Brief background info on me: I grew up in an urban school district in PA. I never feared for my life while at school, but things there were not good. The state, while I was a student, threatened to take over the district, due to low test scores. People were and still are poor, family life isn’t what it should be, fights aplenty (though I don’t think, at least then, they were gang-related), etc. I also was identified via an IQ test that I am considered gifted; the term “gifted” is poorly defined and gifted programs don’t necessarily contain the brightest students, due to the testing methods, parental involvement (I’ve seen very pushy, influential parents badger schools into letting non-gifted students into the gifted classes), teacher bias, etc. However, I’m not going to debate the issues of gifted education or whether it is important (I think it is, for what it’s worth). This is just explaining where I’m coming from.

We were assigned a book called “And Still We Rise” by Miles Corwin for one of my classes. It is truly an amazing book that documents the senior year of twelve gifted students, the coordinator of the program, and two teachers. This non-fiction book is very honest, and it reminded me of a much worse version of my high school/school district.

The book presents the complexity of the issues that the students face; it isn’t enough just be intelligent when it comes to succeeding in school. A lot has to do with outside factors, such as family, home life, etc. Most of the students in this program have had horrific childhoods and continue to have horrific daily lives. They are not just trying to survive but are trying rise above their circumstances and learn. The book also delves into the issues of affirmative action, what the teachers and administrators deal with on a daily basis, the race issues, the gang issues. There’s really too much information in there to really summarize well.

What was interesting to me, which was not my experience, was how many of the students were intellectually engaged people. They were not simply there to earn grades to go college to get a better job; these students were highly intelligent people who actually cared about learning. They didn’t take their educations or intellect for granted.

I recommend this book to really anyone who is interested in education and the issues students are facing. While these students were in exceptionally bad situations, these issues arise in other parts of the country and in districts not quite as bad. When people talk about why US students are not as competitive against the rest of the world, books like these show how many issues there are.

DaVid of Scandinavia suggested his book to me on Bhuz, when I wanted to come up with a means of cateogrizin my own moves. I like DaVid’s dancing, and he knows a lot of stuff. Besides, an ebook is only $15. Not too pricey. I did consider buying the print version, but at $40+shipping, I decided that the ebook was a better deal for me.

I started out with what’s called the EDA Handbook For Middle Eastern Dance. The EDA is the Ethnic Dance Academy, also known as DaVid’s dance school in San Diego. The book is full of goodies. It takes you through many aspects of Egyptian oriental, discussing history, technique, performance stuff (improv, how to choreograph), and professional career (teaching and/or dancing). It’s breadth is the best aspect of this book. It takes you through everything. Obviously, in 90some pages, the book isn’t an in-depth look at Egyptian Oriental, but the taste it gives is helpful. For newer dancers, I can see this book helping them understand what all is involved. The dance isn’t simply about wearing a costume and looking cute. I love how DaVid goes over the fact it’s important to practice, even the basics.

For dancers who are more well-seasoned, this book goes over nuances that can take you to the proverbial next level. DaVid writes very frankly about what it means to be a professional dancer and instructor. If you lack guidance in these areas, I’m sure the book would be helpful to read. Unless you spend a lot of time on message boards, I’m not sure where you would get this information, besides trial and error.

The only aspects of the book I would say were lacking are the technique explanations and this chart in the back. The technique explanations I found a little confusing. Perhaps it’s because I’m not familiar with DaVid’s teaching or that I don’t learn movement merely through reading. DaVid does provide some diagrams of the moves, but I’m not sure if I’d know what he was talking about if I didn’t know the move to begin with. I wouldn’t use this book to learn technique. I doubt DaVid intends for this book to be a means of learning technique.

The chart in the back was a very smart idea; it shows how everyone is interconnected. However, I found that confusing to read.

Despite those two issues, the wealth of information I got out of this book was worth it. I’m sure a print copy would be nice, but I’m squeezing pennies right now. David writes in an easy-going style. I hope he pens more books. I definitely recommend checking this one out to get an overall view of being a Middle Eastern dancer.

I originally bought this book as a coffee table book. However, Indian Classical Dance: Tradition in Transition offers more than a book for guests to casually browse.

One of the most striking parts of the book are the photographs. They are absolutely crisp and beautiful to see. They are well worth the cost of the book. Beyond the photos, though, is a lot of useful information about classical Indian dance. The text is very detailed and takes you through the origins to contemporary time. If you’re interested in any of the major classical Indian dances, I’d check this book out.

If you are a tribal dancer or simply interested in the history of Middle Eastern dance evolution, The Trible Bible is a must read. For those of you unfamiliar, tribal belly dance is an amalgamation of several world styles.  Kajira Djoumahna, Black Sheep Belly Dance, covers tribal belly dance very thoroughly through interviews, text, and photos. Kajira’s work spans the early beginnings of tribal belly dance (a US invention), talking to many of the pioneers, such as members of Bal Anat/Hahbi’Ru and Carolena Nerrico, who started American Tribal Style (ATS).

In a genre with so little written work and little first hand stories, this is book is amazing to read. Most aspects of tribal belly dance is covered, from history to costuming to moves to even ethics. I really enjoyed learning the history and what makes tribal tribal. Kajira did an excellent job of selecting people to interview and finding great old photos. Considering the depth of the information, the book is enjoyable to read.

