In the latest Dance Book Review, my thoughts on ‘Becoming a belly dancer’ by Sara Shrapnell.

Becoming a belly dance book review

1. Introduction

I have just finished reading ‘Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage’ and I found it to be a really useful book to read if you want to start performing belly dance and make the most out of your experience.

The advice in this book is not aimed only at those of you who want to dance professionally or who want to perform in front of big audiences.

The book, in fact, is aimed at those of you who have taken up belly dance as a hobby and would like to perform in front of your family, friends, and other dancers at small events (such as local hafla).

After all, performing is a very motivating factor when learning dance, because it pushes you to work towards a goal.

This book is the result of a joint effort by four dancers (two Americans and two British) who have several years’ experience each in the field of belly dance: Sara ShrapnellDawn DevineAlisha Westerfeld, and Poppy Maya.

Each of these dancers brings a different type of expertise to the table and, therefore, the information in the book is very varied and interesting.

For instance:

  • Sara is an expert in teaching dance (she is also the author of the book ‘Teaching Belly dance and has taught over 4,000 classes)
  • Dawn has over 25 years of teaching experience and her area of expertise is making belly dance costumes (she has also written several books on the topic)
  • Alisha’s passion, in addition to belly dance, is photography; Poppy has several years of performing professionally all over the world.

Hence, if you are looking for a comprehensive belly dance book, with plenty of different types of advice, this is the right reading for you.

2. What This Book Covers

Becoming a Belly Dancer does not teach dance movements, but it is something more useful and original. The aim of this book is to prepare you for performing.

There are useful tips and advice for anyone, from beginners/improvers who want to perform for the first time, to more advanced dancers who have already performed before but would like some more tips.

The book is suitable for any type of performer: from those who dance in groups to soloists; from students to teachers who want to inspire their students to perform. Also, the tips in the book apply to every type of dance style, from traditional Egyptian to tribal.

3. Strengths of This Book

I think that this book has five strong points, which I list below:

  1. Originality – this is the first book I have come across, which focuses specifically on performing issues.
  2. Very detailed – information is provided in depth. For example, the authors even give advice on jewellery care and repair and very specific advice on make-up, among many other things.
  3. Clarity of presentation – the book is clearly structured and information is easy to find, with clear headings. Also, there are many bullet point lists which, for this type of content, are the best way to present information in a clear and concise way.
  4. Illustrations (photos and pictures) – there is a variety of good pictures and drawings, which make the book very pleasant to read. The pictures are all in black and white, but I do not think that this is an issue, as the images are very clear and, if this was done to keep the price down, it is a very good idea.
  5. Team effort – as mentioned above, because this book was written as a cooperation between four very experienced practitioners, it includes a variety and detail of information that one author alone can rarely provide.
Belly dance performance

4. Content Outline

To give you an idea of what the book is about and what it covers:

  • Self-assessment checklist – at the beginning of the book, there is a very useful checklist to assess if you are ready to start performing (although I think that not all points apply to every dancer, as many of the points listed apply more to solo dancers than to group dancers who follow their teacher’s choreography).
  • The first chapter is about learning and how to start, which includes topics such as: choosing a style, picking a teacher, a practice guide.
  • Chapter 2 is mainly focused on the emotional elements of performing, such as finding the motivation and overcoming fear. This chapter also includes malfunctions (from forgetting your choreography, to costume malfunctions, just to name two) and how to deal with them. In this same chapter, there is also a section about critique and evaluation, which I think is a particularly useful topic to cover when talking about preparing for performances.
  • The third chapter is all about personal appearance: from make-up to hair, accessories, props, and costumes.
  • Chapter 4 is about the dancer’s wardrobe and it includes useful guidance on which costume cuts suit different body shapes, what to look for when you are shopping for costumes, and even how to make costumes, should you choose to make your own. There is also some great advice on how to best store costumes, without damaging them.
  • In Chapter 5 you will find information about music. For example, the authors write about what music to choose according to the type of performance, style, and props you are using.
  • Chapter 6 covers performance and venues. For example, the authors list a variety of venues in which a belly dancer may perform, each of which presents different challenges and opportunities. Also, the book gives advice on which venue might be better for you depending on your level, style, or the reason why you dance.
  • Chapter 7 contains some useful insights on etiquette, ethics, and safety. The advice covers areas such as etiquette in the class for students, how to behave as an audience member, as well as advice for teachers and performers.
  • Chapter 8 gives advice on how to present your skills to the world, ranging from writing, presenting content online, marketing, and photography.
  • Chapter 9 is aimed at those who want to become professional dancers, with tips such as marketing and getting paid.
  • The last chapter focuses on some simple costuming projects, suitable even for those who cannot sew.

5. Conclusion on This Book

I found this book extremely useful and I have it within hands reach for reference!

As someone who enjoys performing as a belly dancer, I found the tips especially useful.

If you dance as a hobby and are planning to perform (whether it be for fun or to compete) this is one of the best books I have come across.