Snake Hips, Anne Thomas Soffee


Book review (ISBN 0-553-81654-3)


by Sara Shrapnell.


One advantage of the wet weather through this summer has been finding the time to read a whole book in almost one sitting.  This light-hearted book traces the writer's discovery of our dance and the joy and strength she gathers from it.  Much of the humour comes from life beyond the glamour - discovering that the changing room also contains the chip fryer, a wonderful description of the scrum at a costume sale - and also from the reactions to others around her as she gets deeper involved in performing.


In opening the book Soffee apologies for ruffling "some marabou" by recounting stories of bad behaviour and changing names of some of the dancer  - but for me this is the best and worst of this book.  It is gossipy and brutal about the politics of belly dance in the US.  You may know some of those mentioned - either from the web forums or web sites - but if you don't you will know someone just like them.  Here we get the classmates who own the corner of the room and spend the class talking and comparing costumes - later we meet the restaurant performer who discovering the table of belly dancers gives an extra performance just for them.  If you can admit to having watched a dancer and then spent the rest of your meal discussing the likely hood of her being born with hair that colour - then this book is your kind of thing.  It's not smart, but if you love the snippets of life story you learn from your classmates then here it is, Soffee's story so far.  Glamorous, funny and perfect for a rainy afternoon.  And so you know - my hair is always out of a bottle !






Belly Dancing for health and relaxation, Tina Hobin



by Sara Shrapnell.


This book was written in 1982, and in some ways has aged very well.  It still remains an excellent resource for those new to the dance and those who want to re-enforce their technique.  These days we are spoilt with the number of available teaching videos coming to us from the US, and yet for speed of reference and its clear breakdowns this book still has a lot to offer.


The book starts with a brief yet interesting history of the dance and the instruments used and finishes with some patterns for making your own costumes.  Between is a list of movements to take the dancer from posture to floorwork, stopping off with some veil exercises and Zill patterns along the way.  For some of the movements it is very interesting to read them broken down and to try them as described - with other movements I am thankful for having seen them done.  For example how would you describe twirling a veil ?  Now try in less than 8 sentences ! - And yet if you can show someone they will be able to copy (or at least understand what you are doing).


Scattered through the book are suggested choreographies or routines - personally I found these hard to follow, as without suitable music they become an exercise in counting, but I can understand that some people might find them useful.


Books on movement help us to be grateful that we can see dancing either live or on video, and take our hints from these.  And yet a good book on movement, as this is, tells us more about the muscles, timing and tone than the videos can.  I would love to see an updated version and will review her next book soon - but from what I have already seen it lacks the easy reading style and simple layout that make Belly Dancing for health and relaxation a must have for dancers of all levels.





The Red Tent by Anita Diamant



By Sara Shrapnell.



The Red Tent has been a slow burner in terms of book sales.  First published in 1997 it was launched without any fanfares or advertising budget, just another historical novel taking up room in the bookstores.  Today it is to be found in the best sellers section, having achieved many awards over the years, but most importantly having become a top seller due to word of mouth.  If you read this book you will want to tell your friends, and they will tell theirs - this is how I heard about The Red Tent.


It isn't an easy book to begin to read, and to be honest I picked it up and put it down four or five times before settling into it.  If it hadn't been for all the fantastic reviews on line and the enthusiasm of my friends, I would have given up on it.  If this is you, then give it another go.  I promise it will be worth it.


Based on the story of Rebecca, Leah, Jacob and Dinah from Genesis, the story starts with a complex family tree that left my head spinning and my eyes rolling to the ceiling.  Sometimes a book just doesn't want you to love it.  But once past that first chapter the rest is so beautifully written and the characters so rich and real that it truly becomes un-put-down-able.


In the Bible (so I hear), Dinah is given no voice and her story is only told from the perspective of her brothers, and yet she is key to the twists in the stories of Jacob and his family.  The drama waiting to happen to this delightful child is only one of the tensions that build.  We also have the strange relationship between four sisters, born to different mothers and in different standing, who all marry the same man.  Every combination and balance of female relationships are examined and explored in a delicate and non-judgmental way.  I felt as if I knew each of these women, could love them despite their faults, and that, given the chance, I would defend them all to anyone who would disrespect them.


The Red Tent itself is used as a device to gather the women together to tell the stories of their mothers, their faith, their hopes, loves and feelings.  It is debatable if women in this area used a Red Tent at that time, but this is a historical novel, so minor things like that should not be allowed to distract from this cracking good tale, which absorbed me totally into their world.  So much so that on walking the dog over the hills I saw a field of sheep, who reminded me of those that the family herded so that I had to remind myself that I had never seen the camp, the hillsides or the sheep!


As Dinah grows, she sees how her mother and her sisters work together and against each other to get the best for themselves and their sons, how they each take a role and how their skills are valued.  As she grows she becomes a skilled midwife, travelling to Egypt and we get a glimpse of Egyptian life of that time.  All of this is painted with richness and in vivid colours, so that you feel part of the story.


Although nothing to do with Bellydance, I do not hesitate to recommend this book for anyone interested in the women of the Middle East in the time of the Old Testament - and for anyone who loves a really good read.  Borrow a copy from a friend and find yourself absorbed!