Grandmother’s Secrets (a review)
Title: Grandmother’s Secrets: the Ancient Rituals and Healing Power of Belly Dance
Author: Rosina Fawzi Al-Rawi
The intriguing title Grandmothers Secrets captured my curiosity before I ever turned the first page. It conjured visions of the wise things a little girl might learn from her grandmother and the mysterious ways in which these secrets would unfold. And indeed the book begins just that way. Al-Rawi speaks in a comfortable,warm voice as if she is telling her story right beside me. I feel as if I am looking through her big, questioning eyes, seeing her familiar surroundings and basking in the security of it all. The revelations of growing up in Iraq are strange and wonderful. I want to know more, but then at the crest of puberty, the story ends. Only 26 pages into the book, I am not sure where it can go from there.
With the turn of the page, the story strangely and abruptly switches from this friendly pace to a textbook. Part Two: A History of Women’s Dancing, is another book unto itself. This might be fine if I were interested in study, but after such a personal glimpse into the private world, my new surroundings seem cold and sterile. The intention is to take us back to where the dance began and show us its progression, but the transition is strange and never goes quite weave it all together in a convincing way. If I didn’t already have a sense of the history of women in dance, I might be very confused indeed.
Intertwined with this historical information lies many of the author’s impressions and conclusions. While Al-Rawi’s words can be inspiring, some readers might find themselves unable to distinguish what is historical and what is opinion.
Part Three is entitled From Head to Toe. This section attempts to explain the body movements of belly dance. While I believe it is better to have some kind of written resource than none, these explanations are not quite clear. Instructions like, “open your shoulders” and “sit in yourself” are best demonstrated in person. The stories of what these movements mean and the accompanying visualizations are much more helpful. Al-Rawi obviously has a passion for the dance and deep appreciation of the emotional release and the potential for expression that dancing brings. Seeing this is far more encouraging and useful than the step by step analysis of the basic movements.
The book switches track again and discusses the variations (floor work, using sticks and veils, etc) and rituals (trance dance). This part of the book becomes somewhat anecdotal again and the tone blends the textbook feel with a conversational tone. The information here stems from the cultural rather than historical and shed light on the background and meaning of many of the movements we do. I became interested again when reading this section and found myself again wanting to know more. A peak is all we outsiders usually get into this mysterious veiled society. I wanted more color and more detail than I was allowed and enjoyed every revelation.
The author’s goal of sending a message of sisterhood and understanding of ancient, earthy rituals is commendable, but overall Grandmother’s Secrets falls short. The flow is too disorganized. Grandmother’s Secrets would have worked better if it had remained on the track of the first and fourth sections. The historical and informational parts were educational and seemed like they should be in an altogether different book.
On a positive note, I am very happy to see this type of information being made widely available to the American public. I hope the message of Grandmother’s Secrets is revealed to and embraced by dancers and non-dancers alike, encouraging more searches and discoveries of this kind.