance's leading teachers, performers, and researchers. She has performed and taught all over the world. Trying to write a condensed bio for her is near to impossible, so I'll just refer you to her own website for more info. Trust me, it's impressive.

This book is broken down into seven sections:
  1. Raqs Shabbi: discussion of folk dances from Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, and other countries
  2. Raqs Sharqi: discussion of oriental style belly dance, or what most westerners would call belly dance
  3. Over There: insights on dance developments in the countries of origins and how to effectively travel and take continuing dance education in those countries
  4. Nuts and Bolts: tips on technique, teaching, finger cymbals, and belly dancing as a business
  5. Cautionary Tales: pitfalls to avoid, including a couple fairly frightening tales of belly dancers who may not have exercised enough caution and ended up disappearing (yes, disappearing like potentially kidnapped or something equally horrific)
  6. What's In a Name: an extensive essay on what name is best for referring to Oriental dance
  7. Images: a handful of black and white pictures
Through the process of reading this book, you will definitely get a sense that Morocco knows her stuff and has put in the time, effort, and research to know what she's talking about. She has everything from excerpts from interviews that she's done with Mahmoud Reda himself, to funny performance stories, to solid business and marketing strategies based on first-hand success. She shares tips on everything from shopping in Cairo to finger cymbal safety. She dispels many belly dance myths, including presenting facts to back up her position. (I disagree with her to some extent on some of her positions on ballet in relation to belly dance, but that conversation is beyond the scope of this post). There is also an indispensable glossary that I think most readers will end up flipping to throughout the book. Overall, I think even experienced pros will learn a thing or two from this book. 

The book is so detailed that I wouldn't actually recommend it for brand new dancers. I think it might be a bit overwhelming for someone just entering the belly dance world, and he or she may feel a bit lost without having some points of reference to draw from. In fact, I think even the experienced dancer may feel a bit lost reading dance descriptions for folkloric dances or festivals that he or she is not familiar with. I know that I did for a few of the Moroccan-based dances. 

My one complaint about the book is chapter six, What's In a Name? It's essentially a 31-page repetitive argument on why the term "belly dance" shouldn't be used, but rather should be referred to as "raqs sharqi". My critique with this is two-fold. First, I didn't feel this didn't required such verbosity. I felt like I was being beaten over the head with it. Yes, I got the point after the first couple pages. Enough said. Second, while I agree that "belly dance" is not the best term for this dance; it's a misnomer as this dance is so much more, I don't agree that raqs sharqi is the right replacement word. To me, raqs sharqi, or Oriental dance, doesn't actually encompass everything under the broader umbrella of belly dance. American Tribal Style (ATS) is not Oriental dance, it's an American invention. Same goes for fusion forms, Isis wings, fan veils, and any type of extensive veil work. Thus, in my opinion, I think raqs sharqi would also be a misnomer in those instances. I think the perfect replacement label has yet to be suggested. 

That being said, for anyone with more than a passing interest in belly dance, I think this book is a must read and a great book to have at hand. If you are interested in purchasing, you can find the book on Morocco's website.

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