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Review: The Rough Guide to Bellydance

This is the second Rough Guide to Belly Dance. Taken together, you will get a more than rough idea.

The Rough Guide to Bellydance
[Rough Guide (2011)]

Although no reference is made to the fact, The Rough Guide to Bellydance is actually the second time that the Rough Guide series has featured this theme. The new edition revisits only two of the artists that appeared on the 2002 edition, namely Setrak Sarkissian, a well-known Lebanese tabla player, and Jalilah, a famous dancer of raqs sharki (or danse orientale) and a producer of bellydance records whose name appears on two tracks on each compilation.

The term bellydance is a bit of a misnomer, and so the music is actually more varied than the term might lead one to expect. Not surprisingly, the majority of the artists are from Egypt, with Lebanon a close second, but several American-based artists, namely Richard Khuzami and oud player Richard Hagopian, are also included. A few tracks mix the old with the new very successfully. Sammarkand, a New York-based group, infuses its music with touches of electronica. Lebanese native Maurice Chedid, who settled in the U.S. in 1988, is featured on two tracks, both taken from an album that he produced with dancer Samara. The track by Bassil Moubayyed from Beirut is one of the best but also the only one under two minutes.

Anyone interested in pursuing the mystique of this Egyptian cabaret art form in more depth can order all the appropriate accoutrements from a Web site that’s provided in the booklet. They can also watch the bonus instructional DVD called Bellydance One-on-One: Essential Technique with Virginia that’s part of the package. In fact, the album is structured like a dance routine so that the instructions featured on the DVD can be put into practice, although this reviewer confesses to not having taken on the challenge. A more passive alternative might be to check out Whatever Lola Wants (2007), a flawed but nonetheless pleasant movie about a New York dancer who goes to Cairo to study this ancient form of dancing with a reclusive legend.

—Paul-Emile Comeau (Comeauville, NS, Canada)

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