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Grandmother's Secrets
The Ancient Rituals and Healing Power of Belly Dancing
Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi; translated by Monique Arav

6" x 9" • 224 pages • pages b&w photos
ISBN 9781566563260 • paperback • $15.00

"Come, sit by me," says Grandmother. "Take this chalk in your hand. Now draw a dot and concentrate all your energy into this one dot. It is the beginning and the end, the navel of the world."

So Fawzia Al-Rawi describes her grandmother's first lesson about the ancient craft of Oriental dance. Grandmother's Secrets always circles back to this grandmother and this young girl, echoing the circular movements of the dance itself. Al-Rawi has written a strikingly graceful and original book that blends personal memoir with the history and theory of the dance known in the West as "belly dancing."

It is the story of a young Arab girl as she is initiated into womanhood. It is a history of the dance from the earliest times through the days of the Pharaohs, the Roman Empire, to the Arab world of the last three centuries. It is a personal investigation into the effects of the dance's movements on individual parts of the body and the whole psyche. It is a guide to the actual techniques of the dance for those who are inspired to put down the book and move.

Al-Rawi conveys in this book not only the history and technique of grieving and mourning dances, pregnancy and birth dances, but the spirit of these age-old rituals, and their possibilities for healing and empowering women today.

Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi grew up in Iraq and Lebanon and was educated at the Universities of Cairo and Vienna. She is an expert in Arabic studies and ethnology, and the author of Golden Sky, Red Earth: Women's Lives in Palestine and Midnight Tales: A Woman's Journey through the Middle East. She lives in Jerusalem and Vienna, where she teaches oriental dancing.

To find out more about Fawzia Al-Rawi's workshops, journeys or evening classes (on Tuesdays in Vienna), please visit The workshops combine oriental dancing, still and active meditations, as well as trance techniques from the Sufi tradition, which enable each participant to progress on the path which leads to no one but herself in an atmosphere of joy, trust and tolerance.

Media Reviews

"Al-Rawi has written a strikingly graceful and original book that blends personal memoir with the history and theory of the folk dance known in the West as "belly dancing.... Grandmother's Secrets is a unique and highly engaging work of considerable merit."
--The Midwest Book Review

"Al-Rawi relates movement to ideas and art to philosophy so that...'belly dancing becomes a source of inspiration...and a clear and dynamic way of discovering...understanding oneself.' An interesting glimpse into a culture, an art form, and a means for women's healing and self-expression."
-- Library Journal 

"Warmly readable...Unpendantic and enjoyable reading, the tale reveals astonishing similarities between East and West when it comes to the use of breath and the body."
-- Dance Magazine

"In a strikingly graceful and original book, Al-Rawi tells the history of the dance from the earliest the Arab world of the last three centuries....inspired...Most important, she explains the significance of belly dancing as an expression of the feminine principle and a way for all women to find their inner strength."
-- One Spirit

A significant cause for celebration....This beautifully bound book is an ambitious attempt to cover as much ground relevant to the dance as possible...a worthy contribution to the discourse on Middle Eastern dance."
-- Habibi (Dance Magazine)

A beautifully written guide to a much-misunderstood tradition." -- Natural Living Today

"Both a philosophy of belly dancing and a primer....provides clear instructions on how to perform belly dancing...the results are lucid and informative. The book also provides important insights into engagingly written...that the reader longs for more...This view of the dance is new to the literature and provides a fascinating contribution to belly dance theory....It provides original and valuable perspectives on a dance form and life style that are misunderstood."
-- Middle East Studies Association Bulletin

"More than a dance book. It is about being a woman; about female empowerment, from its early connotations to the final vestiges of matriarchal societies."
-- Arabica

"Upon careful reading, the seemingly incongruous mixture of personal narrative, historical analysis, and technical discussion blends serendipitously into an intriguing and insightful interpretation of the spiritual and social roles of belly dancing as a uniquely feminine and personal expression of women's life experiences, desires and emotions. Due to the highly technical nature of the discussion, this book will be most appropriate for specialists in the anthropology of dance and for teachers and practitioners of belly dancing."
-- Religious Studies Review

"'Belly dancing, so aptly named, leads to the deep, dark cave, the center of the earth, before flying, in all its pride and life-force, up to the light, to inspiration, and to new awareness. The way to the spirit is found via the body, via the matter.'
     With words fluidly chasing the literary face of an intangible essence--a fleeting silhouette veiled beneath music, dance and ritual--Al-Rawi cleverly reveals the secret of ancient Oriental dance, and revels in its mystery. Al-Rawi, an Arabic studies and ethnology authority, presents her impressions in this book that melds memoir, history and philosophy in an effort to capture and celebrate the timeless feminine spirit that is incarnated in dance.
     Launching into a delicate web of dreamlike vignettes within the opening pages, Al-Rawi warmly draws readers into her childhood awakening to her culture and her place therein. Following these passages of personal inflection, she supplies a comprehensive, yet refreshingly concise history of cultural and ritual dance ranging from primitive to present day civilization. Concurrent with the tracing of this history is Al-Rawi?s careful attention to the social and spiritual position of women in each successive era, as well as the specific influences of religion and economics. Al-Rawi discusses the ancient goddesses that once represented the Divine Feminine, the decline of ancient matriarchal times and ascension of the modern day patriarchal worldview. The inclusion of this analytical and philosophical retrospect is an unexpected and surprisingly powerful turn for the book. The author?s lucid account of the shifting feminine role in society provides an effective springboard into the instructional balance of the book.
     The book transforms again, becoming a guide to awareness of the body, in and out of motion, while outlining numerous techniques of dance. The inclusion of numerous photographs for posture and stance garnish the pages. The book may have, however, benefited from diagrams or a photo series to better illustrate movement. Well suited for a general audience in addition to cultural dance or women's studies enthusiasts, Grandmother's Secrets flows easily, untaxed by its serious undertone.
     With the descriptions of ritual dances that mark a woman's life--her birth, womanhood, seduction and mourning--this book unveils a commonality that transcends all cultures and offers hope. These women pass their lives gently, each one as a single day in the greater, endless lifetime of a collective spirit, dancing to a rhythm nearly circadian in nature."
-- Foreword Magazine

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