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The Art of Belly Dancing

Title: The Art of Belly Dancing.
Author: Dahlena with Donna Z. Meilach
Publisher: Bantam Books         Date: 1975

This is a lightly used, vintage soft cover book. It is in fair condition. The glued binding is still in good condition. The pages are not yellowed or, really, show any signs of age. The front cover shows the retail price of $1.95, which considering the brevity of this book is a reasonable price for the era. The front cover is white with black text and two color photos at the bottom third of the cover. The topmost text reads in a combination of bolded text and italicized text: The Sexy Exercise Thousands of women have already discovered it. Now an expert demonstrates the sensuous way to a more beautiful you. I have a few reasons for sharing this flavor text. First, we see here that there is an effort to appeal to the stereotype of the belly dancer as a sex object. While this may be a predominant concept within Western society, I am not a fan of it. This almost put me off from picking up this at the used bookstore. (I paid 50 ¢ for it.) Secondly, I wasn't impressed with how this appeal to the buyer's potential sense of inadequacy in their apperance (or keeping up with popular fads) was so blatant. I recognize that they want to sell this as a book that promotes the exercise benefits of belly dance. I find the method they used for this somewhat demeaning. While it is in keeping with the era, I'm still mildly offended by it. (I have made an effort, however, to view this text within the light of its era of production and to keep my modern sensibilities out of it.)

The title is presented in the same font as the bolded section of the flavor text. Both blocks of text are centered on the page. While this was a popular font for when this book was produced, I feel it is somewhat cartoonish. I think that the book would have benefited from a more streamlined font with less flourishes. This would have presented a cleaner looking cover and focused more attention upon the title, where as with how the cover is assembled here it is struggling with the flavor text and the photos below. The photos depict the author Dahlena in the midst of her belly dance routine. The action shot on the left side has better illumination than the still on the right side. Both pictures are presented with a rose tone tint to them. I am not inclined to believe this is the result of sunlight bleaching the cover because the rest of the cover doesn't show signs of fading.

The back cover presents the two images from the front at the top of the page. These are presented in full color. While this compensates some for the poor lighting in the images, it doesn't do very much for it. I think that the photographer who was used for these images (and those within the book) didn't put much effort into the composition or layout of the photographs. Honestly, I have seem amature photographers who have done a better job. It is rather disappointing and clearly a case of getting what you paid for here. It is an inexpensive book and there are elements of poor quality here reflecting that. The photography is perhaps the most obvious example. The blurb on the back is trite. I also disapprove of the use of italics for the entire blurb. It tires the eye and makes it difficult to tell what the important parts of the blurb are. I am sure that the primary problem here is the typefont. Again, if a more simple font was used, it would not be as tiring for the eye, I am sure.

The text of the book is, mercifully, a much more direct and focused on informative writing rather than attempting to persuade the reader of its value. The font used for the text is much easier to read, well spaced on the page, and far more crisp than what was used for the cover. It was jarring, however, to transition from the flourishes of the cover to the more sedate font used within the book. I feel that if they were going to use flourishes on the cover, they could at least incorporate them into the title page and the headings of sections. This would give the book a more cohesive feel. Instead, I come away from it feeling like they slapped a different version of the cover on with this printing after the one matching the interior was cast away for some reason.

The photography of the book does not suffer from the same lighting issues as the cover images but they look somewhat stilted. I recognize the challenge of capturing a person in motion for the purpose of illustrating what they are doing. Still, I would have appreciated if the photos didn't look like she froze in a position to be photographed. The author, Dahlena, is the woman who posed for these photos. I wish I could say positive things about them but I can't. She looks wooden and awkward. Her expression tends towards what is popularly known as 'resting bitch face', which I find displeasing and uninviting. The shots where she is smiling or at least looks like she is somewhat enjoying the experience are far more aethetically pleasing and inviting. Which makes them more accessible to the reader by making the exercise seem to be a pleasant experience rather than a tired chore or some sort of irritation to be finished with quickly.

I found the front matter of the work well researched. It is, however, clear that which of the authors that was primarially working on it has a very 'dry' presentation. It was hard to really be engaged and interested because this section had all the feel of reading a term paper written by a freshman college student. Add to this that there are photos that are so heavily dark due to the inability to translate the color graident of the images into black and white, and I found this section hard to really enjoy. This was a disappointment, because it could have been a very interesting read if the authors focused on conveying the richness of the history of belly dance as the beautiful and fascinating subject it truly is. Instead, I came away with the distinct impression that this section was an afterthought and that they rushed through it.

The exercises section of the book are easy to follow. This is one of the things that was done right. The authors broke the movements down into a series of simple steps. While the photographs were not terribly helpful in envisioning what each exercise was like, the descriptions more than compensated for this. I think I can say that this was the best part of the book. And, honestly, it was the most important part to get right. I can somewhat forgive all the things that are not exactly right or well put together for the sake of the detail and careful attention in this section. The final sections discussing costuming, music, and performance are a let down after the success of the exercises section. They felt rushed and I was left with the impression that the authors were attempting to cram in a large amount of information into a limited word count.

Rating: 3/10