Very few books on belly dance catch my attention enough to actually read them. Even fewer find a way to be relevant to both the beginner and the seasoned performer. After being a fan and follower of Princess Farhana’s blog for years, I knew “The Belly Dance Handbook” would make it onto my reading list. This lady is one of the hardest working and most diverse performers in the biz, and she’s got a wealth of experience that ranges far beyond just the dancing. That’s what I love about this book – she shares the goods on all the topics a pro dancer needs to know, but will never learn in dance class. I can hardly cover it all, but I’d like to share a few of the aspects I found particularly valuable.
Princess Farhana’s overview of belly dance styles and props is a major strength of this book. The beginner would find it useful to get the “lay of the land” so they can begin to explore in an informed way and have some context when they encounter performance genres they don’t recognize. I made this assigned reading for my serious private students! As an experienced dancer who’s done her fair share of research, I loved this section because it really wove together all the threads of styles over time, creating a “bird’s eye view” of our history.
Another place where this book really shines is in the costume department. Princess Farhana is legendary for her elaborate, meticulous and “totally together” look. In the costuming section, she discusses strategies for building a costume wardrobe on a budget, including how to make sure you get your money’s worth whether you are purchasing new or used. But it doesn’t stop there – she schools us on how to store, transport and clean our delicate bedlahs. This section also covers all the extras that complete the look like hairpieces, jewelry, the low down on costume undies, and makeup tricks for face and body.
Trial and error – lots of error – are the way so many dancers learn about things like photoshoots. That can be an expensive lesson! Princess Farhana’s photos are always striking, unique and full of personality. What works on stage and what works in front of the camera are not the same. She shares lots of tips for preparing for your shoot, how to play up your best features and creatively mask others, as well as what kind of photos are necessary for promotion and getting your “brand” across.
I really appreciated the section on stage lighting. This is another topic we don’t get exposed to till we are in the moment and need it. Most dancers wouldn’t know what to ask for if given the chance. Most lighting techs at shows wouldn’t be willing to tell you what they are using and why so you could learn, but the Princess will fill you in on stage jargon, lighting basics and how colored gels can enhance your skin tone and costume color, set a mood … or just make you look sick.
I’ve really barely scratched the surface of what “The Belly Dance Handbook” covers. There is plenty of practical information about living and working in the biz – onstage and off, including turning pro, teaching, belly dance tourism, navigating the belly dance community and business practices. Princess Farhana’s voice and engaging personality really shine in the writing so it’s never dry. I highly recommend it, wherever you are on your belly dance journey!