originally published July 5, 2012 in fuse: a tribal and tribal fusion belly dance magazine
by Britta Visser Stumpp
Picture this, a dance enthusiast wandering the never ending columns of shelves in Portland, Oregon’s independent bookstore, Powell’s. She locates a section devoted to her beloved art form and is astounded to find a book cover with the painting of a woman wearing bright orange tribal wear, coins and bracelets, who is dancing on the turquoise sands of imagination. She picks up the book entitled Serpent of the Nile: Women and Dance in the Arab World, leafs through the pages, and ends up leaving several hours later with several books by the same author and a satisfied mind. You’ve just experienced my introduction into the world of UK writer and dancer, Wendy Buonaventura.
The first book I found of hers was Serpent of the Nile: Women and Dance in the Arab World, which is a rich, colorful tapestry of the history of Arabic dance, the ritual importance of the tradition and its subsequent exposure and absorption into the West. Her research, personal anecdotes, and narrative style are habit-forming. She hooks the reader with the intensity of her passion for this dance and supports it with authentic investigation.
She reveals the cultural myths enclosing belly dance both in the East and West and then makes her case for her own opinions with verve. This book was published prior to the ATS® explosion and I found myself wondering on more than one occasion how Buonaventura feels about the state of belly dance today. In any event, this book was a wonderful read and full of mesmerizing paintings and photographs of belly dancers and Oriental musicians throughout the past two centuries.
The second work of hers (which I have read so far) is Beauty and the East: A Book of Oriental Body Care. This is a great book not only as a lyrical adventure into the atmosphere of hammams and perfumeries, but it’s full of recipes for the tongue, skin and head! In this book you will find traditional women’s advice on everything from natural hair moisturizers to teas which alleviate menstrual cramps. As already discussed in Serpent, much of the women’s tradition surrounding so called belly dance dealt in body care. It’s not a stretch to imagine that at these same meetings for dance, women were also swapping beauty secrets and therapeutics. Many of the recipes women shared at these meetings have been documented for us in Beauty and the East. If you’re an all things belly related collector, a granola girl or if you’d just like to have an alternative to Midol handy, this is a book you’ll definitely enjoy.
For more information about Wendy Buonaventura and a list of her books, visit her website at: http://www.buonaventura.com.