I only wish there would be a sequel and similar books published about American style cabaret and styles in the Middle East.

Snake Hips is a book I recommend to almost anyone. It is indeed a book about belly dancing (sort of), but beyond that, it’s a fun read about a woman trying to find herself.

Anne Soffee, after being dumped by a boyfriend and moving back home, takes up belly dancing. The book is about her adventures in dance, dealing with her family (they’re Lebanese), and dating various men. Soffee writes  like she’s telling her good friends a great story. It comes off very naturally and often funny.

I think my favorite part of this book isn’t the belly dancing but finding her own identity. Soffee tries to connect with her Middle Eastern heritage by taking the dance classes and dating men of that region. Identity issues in general interest me, but race ones are particularly interesting to me, because I’m an adopted Korean who has white parents. Quite a few of my friends who are born in the US but have strong ties to their racial identities struggle with similar issues as Soffee, so it was also helpful in understanding them. Soffee does a good job of navigating through them without bogging the book down in academic jargon and analysis; it’s a personal narrative after all, and it makes it a very interesting read because of that.

I definitely recommend it to anyone, regardless of their interest in dance. It is a part of the book, but it isn’t so much that you’re going to get bored or confused about what she’s writing. 5/5 stars.

Because I have no idea what state I’ll be in next weekend (a friend of mine is visiting Chicago right now, and we’re going to Lollapalooza next weekend), I thought I’d write another review to keep the weekend reviews up.

Feynman’s Rainbow, title referencing the physicist Richard Feynman (he helped create the atomic bomb), is a book I find both applicable to people of science and non-science folks. I found it at my undergraduate school’s library, and I read it, because the cover was cool and attractive (I was in the physics section of books). The book does indeed reference physics and topics of physics, but what I got out of it the most is making life decisions on your career. I recently recommended it to my partner, who found it an enjoyable and useful read. Given that it’s the time of year for people to head back (or not head back) to school, I thought I’d throw this one out there for you all.

The author, Leonard Mlodinow, who is not Feynman obviously, is at a crossroad in his life. He’s a physicist who is unsure of what he wants to do with his life and where he wants to go with it. The author is clearly bright; he completed a PhD and was a post-doc at CalTech, which is one of the best schools for physics. He was fortunate enough to be at CalTech when Feynman was still alive and other characters critical to physics were there.

What I like about this book is that it’s comforting to read something frank about creating a career. I think one of the greatest tragedies in education is we don’t discuss being unsure or recognize that it’s okay to not have a defined path, especially when you go beyond your undergraduate degree. I myself still struggle to figure out what I want out of life and my career. I think the author’s honesty was the biggest asset.

This book isn’t Nabokov. Don’t read it and expect to be dazzled by its style (that statement is more than likely applicable to this blog, too :)). Don’t read it and expect some great insight on Feynman or the other fine folks who work at CalTech, either. The conversations with Feynman, in my opinion, can give you insight on him but are more guides for the author.

I think it’s a worthwhile read, because very rarely in society people write about being unsure in their career. I feel like now more than ever I’m expected to have a very defined idea of where I want to go. It’s comforting to know that the author, Mlodinow, is most likely smarter than I, has definitely had more opportunities and successes in physics than I, and yet struggled to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. To most people, it would seem obvious that he should pursue physics, but there’s so much more than very empirical measurements to determine what you should do.

If you want to be sort of spoiled, here’s what happened to Mlodinow. I think it’s very cool

Zills, sometimes called finger cymbals, are an instrument Middle Eastern dancers may use to accompany their music, adding another layer or accenting what’s being played. They are a dying art, in my opinion. A lot of people do not play them or play them much. They’re difficult to play (and then play and dance), and it isn’t en vogue in Egypt, from what I understand, to play them.

I think they’re important because of the history & gaining knowledge of popular Middle Eastern rhythms and have been studying them on and off for a few years. I’ve tried committing myself more to studying them, but living in an apartment makes it a little more difficult (imagine living near a drummer who insists on practicing). I like continuing to study them, because they help keep my fingers strong and keep rhythms in my head. My zills of choice are made by Saroyan; there are many choices for zills. though. Time and again, teachers and enthusiasts insist that you’ll be more likely to practice if you love the instruments. Although they’re not exactly cheap (about $20/set), they’re well worth it when you hear them. I love my Saroyan zills; I have three sets (Arabesques, Mediterraneans, and the Ghawazees). Here is a photo of one of my Arabesques.

Even with the proper tools, sometimes you still need an extra kick to practice. I began reading The Dancing Cymbolist which has been a huge inspiration. The book takes a highly-detailed approach to zills and playing them. The author explains the different parts of the physical zill, which I found quite interesting. I particularly liked the discussion on the various ways to strike a zill; I knew some of them, but there were quite a few methods that my dance classes did not cover. She has many exercises on proper postures for zill playing, as well as several ways of looking how to play various rhythms.

In terms of the book itself, it’s very pretty, the paper is beautiful, and it’s full of neat quotes from zill players and enthusiasts. I’d recommend this book in a heartbeat. I found a new way of looking at zills and think I gained a new appreciation for them, as well as ideas to strengthen my zill technique.

Of course, I’m still going to practice 🙂